The duffel has been the tote of choice for travelers for decades. The right duffel is easily packable, easily squishable, and very robust. For some people, it’s an essential item that can be stuffed, tossed, and stored into just about any space.
Although we generally prefer carry-on backpacks for our travels, sometimes a carry-on duffel bag is just a better option—especially if you’re the type of person to just toss your belongings into your open bag without any kind of organization.
The HEXAD Duffel is our top pick due to its incredible durability, organizational features, and versatility. This duffel instantly becomes a backpack as well, and can carry more gear than any other duffel on the list.
Duffel bags are simple, soft-sided packs that maximize useable space by keeping design features to a minimum. Depending on their size and build, they make great weekend bags or extended travel packs for a variety of terrain.
Duffels come in multiple forms. Some are waterproof, while others double as travel backpacks. Some are made of leather, or heavy-duty nylon, or cotton. Some are sleek city companions, while others are built for carrying your climbing gear around rugged mountain environments.
And as travelers realize the joy of traveling without checked luggage, companies are beginning to make duffel bags that are intentionally carry-on friendly.
Major airlines generally allow carry-ons to be 22 x 14 x 9 inches, while budget airlines have a restriction of 22 x 16 x 8 inches. However, each airline has its own carry-on size restrictions, so check before you go! Generally, most 40L or 45L duffel bags will fall within these airline regulations.
Duffels aren’t inherently better than suitcases, but they are often more versatile. They offer ease of travel as you hop from train, to plane, to bus. They can be carried in a variety of ways, picked up and heaved into the back of a car, and then thrown over your shoulder as you rush to catch your flight.
You can avoid the hassle of roller wheels when you’re walking on cobblestone streets in Europe or across snowy trails on your next ski trip. They are often more waterproof and tougher than their suitcase counterparts, so they’re better suited for more adventurous travels. Additionally, the soft exterior shell makes these bags perfect for bulky or oddly-shaped items that may not fit in hard-shelled rolling luggage.
However, duffel bags aren’t known for being exceptionally comfortable or secure. But they have come a long way in the last few years, and many of the models offer the same security features as suitcases. Also, companies have been paying more attention to the carrying comfort of these bags, and many now incorporate backpack straps or well-padded shoulder straps.
Also, these bags are remarkably simple. We love them for their lightweight nature, versatility, and ease of transport.
Best Carry-On Duffel Bags: Individual Reviews
This list of duffel bags has it all, from sporty, heavy-duty options to backpack-style hybrids, to the highest quality leather duffel bags. So let’s dive into our list of the 16 best duffel bags.
The Patagonia Black Hole Duffel may be one of the most highly regarded options out there. It’s burly yet lightweight, and it has an impressive water repellant finish. It has two shoulder straps for backpack-style carry, so you can throw in all your gear without worrying about it being too heavy. The reinforced bottom makes this bag extra durable, so you never have to worry about your equipment.
This duffel backpack has just the right amount of pockets: the large compartment has a U-shaped lid, where zippered mesh pockets allow you to store small gear on the underside. An exterior pocket provides easy access to all your travel essentials, so you don’t have to search through the black hole for your boarding passes in the security line.
And true to its name, this pack is deceptively large. For the light-packer or one-bag traveler, you can fit enough stuff for a multi-week trip.And for those that bring a lot of stuff, the external daisy-chain links lets you add other attachments.
This bag comes in multiple forms: from various sizes to an array of colors (and even a rolling duffel option), there’s sure to be a version that fits any traveler’s needs.
The backpack straps make this perfect for lugging around heavy gear without worrying about sore shoulders.
Multiple color options appeal to many travelers.
Versatile design gives traveler’s many options, but we love the classic 40L option as a carry-on duffel bag.
This bag is on the pricier end. But for those willing to invest the money, this duffel is built to last.
Traditionalists may miss the standard over-the-shoulder strap.
No internal pockets for compartmentalizing clean and dirty gear.
The Fjallraven Greenland 30L makes the ideal weekender. Its classic design stays in line with the aesthetic that we’ve come to love from Fjallraven, while additional elements—like the external zipper pocket—increase the functionality of this streamlined bag.
With two internal mesh pockets, this bag has just the right amount of features to keep your belongings organized while maximizing space.
The adjustable shoulder strap can be stowed away, allowing for easy carry by the padded grip handles. The G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco S, Fjällräven’s signature polyester and cotton blend, keeps this pack lightweight and water-resistant. At 30L, this is the perfect carry-on bag for short travel weekends or work trips.
The simple yet rugged design allows you to travel in style without being overly showy.
Three color options, including olive green, black, and “storm” (a rich, blue tone).
Your keys or passport will never get lost in the main compartment because you can stash them in the front zipper pocket.
Smaller capacity than many bags on the list.
The shoulder strap may get uncomfortable when packed with heavy gear.
Pricy for such a small bag, but the high-quality materials make up for the cost.
This eye-catching Cotopaxi Uyuni Del Dia is the perfect companion for the adventurous traveler who likes a pop of color. It comes equipped with a shoulder strap and five external carry handles. The padded laptop sleeve is an excellent addition that is missing on many duffels, so the Uyuni is fantastic for anyone traveling with their 15″ laptop or tablet who needs safe access to their electronics.
The 420D nylon double ripstop shell is durable and lightweight, allowing it to stand up to even your most rugged adventure. The top-to-bottom zipper and versatile orientation capabilities (it can both lay flat and stand up!) make this bag function similarly to a travel backpack. Even at a hefty 46L, this bag stashes easily in the overhead compartment on an airplane.
This duffel bag is excellent for long-term travels: it has an expandable laundry compartment for you to stash your dirty clothes as you’re cruising some dirt roads far from any laundry facilities.
These packs are unique; the Cotopaxi employees who make the Del Dia products have complete control over the colors, so no two are the same.
All (Re)Purpose™ products reuse high-quality fabrics that would otherwise go into a landfill.
The weight to durability ratio is excellent; the high-quality nylon performs well in many conditions.
Since every pack is different, your colors cannot be guaranteed if you purchase this pack from a third-party such as REI, Backcountry, or Amazon.
When packed full, this duffel is uncomfortable to carry with the shoulder strap. It may be better suited for adventures where you’re not lugging it around for hours.
This vintage-style duffel bag is well-constructed and stylish, with leather handles and zipper pulls that add a classy touch.
External zipper pockets add extra organization to the Eddie Bauer Bygone 45L , so you have easy access to smaller goods, while the main compartment is where you store your larger gear. There is also a U-shaped, dual-zip opening to the main compartment that makes it easy to stuff awkwardly shaped items.
Two internal zipper pockets give you even more space to stash anything you want to grab quickly, like toiletries or cash. Best of all, this is one of the most affordable options on this list, AND it’s stylish.
Classic design looks nice enough for work travel, while the rugged construction holds up to a beating.
Lower cost than other bags on this list for a high-quality product.
Seems a bit small for the size compared to a bag like the Patagonia Black Hole 40L.
Would benefit from added structure; objects tend to shift and feel unbalanced in the bag.
Osprey labels this unique pack as an “expedition duffel,” but it also functions incredibly well as a backpack. Osprey’s bread-and-butter is creating high-performance outdoors gear, and the Transporter Duffel Bag fits the bill.
This duffel is built to haul gear, but also has a variety of features that move it beyond a traditional duffel bag. It has stowaway backpack straps and a harness system (although, truthfully, they do not have the same support of a regular backpack).
Meanwhile, load-securing straps inside the bag help to keep your gear balanced. Durable grab handles and reinforced seams mean this bag can take a beating. Tough 840D Nylon means you can throw your trekking poles or ice ax into the bag without worrying about sharp edges puncturing the material.
At the same time, the TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) coating stands up to snow and rain. While this pack isn’t waterproof, the zippers are equipped with overlapping rain flaps to keep this pack water resistant.
Durable and versatile, you can cover a lot of ground with this pack in tow.
Osprey knows how to make a great harness system, and while it doesn’t live up to the comfort of a backpack, it’s better than most duffel backpack straps.
The main compartment is large and un-compartmentalized to maximize space. However, we recommend using packing cubes for better organization.
Lack of pockets, specifically a laptop pocket, makes this less-than-ideal for the electronically-savvy traveler.
We prefer a more subtle logo; the large Osprey logo on the side of the pack can be a bit of an eye-sore.
This 22″ rolling duffel fits around 40L worth of items and is the only bag on this list with wheels. This design bridges the gap between a suitcase and a duffel bag. The soft yet durable nylon exterior is flexible enough to fit gear of all shapes without the restrictions of a hard-shelled suitcase, and the main compartment is simple, without pockets or padding.
The wheels on the Rolling Thunder are built for all conditions—they are larger with more tread than a traditional suitcase, so you don’t have to worry about this bag as you roll it through the snow on your winter getaway. The sturdy handle extends with ease by side-release buttons as you roll this duffel through the airport.
Keep in mind that the wheel system makes this bag heavier than a standard duffel. Although you won’t be carrying the Rolling Thunder, keep in mind that the weight could be an issue when it comes to airline weight restrictions.
The tough exterior rivals the durability of the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel, so it is well suited for weekend camping trips, but is definitely overkill for business travel.
The unique design helps this bag stand out in the baggage claim if you do need to check your duffel.
North Face products come with a lifetime guarantee, so they are warranted against any defects in materials.
The high price point makes this bag inaccessible to many travelers.
Tapered sides make this 22″ duffel feel smaller than a hard-shelled suitcase of the same size.
No padded pockets for laptops or other electronics.
The Thule Subterra Duffel bag has a simple design with an almost geometric shape. Its slim profile is accentuated by the lack of external handles or attachment points. Corner flaps fold up and down so you can decide how you carry it, as a tote-style bag or sleek duffel.
Thick, magnetic grab handles in the middle help to keep this pack balanced as you carry it through the airport. The extra-padded shoulder strap is comfortable to carry, and compression straps cinch down the bag, so you can pack extra gear while keeping the duffel carry-on compliant.
It comes in three colors: dark shadow, ember, and mineral. They’re neutral enough to be professional, but the geometric design also makes the Thule Subterra one of the most unique bags on this list.
Design is sleek and modern, great for a business duffel or those who want a more minimalist bag.
Feels more structured than many duffel bags while still having ample space in the main compartment.
Grab handles are thick, so the magnetic feature often does not function as well as intended.
It’s durable, but not water resistant. Therefore, it is best suited for the casual or business traveler.
This classic duffel is stylish, simple, and comes in 35 different color options. The well thought out design details, like the contrasting interior fabric, add to the bag’s aesthetic.
Hershel’s signature shoe compartment is a great addition so that you can enjoy the spaciousness of a duffel bag without worrying about throwing your muddy shoes in with your clothing. Also, this duffel doubles as the perfect gym bag for when you’re not traveling.
A couple of extra features make the Hersel Novel comfortable to carry: it has reinforced carrying handles and a removable padded webbing shoulder strap.
Exceptionally roomy for a carry-on.
Simple, classic style.
Nifty shoe compartment in the side.
This stylish bag isn’t as durable a many of the others on this list. It’s great for casual weekends but cannot withstand harsh travel conditions for the more adventurous traveler.
Other than the shoe compartment, there are no external pockets.
For those that want to match functionality with style, the Peak Design Travel Duffel is one of the best on the market. Peak Design is known for its specialized camera bags, but they aim to appeal to all travelers with this product.
Best of all, this bag can be carried as a duffel, messenger bag, and backpack. The Cord Hook quick-connection system allows you to customize how each strap links to the bag.
Both the shoulder strap and top handles are padded and removable, increasing the versatility of this duffel bag. The 400D nylon is incredibly durable, but the added 800D nylon padding at the bottom is a thoughtful design feature that protects the most heavily-impacted part of the bag.
Style-wise, we love the color pairings and the touches of leather. The metal clasps and zippers also add to the sophisticated look of the bag!
The Filson Leather Duffel Bag is top of the line, and the price reflects that. It’s incredibly simple, but the simplicity allows the high-quality leather materials and construction to shine. The boot-grade leather, vegetable-tanned by a 150-year-old tannery in Pennsylvania, is waterproof. And like a fine wine, the leather only gets better with age.
The Bridle Leather straps wrap around the exterior of the bag, adding more support than top handles can offer. The D-ring on the handles also allows them to lie flat when not in use.
The solid brass hardware and a wool-lined shoulder strap add an elegance that’s unrivaled by other bags on this list, as do the touches of gold. But this is definitely a big splurge!
This bag lives up to the Filson name; it is made from some of the highest quality North American leather available.
The attention to detail is evident, yet everything intrinsically links to the bag’s functionality.
In a world of throw-away products, this duffel was truly made to last a lifetime.
All the leather comes with a hefty price tag; this leather duffel is the most expensive duffel on our list. You can search Amazon for better deals, but this Filson leather duffel ain’t cheap.
Is it a travel backpack or a duffel? The Timbuk2 Impsulve Travel Duffel serves as both, with adjustable back straps that tuck away so you can convert it into a duffel bag.
This hybrid bag comes equipped with several features that many standard duffel bags lack: namely, internal compression straps, a water bottle pocket, and a padded laptop compartment.
Zippered mesh pockets on the U-shaped lid keep your small items separate from the main compartment, while external zipper pockets allow you to stow wet or dirty gear.
The harness system on this duffel backpack is more extensive than anything else on this list. Not only does it have backpack straps, but it also has waist straps complete with mini pockets to store your chapstick or a snack. The back panel is made of breathable polyethylene foam, and the sternum strap distributes weight so that carrying this duffel on long walks is a breeze.
This is the only duffel on our list that securely fits a laptop up to 17 inches in a separate padded compartment.
Timbuk2 offers a lifetime warranty, covering the pack from any manufacturing defects.
Easy to clean material keeps this pack looking new for longer.
Backpack straps are well-designed, so this pack is easier to carry long distances than most duffels.
Zippers tend to be sticky and hard to maneuver, but they seem to ease up with time.
It lacks the traditional over-the-shoulder strap option.
Tortuga aimed to bring the duffel bag beyond just a gym bag, and the Setout Duffel was designed with air travel in mind. A padded pocket provides secure storage for your 13-inch laptop, tablet, and other electronics while allowing you quick access in the airport security line.
Tortuga also emphasizes organization more so than other companies. While duffel bags typically have one large compartment and minimal additional features, the Setout has three separate compartments: one for electronics, one for clothes and toiletries, and the last will fit small items.
There’s also a small zipper pocket on the exterior, as well as a stash side-pocket. The main compartment contains additional mesh pockets to organize your clothing, and this duffel even has a designated shoe compartment accessed from the outside of the bag.
This bag is ideal for remote workers: the separate storage space for electronics keeps your wires from becoming a nest in your duffel.
Numerous pockets give this bag a one-up on organization compared to others on this list.
This bag functions well as part of a two-bag system. Use it with the Tortuga Outbreaker, or use the pass-through strap to attach it to your rolling luggage.
The 900D polyester exterior makes this pack tough and water-resistant.
While the electronics pocket is a great idea, the padded laptop sleeve is a bit small, fitting only a 13-inch laptop.
The minimalist design is a bit lackluster when compared to items such as the Peak Design Travel Duffel.
The shoe compartment is a nice idea, but it intrudes on the main compartment’s space.
This intelligently-designed minimalist travel bag carries three different ways. Top and bottom haul handles, backpack straps, and in-strap handles allow you to change your carrying style as you’re on the go. The Everlane Mover Pack perfect for city traveling, as you can carry it by the grab handles as you navigate crowded subways, and sling it over your shoulder as you walk down the street.
We also love this bag’s multiple access points. You can easily access the bag’s interior via multiple entry points on the outside and bottom of the bag.
This bag comes in three stylish colors—black, dark gray, and dark green. It’s made mostly of nylon and polyester, so it’s super lightweight, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t durable.
This bag is one of the most affordable on this list!
Great for those balancing style and functionality, it doesn’t have the sporty look of many other duffels.
While some of the other duffel backpack alternatives look awkward, this option has enough structure so that it looks great while you’re wearing it on your back.
Although there are three ways to carry, it lacks the one-shoulder strap iconic to a standard duffel bag.
The carry handles are uncomfortable. It functions best as a backpack.
This backpack-duffel hybrid combines functionality and versatility to create one of the best bags on the market for photographers.
The WANDRD HEXAD made of 1680D nylon and waterproof tarpaulin with WR army coating, so this thing is tough. There are lots of handy storage pockets, and the multiple access points make it super easy for you to quickly grab your camera when you need it. These features are pretty similar to the ones reviewed for the WANDRD PRVKE.
The clamshell opening gives you easy access to the interior, which is designed to be compatible with the WANDRD camera cubes. This heavy-duty pack will keep your camera gear and laptop safe from the elements.
This Aer Travel Duffel is minimalistic, spacious, and carry-on compatible. The clamshell opening provides suitcase-like access for easy packing rather than the U-shape opening that’s so common in this list.
However, this travel duffel looks incredibly professional—in fact, it looks almost more like a briefcase. You can easily transition from a work trip to a weekend adventure with this bag in tow.
The interior pockets are intuitive, with a front organizational pocket, a padded sleeve for laptops up to 15.6 inches, and a mesh pocket in the main storage compartment. There are top compression straps and lockable zippers for extra security at the airport, and even a pocket for your water bottle. The functionality of such a minimalistic bag is seriously impressive.
This is one of the only duffel bags on this list that has a side pocket suitable for a water bottle.
We love the spacious and streamlined access achieved by the clamshell opening.
This pack gets uncomfortable to carry when it’s fully loaded.
It looks a bit too briefcase-y for our liking; other packs on this list achieve this minimalist look in a more aesthetically-pleasing style.
This Marmot Long Hauler is rugged and versatile, with ample storage options. It comes in multiple sizes, and the 35L (small) and 50L (medium) versions can both serve as carry-on packs. There are also backpack straps that double as shoulder straps.
This pack is well-constructed. The D-shaped main section has YKK zippers with rain flaps to reinforce the water-resistant nylon and to keep out the dust and dirt. An internal mesh pocket under the lid improves access and organization, as well as the additional inner section where you can store dirty clothes or other items.
Compression straps and numerous grab handles enhance the usability of this pack, as well. The best part? You can easily stuff and stow away this pack in its own pocket.
Backpack straps make it easy to carry, but you can also transition them to shoulder straps for duffel-style travel.
Compression straps make the pack easy to handle.
Multiple colors add a bit of fun.
More organization options than other packs in this list.
Not quite as waterproof as other equally rugged bags.
The durability might be overkill for casual travelers.
So now we know which luggage items are on the radar, but what features truly set the best apart from the rest? Well, let’s dive in and take a look at some of the most essential buying considerations for when you want to travel the world with carry-on only.
Your travels may take you from the airport to public transit to your hostel and any number of places where your duffel could be scuffed, scratched or damaged. Durability is important! Keep a sharp eye out for sturdy materials like double ripstop nylon, leather, and tarpaulin.
Also, remember that the ‘D’ for material thicknesses (such as 400D) stands for Denier), and the higher that number, the thicker and more robust your material.
Duffels should have less-rigid construction. Bulky or oddly-shaped parcels slide right in while the duffel itself is easy to heave, shove, squeeze, or pack into just about any space imaginable – including overhead compartments on airlines. So don’t underestimate the importance of less-rigid sides, and look twice at hybrid items that try to incorporate rigid sides into what’s marketed as a duffel.
Luggage is built on organization, but many duffels shine by not overcomplicating the process. We love quick access to one large packing space without being overwhelmed by a plethora of pockets, mesh, and zipper that could just as easily hinder a search for a particular item. That said, several of the ultimate duffel bags will include a handy shoe compartment or a laptop sleeve. Keep an eye out for these organizational aids, and consider your personal travel preferences when you begin your search for new travel luggage.
Don’t let nasty weather ruin your clothing and gear! The best duffel will incorporate at least some level of weatherproofing to help protect your gear. This may be a basic Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish or a Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) coating. To make the leap from water-resistant to waterproof, keep an eye open for leather and tarpaulin on the material list as both of these are both rugged and waterproof.
There you have it! We’ve covered the very best carry-on duffel bags for travel along with essential buying advice. From classic city jaunts to rugged adventure-ready luggage, we have you covered. So go ahead, take your pick, and travel like a champ.