Here’s the thing about international airline travel that a lot of people don’t realize. Your checked bag goes on an entirely different trip than you do.
Your journey is relatively simple. You drop off your bag, go through security, and then a plane whisks you off to your destination. Your bag, however, goes on quite a different journey. Up and down automated ramps, in and out of motorized carts, zipping here and there. Perhaps they are manhandles by over-zealous airport security. Or maybe they are one of the bags that you see fall off of the car on their way to the plane.
The point is: travel of any kind can be more strenuous on your luggage than you think. The best duffel bags for international travel are the ones that can stand up to the abuse with style and aplomb, while offering those little innovations and extras that we have come to expect from adventure gear in 2020. We’re taking a look at the 8 Best Duffel Bags for Air Travel, then going to do a little deeper in to how to choose a travel bag for you.
- Volume 95 Liters
- Dimensions 15.8 x 27.6 x 15.8 in
- Weight 4.19 pounds
- Material Nylon
- Very Durable
- Comfortable shoulder-carry backpack straps
- On the more expensive side
- Volume 60 Liters
- Dimensions 24 x 14 x 19 in
- Weight 1.2 pounds
- Material Nylon
- Lots of compartments for easy storage & retrieval
- Great value for the $$$
- Not super tear resistant
- Zippers will wear down in time
- Volume 50 Liters
- Dimensions 32.5 x 17 x 12 in
- Weight 6 pounds
- Material TPU Lamination
- Waterproof & Submersible
- Tear resistant durability
- Not very stain resistant, will get dirty
- Volume 70 Liters
- Dimensions 15.8 x 15.8 x 15.8 in
- Weight 4 pounds
- Material Polyester
- Durable & sturdy
- Great convertibility between duffel and backpack
- Shoulder straps are a bit thin
- The Helly Hansen logo is quite big (unless you’re into that)
- Volume 28 Liters
- Dimensions 9 x 22 x 14 in
- Weight 8.9 pounds
- Material Repelaweave
- Durable & Versatile; perfect weekender bag
- Built-in removable backpack
- Needs a padded laptop sleeve in the backpack portion
- A bit on the expensive side but worth it
- Volume 60 Liters
- Dimensions 11 x 24 x 12 in
- Weight 2.09 pounds
- Material Nylon
- Simple no-frills duffel bag
- Pretty good value for the size
- Bottom panel could use some reinforcing
- Exterior pocket could be a bit bigger
- Volume 60 Liters
- Dimensions 13.5 x 26.5 x 10.2 in
- Weight 1.75 pounds
- Material Synthetic
- Great fold-down & storage capabilities
- Great customer service
- No compression straps
- Not completely waterproof
- Volume 90 Liters
- Dimensions 30.7 x 19.7 x 1.9 in
- Weight 4.5 pounds
- Material Polyester/Nylon
- Durable 900D fabric
- Daisy-chain compatibility
- Backpack straps aren’t super comfortable
Best Backpack Style Duffel Bag for Travel
The North Face BASE CAMP Duffel
|External dimensions||71 cm (height)|
|Color (s)||TNF red|
|Construction material||nylon (100%)|
|Suitable for carry-on||no|
It’s not uncommon to find one or more of us gushing about the latest new TNF (The North Face) product. That’s probably because they have such an impressive track record of releasing gear that can get the job done without draining your bank account. Their products actually vary quite a bit in terms of price, and as might be expected, there is a range of quality that follows suit. But for the most part their stuff tends to exceed our expectations, and the BASE CAMP DUFFEL is no exception.
What you have here is a burly travel sack that is designed to hold up to the rigors of international travel, without being to terribly cumbersome. Unlike other duffel bags, this one can wear as a backpack quite comfortably in the way that traditional duffel bags simply cannot.
The construction is thick laminate vinyl, and it is obvious from first look that it is going to hold up to even the most vigorous of adventures. That’s one of the things about travel bags that we think is most important, because who knows what happens to your bag between the time you drop it off at the ticket counter and the time you pick it up in baggage claim.
Best feature is probably the water repellant properties. We aren’t going to go so far as to say that this bag is completely waterproof (though neither is TNF) but it is actually quite resistant. It takes quite some time for pooled water to work totally through the fabric. In addition, this laminate vinyl is the kind of material that might take quite well to third party waterproofing agents. She’s more expensive than some of her competitors, but in this case it might be worth the additional durability.
Best Duffel Bag for Weekend & Short-Term Travel
GONEX 60 L Travel Duffel Bag w/ Show Compartment
|External dimensions||22.44” x 11.42” x 8.66”|
|Color (s)||coral, green, black, orange|
|Construction material||500d nylon w/ pu coating|
|Suitable for carry-on||yes|
Ask anyone who has to travel internationally for work, and they will tell you that the single most important factor in a well packed bag is good organization. Knowing exactly where your things are at all times can make a
big difference in how long it takes you to get to that meeting, or charge your phone, or even catch your plane. But knowing where your items are is only part of the battle. The other part is being able to access those items easily, without having to unpack everything to get there.
This is why we’re so enamored with the 60L weekender bag by GONEX. The pocket design that is employed here is surprisingly complex for a bag that is sold at this kind of value pricing, so we have to admit that we were a little surprised. Usually you have to pay more premium prices to get this kind of detailed organizational structure, but with GONEX this simply isn’t the case.
The shoe storage compartment is particularly interesting for people like me who like to take of his shoes for the duration of the flight (yes, I maintain clean socks for the benefit of my fellow passengers). Having a pocket to stash the shoes in is particularly helpful, but is also the ideal sort of thing to allow you to switch from travel comfort shoes to business casual with the zip of a single pocket.
500D nylon is pretty tough, but this is not the most durable bag on our list, nor the most tear resistant. It is suited for small trips and as use as a carry-on bag, but longer adventures and more rigorous travel will require something with a bit more grit to it.
Best 100% Waterproof Submersible Duffel Bag
YETI Panga Airtight & Waterproof Duffel
|External dimensions||10” h x 23.5” l x 14” w|
|Color (s)||storm grey|
|Construction material||high density nylon & tpu lamination|
|Suitable for carry-on||yes|
The duffel bags that we have looked at so far have had a few things in common, namely, that they offer pretty great performance considering the price, and that they both fall on the lower end of the cost spectrum when it comes to these kinds of bags. However this next duffel bag is something completely different, and we couldn’t be more excited about it.
The YETI PANGA 50 is built for a different breed of adventurer, someone who is likely to encounter more than a bit of airport wear and tear. It is built to sustain some incredible levels of stress and damage, but namely, is 100% waterproof. And not just in the kind of way that every product on the market seems to be claiming that they’re waterproof. This bag is 100% submersible, meaning that the waterproof rating will hold even if the bag is completely underwater. For the fool-hardy adventurer making their way down the Grand Canyon, there is perhaps no better bag for you.
The whole deal is made sweeter by the fact that this bag is coming from the folks at YETI, who for the last few years have been dedicated to defining themselves as a company that makes some of the sturdiest and most reliable gear out there, from coffee mugs to coolers. The only real problem that our review team found with the bag is that the outer material is not very stain resistant. Chances are this bag is going to start to get dirty pretty quick, and it doesn’t always clean that well. But the waterproofing is 100% trustworthy, as we can attest to.
Best Convertible Duffel Bag / Backpack Combo
Helly Hansen UNISEX HH DUFFEL 2 70L Bag
|External dimensions||21.6” x 13.8” x 13.8”|
|Construction material||100% polyester|
|Suitable for carry-on||no|
When it comes to duffel bags that can be used as backpacks, we look for two main things. Number one is the ability of the backpack straps to be stored inside of the duffel bag when not in use, which is absolutely necessary if you are going to be trusting your bag in the hands of airport baggage people. Not that they can’t do a good job, but loose straps are a surefire way to get a hole torn in your bag, and after that things can only get worse.
The other thing that we are constantly on the lookout for is just how comfortable those backpack straps are. We don’t care if you just threw a few thin straps of plastic onto a duffel bag. If it’s not comfortable in both setups, then we’re simply not interested.
Fortunately for all of us, HELLY HANSEN has managed to check both boxes, giving us a convertible style duffel bag that functions equally well in both roles. As a duffel it is sturdy and reliable with a decent amount of internal pockets. As a backpack it carries well and features a relatively high degree of adjustability for a convertible pack. We admit however that the shoulder straps are not quite as thick as we would like them to be. As it stands they can become a bit bothersome after an hour or so with this thing on your back.
However this is no backpacking rucksack. You probably won’t need to be using the shoulder straps for more than a few hours anyway, so we are unsure if it even matters.
Our only qualm, and it is a small one, is that the bag is so prominently decorated by the “HH” logo, as well as the “70L” sizing. We don’t feel that it’s really necessary to advertise to the world what size bag we are carrying with us, but hey. Maybe that’s just us.
Best Wheeled Carry-On for Air Travel
GRANITE GEAR Cross Trek 2 Wheeled Carry-On w/ Removable Backpack
|External dimensions||22” x 23” x 13”|
|Color (s)||black / midnight blue|
|Construction material||“repelaweave” (polyester)|
|Suitable for carry-on||yes|
Convertible backpacks seem to be all the rage these days. But unlike the convertible bags we have reviewed so far, like the HELLY HANSEN duffel that you just read about, this one has got a bit of a surprise up its sleeve. Utilizing a well-engineered and yet easy to use interconnected zipper system, the GRANITE GEAR Cross Trek 2 actually can become two different bags at the same time. In other words, you are able to remove the front portion of the bag and use it as a daypack. The value of this kind of innovation is significant if you think about those short weekend trips when a large piece of luggage makes no sense, and yet you don’t want to be touring a new city with a wheeled carry-on.
The backpack itself is 28L, which is perfect for a day long adventure to the city museum, or a short hike up to that picture-perfect waterfall. When connected to the main bag, the whole thing is still small enough to function as an air-approved carry-on bag. Essentially what you’ve got is one of the best all-around weekend travel bags, as it’s really the only bag you’ll need for a 1 to 2 day trip to just about anywhere.
Interior pockets are great. They’re plentiful and well designed. One thing that we would certainly recommend to the manufacturer for their next version of this bag is to include a specialized laptop sleeve inside of the backpack. This was the only thing that we really saw missing. It’s a touch on the expensive side for a bag of its size, but the durability and versatility more than make up for that on the other side.
Best Classic Style Duffel Bag for Travel
GRANITE GEAR 24” Packable Duffel
|External dimensions||24” l x 12” h x 11” w|
|Color (s)||fern, redrock|
|Suitable for carry-on||it’s questionable|
The next product on our list is another one by the folks over at GRANITE GEAR. As opposed to the CROSS TREK 2, which was more of an air-travel-specific roll-on type, this one is a legitimate duffel bag, perhaps more suited to car travel or checked luggage.
The question of whether or not this bag is small enough for air travel is somewhat nebulous. If you pack this bag to the seams, then it will most certainly not be accepted as a carry-on item. However, if there are only a few items in it, then it might well be small enough for it to get by. But let’s be honest, if you are looking for a good piece of carry-on luggage, there are a lot of more appropriate items out there. (Like the aforementioned Cross Trek 2).
As a simple duffel however this bag serves it purpose with flair and zeal. There aren’t a ton if interior pockets, but enough to keep important things like passports, keys, and your cell phone easily accessible at all times. The exterior zipper pocket is a bit small for our tastes, but large enough for the essentials.
Our only other criticism is that the bottom of the bag is the same material as the rest of the bag, and while this material is sturdy enough, it could perhaps use a bit of extra reinforcing on that bottom plate. Over time it is going to show some wear and tear.
Most Versatile Duffel Bag for Travel
EAGLE CREEK Cargo Hauler 60L Duffel
|External dimensions||26.5” x 10.25” x 13.5”|
|Color (s)||black, blue, concord, fern, flame|
|Construction material||“bi-tech armor lite” (synthetic)|
|Weight||1 lb 12 oz|
|Suitable for carry-on||possibly|
This is actually the first product by EAGLE CREEK that we have had the pleasure of reviewing, and already we can tell why so many people are flocking to this brand when looking for duffel bags for travel or adventure.
The first thing we noticed: this bag (& as we found out, all bags by EAGLE CREEK) utilize a really effective folding system that is able to turn the empty bag into nothing but a small rectangle. The carrying case for the folded bag is not only lightweight, but features a picture of the bag itself and lists the size of the bag inside. Why is this such a big deal? Well, as any good gear-head will tell you, it’s unlikely that you will have only one product by these guys after you’ve experienced it.
Consider a family of five, each with a different sized duffel. Sorting things out is easy with this kind of system.
The second thing that we were impressed with is a Guaranteed Warranty Program that actually seems pretty legit. A few people that we know have already commented on how great their customer service has been, which is more evidence to us that this is a group of people that are actually connected to what the modern traveler / adventure-hound is actually looking for. Service is a big part of that.
The lack of compression straps is the only thing that makes us feel as if this bag is not as awesome as it could be. Generally when you are nearing this price range for a duffel bag, compression straps are the kind of thing that you would get as a standard feature. They allow the bag to become even smaller and more compressed, and when you are traveling with a group of people, the saved space can make a huge difference in whether or not the driver can even see over the top of the car.
Best Duffel Bag for Yak-Rack Car Travel
GREGORY MOUNTAIN PRODUCTS Alpaca 90 Duffel Bag
|External dimensions||13.8” x 29” x 14.6”|
|Construction material||900d polyester / nylon|
|Suitable for carry-on||no|
While the Gregory Mountain APLACA series is actually available in a number of different sizes, the one we looked at was the 90 Liter model, and we have to say, this is the perfect size for almost any adventure. The 120 Liter model on the other hand is far too big for raft trips and shorter adventures. Although it is nice to have the option.
So how does the bag itself hold up? This is a well-built duffel. 900D polyester is on the heavier side of fabrics, which gives this bag an impressive resistance to tearing and ripping. Our favorite feature by far however is the daisy-chain ribbon that is sewed around the outside of the back. This allows the bag to be securely attached to a kayak, canoe, or boat.
The bag is convertible into backpack-style carry, however the straps are not quite as comfortable as they are on some competitors models.
The only way that we could truly tell you which of these duffel bags is the best bag for international travel, is to travel internationally with each one of them and see how they hold up. Unfortunately, our team’s budget isn’t quite where it needs to be for those kind of shenanigans. So we’re just going to have to leave you with our honest reactions and let you make the decision from there.
Without question, the most durable and waterproof bag that we reviewed was the YETI PANGA DUFFEL, which seems like it could stand up to just about anything. It is also, however, the most expensive bag on our list, which might make it not ideal for some users.
In terms of overall value, we’ve got to hand it to THE NORTH FACE BASE CAMP DUFFEL, which takes the cake for best balance of price to overall performance.
Review Criteria: How We Selected the 8 Best Duffel Bags for International Travel
When you are talking about backpacks, the actual ‘size’ is mostly talked about in liters, instead of terms like M, L, or XL. While those traditional sized certainly still exist, using liters as a means of interior measurement is perhaps more accurate. This is because it allows you to think in terms of liquids amounts exactly how much you are able to fit inside it. The volume of a duffel bag, or for that matter, any backpack for international travel, can vary significantly. Here are the most common sizes, as well as a brief guide on what each size is most ideal for.
Duffel Bag Sizing Guide
|SIZE||VOLUME (L)||IDEAL FOR:|
|X-SMALL||2 L – 10 L||In-flight personal item|
|SMALL||11L – 25L||Carry on or Day Trip|
|MEDIUM||25L – 50L||Carry on or Weekend Trip|
|LARGE||50L – 75L||4-6 day trip (international)|
|X-LARGE||75L – 125L||4-10 day trip (international)|
By and large, travel bags of 2020 are made almost exclusively of Nylon. While more complicated definitions exist, all that you really need to know is that Nylon is the produce of interwoven synthetic fibers. The way that these fibers are woven together, specifically, how tightly they are woven together, is the key to why some nylon materials might be stronger, thicker, and more waterproof than others, even though both items are made of Nylon.
The weight of a nylon thread is measured by a scale known as DENIER, which is most commonly abbreviated with a lowercase d. This will be preceded by a number which indicates the thickness level. For instance, 50d or 500d. One is going to be significantly thicker than the other, and we bet that you can guess which one that is going to be.
Here’s an idea of how it all breaks down:
- 10d – 20d: Ultra-lightweight class fabrics
- 30d – 90d: Standard weight outdoor fabrics
- 100d – 500d: Heavy-duty / “ripstop” class fabrics
Aside from the actual contents of a bag, the ability of a duffel bag or travel bag to be used as a carry-on for airline travel is all about the external dimensions of the bag. This is usually designated by the size of the overhead storage bin, and it tends to vary slightly from airline to airline. The best thing to before buying a travel bag is to check the carry-on requirements of the airline that you travel most frequently, and then purchase a bag that it as or below those dimensions.
Interested in learning more about carry-on compatibility? Check out TravelMadeSimple.Com’s Comparison Chart on the subject.
There are usually only two ways to carry a duffel bag: either by the suitcase-style straps or with a shoulder strap. Today’s bags however have the added luxury of removable backpack straps than can be attached, allowing the traveler to put the whole duffel on their back. This more even weight distribution is better on the back and hips when carrying it for more than a few steps. However not all duffel bags have this feature, so be sure to check the product specifications if that’s the kind of thing that you are interested in.
Frequently Asked Questions
Not all duffel bags are small enough to fit into an overhead storage bin, especially if you are like us and you stuff them as full as is humanly possible. For our review guide on the best duffel bags of 2019, we made sure to indicate whether each bag is suitable for carry-on and well as checked travel in the description area. But it is possible to decide for yourself which bags are suitable, as long as you look for bags that are durable and convenient.
All of the duffel bags and travel bags on today’s list have lockable zippers. This is a convenient thing because it allows you to know if your luggage has been tampered with.
However, know that TSA has the right to break any lock that see necessary in order to examine the contents of a checked bag.
In general, NYLON is pretty good about color retention, because the color is inherent to the synthetic material as opposed to a dye or coating. We wouldn’t worry too much about sun damage unless you leave it on your tin roof for a few years.
In general, duffel bags do not have wheels. This is most likely because duffel bags are designed around the concept of a soft outer shell, which allows for a more “stuffable” packing experience. Wheels would require a more rigid internal structure to work properly. However if you are interested in a wheeled travel bag, we took a hard look at the GRANITE GEAR CROSS TREK 2 above, and you should check it out.