The 5 best duffel bag for your gap year travels

The duffel bag’s superpower is that it can turn, by simply extracting the shoulder straps, from a hand-held bag into a backpack. So, let us look at the what makes the best duffel bag.

A duffel bag is perhaps the most capacious type of bag out there, so this is a tempting option for those of you who like to be prepared for every circumstance during your gap year.

This kind of bag is great for city travel, hostel-hopping, light and supported trekking, camping and expeditions, but it might not be the right choice if you are going for unsupported long hikes, We’re going to have a closer look at some of our best duffel bags, which are:

How do you choose a duffel bag?

The great thing about duffel bags is how flexible and spacious they are. Let's look at some of the features you should look for so you can find the best a duffel bag: 

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They should come in strong, durable materials, preferably waterproof. This is because the fairly unstructured nature of the bag would risk tearing or damaging with lesser materials, and also just because you want your bag to withstand as much as you can.

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The zippers need to be sturdy, preferably waterproof and lockable, to best fit the flexible nature of the bag and to be easily lockable when leaving it in a hostel.

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It is a good idea for the bag to have compression straps, to offer extra adjustability for your packing needs. As for spaciousness, manufacturers will always offer a range of capacities, and it’s up to you to decide which works best for you – as always, we recommend packing smart and not carrying unnecessarily heavy loads!

The type of back support offered by a duffel bag differs dramatically from a hiking or travel backpack, and while its shoulder straps should be padded, duffel bags will most likely not provide harnesses or hip belts.

That is because duffel bags are not designed to be taken on long hiking trips, but their level of comfort will be more than enough for weekend city trips, hostel-hopping and supported trekking.

What is the best use of a duffel bag?

While carrying a duffel bag on your back for long periods of time will not be as comfortable as carrying a travel backpack, the duffel gives easier access to your stuff which makes it ideal as a gear holder.

Whether you’re going diving, camping or snowboarding, the duffel bag can accommodate a range of stuff and it gives you easy and immediate access to it, with its flexible and soft materials and easy opening.

Supported trekking is another great use of a duffel – with its external straps it can easily be attached to a porter animal or vehicle, so that you’re free to just carry a daypack with you.

My Best Duffel Bag Reviews

The following are our best duffel bag picks based on my own experience and that of other professional travellers:

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The North Face Base Camp Unisex Outdoor Duffel Backpack
  • Detachable, adjustable, Alpine shoulder straps offers an ergonomic fit with less twisting of the straps to access
  • Padded side handles also used also for transportation and access
  • Four compression straps
  • D zip opening with protective zip flaps
  • Water-repellent ID window pocket at the top

Comfort

Weight

Access

Features

North Face Base Camp - small  

We’ve already spoken about this bag, but that’s how much we like it. The Base Camp comes in three sizes, but we think the small version (50l capacity) already accommodates more than you will probably need!


With its light, durable and water-resistant material, simple construction and clever inside organization, the bag is ideally designed to last long and carry lots.

The transition from bag to backpack is made easy by the detachable shoulder straps, and the d-zip opening comes with a large inside zippered mesh pocket.

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Patagonia Water Repellent Unisex Outdoor Duffel Bag available in Black - 60 Litres
  • Zippered exterior pocket and 2 zippered internal mesh pockets
  • Padded base protects contents
  • Burly reinforced daisy chains for lashing

Comfort

Weight

Access

Features

Patagonia Black Hole 60 

This bag wants to work with the philosophy of a black hole – hold everything in. Its flexible and DWR (durable water repellent) coated fabric is rip-proof, and the padded base makes sure your stuff is always protected from impact and staining.

It has internal compression straps for a snug fit, and internal and external pockets. The removable shoulder straps, side handles and top handles give you three carrying options.

The pack comes in many different colour combinations for fun personality options.

Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler Duffel 45L - Small
  • Extra durable, water repellent coated bi-tech armor lite fabric for maximum abrasion resistance
  • Bartack reinforcements on all stress points. Six heavy-duty lash points for attaching bag to roof rack
  • Three carry options: Removable backpack straps, padded top haul handles, and side grab handle
  • Lockable zippers with storm flap to shield zipper from rain
  • U-shaped lid for easy access to main compartment

Comfort

Weight

Access

Features

Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 45/60 

This bag is ultra light and is made of a very light, durable, water repellent material created by Eagle Creek.


The bag has six external lash points to attach the bag to roof racks or porter animals, two big zippered pockets on either side, and removable padded shoulder straps.


The 45l version is carry-on size. The handles on the sides make it easier to grab, and it can be carried by its side handle. This bag is as clever as it is stylish. 

Mammut Cargo Light Backpack 40l grey/black 2017 outdoor daypack
  • Backpack shoulder strap with soft padding
  • Spacious main compartment
  • External compartment
  • Can be packed up small in external zipper pocket
  • Removable compression straps which can be tensioned at the side and front

Comfort

Weight

Access

Features

Mammut Cargon 40/60 

This Mammut bag looks deceptively simple, but packs quite a lot of smart features.


The 40 litre version has stitched-in shoulder straps, while in the 60l version they are removable – in both cases, these are anatomically designed and can be joined together to form a handle.


The zippered side pockets and inside pockets provide extra storage options and the super strong materials will keep it going for a long time.

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Bago Duffel Bag Convertible to Backpack. Multipurpose Traveling, Backpacking or Sports Equipment Rucksack for Men and Women. Durable and, Collapsible Duffle for Flight and Travel in Black
  • HOLIDAY SPECIAL DEAL - Get Up to 15% Off - See the Special Offers and promotion below. MULTIPURPOSE 'ALL-AROUND' DUFFLE BACKPACK: Featuring a 53L main storage and multiple pockets, any traveler can store a week's worth of clothes, toiletry and travel essentials. With the Bago Duffle Bag's versatile design, you can use it for any terrain or sporty adventure. From hiking and trekking to backpacking or business travels, you name it!
  • SMART AND COMFY STRAPS: Carry it the way you want to! Our duffle bag can be worn as a backpack or sling bag and has straps for hand carry. The backpack straps are wide and breathable and if you're no longer using it, you can stuff them inside the back pockets for ease of carry. The shoulder and hand carry straps have handles for a stronger and comfortable grip. With a bag this easy to handle, you can just grab and go with no worries.
  • HANDY AND EASY STORAGE: Comes with a carrying pouch, you can bring your easy-to-fold, compact Bago Duffel Bag as an extra bag or store it without taking up too much space in your closet. Use the carrying case as an additional hand bag or to pack loose items inside the bag.
  • HIGH QUALITY AND DURABILITY: Made with high quality fabric, you get 100% confidence that all Bago products are well-made and will last you for years. We want to give you the best so if you're not satisfied, just contact our friendly Customer Service and we'll be glad to assist you!
  • FREE Ipad Dry (limited time offer: see Special Offer section below for coupon code). WHAT ABOUT THE SPECS? Measurements: 13' x 23' x 11' inch (32 x 58 x 27 cm) with 3289 Cubic Inches (53 L) Capacity. One huge compartment with a 2-way zipper opening, the zippers cover most of the perimeter of the bag's top. That allows a huge opening of the bag and easy store of it as well as opening it from either side of the bag. The duffel bag easily turns to a backpack & back to a duffle.

Comfort

Weight

Access

Features

Bago Duffel Bag

This duffel makes clever use of its opening lid panel which, as well as giving complete access to the contents with its u-zip, is topped with a foam pad which offers an extra comfortable carry.

There are stashable grab handles and shoulder straps, and external compression straps which can also be used to attach your walking poles.

It has lockable zippers and plenty of inside pockets, including an A4 pocket for documents.  made with durable ballistic material.

And the winner is…

So, what is the best duffel bag? While the options above offer similar features and are roughly in the same price range, the North Face Base Camp model is our standout pick, because it combines flexibility, durability and style like no other.

If your gap year takes you diving, or snowboarding, or even on a supported trek of the Inca Trail, this is the best duffel bag for you.