Review: The Best Gear Duffles and Luggage

April 26, 2017  |  In Gear Reviews   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   2 Comments
The North Face, Patagonia, and Marmot gear duffels.

The North Face, Patagonia, and Marmot gear duffels.

By Michael Lanza

Whatever your outdoor sport—backpacking, climbing, whitewater rafting or kayaking, backcountry skiing, etc.—a sturdy duffle for organizing, hauling, and protecting your gear and clothing is invaluable. Not only does it eliminate the risk of damaging an expensive backpack by using it as your luggage, a good duffle has more capacity and is built to suffer the indignities of getting tossed into jet, train, and bus baggage compartments, being strapped onto a roof rack, sled, snowmobile, or pack animal, and exposed to rain and snow.

I’ve just updated this review, expanding it to nine duffles and three pieces of luggage, which I subjected to perils ranging from cross-country and intercontinental flights to the environmental hazards of multi-day whitewater river trips, getting hauled on a sled while skiing to a backcountry yurt, and numerous long-distance car trips. Besides passing the durability test, all of them demonstrated unique strengths for different styles of adventure travel.

I’ve listed the products reviewed here in order of weight rather than ranking them by some performance metric, because the one you choose will depend on your travel style, budget, and needs. The comparison chart below offers a quick look at stats and features that distinguish these duffles and luggage from one another.

 

DufflePriceVolumeWeightFeatures
Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L$9945L/2,746 c.i.1 lb. 2 oz.* Durable
* Stuffs into the one pocket
* Minimalist organization, features
Mountain Hardwear
Lightweight Expedition Duffel
$8090L/5,500 c.i.1 lb. 5 oz.* Stuffs into the one pocket
* Minimalist organization, features
Exped Tempest Duffle 100$249100L/6,100 c.i.1 lb. 12 oz.* Fully waterproof
* Compact
* Very durable
* No pockets
Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 90L$10990L/5,495 e.i.2 lbs. 4 oz.* Backpack-style carry
* Stuffs inside pocket
* 2 pockets
* Very durable
Osprey Transporter 95$10095L/5,800 c.i.2 lbs. 5 oz.* Backpack-style carry
* Stuffs inside pocket
* 4 pockets
* Very durable
Marmot Long Hauler Duffle Bag XL$149110L/6,700 c.i.3 lbs. 12 oz.* Huge capacity
* Backpack-style carry
* Very durable
* Very water resistant
* 3 pockets
Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 120L$169120L/7,320 c.i.3 lbs. 13 oz.* Huge capacity
* Comfortable backpack-style carry
* Very durable
* Very water resistant
* 3 pockets
Gregory Alpaca 120$169120L/7,322 c.i.4 lbs. 3 oz.* Huge capacity
* Comfortable backpack-style carry
* Very durable
* Very water resistant
* 3 pockets
The North Face Base Camp Duffel L$145132L/8,055 c.i.4 lbs. 3 oz.* Huge capacity
* Comfortable backpack-style carry
* Durable
* Very water resistant
* 2 pockets
Victorinox Spectra 2.0 Expandable Global Carry-On$39029L/1,770 c.i.6 lbs. 8 oz.* Expandable
* Hard-sided
* Well organized
Osprey Meridian 28"/75L$37575L/4,577 c.i.7 lbs. 10 oz.* Backpack-style carry
* Removable daypack
* 4 pockets
* Padded laptop sleeve
* Rugged wheels
Deuter Helion 80$28980L/4,882 c.i.8 lbs. 11 oz.* Backpack-style carry
* 3 pockets
* Rugged wheels

 

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L.

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L.

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L
$99, 45L/2,746 c.i., 1 lb. 2 oz.
Sizes: 30L/1,831 c.i. ($79) and 45L
backcountry.com

Pros: Supremely packable, lightweight, and affordable.
Cons: No harness or padded shoulder straps; minimal organization.

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L top.

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L top.

If you’re of the mindset that traditional gear duffles are too bulky, heavy, and unwieldy, and you want something that’s lighter and more packable while still protecting your stuff, Patagonia has a solution. Weighing barely more than a pound, and stuffing into its own pocket, this slimmed-down version of the beefier Black Hole line (see below) sheds the disadvantages of big duffles without compromising much.

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L.

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L.

The Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L doesn’t have nearly the capacity for backpacking gear. I did shoehorn a lightweight, 50-liter pack inside it, but that left only enough space for a pair of shoes and clothing and personal items—no other bulky gear. It’s best for trips that aren’t gear intensive, like trekking hut to hut, or dayhiking for several days. Given that it measures about 23x15x10 inches when filled (my measurements), but is also soft-sided and compressible, you can probably often use it as carry-on luggage with all your stuff inside when you want to avoid checking a bag.

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L pocket.

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L pocket.

The two-way, water-repellent zipper opens diagonally, giving wide access to the main compartment. Organization is minimal—just one inside pocket, accessed with zippers inside and on the exterior—but adequate for a mid-size duffle; the main compartment isn’t so large that you have trouble locating contents, anyway. The 7.1-oz., 210-denier nylon ripstop with a TPU-film laminate material, treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish to repel light rain, isn’t as thick and durable as the material used in heavier duffles, but it’s pretty tough, and a duffle this size won’t likely have much weight inside, so it won’t suffer as much abuse.

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L stuffed.

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L stuffed.

The intent and obvious benefit of such lightweight, flexible fabric is its packability: The entire duffle stuffs easily into its pocket, packing down to about 11x7x5 inches (my measurements), roughly the dimensions of a small loaf of bread. That’s small enough to bury in the bottom of a backpack (the pack you stored inside the duffle while traveling) when heading out on a hut trek, or to not take up much space inside a larger duffle. The thin, nylon, tubular webbing straps are adjustable for carrying in one hand, throwing over one or both shoulders—they aren’t comfortable, but fine for a relatively light load walking a short distance—or compressing down when checking as luggage, leaving little excess strap to snag and get damaged in transit. The duffle also has burly grab handles at each end and dual, vertical daisy chains on both sides for attaching items or lashing it onto a vehicle. Patagonia’s Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 30L is $79.

BUY IT NOW  You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase a Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 45L at backcountry.com.

 

Mountain Hardwear Lightweight Expedition Duffel

Mountain Hardwear Lightweight Expedition Duffel

Mountain Hardwear Lightweight Expedition Duffel
$80, 90L/5,500 c.i., 1 lb. 5 oz. (medium)
Sizes: XS-L ($60-$100, 30L/1,830 c.i. to 130L/8,000 c.i.)
backcountry.com

Mountain Hardwear Lightweight Expedition Duffel stuffed

Mountain Hardwear Lightweight Expedition Duffel stuffed.

Pros: Supremely packable, lightweight, and affordable.
Cons: No harness or shoulder straps for throwing it on your back; minimal organization.

Flying from the States to Italy for 10 days of trekking hut-to-hut through the Dolomite Mountains, I used this packable duffel as luggage on the flight—fitting a 58-liter backpack and all of my gear and clothes for two weeks inside it—and when we started trekking, I stuffed the duffel inside its own pocket and into the bottom of my backpack. Its supreme packability alleviated the need for me to find somewhere to store luggage during our trek (partly because I brought only absolute necessities). I also used it on several multi-day car trips to go hiking and backpacking in California and Washington from my home in Boise, and my wife used it to carry her personal clothes and gear inside a dry bag on a six-day rafting trip down Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

The duffel stuffs into a zippered external pocket on one end, packing down to the dimensions of an inflated travel pillow (and it works as one if you wrap it in a soft garment like a fleece). With a U-shaped, zippered top opening and adjustable straps that lay out of the way to each side, loading and unloading is easy; although being so light, the duffel has no structure or rigidity, so it lies flat when empty. But the minimalist design provides only one zippered, external pocket for valuables or accessories (it wouldn’t hold much dirty clothing).

Mountain Hardwear Lightweight Expedition Duffel pocket

Mountain Hardwear Lightweight Expedition Duffel pocket.

The 100-denier nylon fabric in the body (210-denier on the bottom) isn’t as bulletproof as found in heavier duffles, but it suffered no damage on several trips; I wouldn’t leave it out in rain falling snow unless everything inside was in waterproof stuff sacks. The cross-hatch webbing through the body helps distribute the weight, and there are big grabber handles on each end, but the lack of a harness or shoulder straps precludes carrying it like a backpack, making it less comfortable for hauling on a long walk through an airport if it’s heavy.

BUY IT NOW  You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase a Mountain Hardwear Lightweight Expedition Duffel at backcountry.com.

 

You deserve a better backpack. See my “Gear Review: The 10 Best Packs For Backpacking.”

 

Exped Tempest Duffle 100

Exped Tempest Duffle 100

Exped Tempest Duffle 100
$249, 100L/6,100 c.i., 1 lb. 12 oz.
Sizes: 70L/4,272 c.i. to 140L/8,543 c.i. ($229-$269)
campsaver.com

Pros: Completely waterproof, lightweight, compact, and durable.
Cons: Very minimalist, pricey, unpadded shoulder straps, and zipper’s hard to pull.

Exped Tempest Duffle 100.

Exped Tempest Duffle 100.

Fully waterproof, with welded seams and a waterproof zipper, this duffle was an ideal choice to ensure my teenage son’s extra clothes, gear, and electronics stayed dry on our rafting trip down Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River (it was also packed inside a dry bag, to be safe). But its lightweight, simple design, durable materials, and packability also made it ideal for long road trips to national parks from the Canadian Rockies to Zion and the Grand Canyon, and carrying gear for everything from backpacking to climbing and whitewater boating.

The fully waterproof YKK FlexSeal zipper even prevents air from escaping—you can blow this duffle up like a balloon. But you won’t pop the TPU film laminated 840-denier and 420-denier fabrics. The unpadded nylon straps can be worn over your shoulders; they’re fine for hauling to the car or from boat to campsite, but they are not designed for comfort with a heavy load on a sustained airport slog.

Exped Tempest Duffle 100 zipper

Tempest Duffle 100 zipper.

Extremely minimalist—explaining its low weight—the Tempest’s only other features are tough, nylon grabber handles at each end and two D-rings inside and outside; there are no pockets for organizing. (Get stuff sacks.) But internal compression straps help prevent contents from sloshing around. As expected, the waterproof zipper requires effort to pull and seal tightly, although that’s a minor inconvenience if you want that level of weather protection.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase an Exped Tempest Duffle 100 at campsaver.com.

 

 

When you’re looking for a new gear, make informed choices by first reading my pro tips on buying a backpack, backpacking tent, hiking shoes or boots, and a sleeping bag.

 

Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 90L

Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 90L

Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 90L
$109, 90L/5,495 c.i. 2 lbs. 4 oz. (large)
Sizes: 45L/2,746 c.i. to 120L/7,322 c.i. ($89-$119)
moosejaw.com

Pros: Well organized, comfortable shoulder straps, durable, packable, and lightweight.
Cons: A small, internal valuables pocket would be handy.

Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 90L

Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 90L

Eagle Creek’s Cargo Hauler series delivers a lot of features and value for the price and weight of these duffles; only the Osprey Transporter competes on those terms. Using it on eight flights to go hiking and backpacking in North Carolina and New England, and on an 18-hour round-trip drive to a backpacking trip in the North Cascades, I decided it has many strengths and found almost nothing to criticize here.

Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 90L

Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 90L

The 90L duffle had enough capacity to swallow my backpack and gear (except boots) for an 80-mile, five-day backpacking trip in the North Cascades National Park Complex. The U-shaped, lockable top zipper—with a storm flap to deflect rain—opens a huge door into the main compartment, making it easy to see and retrieve items. Two roomy end pockets can hold dirty laundry, boots, or smaller gear items.

Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 90L

Cargo Hauler 90L end pocket.

The removable, well-padded shoulder straps compare for comfort with the best-carrying duffles reviewed here (the models from Patagonia and The North Face). Options for carrying the Cargo Hauler include thick handles on top (at each end) and on one side (the latter to carry it like a suitcase), and rugged, oversized daisy chain loops on each side for lashing to a roof rack, sled, or pack animal. This duffle is built for hard use, with protective foam padding in the bottom; a non-petroleum-based coating applied to the water-repellent Bi-Tech Armor Lite fabric to give it the same durability as fabrics made with a heavier denier; burly zippers with large pull tabs for grabbing with thick gloves on; and seams and stress points all reinforced with bartack.

Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 90L

Cargo Hauler 90L stuffed.

Conveniently, and uncommon among gear duffles, all sizes of the Cargo Hauler zip into a pocket, packing down to a fraction of their full capacity (the large/90L stuffs down to size of a small briefcase), so you can throw one stuffed into another pack or piece of luggage when traveling. It took me about a minute to stuff the large into one end pocket.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase an Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 90L at moosejaw.com.

 

Planning your next big adventure? See “My Top 10 Favorite Backpacking Trips” and my All Trips page.

 

Osprey Transporter 95

Osprey Transporter 95

Osprey Transporter 95
$100, 95L/5,800 c.i., 2 lbs. 5 oz.
Sizes: 40L/2,441 c.i. to 130L/7,933 c.i. ($70-$115)
backcountry.com

Pros: Well organized, durable, multiple carry options, lightweight and packable.
Cons: Packing it into its lid pocket requires some effort.

Osprey Transporter 95 open.

Transporter 95 open.

Of all of the duffles reviewed here, this one and the Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler have the most impressive balance between low weight and packability while offering excellent organization, with multiple pockets, as well as comfortable, backpack-style straps and durable construction. Flying cross-country and traveling by car with it, I found its organization convenient for locating items without spending time searching through the duffle.

Osprey Transporter 95 long view.

Transporter 95 long view.

The level of organization surpasses all the duffles reviewed here, with four separate, roomy, zippered pockets: on the lid, one side, a mesh pocket inside, and one end pocket that bellows into the duffel, creating a big space for dirty clothes or boots. A lockable, U-shaped zipper lifts the entire lid off, providing a wide opening that lets you see everything inside the main compartment. The duffle has some structure to it, so it sits open more like a box than a limp bag for easier loading of larger gear like a backpack and tent.

Osprey Transporter 95 stuffed

Transporter 95 stuffed.

With it stuffed to within ounces of the 50-pound limit for a domestic flight, the duffel carried reasonably comfortably using the backpack-style shoulder straps; but the shoulder straps can slip outward a bit. Those shoulder straps also lock together with a hook-and-loop strap, creating a single, X-shaped top strap for hauling with one hand or over one shoulder. The padded grabber handles at each end are big enough to lift the duffle wearing gloves, and six webbing loops on each side create multiple lashing points. The 900-denier fabric will endure years of abuse. Lastly, the duffle stuffs inside its lid pocket, down to the dimensions of a small daypack, although stuffing it requires some force.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking this link to purchase an Osprey Transporter 95 at backcountry.com.

 

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by USA Today and others. I invite you to get email updates about new stories and gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box in the left sidebar, at the bottom of this post, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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2 Responses to Review: The Best Gear Duffles and Luggage

  1. Beth Resse   |  December 17, 2016 at 2:25 am

    I love to carry these gear duffles with me whenever I go, not only for sports activity but also for every travel. I was much surprised when I looked for your site because most of my favorite gear duffles were present in your reviews.

    • MichaelALanza   |  December 17, 2016 at 7:36 am

      Hi Beth, I’m glad you found The Big Outside and I hope you subscribe (see the button above this comments section). I always use one of these duffles, the size and style dependent on the kind of trip I’m taking. It’s money well spent.

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