Over the years these utilitarian kit-carriers have come on leaps and bounds: from the standard-issue canvas baggage of the 20th Century to the fully-waterproof, daisy-chain-adorned, and ultra-rugged sacks we see today.
When it comes to duffel-bag luggage it often boils down to The North Face Base Camp Duffel vs. The Other Guys, but how exactly do these other guys stack up? The North Face Base Camp Duffel is perhaps the undisputed modern-day haulage champion by popularity, but how does it compare in the field? We’ve taken our four top-selling duffels and thrown them into a head-to-head haulage hoe-down.
The Comparison Table:
|Packability||Carry Ability||Durability||Functional Features||Volume-Weight Ratio (per kg)||Flight Friendly Size|
|The North Face Base Camp Duffel||6||8||8||7||51||S|
|Marmot Long Hauler Duffel||8||6||6||7||61||45L|
|Patagonia Black Hole||8||9||8||6||66||45L|
After much deliberation on how we should score each duffel, we eventually refined it down to this selection:
Packability: How easy it is to get your stuff into the bag, then get that bag sealed up, and on the rack. High scorers here included internal compression straps and smooth-gliding zippers.
Carry Ability: A crucial aspect of any kit holder, we measured this on how easy the duffle is to lug around by hand and carry on your shoulders.
Durability: We like our duffels to last a literal lifetime, so we rated them accordingly. We considered fabric type, zipper size, dust and waterproofing here.
Functional Features: This rating took any extra features into account such as: internal/external pockets, daisy-chain, name tags, and security features.
Volume-Weight Ratio: This is essentially how many litres it can hold per kg of its own weight. All the bags come in a variety of sizes, so we averaged out the volume-weight ratio of each carrier.
Flight Friendly Size: We all need to know how much we can cram into our cabin bag, so we’ve provided the largest size from each brand that will fit safely into the overhead lockers. This is estimated on a fully packed duffel and based on an average of US & UK/EU airline restrictions.
All these heavy-duty duffels come in a variety of sizes and colours with some features that differ depending on the size of the bag, we selected four of the closest sizes to make the weigh-in as accurate as possible. Check out the specific product pages for more information on a specific size.
The Marmot Long Hauler Duffel doesn’t feel as rugged as the Base Camp, but it makes up for this by being extremely compressible. If you’re tight for space on an expedition this duffel will easily pack into awkward spaces. When we filled the Long Hauler up we were surprised at how easily it zipped-up and compressed, the supple fabric and smooth zip-glide means this sack seals shut even when it's fit for bursting. The dual function carry/shoulder straps reduce bulk but at a small cost to its overall carrying comfort.
Who’s it for: Ideal if you’re not into massive The North Face logos on your kit. Great for urban adventuring when volume is paramount.
Available in: 50L, 75L, 105L
The Black Hole excels as a carry-able duffel and comes equipped with removable, adjustable shoulder straps as well as a snap-close hauling handle and side handles. The TPU-coated polyester Ripstop feels super-tough and a double base means this is one heavy-duty hauler. The Black Hole eats up your luggage too, with double mesh/zip pockets in the lid, and useful internal compression straps to cram kit in, and make it easy to seal up – even when it’s full to the brim.
The dual-entry organiser pocket doubles as the duffel’s own stuff sack. Patagonia gets serious points for ingenuity in the stuff-sack pocket, but we had to watch a few YouTube videos before we could figure out how to get the thing back in. That said, for a 90L Black Hole sure makes a very compact cube when it’s not in use.
Who’s it for: This is a great all-rounder duffel that’s hardy enough to take on most travel situations. It’s compact pack size means it’s great for those wanting to save some space when the bag isn’t in use.
Available in: 45L, 60L, 90L, 120L
The Ortlieb Duffel Bag’s got less going on in terms of features but it certainly offers the hardiest protection. The base is made of PVC-coated Cordura that near enough makes it bulletproof, and if you’re going anywhere wet – from soggy camp sites trips to epic kayak adventures – this duffel is the watertight way to protect whatever you’ve packed inside. The straps are super–comfy too, so if a long trip’s in store they’re not gonna destroy your shoulders and back. The lockable zipper adds a handy level of security which we found reassuring. Thanks to its minimal design, it’s got the best volume-to-weight ratio of all the duffels we tested.
Who’s it for: Hardcore outdoors-people that need a tank of a duffel to keep gear safe, dry and secure.
Available sizes: 40L, 60L, 85L, 110L
The North Face's Base Camp Duffel is the best-selling duffel of all time, so we thought we’d put it through its paces to see what all the fuss is about. While the Base Camp hasn’t changed too much over the years, we’re delighted that The North Face have upped their strap game – they’re now padded with an ergonomic shape that’s not going to dig into your shoulders, there’s soft cushioning in the carry handles too.
It’s crafted from tarp-like fabric that feels like the bag will stand the test of baggage carousels, with external compression to help you bring down bulk. The U-shaped zip allows for easy packing and unpacking – just watch you don’t overfill it though – doing so makes it tricky to get the zip closed without the risk of breakage. Pocketing comes in the form of a handy separation mesh and drop pocket on the inside, with a decent-sized zip pocket in the end cap too. When it comes to packing your Base Camp away, it compresses end-to-end and neatly slips into the included circular bag.
Who’s it for: Everyone who wants a reliable duffel that stands the test of time. A go-to bag for weekends away and trips of a lifetime alike.
Available sizes: 31L, 50L, 71L, 95L, 132L, 150L
Words by: Stefan & Sam