The Best Rolling Duffel Bags for Your Next Trip
Duffel bags are great for throwing over your shoulder and stuffing into overhead bins, but it doesn’t take long for your shoulder to hurt if you’re lugging a full bag. That’s why we love rolling duffels: bags that give you all the portability of a duffel bag with the option of rolling it across smoother surfaces. Some have pull-up handles like a piece of spinner luggage, while others just have lightweight wheels with no handle for easy foldability and storage.
Really, the only downsides of rolling duffel bags is that they tend to have a slightly sporty look, and almost always have two wheels, rather than four. They also slouch more than your average hardside suitcase, which can make it a bit harder to stack a bag on top but far easier to squeeze into an over-the-head airplane bin.
As a freelance adventure travel writer, I’ve been using various rolling duffels for years. Here are the best on the market today and the ones I recommend springing for before your next trip.
The Expert: Suzie Dundas is a freelance travel writer and editor who travels at least one or twice a month. She’s broken duffel bag straps in the Japanese Alps and dropped her carry-on in the Indian Ocean during ferry transfers, so she’s real-world tested plenty of duffel bag features. She regularly covers travel gear for Popular Mechanics and has tested travel and outdoor gear for brands like TripSavvy, Insider, Backpackers, and Forbes.
What to Consider
The most obvious decision regarding which rolling duffel bag to get is going to be its size, including whether you want checked luggage or a carry-on bag (which is typically up to 22 x 14 x 9 inches in dimension, but check your airline’s restrictions). Aside from that, you’ll want to consider how much clothing and gear you usually travel with. For some duffels with a more fixed shape, how full the bag is won’t really matter. But for duffels with more flexible designs and those without telescoping handles, the bag’s maneuverability is likely to be impacted if it’s overpacked. A heavy bag without a frame is likely going to slouch and require a good deal of strength to drag, even with wheels. So for a more flexible bag, pay attention to the size and measurements. For duffels with frames, you don’t need to worry as much.
Most rolling duffels are going to have a similar shape, akin to an average carry-on bag. However, rolling duffel bags with more of a square shape are usually easier to fit in overhead bins and, often, easier to wear as a backpack, for those that come with double straps. Bags with a rounded, circular shape—as is the traditional shape for a duffel bag, like those from Filson—have more of a vintage look but can be harder to pack or find small items in, in a pinch.
Most buyers probably don’t pay too much attention to materials, but you should if you’re an active traveler. Look for outer materials that are rip- and tear-proof, like ripstop or reinforced nylon and stronger weaves. If you anticipate flying in and out of small airports where your bag may end up sitting in the rain on the tarmac, opt for a waterproof option or look for one with a wax coating. If you regularly overpack, be sure to zoom in on the online photos to make sure the zippers look strong and durable.
Your basic duffel bag—the old-school style bags used by soldiers in WWI—could hold a decent amount of gear, but they had only one option: a long strap to sling over your shoulder. While there’s something to be said for simplicity, holding all the weight of a packed duffel on one shoulder will result in a sore neck after about 20 minutes.
That’s why I love modern-day rolling duffel bags, which have wheels in addition to handles and straps, so you can roll through airports but sling it on your back to go up stairs. Most on the list below even have pull-up handles. A few even have backpack straps to free your hands for extended travel over uneven surfaces. Just remember that a pull-up handle and built-in backpack straps may eat in a bit to your storage space inside the duffel.
How We Selected
I was able to test many of these bags while traveling the past few months and have used luggage from every brand below. To narrow down the list, I relied on knowledge of useful features gained through years of frequent travel through various airports and countries. I then looked at materials and projected durability, whether bags had clever features (like hide-away straps), and whether multiple unrelated reviews mentioned any ongoing problems or issues. I also took into consideration things like sustainability, price, guarantees and warranties, and whether a brand’s other products are generally reliable and well-received.
Our travel expert has used and abused her fair share of rolling duffel bags, so she knows what works and what doesn’t. These are the duffels she recommends.