Whether you're on the hunt for luggage that can easily be carried over rough terrain, or simply want a lightweight bag for a quick weekend trip, a duffel bag is absolutely the way to go. These trusty bags are compact, durable, and small enough to fit into overhead compartments. The best carry-on duffels really do make traveling a breeze, as long as you know what to look for when shopping for one.
Most importantly, if you want to avoid having to check or gate check a bag, you need to pay close attention to the size of the duffel bag, especially since some brands claim to be carry-ons, but actually exceed the maximum measurements, sometimes by a long shot. While all airlines have different restrictions, the general rule of thumb is that the bag needs to be smaller than 22 by 14 by 9 inches for a standard domestic flight, and 21 by 14 by 9 for international travel, according to Travel & Leisure. All of the bags below fit within the 22-inch requirement, but still offer a surprising amount of storage thanks to their many pockets.
The next factor to consider is portability. Do you want a duffel bag with wheels that you can easily maneuver through the airport, or do you prefer one that can be converted into a backpack for easy hauling up hills? No matter what, the best duffels will have plenty of strap/handle options, for lifting on the side, top, and even back.
Last but not least, you want to think about how you'll be using the duffel, since that will influence the material you choose. For rugged camping trips, a waterproof nylon might be the way to go. For a quick trip to Vegas, a lightweight, canvas bag could be the winning choice.
So, with those considerations in mind, it's time to start shopping. The carry-on duffel bags below, cover a range of price points, come highly rated on Amazon, and have frequent travelers singing their praises.
1. The Best Overall: A Rolling Drop Bottom Carry-On
This durable carry-on duffel from Pathfinder offers exceptional storage and portability, making it the perfect bag for trips with multi-stop itineraries. It features one main oversized compartment with top access, and then an additional "drop bottom" compartment that's separated by a zippered panel. There are also plenty of ways to carry it, including the heavy duty, push-button handle, the twin "hauling" side handles, and a top neoprene handle for lifting. Its corner mounted wheels can handle most terrains, and the water-resistant, honeycomb nylon material is tough too. With a 4.5-star rating on Amazon and a 10-year limited warranty, you can't go wrong with this rockstar duffel.
What fans are saying: "I stuffed it to the gills and was impressed that it didn't tilt over. It has numerous zip pockets all around and inside. It has the ability to zip and divide the interior into 2 parts which can be accessed separately so you don't have to unload numerous things from only 1 place. Extremely happy with the multiple access points, handle and wheels."
2. The Best Carry-On Duffel For International Travel
To use the overhead bins on an international flight, you need a carry-on measuring 21 inches in height. This well-made nylon one from Bric's, an Italian travel bag manufacturer, is a smart choice. It features inline skate wheels for smooth rolling, as well as top handles and an attachable shoulder strap for easy carrying. It also boasts a luggage tag, lock, and plenty of pockets, including one long exterior one, a large main compartment, and an interior zipped pocket. Available in black, navy, and olive colors, it's a premium roller duffel that is extremely easy to maneuver.
What fans are saying: "I am an avid traveler, and have been searching for the perfect piece of luggage for many months, I wanted something I could use on both high and low end travel. Something lightweight, carry-on size, reasonably priced and something I could carry as opposed to roll for certain situations. ... This bag fit the bill to a T. I used the bag for a two week trip in Thailand and worked beautifully. I fit 10 outfits, two shoes, toiletries, my purse, souvenirs with room to spare. Had no problem carrying it onto the airplane."
3. The Best Backpack Duffel
For intrepid travelers, having a duffel that converts to a backpack is essential. This water-resistant, nylon three-in-one travel duffel is easy to clean and meets both international and domestic size requirements. It's versatile too — you can wear it as a duffel, cross-body bag, or backpack. The clever design lets you conceal the backpack straps when needed, and the handles are grippy and easy to carry. Plus, this rucksack has pockets galore. There are three zippered pockets, one laptop compartment (fits up to 15.6 inches), and two accessory pockets. With a one-year warranty and a 4.3-star rating on Amazon, this multi-purpose bag is trip-ready.
What fans are saying: "Took this bad boy on a trip through Europe, and was surprised by how convenient it was to go backpacking with. The main compartment may seem small, but I was able to squeeze 1 week's worth of shirts, shorts, underwear, socks, and 1 pair of shoes. The second largest compartment is also very useful, as I was easily able to store my bathroom products, chargers, and miscellaneous items. ... Being able to zip away the backpack straps is a real advantage when traveling by plane, whether you're storing it on the overhead bin or under your seat, it's always nice to have less clutter."
4. The Best Duffel/Garment Bag For Business Tavel
This elegant and sturdy carry-on garment duffel from Hook & Albert perfectly blends style and function. It's made with with water-repellent, 100 percent cotton twill with top-grain leather accents. When fully unzipped, the garment section can easily accommodate two suits or dresses. The main compartment houses two zip accessory compartments and two large shoe pockets (up to a size 14 shoe). The exterior front has two zippered pockets, and the back has a larger single pocket for magazines or a tablet. The refined bag also boasts stainless steel hardware and a detachable padded shoulder strap.
What fans are saying: "The Weekender bag is very well designed garment from top to bottom. When you open up the bag you can see the different compartments for your main suit or dress, ties, belts, and accessories. The two flaps that stick out (I called them penguin flaps) have pockets to insert your shoes which keeps the shape of the bag and your shoes when zipped up. ... The leather straps and handle are beautifully designed and the connectors are heavy duty too."
5. The Best Budget-Friendly Duffle Bag (Plus Toiletry Bag)
With a price tag of just $40, this vintage-looking duffel bag from Oflamn is absolutely worth every dollar. It's well-made, durable, and flight-friendly. Made with canvas with synthetic leather details, and featuring a detachable shoulder strap, this bag is compact yet spacious. It boasts a main compartment with an inner zipper pocket, two large outer pockets, and even a separate shoe compartment on the side. The matching toiletry bag is the icing on the cake.
What fans are saying: "I love the heavy canvas fabric that it is made of and the faux leather trim and brass zipper sets it off to be a perfect and expensive look. Instead of lining the bag with plastic on the inside they chose to use a soft cotton lining which is nice when you are looking for things inside and will never leave you with that plastic or rubber smell to your cloths like some liners can. The size is perfect for a weekend or if you need to carry anything extra with you."
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