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Buying Tips :: Duffel bags

by , January 20, 2014

Sometimes you just gotta haul gear. It might be into a camp spot, up a sheer granite wall, or just in your car for a fun week away. While the classic duffel was little more than a strap and a cavity the modern gear duffels have pimped things a fair way, adding backpack straps, multiple sections and hardware that suits an Everest expedition. But don’t expect long-distance carry comfort – duffels are still essentially glorified sacks, so if you are going for distance, grab a trekking pack.

3 things to look for:

Easy access to all your gear:

If you didn’t need easy access, you’d go with a trekking pack. You want a duffel that will open up wide, so you can find just the thing you’re after without removing an entire camp’s worth of contents.

Weatherability, particularly around the base:

It’s assumed that if you’re running with a duffel you’ll get the occasional dose of weather unload on it. Pay particular attention to the base of the duffel, as you want to be able to drop it on wet grass or snow without it soaking up and in.

Extended carry options:

While you’re not going to get a trekking pack level of comfort, it is nice to get a second strap to split the load over both shoulders. Most duffels still need to be carried at least a little way, and if they’re loaded to 80L+, that weight starts to hurt pretty quickly.

3 things to avoid:

Some duffel sizes suck:

Duffels are often designed at one volume, and then scaled up and down to make a range. The largest duffels in a range often don’t work very well, with straps anchored too low and the bags kinking in the middle. The smallest duffels in the range often have too much going on for their size. So pay attention to the size you are buying and make sure the features suit that size.

Strap spaghetti sucks:

All those bells and whistles getting added to duffels can create a mass confusion of straps and dangly bits. If you’re considering a duffel like this, make sure the straps don’t stop you getting easy access to the bag, or cause snagging if you ever check it in on a plane.

Un-burly duffels suck:

You want at least a little bit of durability to a duffel. If the fabrics are too flimsy, the base not reinforced, or the zippers little size 8’s, you’re probably going to break your bag. Make sure the straps are well anchored, the base looks like you can drag it a touch, and zips are #10’s. It will last you a lot longer that way.

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