For quick getaways or long weekends, suitcases can seem impractical. When you don’t need to carry much stuff, or are simply a short drive or train ride away from your destination, who wants to mess with a massive, cumbersome carry-on—especially if your trip involves multiple forms of transportation?
Enter the duffle bag and weekender. More rugged than a gym bag and easier to squeeze into cramped compartments than a hard case, they’re ideal travel companions for guys taking short excursions. They’re a hell of a lot more stylish than a clunky suitcase, too.
There are a few things to consider when looking for the perfect one, though. So before you go splashing your cash, here’s what to look for when choosing the right bag for you. Now go and get your money little duffle bag boy.
Duffles vs. Weekenders
The duffle bag’s history traces to the Belgian city of Duffel, where weavers manufactured a tough canvas cloth that became synonymous with the standard-issue cylindrical bags lugged around by soldiers. The bag is characterized by its cylindrical shape and carrying straps.
Weekenders are more rectangular in shape and are generally smaller, large enough to fit a day or two’s worth of clothes and toiletries — hence the name — but compact enough to easily stow away.
Whether you’re after a duffel or weekender largely depends on how much stuff you’re looking to carry, but broadly speaking, the two terms are interchangeable.
Size and Color
All airlines and trains have a specific definition of what can be taken aboard as a carry-on, so do a bit of research before you pull the trigger on a specific piece. It’d be a shame to get the bag of your dreams, only to find out it’s just a tad too big to classify as a carry-on. A ballpark figure is something between 1- or 2-feet wide and long. Your bag should be a good deal roomier than a backpack, but noticeably smaller than a suitcase.
Color-wise, you can either keep it classic and versatile or try something a bit bolder—the latter choice makes it a bit easier discerning which bag is yours, and can be quite helpful should a friend or cab driver need to spot you from a distance. Black, navy, and military tones like tan or olive are always safe bets. Status symbol-hunters may consider the signature prints of a label like Goyard, or something striking and heavily-branded from brands like Supreme, BAPE, or Stone Island.
Materials and Durability
Given that you’ll be throwing your new bag into luggage compartments, dragging it out of car trunks and lugging it around in between, you’re going to want a bag that can take some punishment.
In terms of fabric, canvas is a good compromise between quality and affordability. Nylon offers almost the same degree of toughness as canvas, with added water resistance. A waterproof interior comes in handy if you’re traveling with liquids, so the bag won’t suffer too much if something spills while you’re en route.
Good quality leather will stand the test of time, and if you’ve got the money to splurge on a luxury option from a label like Goyard or Louis Vuitton, your investment will only get better with age. Pay attention to the thickness of the leather, and make sure it’s the real deal — faux leathers aren’t anywhere near as durable, neither are full-blown bootlegs.
On the lower end of the price spectrum, some bags come in vinyl to achieve a leather look — but avoid those, as they’ll only fall apart over time. Check the bottom of the bag too. Metal studs or a reinforced bottom layer will help keep your bag safe from everyday wear-and-tear.
Finally, stitching and closures should also be considered. For zippers, zip and unzip them a few times and see how well they close. Shoddier zippers tend to catch the side of the fabric over time, or will bust open at one end if a bag is too packed. Like clothes, high-end zippers from RiRi or YKK are signifiers of a well-made piece. For snap closures, check the quality of the snap button, as those can often come apart after heavy use.
Most bags will have some extra pockets — either in or outside — to stash small items like watches, jewelry, passports and the like. Split pockets on the outside can be used for things like external chargers, tablets, magazines, or other types of things you might use to entertain yourself while traveling — make sure you’re not making yourself an easy target for potential pickpockets, though.
Some bags that have been treated or are made of a technical fabric are weather and smell-proof, meaning whatever fragrant items you have inside can be carried in a conspicuous manner (not that we endorse smuggling contraband).
Straps and Other Features
All duffles and weekenders have handles on the side so they can be carried by hand, and some have optional shoulder straps for slinging it cross-body, freeing up your hands — useful when you need to do things like checking your phone and show your travel documents. You’re going to want to check the quality of the straps and whatever fasteners are holding them to the bag, though. Stitching and materials have to be good enough to take the strain of a filled-up bag. The last thing you want is a strap that tears when it’s in use.
Canvas bags often use leather straps, which is a good compromise between durability and affordability, as leather doesn’t come cheap — if it does, it’s probably not that good to begin with. The cloth bands that run around the width of the bag are referred to as “ribbing” and are what gives the bag its loose structure. Beware of plastic ribbing sewn into the cloth, a practice some brands use to drive down the price. Over time these can tear through the inner lining of the bag and ruin it in the process.
Lastly, consider some personalization options to make your bag stand apart from the pack. Plenty of labels offer monogramming, which is a timeless and tasteful way to mark your territory. A leather ID tag can be useful and having something on or in the bag that links it to you, the owner, is always a good idea should you happen to lose it.
So now that you know more about what to check, find a bag and pack it up and pack it in.