6 Common Questions About Duffel Bags

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duffel image


Do you have burning questions about how to use a duffel bag on your next trip? We asked our Eagle Creek pros to share their expert advice on organization and space-saving so you can easily use a duffel before your next trip.

When you imagine traveling with a duffel bag, what comes to mind? I’m going to guess that it’s a jumbled mess in a shapeless khaki or olive green lump, right? Well, duffels have changed, and traveling with them is a whole new process for even the most veteran globetrotters. We caught up with Eagle Creek experts to help answer travelers’ most-asked questions on how to painlessly and efficiently use a duffel bag on your next trip.


Can a Duffel Bag be a Personal Item?

Yes! You’ll be relieved to know that the sky's the limit (pun intended) when you travel with a duffel bag. The right sized duffel can easily function as either a carry-on bag, or your personal item—it just depends on the size, and how full you stuff it. If you’re using a duffel as your personal item on the plane, opt for something that easily collapsible—duffels with wheels are often too large to work as an under-the-seat bag. The packable duffel is the most versatile and works well for those planning to return from their travels with souvenirs, while the Migrate Duffel 40L would fit under the seat so long as it wasn’t completely full.


Can You Use a Duffel as Your Main Travel Bag?

Generations of GI’s used the classic duffel as their main (and only) travel bag. Why mess with a great thing? Today, there are a lot more options than the standard shoulder-carry duffel. If you plan to use a duffel bag as your main travel bag, look for a duffel bag with wheels, or for one that doubles as a backpack. For really big adventures—when you need to pack a lot and are planning to put your bag through all the rigors of adventure travel—look for heavy-duty zippers, sturdy seams, wheels, and water-resistant fabrics. Cargo Hauler duffels are a great choice. But if you want even more features—like external storage pockets, lash points, and extra-grip handles—ORV Trunks are a top pick. Chosen by Outside Magazine as Best Travel Bag, the ORV Trunk 36 is a great bag for your most serious adventures.


How Do You Wash a Duffel Bag?

Good question, and it ultimately comes down to the material used in your duffel. By picking the right duffel at the start, you can make washing your bag a lot easier. Migrate Duffels have a water repellent coating developed by harvesting windshield plastics from landfills in Asia, meaning they’re not only durable, but incredibly easy to wipe-clean as well. Use a mild soap and a washcloth to spot clean, or just hose it down outside and leave it in the sun for a double-whammy of soapy clean amplified by the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight working as a natural disinfectant. If you’re using a packable or canvas duffel, the washing machine may seem like an easy solution, but it will wear out your gear. Make your luggage last longer with our essential bag cleaning tips. The short of it is this: Wash the exterior and interior by hand and avoid harsh solvents that will void your warranty.


How Do You Efficiently Organize a Duffel to Maximize Space?

Invest in a packing cube starter set and you’ll never look back. Packing cubes are the single most efficient way to pack and organize your duffel. Packing cubes come in all different sizes, and with and without a compression zipper. Medium-size cubes and garment folders are ideal for tops, while large packing cubes easily fit my jeans, sweaters, and any bulkier items. And, of course, I always travel with a set of packing sacs for my miscellaneous items—think electronics cords and adapters, makeup, and my travel medical kit. If you want to travel with nicer clothes that need to be pressed, use the garment folders—they easily fit in medium-sized duffels (and larger), and I always impress travel companions when they see everything nice and neat in my bag—which is not what you typically think of when it comes to duffel packing.


What Should You Not Put in a Duffel?

Duffel bags can hold most anything you’d pack in a regular suitcase, but note that the soft sides mean sharp items and items with firm edges might tear through the fabric while being handled by airport baggage handlers.

If you’re trying to save space, leave behind bulky travel shoes to be exact. Or better yet, just wear them on the plane. Also, if you're bringing a jacket or sweater, consider just carrying it on as well, or use it as a pillow. Duffels have a lot more loose space when not packed tightly, so you’ll also want to firmly secure your toiletries in a toiletry kit, and TSA approved travel bottles (which must fit in a quart sized bag) to keep your liquid contents under control. . Be sure to tightly fasten all lids to ensure nothing leaks—but then put them in the pouch just to make sure that if there is a leak, everything stays contained in your toiletry bag. Other than that, just provide some structure in your bag using your packing cubes, and play Tetris a bit inside the duffel to keep everything arranged and secure.


Is a Duffel as Secure as a Suitcase?

Of course! All Eagle Creek are covered by our No Matter What Warranty, which means we stand by the quality of the bag, no question. You can count on the bag being super durable. The only thing you need to consider when traveling is whether to provide additional security—our duffel bags all come with additional safety features to keep your gear secure on the road. Cargo Hauler and Migrate Duffels all feature lockable zippers, so just pick up a couple of TSA-approved travel locks, then use the locks to secure not only your zippers, which will prevent anyone from tampering with what's inside, but also secure your duffel to a fixed object using the cable so it’s impossible for thieves to execute a snatch and run


Ready to pick out the perfect duffel bag for your next trip? Use our Duffels Buying Guide to find the right option, then shop our Packing Organizers and Compression Bags so you never miss a moment on the road searching through your bags.


Related Links (from Eagle Creek blog):

Which Duffels are Considered Carry On Bags

How to Pack an Under-the-Seat Bag

How to Pack an Organized Duffel

What are the Best Uses of Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes?


By Shannon O'Donnell on December 26, 2019

Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008; she travels slowly and supports grassroots tourism along the way. She is an acclaimed travel speaker and works with universities and businesses all over the U.S. to talk about responsible travel.