Duffel or Suitcase: Which is Best for Your Next Trip?

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Written by Katie Coakley on

Katie Coakley is a Colorado-based freelance writer who writes about travel, craft beer, and outdoor adventures. The Coronavirus may have kept her state-side but she’s still traveling safely. See more of her work on her website or follow her on Instagram @katie_on_the_map.

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In the great quest for the perfect packable luggage, there are epic battles between a suitcase and a duffel bag. Wondering if you should travel with a duffel or a suitcase on your next trip? Let’s talk about the situations in which the duffel, indubitably, reigns supreme.

In the age-old struggle of “which bag to pack,” there are very different camps. Some say that a suitcase is always appropriate, but when that same bag needs to be strapped to the back of a camel, your thinking may change. For mathematically-minded travelers, this equation might be helpful: location x duration x accommodation quality. For the rest of us, here are some helpful travel scenarios in which to help you decide if a suitcase or a duffel bag is most appropriate for your next trip.

The Cheap Flight Scored on a Low-Cost Carrier

Duration: Weekend or less

When you book a screaming deal on a flight (hello, Vegas), you know what you’re getting yourself into: Fees for everything from space in the overhead bins to that tiny glass of water. In this case, your best bet is a small carry-on suitcase or a backpack like the Wayfinder Backpack 30L. You need something that can fit under the seat in front of you while stowing your laptop and your essentials for a weekend of adventure. After all, who cares if you wear the same outfit two nights in a row? You won’t see these people again.

The Road Trip

Duration: Holiday weekend or longer

There’s something about a road trip that encourages overpacking. Perhaps it’s the allure of the wide open road, just brimming with potential adventures that makes you pack not only your rock climbing gear but also whitewater rafting layers; or maybe it’s the knowledge that you can pack as much as the car will hold (just make sure you pack the road-trip essentials). But no matter what the reason, it’s not an excuse to go wild with the packing! You do have space though, so a duffel is ideal here. The Migrate Duffel is available in 40L, 60L and 90L sizes, ensuring that you have plenty of room for both a wetsuit and a full rack of climbing gear. The 900D heavy-duty TPU is also easy to clean, which means you can hose it off when the mud fight gets a little intense.

Traveling as a Family

Duration: weekend or longer

My mother is a local (family) legend when it comes to packing: She could successfully fit clothes for a family of four, on a weeklong trip, into an incredibly small bag. This was a source of pride for her, but it’s no longer a requirement for everyone (though I still use her rolling technique). If you want the space of a duffel but the ease of a rolling bag, which is key for fitting a large amount of gear into a bag, consider a large rolling duffel. In this “best of both worlds” situation, you’ll get a 110L or 130L bag with treaded wheels that keep a heavy load rolling with minimal effort that also folds flat for compact storage. Pair your duffel with sets of colored-coded packing cubes to keep the entire family organized.

The Warm-Weather Vacation

Duration: one to two weeks

It’s no secret: Beach vacations require very little when it comes to packing. Throw a few bathing suits, a sarong or two, and some flip-flops into a bag and you’re good to go, right? Not so fast. Not all warm weather destinations are beaches. If you’re heading to a chic metropolitan destination like Barcelona or Rio, you might want pack some additional garments. In this case, a suitcase like an international size carry-on might suffice. After all, if you can pack for a two-week trip in a carry-on, why wouldn’t you?

The Cold-Weather Destination Vacation

Duration: Two days or more

Let’s be honest: Packing for a cold-weather destination like a ski trip or a visit to the reindeer in Finland[1] , can be a pain. After all, you not only need several layers of cold weather gear (those sweaters can get bulky), but you also need regular clothes for lounging by the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa or glögi. Sure, you can try to pack light, but why not be prepared? In this situation, an all-purpose waterproof duffel is your best bet. Not only do you have seamless bottom bathtub construction that prevents moisture from entering the duffel if placed in a snowbank or snowmelt puddle, but you also have backpack straps for easier carrying if reaching your destination includes a few hundred feet of elevation gain or more. Oh, and in terms of fitting in that bulky clothing? Compression cubes are your best friends.

In the end, the choice between a rolling suitcase, backpack, or travel duffel depends on several factors that have to do with your specific trip. However, if you can use a versatile duffel like the Migrate Duffel with with water repellent RPVB coating and an environmentally-friendly twist (it was developed by harvesting windshield plastic from landfills in Asia); with an expansive holding capacity; and one that can be rolled or hauled like a backpack and also has lockable zippers? Why wouldn’t you jump on the duffel train? It’s a comfy way to travel.

Related Links (from Eagle Creek blog):

Product Guide: Eagle Creek National Geographic Guide Series

Buying Guide: Luggage, Travel Packs, and Carry-Ons

What Makes Your Luggage Last a Lifetime