Duffel bags are highly versatile bags. You can use them to carry your gym equipment, or you can stuff enough clothes in them for a multi-day trip out of town. However, if you want to take your duffel bag on a plane with you, you first have to make sure that it fits within the airline’s strict carry-on guidelines.
The standard duffel bag will measure around 22 × 17 × 10 inches (L × H × D) and have a carrying capacity of between 20 and 30 liters. Meanwhile, most airlines limit carry-on bag sizes to 22 × 14 × 9 inches. So, you should look for a slightly smaller duffel bag when flying.
Today, I’ll describe what a duffel bag is and how to choose the right size for your upcoming trip. I’ll also explain how duffel bags differ from other types of travel bags.
Duffel Bags and Their Sizes
We oftentimes hear the phrase “duffel bag,” but do we actually know what it means? To put it simply, a duffel bag is merely a type of travel bag that is cylindrical in shape and comes with straps.
The duffel bag gets its name from its origins. They were first developed in Duffel, Belgium, sometime in the 17th century. Back then, they were made of thick, sturdy cloth. Traditionally, duffel bags would come with a drawstring to close the top and keep their contents safe from the elements. As time progressed, the drawstring was eventually phased out, with zippers being the norm.
Today, duffel bags are also called “weekenders,” which is a vague description of how much stuff it can carry at a time (enough clothing and supplies for a weekend trip).
Duffel bags come in a wide assortment of sizes and carrying capacities, with the standard being around 22 inches long, 17 inches tall, and 10 inches deep and carrying 20 to 30 liters of stuff.
Choosing the Right Duffel Bag Size for Carryon
As previously stated, the standard duffel bag will measure around 22 × 17 × 10 inches and carry up to 30 liters of your belongings. While large bags are great for storing more items, they’re not ideal for taking them onto planes and storing them in the overhead compartments.
The problem with the standard duffel bag is that they are larger than what most airlines permit for carry-on luggage. The majority of airlines, at least in the US, are 22 × 14 × 9 inches. While they usually don’t set a weight limit for carry-on bags, if you can’t fit it inside the luggage sizer, you’re pretty much out of luck.
So, if you’re planning for a flight in the near future and are in dire need of a duffel bag, make sure you choose a bag that is slightly smaller than the standard size. Remember: it’s generally a good idea to choose a slightly smaller bag to use as a carry-on than a slightly larger bag that would prevent you from flying at all.
The good news is that duffel bags come in a wide assortment of sizes and designs. So, whether you’re flying to another city or driving there, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding the right duffel bag size for your method of travel.
How to Pack a Duffel Bag
Although 20 to 30 liters may sound like a lot of storage space, you’ll eventually realize just how few items a typical duffel bag can accommodate. So, here’s what you can do to get the most out of your duffel bag.
Roll your clothes
Duffel bags do not come with numerous internal pockets and compartments. So, you will have to do your best to organize your belongings. You can make it easier on yourself by rolling t-shirts, jeans, and other articles of clothing you don’t mind getting wrinkled. A set of packing cubes can also help you with organizing your stuff.
Make use of the side pockets
You can free up some space inside the main compartment by placing small objects (basic toiletries, stationery, travel documents) in the side pockets. Also, you will ensure that your important documents don’t get wrinkled or torn to shreds by the constant movement of your packing cubes!
Only put dress shoes in your duffel bag
No matter how careful you are, your shoes will eventually get dirty. If you are on a business trip, only keep your dress shoes in the duffel bag and keep your sneakers or sandals on your feet. If your dress shoes get dirty, place them in a plastic bag and keep them to the side of the bag’s main compartment.
Duffel Bag vs. Other Kinds of Travel Bags
The duffel bag is not the only type of travel bag. There are at least 4 travel bag options to choose from. So, how do duffel bags differ from the rest? Let’s find out.
I don’t have to go too deep into backpacks since most of you will know what they are. If you don’t, feel free to check out my guide on standard backpack dimensions. In short, a backpack is a type of bag that you strap around your shoulders and wear on your back—hence, its name.
Backpacks are excellent travel accessories if you don’t plan on spending too long away from home. However, you can also find hiking backpacks that can carry at least 50 liters of your belongings.
Duffel bags offer more storage space (20 to 30 liters as opposed to 15 liters) compared to backpacks. They also usually have a single strap or sling that goes around your shoulder, whereas backpacks have dual straps for better weight distribution. Both duffel bags and backpacks come in wheeled varieties for easy transport and mobility.
Travel totes are small bags with handles used for carrying tiny objects, such as makeup and basic toiletries. Generally, travel totes go inside suitcases during long-distance travels, and you’ll only whip them out in your hotel room or when hitting the city.
Duffel bags are used for storing enough clothing and supplies for multiple days at a time, whereas travel totes can only carry a t-shirt, a pair of socks, and your travel documents at most. The good thing about travel totes is that you don’t have to worry about whether or not you can take it onto a plane due to their petite size.
Suitcases are wheeled travel bags with hard cases or frames. While they might not look like it, suitcases are much larger than duffel bags (up to 95 liters for a standard-size suitcase), so you can pack way more supplies for longer journeys.
However, you wouldn’t typically take a suitcase with you onto a plane as a carry-on. Instead, you would check it in as luggage when checking in with the airline. Also, suitcases generally don’t come with straps, so shouldering a suitcase is simply out of the question.
A messenger bag, a.k.a. courier bag, is a lot like a duffel bag in appearance. It comes with a single strap that you throw over your shoulder and only has a few compartments for basic organization. Plus, they are oftentimes made of the same materials (leather or polyester with plastic frames).
But that’s where the similarities end. Messenger bags are not used for multi-day trips or even packing shorts to wear at the gym. Instead, they are used for carrying documents, toiletries, and other small items you need to keep with you at all times while traveling.