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We're living in a golden age of travel paraphernalia, where the miracle of crowd funding has made it so that almost any obscure need can be met with niche product. I am an unabashed fan of traveling with a wheeled suitcase, eschewing over-shoulder carriage for the ease of letting the thing glide along the tiled floors of a modern airport. But sometimes even the carry-on just feels like overkill, too much overhead (I assure you that pun was unintentional) for a quick weekend trip. So I went searching for the perfect duffel bag, and offer quick reviews of my three favorites here.
The smallest and most modernly stylish of the three bags reviewed here, the KP Duffel has gotten a lot of hype the last year or so as a Kickstarter-funded project. Its designers allege the great lines of a sports car as the inspiration for its asymmetric shape, which really works stylistically with its "PU Leather" material that seems virtually indestructible. This is a great bag for the confident and the style-conscious who need a packing endurance of 1-2 days without the need to carefully fold the likes of a blazer or sport coat. Conservative dressers need not apply.
Pros: Seemingly scratch proof and highly water resistant, I predict that this bag will hold up to a lot of wear and tear. It has great pockets to keep wallet, water bottle, sunglasses, tablet, and a myriad of other accessories separate and easy to reach in a pinch. While the shoe compartment was definitely meant for people too cool to travel with slippers, I love how easy it would be to stash 'em there for easy access on long flights when shoes just won't do. Also, this thing is just undeniably cool.
Cons: Remember what I said about conservative dressers? Listen, I like to be stylish... with tweed. This thing was not made for a guy in a sport coat. Despite the name and the durability, "PU Leather" is aesthetically anything but. The rubber washer on the shoulder strap hardware seems the only chintzy construction, but an important one at that. The "utility hatch" where essential electronic gear is to be stored seems poorly executed with a lot of excess fabric, and I have doubts about the versatility of a bag in which I can't see packing more than two days worth of stuff.
Appreciably larger than the KP Duffel, this duffel bag is made with Tumi's signature ballistic nylon and attractive dark brown leather accents that impart air of sophistication that definitely pairs better with tweed. It's certainly more traditional, but the external pockets manage to impart a modern feel to a traditional bag as if it actually occurred to the designers that people need a spot for their phone, wallet, keys, sunglasses, and whatever else they have in tow.
Pros: Great external pockets offer just the right amount of space for the things I want to have handy, but need to stash somewhere when rolling through airport security. The interior is rather cavernous, with ample space to travel for several days on end. Everything always feels so high quality with a Tumi bag, and this one is no exception. The pocket on the back of the bag converts to a hook by which you can mount the bag over the handle of your wheeled suitcase if you need to do a lot of heavy packing, making this a really versatile compliment to your existing luggage situation. The size of this thing makes it a great alternative to a wheeled suitcase when you know that uneven city streets are in your itinerary, and you just can't stomach another long walk of tourist shame listening to your luggage click click click on the cobblestones behind you.
Cons: Unfortunately, this bag starts to creep into the realm of being so large (and heavy, when loaded) that I found myself wondering why I'd not just pack a wheeled suitcase and absolve myself of sherpa duties lugging the thing around an airport.
Another bag to garner critical acclaim in online travel circles the last several years, the Garment Weekender Bag's claim to fame is the way it completely unzips, folds flat, and turns into a garment bag capable of transporting an entire suit or dress unwrinkled before folding back up and turning into a duffel in which you can pack the rest of your items. It's brilliantly designed.
Pros: See previous about brilliant design. It is, as far as I can tell, the only duffel bag that can even begin to claim status as a good way to transport good clothes that need to be packed flat with minimal folding. It's available in a range of fabrics and leathers, all of which are attractive and seemingly well made. The interior pockets are thoughtful, certainly in line with the "nice clothes" theme with a great flat spot to pack a tie. Overall build quality is excellent.
Cons: This takes the big drawback of the aforementioned Tumi bag to the absolute extreme. For all its brilliant design, the Garment Weekender is too big for my taste, immediately leading me to the conclusion that any time it's necessary to pack a suit, one should just pack a real suitcase and be done with it.