If you want to carry the maximum amount of things on board with you while traveling by air but without the extra weight, or risk of having a slightly large bag gate checked, then you should be considering the best carry on duffel bag for travel. Non-wheeled small and medium duffle bags for women or men are ideal because most duffel bags are relatively unstructured and lighter than rolling bags and even many backpacks. They can be packed to the hilt with every corner being utilized. They’re also easy to grab and go and to squeeze into overhead compartments or under a seat. When your trip is over, many of them can be packed flat to store almost anywhere in your home.
Duffels are ideal when you’re traveling with two bags. The combination can be a backpack and duffel, a wheeled suitcase and duffel, or even two duffle bags. One can be a carry on, while the other is a checked in bag, but you could also use a small backpack as a personal item and the duffel as a carry on for the overhead bin.
The variety of duffle bags available to you is astounding. Men and women can find quilted ones in pretty prints, chic ones in leather, casual ones in canvas, or practical ones in polyester or nylon. Whatever your style, you’re also likely to find a good one at a very affordable price because these types of bags don’t usually come with as many features as a suitcase or even a backpack that is of similar size, and it takes less material to make one as well. If you can raise your budget a little, you can get a more versatile duffel, such as one that comes with backpack straps as well.
One quick thing to note is that while all duffles are great for road trips, when it comes to air travel, most of the best carry on duffels measure 20 to 24 inches in length. This is because the smaller ones can be stuffed to the hilt and still fit into overhead bins, while larger ones can be packed less full to that they can be squeezed into a tight space. They are meant to carry everything you need for a 3-4 day trip.
The smaller duffle bags make for good weekender bags as well, but if you want more options like overnight bags in a tote style, we have those too.
We understand that not everyone can carry a full-sized carry on bag very far on their backs, shoulders, or by hand, so we have also researched some great wheeled carry on duffel bags if you prefer those.
If you’re traveling for longer or need to pack some bulky items and are either traveling by road or train or willing to check in your luggage, then we have our top picks for rolling drop bottom duffel bags too.
Top Picks for Best Travel Duffel Bag Carry On for Women and Men
Best Carry On Size Duffel Bag Overall
Osprey Transporter 40L Travel Duffel Bag
Best Lightweight Carry On Duffel for Women
Vera Bradley Women's Signature Cotton Travel Duffel
Best Affordable Carry On Duffel Bag
Plambag 50L Duffle Bag
Best Carry On Duffel Bag Backpack
While a duffel bag’s simplicity is good for camping, expeditions and packing lots of stuff while keeping the volume and weight down, it’s not the best option for carrying for long periods because it can only be carried by hand. However, the game changes completely if the duffel has an extra feature to solve this problem – backpack straps. If you ever need to walk even a short distance with a decently heavy load, then a duffel bag that can also be worn as a backpack takes the value of the bag to a whole other level. It is still easy to pack, light to carry, and can be squeezed into the tightest of spaces, but these bags can be switched from carrying them messenger style or by hand to wearing it on your back.
Patagonia Black Hole 40L Duffel Bag
Just by the overall look you can tell that the Patagonia Black Hole 40L Duffel Bag is a high end duffel. It strikes a good balance between size, portability, and organization.
It weighs just over 2 lb and measures 21 x 13.7 x 10.6 in.
This sleek bag is made of 900D recycled polyester with TPU coating and DWR water repellent layer for weatherproofing, and the bottom is padded for impact protection. The inside is lined with 200D polyester with DWR coating.
It opens via a large D-shaped zippered opening on the top. The zipper opening is hidden underneath a flap so it the inside of the bag is protected in rain, but the bag cannot be submerged in water. The inside of the lid features two separate zippered mesh pockets, which is nice to keep smaller items organized without them clumping together at one end when you carry the bag as a backpack. There’s also another internal zippered pocket for more organization. The front exterior sports a zippered pocket that’s good for quick access to small items. This pocket becomes the bag’s packing pouch when it’s empty and needs to be folded away. It’s a nice feature if you have limited storage at home, or you can pack it in another piece of luggage to later use as an extra bag for souvenirs when you’re returning from a trip.
This duffel meets most carry-on standards, but if you do need to check it in for air travel, there are reinforced haul handles on either end for rough baggage handling or lifting into an overhead bin. Two column strips of daisy chains on the front and back facilitate strapping the bag to the top of your car or anything else.
Otherwise, there are two ways for you to carry this bag. There are comfortable well-padded contoured shoulder straps, or you can carry it like a normal duffel by the two short top straps that have a velcro wrap to keep them together. Even though it is designed to be carried as a duffel, it is surprisingly comfortable to carry as a backpack too. The only thing missing here is a chest strap to make extended carrying more comfortable. The shoulder straps can be quickly detached completely for stow away during airport transit via pass-through buckles on the top and side release buckles at the bottom.
This bag is made of a slightly thinner material than other comparative top end duffels for the price. This makes it potentially lower in durability but customers have not had any complaints in that department. This thinner material makes it lighter than other full-featured duffels and therefore more comfortable to carry even for petite women. The only real drawback with this bag is the lack of a shoulder strap for carrying it messenger style. You could do some DIY work by buying a separate inexpensive shoulder strap and a couple keyrings, and fix the ends of the strap to two of the opposite end daisy chain loops on the duffel.
North Face Base Camp Duffel Bag – Small
If you’re looking for the toughest and most durable carry on luggage duffle bag on the market, then the Small North Face Base Camp Duffel Bag should be your front runner.
Made of 1000 denier laminate material with an additional reinforced bottom, this 50L duffel is as rugged as it gets. However, this build makes it quite heavy even though it’s a simple duffel in terms of organizational features. Still, that shouldn’t put you off because you can also carry it as a backpack if you need to haul it more than a few steps. However, people with smaller frames may find this option uncomfortable because of the unstructured build.
The two straps are multifunctional, as they can switch from shoulder straps to backpack straps and are adjustable and quite comfortable with the pads. In addition, there are 4 external cinch straps to make the bag nice and compact for transport after you’ve packed it. If you want to strap the bag to the top of your car, etc., there are 4 weighted haul handles on each side.
The bag opens like a normal duffel with a top zippered D-shaped lid. A rain flap on the top protects the zipper opening in wet weather. The inside of the lid has 1 zippered mesh pocket and there’s an exterior zippered end-cap pocket on one side and a water-resistant ID on the top. The cavernous main compartment doesn’t have any pockets but that means you can pack any large gear that you may have.
This bag measures 12.8 x 20.9 x 12.8 inches and weighs 2lb 11 oz.
Osprey Transporter 40 Travel Duffel Bag
Osprey packs consistently rate as one of the highest quality bags in various categories, so it should come as no surprise that we’ve chosen the Osprey Transporter 40L Travel Duffel Bag for this list. It’s a full-featured expedition duffel that costs a bit less than the other high end ones so it is great value for any traveler and our choice for best carry on duffel bag for international travel.
The duffel is made of extremely sturdy nylon fabric and hardware and is TPU coated for water resistance. In fact, it is our pick for best water resistant duffel bag. The main compartment’s zippered opening is also protected by a rain flap. The sturdiness of the fabric adds to a slightly structured feel to this duffel, which makes carrying it on your back more comfortable than most other duffels.
Because Osprey is so experienced at making backpacks, this duffel also features a very comfortable harness system comprising adjustable wide and firm padded backpack straps with a sternum strap. The straps are detachable and can be stowed in their own panel on the back.
You can also swap out the backpack straps for the very good padded shoulder strap so that you can carry it over your shoulder or across the body messenger style. For hauling it out of a car boot or overhead bin, there are grab handles on all 4 sides and you can use one of them to carry the bag briefcase style.
There is a zippered pocket with a protective flap on one exterior end where you can stash your phone, keys, and a few odds and ends. The other end features a hidden ID tag and another harder to get to zippered pocket. The main compartment opens via a large u-shaped double zipper opening for easy packing. The zipper heads can be locked with a TSA luggage lock. There’s one side panel mesh pocket inside for organization and a pair of inner compression straps to keep everything in place.
Finally, this duffel folds up into its own zipped up cube. It’s not the most compact of all packable duffel bags, but it still makes it a great option to pack inside another piece of luggage to use later as an extra souvenir bag.
This 40L duffel weighs in at just 2.7 lbs and measures 20.9H x 12.2W x 10.6D inches.
Cotopaxi Allpa Duffel 50L
Cotopaxi has had a lot of success with its smaller travel packs that they decided to add a 50L and a 70L duffel to its line up while keeping several of the most popular features from the packs. For carry on size, the Cotopaxi Allpa Duffel 50L is a good pick. It measures 22 x 14 x 10in and weighs 3 lb 3 oz.
For the outer shell, the material used is TPU-coated 1000D polyester, while the paneling is 840D ballistic nylon. This makes it one of the toughest bags on this list.
This duffel has hideaway backpack shoulder straps and a messenger strap for versatile carrying. There’s also a top grab handle if you need to quickly grab and leave. The backpack straps and messenger should strap are narrow and thinly padded, so don’t expect to feel comfortable carrying it for any length of time. This pack is meant to be carried from the plane, train, or car to the hotel and it will fit nicely into an overhead bin. There is a padded top grab handle and a webbing side haul handle too.
Where this bag really shines is in the interior packing features and is the best carry on duffle bag that packs like a suitcase. If you don’t like how clothes get so wrinkled and messed up in a regular duffle bag or backpack, the Allpa features lots of secure compartmentalization. It opens clam style to reveal two separate packing sections. On the right is one large compartment secured by a full sized zippered mesh panel, and on the left are 3 smaller compartments, all featuring the same mesh zippered panels. All the panels are stretchy, so you can fit a lot inside. The main zippers are lockable and the external front panel compression straps help keep the pack from feeling too bulky and lessen the strain on the zippers if you really stuff the bag. You can also tether a few extra items to the outside of the bag using the various external webbing points.
There are no external pockets on this duffel, so don’t expect to have quick access to anything you pack here.
Best Duffel Bag Carry On Without Backpack Straps
While having backpack straps on a duffel bag is a nice to have feature for versatile carrying options, your trips may not warrant them. If all you want the bag for is to be a carry on that you’ll stack on top of your checked in wheeled luggage or just need something to take from your car to the hotel, then a simple carry on size duffle bag will be much cheaper and maybe even a little lighter.
Eagle Creek No Matter What Duffel Medium or Small
The Eagle Creek No Matter What Duffels come in 4 different sizes and there are two that can be used as carry on luggage – the Small and the Medium. The small 39L duffel measures 18 x 12 x 11 inches and weighs 1 lb 9 oz, while the medium 59L one measures 24 x 12 x 11 inches and weighs 1 lb 14 oz. Therefore, the medium duffel is a better purchase because those few extra inches in length gives you a much larger capacity to play with. If you’re going to use it as a carry on, try not to pack it to full capacity so that it will fit in the plane’s overhead bin.
This bag is made of Bi-tech water-resistant fabric that’s also abrasion-resistant and all stress points are bar-tack reinforced. Customers love that it’s a bag that can hold up for years.
This duffel is equipped with a detachable padded shoulder strap, a haul handle on each end, and two top quick grab handles with a buttoned sleeve to make it easy to carry. There is also a back slip panel for stacking the duffel on top of your wheeled luggage. There’s a pair of external compression straps to keep the bag as compact as possible.
The main compartment opens like a regular duffel with lockable and self-repairing double zippers that are protected by a storm flap. There’s an outside zippered pocket on the front of the bag and an extra storage pouch on one end that the duffel can fold itself into to become a compact package for storage. This pouch can otherwise be used to separate dirty garments or a pair of shoes inside the duffel.
Vera Bradley Women’s Signature Cotton Large Travel Duffel
For those who don’t want plain and boring, quilted duffle bags for women have become quite popular. When going on vacation there’s nothing better than to have “happy” travel bags with you to reflect the mood you’re in. The Vera Bradley Women’s Signature Cotton Travel Duffel is one of the brand’s most popular bag and not for nothing! It even makes for a great gift for women who travel a lot.
The duffel in large measures 22.00″ w x 11.50″ h x 11.50″ d and gives you a whopping 59L in capacity. Its soft structure helps with this and makes it very easy to pack.
The signature quilted cotton exterior comes in a variety of stylish prints and the inside is lined in a matching print. The bottom is padded but not structured.
There are plenty of pockets to keep your belongings organized. The duffel’s main compartment opens from the top via a double zipper that runs the full length of the bag to make it easy to pack bulky items. On the inside are 2 mesh elastic top pockets. There are two external slip pockets on the ends of the bag, one slip pocket on the front, and one zippered pocket right underneath that.
There are two ways to carry this duffel – by the two sturdy grab handles on the top, or by the detachable and adjustable shoulder strap that comes with a shoulder pad. The bag is extremely lightweight, so transporting it is easy for anyone as long as it’s not overstuffed.
Best of all, this bag can be machine washed in the cold cycle.
Cenzo Duffle Vecchio Brown Italian Leather Weekender Travel Bag
With over 400 customers rating this Cenzo Duffle Vecchio Brown Italian Leather Weekender Travel Bag at 4.7 stars, you can’t go wrong if you’re looking for an expensive looking high quality leather duffle bag for women or men. This is definitely not your average travel duffle bag and would be a great choice as a carry on bag for business travel.
This Italian-made bag is of soft calfskin leather and the cotton duck canvas lining is made in the USA. It measures 21” by 11″ by 10″ and weighs 4.5 pounds. What is so good about it is that it is very affordable considering that it is made of genuine leather.
The design details include contrast stitching, interior canvas lining, and brass hardware. The dual zippers open all the way to the bottom of the bag to make packing and accessibility very easy. Leather hinges on the sides prevent the contents of the bag from spilling out. There’s a small zipper inner pocket on one side for keys, wallet, etc. Other than that, there are no other organization features.
There are two short grab handles and the shoulder strap is detachable. The bottom of the bag features brass feet to keep the bag from getting dirty or wet when it is set down.
London Fog Cambridge II 20″ Duffle
While the wheeled underseat bag from the same collection is very popular among female travelers, so is the London Fog Cambridge II 20″ Duffle. The black and white houndstooth print makes for a stylish travel look even if you’re taking a casual trip and it offers more structure than the Vera Bradley above. It measures 20 x 11 x 11 inches, has a 44 L capacity, and weighs 2.5 pounds.
The woven material is protected by Fog Guard repellent that helps protect against rain and prevent stains. The bottom of the bag is kept clean when you set it down because of the 4 feet. The bag also features the signature London Fog lining inside.
The main compartment opens to a roomy interior via a full-width zippered opening on top and there are exterior zippered pockets. It will fit into an overhead bin unless you pack it too full.
A bottom zippered pocket at the back of the bag doubles as a trolley stacking sleeve so it can be piggybacked on top of your check-in suitcase. There’s also a removable shoulder strap with comfortable handle pad and two top grab handles with a slim snap button wrap.
MyMealivos Canvas Travel Carry On Duffel Tote with Shoe Pouch
The MyMealivos Canvas Travel Carry On Duffel Tote with Shoe Pouch is a surprisingly inexpensive duffel bag with a unique organizational feature.
This bag is made of canvas with faux leather accents and the interior is lined in brown cotton. Its dimensions are 20 x 13 x 10 inches, it weighs 2.73 lbs, and its capacity is 42L.
The main compartment opens like a regular duffel via lockable main zippers and there are 2 open pockets and 1 zipper pocket inside. There’s a zippered pocket on the exterior back of the bag that unzips at the bottom to double as a piggyback sleeve so that you can slide the bag over your suitcase’s telescopic handle.
You can pack your shoes or toiletry bag separately with this duffel, as there’s a separate compartment on the bottom that unzips externally via dual zippers that wrap 3/4ths of the way around.
Other than the piggyback sleeve, you can also carry the duffel by the two drop handles or by the shoulder strap that has a pad to cushion it. However, this shoulder strap is the only weak point here, as the metal clasp that attaches it to the bag is a bit weak.
EleSac Canvas Style Duffel Bag
The very affordable EleSac Canvas Style Duffel Bag looks and feels like it’s made of canvas, but it’s actually made entirely of water resistant polyester. Its dimensions are 19.5” L x 10“ W x 11” H and weighs 1.8 lbs. It is a slightly structure bag, so it won’t collapse completely when empty. Even so, it can be machine washed on a gentle cycle, although wiping the exterior with a damp cloth is enough.
There’s a separate u-shaped zippered shoe compartment at the bottom of one end of the bag that can also be used to bring back dirty clothes. This compartment is vented so that nothing gets smelly. There’s a large slip pocket on the other end of the duffel that’s big enough for a small water bottle.
The main compartment opens via dual zippers on the top and the inside features 3 pockets for organization. One is an open elastic top, one is a zippered mesh pocket, and the last is a velcro fastened pocket.
This duffel bag has two tubular style top handles and a removable shoulder strap with pad that’s fastened to the bag by metal swivel hooks.
Plambag 50L Canvas Duffle Bag for Travel
For another surprisingly affordable duffel carry on, the unisex Plambag 50L Duffle Bag has a canvas exterior and nylon interior lining and is a great duffel if you want to properly organize your things.
This unisex style has dimensions of 20.8 x 9.8 x 11.8 inches with a capacity of 40L, but is expandable to 50L and 24.4 inches in length for when you don’t plan to take it as a carry on bag. This is done by just unzipping the wraparound zippers at the two ends of the duffel. It weighs 3.3 lb.
You can carry the bag in two ways. The two top handles have a comfortable grip wrap for hand carry and the adjustable padded shoulder strap is detachable. There are protective buffer feet on the bottom, so you can set the bag down without getting it dirty.
The opening is a standard double zippered D-shaped lid on top and there are two slip pockets and one zippered pockets inside. The external pockets include a zippered one on the back, zippered pockets on each end, and two zippered ones on the front – one small and one larger one behind that. All the zippers have large pulls.
Materials and Durability
- Polyester or Nylon Duffle Bags
If you’re worried about your belongings inside your bag getting wet in inclement weather, you should consider choosing a carry on duffel in polyester or nylon as these materials hold up better in wet weather. Some are even coated in a water-resistant material for extra protection. You’ll still be able to get some duffles in chic colors! Nylon bags also tend to be the most durable and have more travel-friendly features as well.
Keep in mind that these duffels are not waterproof and that your things can get at least a little wet in a deluge or if you submerge these bags in water. If you’re going on a camping trip where it might rain or on a water rafting trip, then a waterproof duffel bag is a better choice.
- Cotton or Canvas
Quilted cotton shells can be really lightweight and have the advantage of coming in lots of different colorful prints, so they’re a very popular choice for female travelers. They are also very lightweight. Canvas is more rugged and heavy and these duffels tend to come in classic colors and prints that are great for both men and women. Both these materials are not great for inclement weather, however, a few canvas bags are wax coated for water resistance.
Leather choices are fewer these days but they’re the most sophisticated looking for business travelers. Don’t expect too many pockets and expect these bags to be heavier than average. You should also be careful to not expose them to rain and store them carefully when not in use.
In order to be safely stored in the overhead bin of an airplane, any carry on bag can be no more than 22” x 14” x 9”. However, these measurements can vary a little from airline to airline, so check with the airline you’re traveling with to be sure.
Even so, the point of taking a carry on duffel with you, as opposed to a structured suitcase or wheeled bag, is that the unstructured aspect here can be quite forgiving. So you can probably get away with a slightly bigger duffle bag as long as you don’t overpack it. Bags that are mostly stuffed with clothes can probably squeeze into most overhead compartments.
Many airlines will allow passengers to carry two bags on board with them as long as one will fit into the overhead bin and the other bag is small enough to be considered a personal item, which can be placed under the seat in front of you.
Keeping this in mind, you could take a small backpack or daypack as a personal item and store the duffel bag in the overhead bin.
While you can use packing cubes for organization inside a duffel bag, they do take up a lot of space because of the way they’re shaped, i.e. rectangular blocks. If you must use them, choose long and narrow ones instead of bulky broad ones.
If not using cubes, packing a duffel is all about maximizing the hard to reach bottom corners. Pack things like socks and underwear in those corners first. If you don’t have a separate shoe pocket in the bag, separate the pair, pack each one in its own shoe bag, and place each bag vertically right against the sides of the duffel. The remaining center space in the main compartment is now left for all your other belongings.
All your larger items of clothing should be rolled up instead of folded. Not only does this take up less space, but it minimizes wrinkles, which can be a problem when packing a duffel instead of a suitcase. Pack your rolls of garments lengthwise inside the main compartment instead of crosswise. The latter way wastes more space and you don’t want the bag to bulge out.
Lift the bag up a little and shake it so that everything packed so far settles and you can make a little more space on top for the last items, like a toiletry bag. If you’re taking the duffel as a carry on, then this needs to be a TSA-approved toiletry bag.