What Are Duffel Bags?

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  • Written By: A Kaminsky
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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Whether for world travel, an overnight trip or an afternoon at the gym, duffel bags have become an indispensable item of luggage.

Duffel bags almost certainly had their origin in the knapsack, rucksack or "kit bag" that soldiers carry. The word duffel actually refers to a town in Belgium, where duffel cloth was made to be used for military blankets and soldiers' kit rolls. The term eventually came to refer to the cylindrical bag we know so well today.

As athletes and travelers began carrying more and more gear with them, with less and less space to stow it, hard-sided luggage and steamer trunks became impractical. Thus, the duffel gained popularity. Duffels are crushable and expandable. They now come in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials. With a removable shoulder strap in addition to handles, they have become ubiquitous in airports and bus terminals everywhere.

The most basic of duffel bags is the cylindrical bag mentioned above with a single zipper running its length. These bags are usually made of thin nylon and are suitable for carrying gym clothes and shoes, but not very durable.


Luggage duffels are usually made of material that will withstand abuse, such as being tossed back and forth between airplane cargo holds and thrown onto baggage carousels. One popular material is a thick ripstop nylon or canvas-like material. This fabric will expand to hold a great deal of clothing, but will also stow easily in a trunk or back seat - often even under the seat in an airplane. Many of these bags also have convenient pockets on the sides, front and back. They also have diversified from their round beginnings and may be square or rectangular in shape.

Leather is another popular material choice for duffels. These bags tend to be more expensive, but extremely durable in comparison with the nylon bags. They may not hold quite as much, however, because leather is not as expandable.

A recent innovation in duffel bags combines the best of all worlds: the rolling duffel. These bags look like the traditional duffel, but are attached to a hard-backed rolling mechanism. This allows the traveler to pack them like a duffel, but roll them through an airport like wheeled luggage. It also increases the bag's durability. Some of these rolling duffels can even be detached from their hard frame for convenience.

If a traveler needs one good piece of luggage that is both durable and suitable for a wide variety of uses, a duffel bag may be his ideal choice.


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