For frequent travelers, a suitcase is often the most practical choice. But, there are plenty of times when a duffle bag works better: medium-length getaways to see friends or family; road trips; and even out camping. Duffle bags are soft-sided, which means they don't offer much protection for delicate tchotchkes or consumable souvenirs (i.e. wine or spirits), but they offer ample space for clothes, which can be rolled or folded down for maximum efficiency.
That being said, while most duffle bags share the same shape, they aren't made equal. You want a bag that's made from a durable fabric, at least water-resistant and easy to carry, considering you can't wheel it around.
The below duffle bags represent two similar options from brands we trust for other bags — like suitcases, in the case of Away, camera backpacks, courtesy of Peak Design. Peak Design's Travel Duffel is a bag I've used before and tested for our duffle bag buying guide. Away's F.A.R. Duffle is new this year, but I brought it with me on trips to London and New York.
The Contenders for Best Waterproof Duffle Bag
Away F.A.R. Duffle
Peak Design Travel Duffel
How to Choose Which Duffle Bag Is Right for You
What type of bag you carry depends on what you need to bring with you, how long you're away and how secure the items inside need to be. Duffle bags are inherently less durable than suitcases, but they pile in the back of car easier than carry-ons do. Plus, for folks who are resistant to roller bags, they can be quite the workout: Without the right straps, most duffle bags are a serious load.
You should also consider whether you'll be checking yours with an airline or always tossing it into the bag of your SUV. Checked bags are often exposed to the elements, and you have no control over where or how an airline attendant grabs your bag. They might tug at parts where it isn't reinforced or set it down in a puddle before loading it onto the belt that carries it into the cargo cabin. As such, weatherproof elements are important.
Duffle bags also do more with less — both of these have to be checked at their fullest, but they offer almost two times the amount of space a standard carry-on does. (Away's popular Carry-On only has a capacity of 39.8L, for example.) If you're mostly packing clothes and shoes, a duffle bag is the way to go. It won't weigh a ton, meaning you can still comfortably carry it, and it's an easier vessel to fill for your return trip.
Test 1: Capacity
Away's F.A.R. Duffle boasts a capacity of 70L, 5 liters more than Peak Design's Travel Duffel (65L). But capacity is more than just volume. Within, but also on the outside, both bags offer different compartmentalized storage solutions.
Peak Design's Travel Duffel has identical dual exterior pockets on both sides. In both cases, one overlaps the other, which means you can put a fair amount in the base one but not as much on top. The bottom one does have mesh dividers for smaller items (chargers, things you'd otherwise put in a dopp kit), but just be sure to zip it fully shut.
Inside, the Travel Duffel is a bottomless pit. There are two matching zipper pockets on the interior walls, but, besides those, there's not much else. This leaves plenty of room for packing cubes, but anything you don't store inside its own container will inevitably bounce around quite a bit.
On Away's F.A.R. Duffle, there's only one exterior pocket, and it's hidden along the top seam. You can't fit much more than an iPhone and a passport, so don't forget to remove these items if you check your bag. Inside, one zippered mesh pocket runs the length of one wall, and it hangs freely, which means you can really load it up and push it up against the wall once the bag is full. This pocket is by no means a substitute for packing cubes or a dopp kit, but it's arguably a little more helpful.
Test 2: Aesthetics and Accessibility
Both of these bags clearly derive from the Patagonia Black Hole line, a pioneering line of waterproof bags both big and small. Those were high-gloss, easy to carry and, well, everywhere. There's a formula to making the right duffle bag. It has to be stylish and ubiquitous yet an undeniable upgrade over whatever this new owner carried last. We can confidently say both of these bags meet all of these prerequisites — which is why they've wound up here — but one has to be better. (This is a head-to-head review, after all.)
Personally, Away's F.A.R. Duffle is the better-looking of the two. It's also the easier one to open up. Peak Design's is more rectangular in shape, meaning the zipper only extends as far as the top line. On Away's design, the zipper curves out over the edge, which helps the bag fold open even further. Visualize this: Peak Design's is a Ziploc bag, while Away's is a clamshell.
Speaking purely on aesthetics, Away's looks a little more luxe, with its semi-gloss exterior, tidier straps, end hooks for picking it up off a conveyer belt and out of the back of a car and nylon webbing for add-ons, like a water bottle on a carabiner, which also acts as a trolley sleeve for putting the bag atop a suitcase. It's not that Peak Design's duffel looks bad, but it doesn't quite have the same luster that Away's does, especially after being broken in.
Away's bag is easier to access, but Peak Design's bag is easier to carry, an obvious concern for folks investing in a bag you can't wheel around. Peak Design's bag also has additional loops for switching straps, if you wish, but the standard one makes the most sense — at least for someone carrying the bag over their shoulder or across their body. Long stints with the Away bag on one shoulder — the straps are seriously limiting — proved too much. Long stints with Peak Design's, however, were much more manageable. I could do other things without worrying the bag would slip off my shoulder, and the strap's padded actually offered cushion.
Test 3: Durability
Both bags are undoubtedly durable. It's a hallmark feature both brands emphasize. One bag is better than the other, though: Peak Design's. Its bag is made from all-over 100 percent recycled 600D nylon canvas, a fabric heralded for its both its durability and lightness, yes, but also its water resistance, especially once coated. In this case, it's impregnated with DWR and coated with double poly.
Away's bag is light and rip-resistant, but it's made from 100 percent recycled polyester, a material that's less durable than nylon canvas but naturally more water-resistant. What concerned me about Away's bag, though, was its bottom. While the rest of the bag was high-gloss polyester, the bottom is a smoother fabric that I'm afraid would soak through if plopped in a puddle. There's no break in the nylon canvas between the bottom and the top of the Peak's bag, which made me confident in its ability to withstand the elements.
Our Pick: Peak Design Travel Duffel
Although Away's F.A.R. Duffle is easier to access and nicer to look at, Peak Design delivers where it really matters: accessibility and durability. Being a duffle, after all, Peak Design's bag proves easier to carry and less likely to rip or soil, making it the superior bag in its category.
Away's F.A.R. Duffle is by no means bad, though. In fact, it's an impressive departure from Away's existing catalog, which only included city-friendly suitcases and backpacks. Branching into the outdoors and adventure categories, even if they're still style-focused, isn't an easy thing to do, but Away made the jump in stride.
Its duffle just doesn't quite compete in the categories that matter most. Would I rather carry Away's from aesthetics standpoint? Probably, and I think it's better suited to my needs, an air traveler that likes to put soft stuff in a duffle and valuables (like bottles of wine or beer) in a suitcase. For folks who keep their bags out of the elements whenever possible, Away's duffle probably works just fine, but, after a few trips' worth of testing, Peak Design's bag is more trustworthy.