For frequent travelers, a suitcase is often the most practical choice. But, there are plenty of times a duffel bag works better: medium-length jaunts to see friends or family; road trips; and even when camping. Sports bags are soft, which means they don’t offer much protection for delicate tchotchkes or consumable souvenirs (i.e. wine or spirits), but they do offer enough space for clothes, which can be rolled or folded for maximum efficiency.
That being said, while most duffle bags share the same shape, they are not equal. You want a bag made from a durable fabric that’s at least water resistant and easy to carry, given that you can’t roll it around.
The sports bags below represent two similar options from brands we trust for other bags – like suitcases, in Away’s case, camera backpacks, courtesy of Peak Design . The Peak Design Travel Duffel is a bag that I have used and tested before for our travel bag buying guide. Away’s FAR Duffle is new this year, but I’ve brought it with me on trips to London and New York.
The contenders for the best waterproof sports bag
Away FAR sports bag
Peak Design travel bag
How to choose the gym bag that’s right for you
The type of bag you carry depends on what you need to take with you, how long you will be away, and the security of the items inside. Duffle bags are inherently less durable than suitcases, but they stack more easily in the back of the car than carry-on luggage. Plus, for people who resist rolling bags, they can be quite a workout: without the right straps, most gym bags are a heavy load.
You also need to consider whether you will check yours with an airline or always throw it in your SUV’s bag. Checked baggage is often exposed to the elements and you have no control over where or how a flight attendant grabs your baggage. They can shoot at rooms where it is not reinforced or drop it in a puddle before loading it onto the belt that carries it to the loading cabin. As such, weatherproof elements are important.
Duffel bags also do more with less – both should be checked to the max, but they offer nearly twice the space of standard carry-on. (For example, Away’s popular Carry-On only has a capacity of 39.8 L.) If you mainly pack clothes and shoes, a duffel bag is the way to go. It won’t weigh a ton, meaning you can still transport it comfortably, and it’s an easier ship to pack for your trip home.
Test 1: Capacity
The FAR Duffle from Away has a capacity of 70L, 5 liters more than the Travel Duffel from Peak Design (65L). But capacity is more than just volume. Inside, but also outside, the two bags offer different compartmentalized storage solutions.
The Peak Design Travel Duffel has two identical outer pockets on both sides. Either way, 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 has mesh dividers for smaller items (magazines, things you’d otherwise put in a dopp kit), but just be sure to close it completely.
Inside, the Travel Duffel is a bottomless pit. There are two matching zippered pockets on the interior walls, but other than those, there isn’t much else. This leaves plenty of room to pack the cubes, but anything you don’t store in its own container will inevitably bounce around a bit.
On the FAR Duffle from Away, there is only one exterior pocket, and it is hidden along the top seam. You can’t fit much more than an iPhone and a passport, so remember to remove these items if you’re checking your bag. Inside, a zippered mesh pocket runs the length of a wall and hangs freely, meaning you can really load it up and push it against the wall once the bag is full. This pocket is in no way a substitute for packing cubes or a dopp kit, but it is arguably a bit more useful.
Test 2: Aesthetics and Accessibility
Both of these bags clearly derive from the Patagonia Black Hole line, a pioneering line of small and large dry bags. These were very shiny, easy to carry and, well, everywhere. There is a formula for making the right gym bag. It should be sleek and ubiquitous, but a definite upgrade from anything this new owner last wore. We can confidently say that both of these bags meet all of those prerequisites – which is why they ended up here – but one has be better. (This is a head-to-head review, after all.)
Personally, Away’s FAR Duffle is the better looking of the two. It is also the easiest to open. Peak Design is more rectangular in shape, meaning the zipper only extends to the top line. On Away’s design, the zipper curves over the edge, which helps the bag fold down even more. Visualize this: Peak Design is a Ziploc bag, while Away is a clamshell bag.
Purely speaking of aesthetics, Away looks a little more luxurious, with its semi-gloss exterior, neater straps, end hooks for picking it up off a treadmill and in the back of a car and its nylon strap for accessories, such as a water bottle on a carabiner, which also serves as a trolley sleeve to put the bag on a suitcase. It’s not that Peak Design’s bag looks bad, but it doesn’t quite have the same shine as Away’s, especially after being run in.
Away’s bag is easier to access, but Peak Design’s bag is easier to carry, an obvious concern for people investing in a bag you can’t roll. Peak Design’s bag also features extra loops for changing straps, if desired, but standard makes the most sense, at least for someone carrying the bag over their shoulder or across their body. Long stays with the Away bag over one shoulder – the straps are seriously limiting – proved too much. Long stays with Peak Design, however, were much more manageable. I could do other things without worrying about the bag slipping off my shoulder, and the strap padding actually provided cushion.
Trial 3: Durability
Both bags are undoubtedly durable. This is a distinctive feature that both brands highlight. However, one bag is better than the other: the one from Peak Design. His bag is made entirely from 100% recycled 600D nylon canvas, a fabric renowned for its durability and lightness, yes, but also its resistance to water, especially once coated. In this case, it is DWR impregnated and double poly coated.
The Away Bag is lightweight and tear-resistant, but is made from 100% recycled polyester, a material less durable than nylon canvas but naturally more water resistant. What concerned me about Away’s bag, however, was its bottom. While the rest of the bag was a high shine polyester, the bottom is a smoother fabric that I’m afraid would soak if dropped in a puddle. There is no break in the nylon canvas between the bottom and top of the Peak bag, which gave me confidence in its ability to withstand the elements.
Our choice: the Peak Design travel bag
While Away’s FAR Duffle is easier to get to and nicer to look at, Peak Design delivers what really matters: accessibility and durability. Being a duffle bag, after all, Peak Design’s bag proves to be easier to carry and less likely to tear or get dirty, making it the top bag in its class.
However, Away’s FAR Duffle is by no means bad. In fact, it’s an impressive departure from Away’s existing catalog, which only included suitcases and backpacks suitable for the city. Getting into the outdoor and adventure categories, while still style-focused, isn’t an easy thing to do, but Away has taken the leap in stride.
His duffel bag just doesn’t compete in the categories that matter most. Do I prefer to take away aesthetically? Probably, and I think it’s better suited to my needs, an air traveler who likes to put soft things in a gym bag and valuables (like bottles of wine or beer) in a suitcase. For people who keep their bags out of the elements as much as possible, the Away duffle bag probably works just fine, but, after a few test trips, Peak Design’s bag is more reliable.
SHOP NOW (PEAK DESIGN) | BUY NOW (BACKCOUNTRY)