When you are on a short trip, you prefer to carry a small bag and not a huge suitcase. So in such cases, a duffel bag is the best. Duffel bags are light in weight, more spacious, and easy to pack.

What is a Duffle Bag?

A duffel bag is a big bag made of natural or synthetic fabric (canvas) with a top closure using a drawstring.  It is typically used by non-commissioned military people. But, it is also used by civilians for travel, recreation, and sports. The open structure and lack of rigidity of the duffel bag make it ideal for carrying sports equipment and other heavy objects.

In its original form, the duffel bag is a cylindrical fabric bag with a drawstring closing at the top. However, the term is now commonly used to refer to a variety of soft-sided bags known as 'weekenders'.

Why is it called a duffel bag?

The word duffel dates back to 1677 (according to the Oxford English Dictionary). Originally, the term was used to describe a "coarse woolen cloth with a thick frieze or nap." The fabric was made in the Belgian town of Duffel, near Antwerp, and was shipped to Portugal and Spain. 

Popularity in Europe

Due to the durability of the duffel material, Spanish and Portuguese sailors used it as a covering material for ships. It is believed that Spanish and Portuguese sailors made primitive bags for their belongings out of scraps of duffel material.

The duffel was widely circulated in America and Britain by the late nineteenth century. The word ‘duffel’ was also used in one of Wordsworth's poems - "Let it be duffel grey,". The word was also used in America to describe "a sportsman's outfit". 

British Royal Navy used duffel to make coats for an Antarctic expedition in the 1890s. This initiated the use of duffel material. The material went on to become popular with CND protest marches, Field Marshal Montgomery, and Paddington Bear.

World War One and Two (WWI and WWII) Popularity

The word "bag" was originally used to describe a bag in a letter sent by the poet EE Cummings. He had served as an ambulance driver during WWI. The famous WWI song ‘Pack up Your Troubles in an Old Kit Bag’ refers to the use of the duffel bag. 

The duffel bag was a bag that was well-suited to wartime conditions. It could be flat-packed when empty and quickly filled when needed.

It was widely used by British and American personnel during WWII. It was available in a variety of designs and sizes. Military supplies were carried in these bags. At the end of WWII, the duffel bag, like other military equipment, ended up at army surplus stores.

Part of the Surfer Culture

After WWII the duffel bag was adopted as a fashion accessory by surfers in Australia and California. Duffle bags became popular in Australia in the 1960s as part of a popular water-based sport. Surfers used light khaki or faded duffel bags to carry essentials like towels and swimming trunks.

Grab and Go Accessory

Following the ‘surfer craze’, duffle bags became convenient accessories for fitness fanatics, musicians, etc. They preferred these bags as they could have certain items easily packed and removed, and accessible. They have also remained popular with travelers preferring a combination of classic elegance and durability.

Duffle or Duffel

As mentioned above, the name "Duffel" refers to a Belgian town. The bag was given that name because the original material for the bags was made.

 "Duffle" is the ‘English spelling’ of the word.  "Duffel" can refer to both town and bag. "Duffle" is exclusively used to describe a bag. In the early twentieth century, this spelling was adopted. Depending on the region or the writer, you can still find both spellings.

Types of Duffel Bags

Duffel bags are named after the Belgian city where the original cylinder-shaped bags were first made from extremely thick canvas. The barrel/ rounded duffel, the wheeled duffel, and the squared duffel are the three main varieties of duffel bags today. Each of these types is well-suited to its specific use. This explains why duffel bags remain popular among travelers.

Barrel/Round Duffel

The classic barrel-style duffel is essentially a tube-shaped bag with straps. This style of duffel bag comes in two varieties. The top closing duffel is the original design. This style has a drawstring closing at the top. These big top-closure duffel bags are commonly used for heavier equipment or as a multi-purpose bag. 

For many years, the military has carried duffel bags made of strong canvas with a top fastening. They are quite popular, especially in war zones, because of their durability and load capacity.

The other type of barrel-shaped duffel is one with a long side zipper that runs the length of the bag. These bags are made of canvas; however, they are also made of woven polyester with a plastic backing. These are generally smaller than the variant with a top closing. 

They are popularly known as gym bags because they are used by sportsmen to carry small sports equipment. Both variations of round- or barrel-shaped duffel bags are one-compartment bags. Hence, things inside the bag get tossed and disorganized. This makes the barrel duffel difficult to unpack.

Squared Duffel Bag

The squared or box-shaped duffel bag is a relatively contemporary version of the duffel bag. This is a rectangular duffel bag in the shape of a box with a side zipper closing. Separate zippered compartments are usually seen on the ends of this variety.

This feature is useful for keeping the bag organized while it is being carried. These bags are usually made of woven polyester with a stiffer plastic backing. Most of these bags also have plastic-covered wire piping around the circumference to add strength and stability.

Law enforcement officers frequently use this style of a duffel bag. Most of these bags are customized with foam cushioning and inserts for ammunition and weapons for usage in the line of duty.

Wheel Duffel Bag

The wheeled duffel bag is the third most common type. The bottoms of several of these wheeled bags are extremely rigid. They also feature a bigger opening because of the use of a U-shaped zipper that runs the length of the bag's top side.

These bags have separate sections, and some of them can even be enlarged to become larger bags. This type of duffel is popular among travelers who need to walk a long distance with their bags. The bag's built-in wheels on the underside make it easier to carry heavier loads.

How to Choose Your Duffel Bag?

While selecting the duffel bag, make sure you consider the following.

  • Durability: Choose a durable fabric that would last for years. Check the product description to find what material the duffel bag is made of.
  • Space: Ensure the bag has plenty of room space for everything you wish to carry.
  • Strong Handles: As you carry the duffel, the last thing you want is the handles tearing apart. Make sure the handles can hold the things you are storing inside.
  • Extra Pockets: Make sure there are extra pockets as these will allow you to carry more things.
  • Foldable: A folding duffel bag is essential to ensure that you can easily store it while not in use.
  • Price: Above all, look for duffel bags that fit your budget. 

Bottom Line

Duffel bags are cylindrical drawstring canvas bags, originally used in Europe and during World War. The best duffel bag largely depends on why you need one. There are different types of duffel bags such as round duffel, squared duffle, and wheeled duffle. 

A good duffel bag is one that has enough storage for your clothes, enough extra compartments for your other items, and one that you can easily carry, wear, or pull along with ease.