Austin Adventures

Which Style of Duffel Bag Works Best for My Travel?

Which Style of Duffel Bag Works Best for My Travel?

Duffel or Duffle?

Do you ever ponder what is the meaning of the style of bag called a duffel (or duffle)? Here we’ll discuss the origin of duffel and the definition of duffel. Learn how this style of travel bag can suite your adventure needs. Red Oxx hand-crafts high-end duffel bags, offering a plethora of sizes, and a few different styles at our factory in Billings, Montana.

Let’s take a quick look at the origins of this style of luggage.

Define Duffel Bag

One of the easiest bags to create is the cylindrical style bag. This is a simple single sheet of fabric (or animal skin) rolled into a cylinder shape. One end is sewn down or knotted shut.

Usually the other end will open and close with a drawstring looped around the end or poked through holes (or grommets). This will hold it closed when drawn tight.

For a more uniform shape, one round end piece is attached. This is the most basic duffel bag design. Due to it’s lack of rigidity it’s a useful bag for carrying and transporting bulky items.

Adopted as a simple military clothing bag assigned to sailors, marines, infantry, or other personnel. This basic duffel is also popular for carrying sports gear.

Duffel Development

One disadvantage of this style of duffel is access. With only one end as an opening, digging around deep in the bag is annoying and time consuming. Dumping everything out to find something shoved down in the bottom is obviously unacceptable.

An invention called a zipper improved the access of the cylindrical style duffel.

Down the middle of this tube-shaped bag a zipper is installed for easy open access. Around the cylinder is wrapped a strap that also serves as a carry handle. Now you have a more efficient bag that is easy to access, and easy to carry.

This style is often called a Roll Bag or Gym Bag. Indeed Red Oxx offers this style, with Jim’s Gym Bag as representative.

Red Oxx Jim's Gym Bag with the goods
Jim’s Gym Bag developed in honor of our founder, Jim Senior.

But what about capacity? Cylinders are limited in capacity, especially for the amount of exterior space they consume. They don’t stack well, nor stay upright. Being cylinders by design they tend to “roll”.

Duffel Bags for Men and Duffels for Women

Recognizing that a rectangle can hold more capacity than a cylinder, and do it more efficiently, Red Oxx created the Safari-Beanos Duffel series. The Beanos use this rectangle shape, with a zippered lid that wraps around the edges of the top, giving superior full access.

Sleek steel turn-locks help hold the lid closed. Thus a quieter, more durable, and longer lasting solution over a Velcro® closure!

Taking these logical advancements one step further, raised 2-inch deep end pockets were added. There’s a flat zippered side pocket on one side, and a sleek slip-through pocket called a “Trolley Sleeve” on the other. This sleeve/pocket allows you to insert your rollaboard bag’s pull handle through it, thereby stacking your soft-sided duffel onto a wheeled bag.

Safari-Beanos Duffels in Four Useful Sizes

Once this style of duffel was perfected, Red Oxx went up and down in sizing variations, developing the entire Safari-Beanos series. No matter what size you decide works best for you, the Safari-Beanos series is ideal for most any kind of wheeled or winged travel. You can fit them into an overhead bin on an airline or into the cargo of a puddle jumper, bus, or in your vehicle.

By far, the Safari-Beanos series is our most popular duffel luggage. These high quality duffel bags are available in four sizes: two are legal for carry-on travel, the smallest PR4, and the popular award-winning PR5 Medium Duffel. The smaller PR4 functions as a sweet 2-3 day “Weekend” duffel and you can pack the medium PR5 for a week.

The other two are large Duffel bags; the Safari-Beanos PR5.5 Large and PR6 XL Duffels are more suited for cargo storage on a plane or a bus. You can pack these larger duffels for a 10 day plus trip.

Careful you don’t pack too much.

Duffels for Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The Safari-Beanos Duffels function extremely well for vehicle travel. You can access the entire contents from the top. You can stack them in the back of an SUV, slip them into an Overland rig storage drawer, or tuck into the trunk of your sedan. This makes for a more pleasurable trip because you can find what you need easily. Perhaps the greatest advantage of a soft-side bag is its ability to scrunch into all kinds of funky-shaped storage spaces.

Building a duffel with end pockets limits the middle compartment capacity. You end up with a really long, really tall, or really fat bag that won’t meet carry-on requirements. It’s not comfortable to carry around.

Larger capacity solution? Red Oxx moved the raised pockets to the sides of the bag.

Best Duffel Bag for International Travel

This radical idea is represented by two of our duffels, the Flying Boxcar Large Sports Duffel and the Sun Chaser Small Sports Duffel. Of the two, the former is a hair too large for typical carry-on (shh, be nice and discreet, you might sneak it on).

Interestingly enough, due to the longer main compartments, and the fact you can access the side pockets from above, both bags are popular with the Overlanding crowd.

Red Oxx Sun Chaser reaches the continental divide
Red Oxx Sun Chaser Sports Duffel reaches the Continental Divide

Both Red Oxx Sports Duffels also offer padded and ballistic nylon wrapped bottoms (skid plate), as well as handy end grab handles for added carry convenience.

This made them popular with international travelers. They can cram the bag into the overhead bin and yank it out with the end grab loops. The padding and ballistic bottom protects your belongings. This makes for a durable heavy-duty duffel bag.

The longer main compartments allow packing stuff like SCUBA gear, long telephoto lenses, and so on. The raised side pockets are deliberately sized to carry our Tri-fold Toiletry kits. They will also fit our Packing Cubes.

Red Oxx Sports Duffels for those long hauls
Red Oxx Sports Duffels will get you there and back.

Speaking of Carrying Ease

Over the years, the Red Oxx herd had asked about taking our popular Air Boss Suitcase and adding backpack straps. With assistance from Doug Dyment from, we created a variation on that idea in 2007 with the introduction of the Sky Train. The Sky Train remains perhaps the most copied carry-on convertible backpack bag trucking around the world today.

Unfortunately, taking the idea of adding backpack straps to the Safari-Beanos Duffels was a hilarious disaster.

Not to be defeated, for that is the core of a Marine’s principles, CEO Jim Markel developed a carry-on legal three-compartment duffel style bag with embedded backpack straps. This was a huge success.

Apparently it was what the herd wanted. Upon introduction through our email newsletter in 2014, (we initially built 40), they sold out in 45 minutes!

The Hombres Series – Why It’s Your Best Duffel Bag

Introducing the Tres Hombres Large Convertible Duffel and it’s down-sized companion little brother the Lil Hombre.

In the Hombres Duffels, you have all the advanced features of a our Sports Duffel bags, but with the added convenience of backpack straps. They are there when you need them, and discreetly hidden away when you don’t. To make it even more palatable, and pack-able, the Hombres series has exterior compression straps to cinch down the three long main compartments.

The Hombre’s Duffel Backpacks define innovative travel solutions.
The Hombre’s Duffel Backpacks define innovative travel solutions.

Now you can take the idea of carrying something bulky, and contain it’s shifting movement. This makes the bag far more comfortable to carry via the Claw detachable non-slip strap, the carry handles, the end grab loops, or whipping out the backpack straps and running with it on your back.

Below in this video professional travel consultant Kasey Austin, VP of Montana’s Austin Adventures Travel Agency demonstrates how to pack her Tres Hombres with a variety of “bulky” items, including a large ceramic vase!


The Hombres series is the pinnacle of best duffel bag design – handsome, long lasting, efficiently pack-able, and comfortably carry-able.

Expedition Size Duffels Made for Continental Adventures

Moving up in size to the “Large Duffel” category, our Expedition Series is also comprised of two large cargo duffel bags that also have these same handy features. Both developed by local Billings world-class climbing expert Dr. Jean Ellis, the smaller Sherpa Jr. Expedition Series Duffel features the end grab loops, ballistic bottoms, compression straps, and hidden backpack straps. Capacity is a hefty 6075 cubic inches.

Moving up in size to the Big Oxx. This is our largest duffel capable of 7680 cubic inches. We recommend hiring a porter for hauling this beast.
Red Oxx Bags are time tested tough
Red Oxx Duffel Bags are time tested tough

Reading next

We Travel There: Jim’s Best of Billings Interview
Rave Red Oxx Gear Reviews from YouTube

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