Pack Like a Pro: How to Pack a Duffel Bag

Pelican Flyer  |  May 13, 2020

Can we take a brief moment to show some appreciation for the duffel bag? These essential carry-alls somehow manage to fit a week’s worth of clothes and gear without breaking a sweat, making them truly versatile pieces of luggage for all manners of adventure. Even when they’re jam-packed, they’re fairly easy to transport thanks to the multiple straps and carrying configurations. But a well-packed bag makes all the difference, so today we’re covering the best way to pack durable duffel bags so you get the most out of every single liter.

But first, a fact. Did you know that the name duffel bag comes from the town of Duffel, Belgium, the town where the bags’ coarse fabric was originally sold? Since the beginning, duffel bags were made for ruggedness and durability, and they really gained prominence after they were used as the soldier’s go-to pack in World War II. If military-tough performance and hold-it-all versatility are what you’re all about, then you’re going to want to invest in one of these bags.

Tips on How to Pack a Duffel Bag

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Efficiency, compartmentalization and visibility are duffle bags’ key uses. The thing is, many of the best travel duffel bags have massive capacities (100 liters for the MPD100, for example). This means wide-open interiors that require a little bit of careful organizational thought. If you don’t use the interior wisely, you will wind up with a huge, disorganized pile of laundry rather than carefully packed cargo. Here’s how.

  • Lay Out Your Gear — Before you pack any kind of bag, start by laying out all of your must-pack items as well as any “maybe” items. For a shorter trip (under a week), group clothes by outfit so you can pack them in a way that lets you quickly grab all components at once without digging through the rest of the pack. Next, roll your clothes according to the army roll method.
  • Know the Army Roll — Otherwise known as the ranger roll, the army roll is a folding technique involving compressing your clothes into airtight, secure rolls to save space without wrinkling. The army roll helps compress clothes, towels, blankets, etc. so that there’s no unused space. The process also helps you pack your duffel in a way that allows you to see everything so you don’t have to rifle through it all to find what you need. Here's how to master the army roll technique.
  • Compartmentalize — The roomy interior space of your duffel bag is ideal for clothing, but what about your smaller gear? If you’re strapped for pockets, you can use packing cubes, compression bags and personal utility cases to add a sense of order to the large main compartment. These smaller storage components are perfect for personal care, medical supplies, socks, charging cords and any small, loose items that could get lost in the duffel if they were simply thrown into the main compartment.
  • Load — As you can see, preparation is everything when it comes to packing. But now that you’ve prepped, it’s time to load your duffel. The order of a well-packed duffel bag should be as follows:
    • Large, bulky items on the bottom. Line the bottom with shoes, hard cases, camera bags, boxes and your laptop (in a protective laptop hard case). If you don’t immediately need them, you can also store your wallet, ID and passport at the bottom of your pack so they’re not easily accessible. Note: If you’re using a duffel backpack and you intend to wear it on your back, don’t put anything lumpy on the bottom (the part that would touch your back).
    • Rolled clothes in the middle. Layer your rolled clothes and use smaller items, such as rolled T-shirts and socks, to fill in any gaps on the bottom layer. Try to organize by outfit to make getting dressed easier and less messy.
    • Awkward, heavy items on the top. This is especially important if you want to wear your duffel as a backpack. You can also use this top space for anything you need to be easily accessible, including a jacket, snacks or your charging cord.
    • Non-valuable essentials in outer pockets. Use the outer pockets of your pack for items you need to easily access but aren’t especially valuable, such as snacks, cheap headphones, lip balm, etc.

Preparation is Key

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As with any packing endeavor, preparation is crucial when it comes to loading up your duffel bag. Spend some time pre-planning and configuring so you’ll be able to make use of every cubic inch of your duffel bag space. When properly packed, these vessels can store a surprisingly large amount of gear, so never underestimate a good packing strategy.

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