Is a Duffel Bag a Carry On?

There are times when it just makes sense to avoid checking your luggage. Like when you need to be more mobile… or when you want to avoid the long wait at the baggage claim. For those times, a duffel bag can be the ideal carry-on luggage choice.

Duffel bags offer a number of advantages over traditional suitcase carry-ons. For example, they take up a lot less space than a suitcase, both in storage and when you’re traveling. They don’t have clunky wheels that might break, either.

So, is a duffel bag a carry-on? It definitely can be… but there are some things you’ll need to consider. Read on to learn everything you need to know about using a duffel bag as a carry-on for your next travel adventure.


Is a Duffel Bag a Carry-On?

The short answer is yes! With a little forethought, the right duffel bag makes the perfect carry-on. Of course, it must fall within your airline’s size requirements for carry-on baggage, but  size isn’t the only factor to consider when choosing a duffel bag carry-on. 

Organization and accessibility are also essential. Your typical gym bag or sports duffel simply isn’t going to cut it. You need a variety of pockets and compartments for functionality, as well as multiple entry points for easy access to your belongings.

Choosing a travel duffel that’s been expertly designed with organization in mind will make packing more efficient. A cross-body strap will make your duffel easier to carry hands-free and for longer distances. 

On the other hand, it’s best to avoid roller duffels for carry-on luggage. They’re much heavier than a regular travel duffel, and many airlines have a strict weight restriction of around 22 pounds for carry-ons. If it comes down to a choice between bringing your laptop or having wheels on your duffel, most of us would opt for the laptop.


Choosing the Best Duffel Bag Carry-On For You

From weeks-long treks through Europe to overnight business trips, there’s a Pakt travel duffel to suit every need and traveling style.

The Pakt One Duffel bag 

The Pakt One

The Pakt One is a travel duffel that has been thoughtfully designed to pack like a suitcase. It has a generous 35-liter capacity and meets the carry-on size requirements for most airlines. 

If you’re looking for a versatile carry-on duffel that will meet your needs for just about any trip, this is the bag for you. Here’s a quick look at the highlights:

  • Dual compartment, clamshell opening designed with organization and easy access in mind.

  • Made from premium, durable materials with protective corners and metal feet for maximum longevity.

  • Premium, adjustable padded shoulder strap for maximum carrying comfort.

  • Top access zippers to every compartment, including the padded, internal laptop pocket.

  • Zippered front pockets for securely storing items you’ll want easy access to.

  • Multiple interior mesh pockets for organization and safe storage of smaller items.

  • Plastic-free packaging

 The 25L Anywhere Duffel

The Anywhere 25L Duffel

The Anywhere Duffel is loaded with clever organizational features in a more compact, 25-liter package. It works great as a stand-alone carry-on bag for weekend trips. For longer trips, bring it as your personal item and stash it under the seat in front of you. 

This is the duffel for you if you’re looking for a versatile carry-on that can do double duty as an everyday carry or overnight bag. Here’s a glance at the highlights:

  • Multiple interior pockets for organizing your tech gear.

  • Optional interior divider to keep the main compartment organized.

  • Extra-long handles for over the shoulder carry plus a longer, removable shoulder strap.

  • Pockets! Oversized media pockets, seven exterior pockets, and two waterproof pockets for your water bottles.

  • Recycled rPET exterior fabric made from single-use plastic.


The Pakt One Duffel


The Pros and Cons of Using a Duffel Bag as a Carry-On

If you’re still on the fence, here’s a quick glance at the pros and cons of using a duffel bag as a carry-on:


Duffel bags are much lighter than carry-on suitcases. They are also easier to carry and more maneuverable than a wheeled carry-on. Travel duffels are also designed for easy access to your belongings and they’re easier to organize.

When you’re navigating the streets of a new city, a duffel bag allows you to blend into the crowd more easily than a wheeled suitcase. In most cases, not looking like an obvious tourist is a good thing.

And finally, duffels are much more versatile than wheeled suitcases. They’re easy to toss in the trunk of the car, bring on a bus, or carry onto a plane. They’ll meet your needs on rugged terrain, in the city, on an extended road trip, or on a quick weekend getaway. The same can’t be said for rolling suitcases.


Even if you choose a travel duffel bag that has been expertly designed for accessibility to your belongings, there are still a few potential cons to consider. First, space will be limited. If you prefer to overpack rather than risk going without, a duffel might not be the best choice for you.

A duffel bag probably isn’t the best way to transport large or heavy items.either, so you’ll want to keep that in mind. If your mobility and strength are limited, you may be better off with a rolling suitcase that you don’t have to carry.

And finally some people may simply prefer the hands-free carrying style of a travel backpack over a duffel. If that sounds like you, here’s How to Pack a Travel Backpack instead.


How Big Can a Duffel Bag Carry-On Be?

Now, let’s dive into the size requirements for a duffel bag carry-on. In general, most airlines limit the size of your carry-on to around 22 x 14 x 9 inches with a capacity of 45 liters. As it turns out, finding a duffel that meets these requirements isn’t really that difficult.

For example, the Pakt One is a travel duffel that is carry-on approved and has been thoughtfully designed for functionality. It measures 20 inches long x 10 inches wide x 11 inches high and has a generous 35-liter capacity. More on the One’s features below.   


Carry On Size Requirements by Airline

Here’s a list of carry-on size requirements for some of the most popular airlines to help you choose the right travel duffel for you.

  • JetBlue: 22 x 14 x 9 inches

  • Spirit Airlines: 22 x 18 x 10 inches

  • American Airlines: 22 x 14 x 9 inches

  • Delta Airlines: 22 x 14 x 9 inches

  • Southwest Airlines: 24 x 16 x 10 inches

  • United Airlines: 22 x 14 x 9 inches


How to Measure a Duffel Bag for a Carry-On

Since duffel bags come in a variety of shapes and sizes, you’ll want to check your duffel against the carry-on baggage size limits for your particular airline. To do this, be sure to measure the length, width, and height of your duffel at the widest points when fully packed.

Keep in mind that the sides on a duffel are soft. If it’s too big when fully packed, you can simply remove a bulky jacket or sweater and squash it down. Wear the bulky item through check-in and put it back in your bag later. Try pulling that off with a hard-sided suitcase!

Most airlines allow you to bring a personal item as well. The typical size restriction for personal items on most airlines is 18 x 14 x 8. So, if you’re struggling to fit everything in your duffel, making use of a personal item is a great way to get around this issue. 


The Pakt One


What Fits in a Duffel Bag Carry-On?

It’s likely that you’ll change up your packing list a little bit from trip to trip, but for the most part, it stays pretty consistent. So, what fits in a duffel bag carry-on?

In general, a well designed 35-liter carry-on duffel will accommodate the following items:

  • One week’s worth of clothing

  • An extra jacket or sweater

  • An extra pair of shoes

  • Basic toiletries, minimal makeup, and a small first aid kit

  • Your passport, ID, itinerary, and other essential documents

  • A laptop or tablet with travel adaptors, chargers, and headphones

  • Your smartphone and an e-reader

  • Packing cubes 

  • Travel accessories, such as a coffee kit, travel pillow, and/or water bottle

  • Smaller  items such as a camera, book, or notebook and pen


The Pakt One Duffel with Packing Cubes


Tips for Using a Duffel Bag as a Carry-On

Now that you have a good idea of what’s on your list, let’s talk about how to pack your carry-on duffel to make the most efficient use of your space.

  • Roll, Don’t Fold and Use Packing Cubes: Don’t make the mistake of stuffing all of your clothes into your duffel without any thought to organization. The first time you need to dig around for a clean pair of socks, everything will somehow become an unfolded, jumbled-up mess. And that’s if you can find what you’re looking for in the first place. Consider rolling your clothes and organizing them into a set of packing cubes. Rolling will take up less space and help to prevent wrinkles while packing cubes will allow you to organize your clothes by type and keep dirty items separate from clean ones. You can do tops in one, bottoms in another; or put casual outfits together, workout clothes together, and so on. Whatever makes the most sense to you!

  • Shoes and Dirty Clothes Require Special Consideration: Shoes get dirty and dirty clothes get stinky, so you’ll want to have a good plan in place for dealing with these items.

  • Most likely, you’ll be wearing one pair of shoes and packing another. Having a separate shoe bag that can be tossed in your duffel is a great option. A packable tote bag makes a great laundry bag, and it can double as a gym, beach, or shopping bag when you reach your destination.

  • Packing Your Toiletries: If you’re a seasoned traveler, you probably already know that all of your creams, pastes, gels, liquids, and aerosols must be no larger than 3.4 ounces and fit in a clear, quart-sized bag. Plan ahead to ensure that this bag is easy to access when you go through airport security– they rarely ask you to remove it from your bag these days, but you might as well be prepared.

  • Place Your Travel Documents in an Outside Pocket: All of your important documents, such as your ID, passport, and even a physical boarding pass (old school) should be in an easy-to-access exterior pocket.

  • Put Your Laptop in the Padded Compartment: A well-designed travel duffel will include a dedicated, padded compartment for your laptop. The bag should be well balanced when your laptop is packed for max carry comfort, and bonus points if it can be easily accessed without opening the entire bag.

  • Take Advantage of Interior Pockets: Interior pockets are great places to store things that you won’t need until you reach your destination. This will keep them from getting lost inside your bag or damaged while you travel.

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