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    Best Weekender Bags

    We were impressed with a celebrity duffel, while a heritage classic had room for improvement

    woman wearing multiple shoulder bags Photo: Angela Lashbrook/Consumer Reports

    Travel has a fair number of stressors to accompany its long list of lessons and benefits, but probably chief among them is the nightmare of the checked bag. Dragging myself from my tiny economy seat upon landing, only to discover that the airline has somehow lost my roller bag, and now I need to buy a week’s worth of underwear and socks after putting my money through the EU exchange rate ringer, is 100 percent my worst nightmare. 

    More Outside The Labs

    So instead, I’ve committed myself to being a carry-on only traveler, and for the past few years have used a “weekender” as my primary travel bag. A weekender bag is essentially a cooler duffel bag—you could consider it a duffel with vibes—and it’s the ideal way to travel light. A weekender bag is, preferably, feature-rich and stylish, and falls within airlines’ carry-on size limits. It should have at least two modes for carrying (usually, this means a removable crossbody strap and shorter shoulder handles).

    We tried 10 weekender bags, from an ultrafashionable Longchamp to a utilitarian Patagonia. Though most of these bags have a lot going for them—and there were none we outright hated—we had a few that we loved so much, we’re planning to take them on our own much-needed vacations. See how we evaluated these weekender bags, below.

    Our Criteria

    We evaluated these bags from a variety of angles. 

    Does it fit within airline carry-on size limits? Though a weekender bag may be often deployed on weekend trips powered by cars, a good weekender bag should play double duty as a carry-on—which means it needs to fit within airlines’ particular sizing metrics. Though maximum carry-on dimensions can vary from airline to airline, generally speaking, most airlines require that carry-on bags are no larger than 9x14x22 inches, or a total of 45 inches added up. Weekender bags are soft-sided, so they can be squished to fit to airline dimensions—assuming they’re not completely full. To play it safe, our top picks stay within this range, and if it doesn’t, we make a point of calling that out.

    Does it seem well made and durable? Luggage gets a lot of wear and tear. A good weekender bag should have quality construction, with heavy-duty hardware and straight and flawless stitching. It should be made from a fabric that is resistant to tearing, and it should be able to withstand some moisture, in case you get caught in the rain or have a spill inside the bag. “At the high end, leather is the best choice,” says Ellen Lynch, a professor of accessories design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “It is soft, supple, and conforms well to the items on the inside. Canvas and ripstop nylon are both really good materials, both durable and easy to handle.” Cotton is less supportive and will not wear well, she says.

    “​​The zipper is critical too and is often the thing that breaks first,” says Susan Sokolowski, a professor of product design at the University of Oregon.

    Plastic zippers are durable and flexible, so they can stretch and rebound with a stretchy or overstuffed bag. When a plastic zipper tooth breaks, however, the zipper usually needs to be completely replaced. Metal zippers are less flexible but also easier to fix in a pinch by threading through the broken tooth to shorten the zipper.

    Is it comfortable to hold and carry? In addition to handles, weekender bags should also be designed to hang from the shoulder or across the chest, so you can move quickly and comfortably across a sprawling airport terminal, and also sling it quickly over your shoulder for shorter distances, like running the bag out to your car or a taxi. Straps should not dig uncomfortably into the shoulders, nor should carrying the bag cause back pain (unless you plan to be carrying bricks or potatoes, in which I advise you to invest in some adjustable dumbbells in advance). It should not press uncomfortably into the back or hips, and you should be able to lift it into an airplane carry-on luggage compartment (or another tall shelf) without it flopping all over the place, which can happen with longer duffels with soft bottoms. 

    Does it have good organizational features? Packing cubes are great, but ideally, a good weekender bag should make packing and organizing your stuff easy without them. “Nothing is superfluous” when it comes to pockets, says Lynch. Look for “places to put your phone and other things that you need right away on the outside of the bag. An inside pocket for either your laptop or other items and enough room to store your clothing and toiletries without fear of any spillage.” Our favorite weekender bags have several clever, useful pockets for stashing shoes, a smartphone, a water bottle, dirty laundry, and so on. 

    Does it have a good warranty, return policy, or repair policy? When you’re spending $150-plus on a bag, it should last for years—and if it doesn’t, the company that made it should do something about that. A high-quality bag should come with some kind of promise that if the bag craps out on you after six months of ownership, the company should step in and either replace or repair the bag.

    How We Evaluated Weekender Bags

    I carefully inspected each bag to ensure it had no manufacturing flaws or concerns, such as crooked stitches, sticky zippers, or flimsy hardware. Most importantly, I packed each bag with a long weekend’s worth of stuff (check out my packing list below) and carried it fully packed around my large Brooklyn block to ensure comfort during slightly longer treks. I lifted each up onto a tall shelf to see if the bag keeps its shape—and thus is easier to heft into an airplane luggage compartment or a hotel closet shelf. I also had my husband, who’s almost a foot taller than me, carry and wear each bag as well, in case the bag was more or less comfortable for a short person (me) than a tall one (him). And I measured each bag, to double-check that company measurements were accurate.

    My packing list consisted of what I would typically take on a long weekend trip in the spring or summer. That means I packed a swimsuit, sunscreen, and sandals, but left behind the heavy wool sweaters and long underwear. Summer packing lists tend to be on the lighter side; if you’re a big winter traveler, you might want to steer clear of some of the smaller bags on our list. 

    Behold, my packing list:

    1 pair of sandals • 4 pairs of socks • 5 pairs of underwear • 2 sets of pajamas • 2 pairs of shorts/leggings • 3 T-shirts • 1 swimsuit • 2 toiletry bags (one makeup, one skincare) • 1 light jacket • 1 pair of sunglasses • 1 water bottle • 1 book • a Kindle e-book reader (if I can fit it) • 1 passport

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