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Experts expect a surge in summer travel plans — among those “vaxications” — as millions of newly-vaccinated Americans attempt to travel once again. And weekend trips can be easier to pencil into a busy schedule than a long, far-away vacation. Embarking on short getaways throughout the year can be good for both your mental health and productivity once you’re back to work. Packing the right weekender bag can also help determine just how stress-free your trip is.
SKIP AHEAD How to shop for a weekender bag
What is a weekender bag and what is it used for?
A weekender bag is luggage designed for a short trip, typically taking place over a few days or a weekend. Sized in between a backpack and a carry-on suitcase, a weekend bag is big enough to pack clothes, toiletries, shoes and other essentials without ending up too bulky. Many tend to have soft sides, zippers and multiple compartments that give you the convenience and accessibility of a backpack with the capacity of a smaller suitcase.
“For getaways lasting a night or two, the main advantage of a weekender bag is the ease at which you can pack and unpack,” said Lauren Juliff, who runs the travel blog Never Ending Footsteps. “You don’t have to squeeze everything through the narrow entrance of a backpack when packing, and when unpacking, it’s far easier to see where everything is in a duffel.”
Practicality aside, weekender bags are a stylish alternative to basic luggage. They come in a variety of colors and materials, including nylon, faux leather, canvas and polyester. The flexible and foldable material of typical weekenders makes it convenient to “fold them flat after unpacking and store them out of sight,” according to Juliff. Some also sport customizable features like monograms and patterns to fit your personal style.
“I'm definitely somebody who has weekenders that go from a traditional soft duffel in a leather to a canvas duffel to larger totes that stand up on their own,” said Yolanda Edwards, the founder of travel magazine Yolo Journal. Edwards typically uses weekender bags for short trips to her house in Upstate New York, but she also takes them along on planes as a personal item and in cars for space saving storage during road trips.
Best weekender bags in 2021
To give you an idea of the range of weekender bags available to fit your personal travel preferences, we’ve compiled highly rated options at various price points.
Best weekender bag overall: Lo & Sons
The highly-rated Catalina Deluxe is a frontrunner for durability, space and style. You can choose between various colors and fabrics, including soft and sturdy washed canvas, water-resistant and eco-friendly recyclable polyester and hypoallergenic organic canvas. The bag comes in both a small size and a large size, and includes an adjustable messenger strap with removable padding. It also has a separate shoe compartment at the bottom with a removable padded insert. And if you’re hoping to take the Catalina Deluxe on a plane as a carry-on, its backend pass-through sleeve lets it fit comfortably on top of a suitcase.
Best affordable weekender bag: PUMA
With a 4.7-star average rating from more than 12,000 reviews, this affordable weekender bag is a simple option for short trips without the bells and whistles of higher-end bags. Its spacious interior offers the room to pack essentials for an overnight stay or daily gym sessions.
Best sustainable weekender bag: Paravel
This duffle bag is made from Paravel’s signature Ecocraft Canvas material — composed of 14 upcycled plastic water bottles — and an eco-friendly silicone coating for durability. It’s lightweight, stylish and spacious, designed to fit four to five days’ worth of clothing, according to the brand. If personalized luggage is your go-to, the Paravel duffel can be monogrammed with emojis or letters that are embroidered, hand-painted or foiled.
Best water-resistant weekender bag: Everlane
If rain is on your horizon, Everlane’s The Twill Weekender comes in four different colors and they’re all made from 100-percent water-resistant cotton twill on the exterior. While it lacks adjustable shoulder straps, the leather straps are 12 inches long and are designed for either over-the-shoulder or handheld wear.
Best overnight weekender bag: Vera Bradley
If you’re planning on doing a quick overnight trip, Vera Bradley’s weekender bag has the space to hold clothes and toiletries, with five mesh internal pockets and two additional zipper pockets to keep smaller items organized. For trips that require flying, this bag features a trolley sleeve that makes it easy to carry through an airport atop a suitcase, and its dimensions are carry-on compliant for overhead compartments.
Best spacious weekender bag: Away
This is the larger version of the Everywhere Bag by Shopping reader-favorite luggage brand Away, complete with a detachable padded shoulder strap and a spacious interior. The Large Everywhere Bag features two zippers for easy access to its main compartment: A clamshell opening and a wraparound zipper, similar to a carry-on suitcase. If you’re planning on traveling with your laptop, it also includes a padded laptop sleeve that fits laptops as large as 15 inches with a magnetic locking zipper for extra security.
Best high-end weekender bag: TUMI
The sleek design of this TUMI bag makes it stylish enough for business trips while having most of the practical features that make a weekender great for short trips, including a spacious main interior that can be divided into two separate compartments for storage and multiple organization pockets and sleeves. It also includes a quick access phone pocket with a magnetic strap for protection and a card-and-pen pocket to help during work-related trips.
Best outdoor travel weekender bag: Patagonia
If you’re looking to go on an outdoor adventure like hiking or camping for the weekend, this durable option from Patagonia is worth considering and practical. Its ripstop fabric prevents wear and tear from rough use and its water-resistant exterior is designed to withstand some unpredictable weather. It includes zippered pockets on the outside for easy access to snacks and gear, and daisy chain loops will let you easily latch on water bottles, binoculars or any outdoor essentials. In case you’re walking long distances, this duffle bag also converts to a backpack via optional double straps.
Best lightweight weekender bag: Dagne Dover
The Landon Carryall weekender by handbag brand Dagne Dover is made from 100-percent premium neoprene — a lightweight, water-resistant fabric often used to make wetsuits. According to the brand, the light material is also insulating, shock-absorbent and flexible, so hauling it around for long periods of time can be less of a struggle compared to other weekenders. It comes in several sizes ranging from extra-small up to extra-large, and includes snaps on both sides that can transform the top opening length from 12-inches to 20-inches for extra storage.
Best tech-friendly weekender bag: Herschel
If lugging around a bulky laptop is a traveling issue, Herschel’s Tech Novel Duffle features a fleece-lined 16-inch laptop compartment that’s bigger than any other option on this list. As its name suggests, multiple internal organizers make it easy to store tech equipment like headphones, chords and portable chargers. And if you’re hoping to get a quality duffel bag without the tech-friendly features, Herschel’s more affordable Standard Novel Duffle offers similar features including a zippered shoe compartment, reinforced handles and a roomy interior.
Best minimalist weekender bag: Calpak
Made from faux leather and offered in four solid colors, this weekender is a casual accessory without the flashy patterns or multi-colored fabrics and trimmings. The brand notes in their description that it’s foldable, allowing for easier storage around your home, and includes a removable zippered pouch to store cards, keys and other on-hand essentials. And for additional items that you’d like to keep separate, Calpak sells a matching Hue Toiletry Bag in the same design and colors.
How to shop for a weekender bag
Both Edwards and travel vlogger Nadine Sykora, host of popular YouTube channel Hey Nadine, agree that not all weekender bags have the same function — the particular trip you plan and your interests will determine the right bag for you.
“The first thing you want to do is determine what your weekend is,” Sykora said. She suggests shoppers ask themselves whether their trip is “truly a weekend,” just one day or merely overnight before investing in a weekender.
The right size weekender
Some fashionable options tend to be more compact, while sturdy and pocket-filled bags are generally roomier. While a smaller option may not hold all of your essentials, Sykora notes that opting for a bigger weekender presents limitations. “Typically, weekender bags aren’t rolling bags,” she explained. “You’ll need to carry them around,” and that can result in some serious heavy-lifting if you’re a chronic over-packer.
Weekender straps and versatility
Padded, removable and adjustable straps are important when it comes to the comfort of your weekender bag. If you’re planning a walk-heavy trip, some weekenders can transform into cross-body bags or an oversized backpack that won’t put too much pressure on one shoulder. But, as Sykora explained, carrying around a weekender bag with a shoulder strap isn’t ideal for long-haul trips.
Canvas, nylon and other weekender materials
While different materials will impact how stylish your weekender bag is, it’s important to avoid materials that won’t hold up in certain travel conditions. “If you're an outdoorsman who’s going hiking, you should definitely not be getting a zippered duffel that's canvas — which is a little heavier — [with] leather details,” said Edwards, who would opt for something like a lightweight, water-resistant nylon instead.
Weekender pockets, sleeves and other organizational features
While most weekender bags have an open, spacious interior with a few pockets to store miscellaneous items, some offer more functional compartments for organization, including laptop sleeves, separate shoe compartments and accessible pockets for a cellphone, e-reader or other in-reach essentials.