Note: Tom Bihn provided these bags as review samples.
Perhaps it is time to call 2018 the year for great duffel bags, as there has been no shortage of them this year. Adding to that established mix is Tom Bihn’s new Road Buddy Duffel Bags which come in both 36L and 60L sizes. I was told that these are decades in the making, and a partial revival of something Tom Bihn has been working on since day one, as well as a modern take on that idea. They are part duffle bag, part gym/gear bag, and part Aeronaut style travel bag.
And I love them.
Duffel Bags in General
Before diving into these duffels, it’s important to note that there are two main types of duffle bags. The ones you see in movies, which are the classic barrel shaped bags with one straight zipper across the top, and then there are the gym bags many of us who remember the 90s are accustomed to (now days you tend to find these more listed as “gear” bags, or “range” bags if you want something more tactical). These bags are rectangular, typically with two pockets at either end. Common in the sports world, especially during my younger years in school.
A classic barrel duffel bag is very hard to use, but practical because it is versatile and typically doesn’t weight much. A gym style duffel is heavier as it has more material and generally less versatile.
This is important because these Road Buddy Duffels are more gym/gear/range than they are classic. More importantly, this type of gear bag makes it easier to work and live out of the bag, whereas a classic duffel fights against such ideas.
Let’s dive in.
Road Buddy Duffel
I’ll dive into the specific sizes below, but the foundation of these two bags are the same. They are divided into three segments.
- End pouches: at each end of the bag there are two large zippered areas. Both fit my size 11 dress shoes, though it is snug on the 36. I could fit boots on the 60. Each end pouch has a side pocket (the right side pocket is mesh) these are expandable, taking extra space from inside the larger pocket area. This makes a great stash pouch, and the mesh area is a great spot for something wet, or that needs to air out.
- The main segment: this opens with a large D shaped zipper, the best design for duffel bags, and provides one massive area to pack in. It’s hard to pack this area with nothing in the side pockets, as those provide standing structure for this area. Additionally, inside the main segment is a large mesh pocket on the opening flap, 4 anchor points for Tom Bihn’s straps, and 4 pouches for stashing smaller items in. It offers both organization and a blank canvas for you to pack.
- the exterior strap: on the outside of the bag there are 4 areas to attach the nylon strap (shown in pictures holding the yoga mat). There is one upper section on the face and back of the duffel, and two sections on each side of the bottom of the duffel. You could easily strap on any of the four sides of this duffel, or create one large strap to cinch down the entire pack if needed.
This is an extremely well designed bag which reminds me a lot of the Aeronaut bag I loved and used for years. Basically, this is the best parts of all the duffel bags I have owned over the years.
All packed up for the weekend.
Let me be clear: I don’t think these make good bags for airplane travel. Backpacks, roller bags, and stuff like that will be far better. However, for road trips, these are killer. I’d also argue that they are near ideal bags for the growing ‘overlanding’ community.
The reason being: they are durable, accessible, organized, rectangular, and have lash points. Allow me to break that down a bit more:
- Durable: 1050D Ballistc Nylon is really tough stuff. I’ve checked plenty of bags made with this with countless airlines, and they come out looking brand new. That’s my litmus test for durability, and the material passes every time. Add to that the rugged #10 YKK zippers, and you have a beefy design that’s not likely to fail on you.
- Accessible: the hardest part about travel is getting at the stuff you need when you need it. These bags can practically splay open without spilling the contents of them. The large D shaped opening is awesome, keeping your gear in place, but allowing you easy access to everything. The addition of pouches and end pockets only enhances this.
- Organized: most duffel bags don’t stay organized because there’s only a couple of pockets easy to get stuff out of, so they become the junk drawer of your traveling life. On these bags, all the pockets are accessible.
- Rectangular: round bags waste space when packing the back of a car. As you can see in the picture above, with rectangular bags you can easily stack them, and organize your cargo area.
- Lash points: ok, so the pictures are showing these used with a yoga mat, but to be fair the bag is full of throw pillows, dress shoes, and a jacket in the photos. Which either means I am about to take the weirdest trip ever, or I was just taking pictures. The lash points offer a ton of flexibility. From cinching down the bags, storing jackets (especially wet jackets) to storing sports gear, or even securing the bags to something for travel (so they don’t slide around). Lash points are always great, and are nearly invisible on this bag when the straps are removed.
These bags are called ‘Road Buddy’ and I cannot think of a more fitting name, because these feel at home for any trip involving a car. Now, on to the sizes…
Road Buddy 36
After my first trip with these bags, I made one note about the 36L sized duffel: ‘the perfect duffel’. I stand by that note. This is the most perfectly sized duffel bag I have ever used. While it looks a bit larger than 36L, it’s really well done and packs even bigger than I expect. I packed both my daughters in this bag for a weekend away, and typically they use 44L bags for the two of them — but I had room to spare with this one.
If you are looking for a great weekend bag, this is it. I am not sure if this meets carryon requirements, but if it does, even better. Either way, this is a killer sized bag with amazing features. I can see this being really popular.
Road Buddy 60
I had two notes for this bag: ‘perfectly huge’ and ‘Overlanders dream bag?’. I don’t even know how to pack a 60L bag anymore. So I gave it to my wife to pack for a weekend away, where she typically packs in a bag about 49L in size. She feel in love with this bag. She was happy to have room for not only all her ‘stuff’ but for all her camera gear too.
I have to say, I was impressed, because even she couldn’t fill the bag — and that’s an honest first. I think you know if this is the size you need, and if you don’t know, then get the smaller bag.
If you can’t tell by now, I can not recommend these bags enough. They are hands down the best duffel bags I have ever used. The only gripe I have is that I don’t understand the second carry option which moves the shoulder strap to the side panel, but it doesn’t impair the bag in anyway. (Be sure to get the Absolute strap with the bag, as it is an awesome shoulder strap.)