The weekend bag, the holdall, the duffle; whatever you want to call it, it means the same: a soft, structured bag with two handles to transport the basic necessities for a 48-hour trip. It was once a necessity for your games kit at school, but why do I need one now, you say?
Perhaps you’ve been dazzled by the charms of sexy aluminium wheelie luggage, rumoured to be bullet-proof and will only open for a Bletchley Park codebreaker or bank robber’s bolt cutter (should you happen to lose those dinky little keys). Not only that, it’s made to slot neatly into those metal ‘cabin bag dimension’ checkers that lie in wait by the gate, ready to sting you with another ‘not-so-budget-airline-now’ fee.
But how much can you actually fit inside a cabin case? A pair of smart shoes, a shirt, a ruthlessly edited wash bag and a – sorry, we have to stop there – it’s already full. It might give Patrick Bateman a hard-on and have tighter security than the US embassy, but it’s relatively useless for more than one night away.
“Weekend bags make getting from A to B a lot easier – but they also do it in style,” says Robin Winch, founder of luxury bag makers, Bennett Winch. “They’re sleek, have plenty of space and are easy to carry, whether you’re on the tube or catching a flight, and feel less cumbersome than a suitcase.” We couldn’t agree more.
It’s no coincidence that Mary Poppins used a roomy carpet bag to stash her magical wares. Granted, a floor lamp and mirror might be pushing it, but holdalls have a mysterious Tardis-like quality; we’ve made week-long trips on a single Mulberry Clipper. But hard cases have no flex, no give, and no stretch which means they can’t expand to accommodate bulky items or gaps in which to sequester another pair of socks.
Holdalls have ‘squish-ability’; a made-up term used to describe the art of squeezing a holdall into the aforementioned cabin bag checker, the footwell of a car when all other space has got no more to give, or the last square centimetre in an overhead locker. (Remember to smile smugly to yourself as your fellow travellers hand over their shiny wheelies to load into the hold, and you breeze past them at reclaim.) Finally, it won’t hog the space above the wardrobe when not in use. Converted? Good, now choose one of these excellent specimens.
The first rule of weekend bags? They’re not just for weekends. This affordable selection of casual carriers can work hard all week. Gym kit? Check. Overnight clothes? Check. Outfit change for the indecisive/well-prepared? Check. Just shove it all in there and go.
The choice of the Yukon gold-digger at the turn of the 20th Century: chances are they carried their worldly goods in a C.C Filson bag. Filson has real heritage; it made its name outfitting the lumberjacks and pioneers who took on America’s Great Wilderness. The Medium Rugged Twill Duffle bag comes in three colourways and is made from the brand’s signature rugged twill and tin cloth; tough, cotton canvas material that can be re-waxed multiple times for water resistance.
If there’s one brand that has actually made America great again, it’s Carhartt. This family-owned company rose on the backs of the rail workers, automakers, farmers and manual labourers of the Mid-West. It’s gained more than a little streetwear cool since it was founded in 1889, thanks to strategic hookups with fashion brands, but practicality remains its USP. This Military Duffle in Camo Combat Green should have your back for a long time.
Luggage maker Eastpak was founded in 1952 but wasted no time in gaining world domination. Originally the official bag makers to the US army, it became the unofficial uniform of streetwear fans, snowboarders and school kids everywhere, before a bit of designer bed-hopping with Raf Simons, Christopher Shannon and Kris Van Assche gave it the necessary kudos to be worn by the likes of you. Buy the sturdy Perce Brim duffle in black if you must, but the canary yellow won’t be getting left on the tarmac anytime soon.
Herschel Supply Co.
Newcomers on the manbag block, Canadian firm Herschel Supply Co is now as ubiquitous as its older American cousins. No, it wasn’t there when the railroads were being dynamited, but its designs are for modern life. The Outfitter model has a separate shoe compartment (to keep mucky Derbies off clean clothes) and a convertible backpack strap – so if you’ve gone overboard, both shoulders can take the strain. The only dilemma is choosing which fabric option to go for; there’s quite a few.
A bag that looks good but won’t break the bank. Trend-conscious River Island’s khaki canvas holdall looks the business with a discreet logo that will keep them guessing. Much smarter than a branded sports bag, you can take your gym kit to work in this, without that whole ‘school kid skipping gym class’ effect.
Looking sharp without radiating ‘travelling salesman’ (another wheelie case pitfall) is happily achievable, and this lust-worthy selection of ‘investment’ items might surprise you on price. Real leather only gets better with age, where it takes on the patina of wear and use, but there are waterproof cotton canvas and faux leather options here, too.
Marks & Spencer
Price-conscious shoppers aren’t scrimping on quality at Marks & Spencer. According to James Doige, head of menswear design at the British firm, “a classic holdall is an essential piece for the wardrobe – it’s a timeless, versatile staple.” This black Saffiano holdall takes its name from a particular type of cross-hatch stamped leather that’s popular with super high-end labels, especially Prada. In fact, this holdall could easily pass for a luxury number everywhere apart from the price tag. Your vegan other half will approve too: it’s faux leather.
With apologies to Einstein, sometimes it’s the simplest ideas that are the most genius. When Permanent Style founder, Simon Crompton, approached Bennett Winch with an idea for two-in-one bag design that could carry more than tailoring, the brand jumped at the chance to produce it. “We wanted to try out the concept of arriving with your suit in the same condition as you packed it in, while still having some space for everything else you need for the trip,” says co-founder Robin Winch. The Suit Carrier holdall is as beautifully crafted as it is useful.
Ever come across the cost-per-wear theory? It’s the easiest way to justify forking out for a big-ticket item. Take the cost, divide by the number of times it will be used and arrive at the cost-per-wear. What looks like a large outlay can actually make economic sense if something is well-made compared to shelling out for several, inferior items over time. In the case of the Mulberry Clipper, the cost is comparable to a month’s rent on a studio flat in London (gulp), but this beauty is built to last decades. Really, it’s a bargain.
For those seeking disposable fast fashion, don’t stop here, but if you want enduring style at an attractive price, the smart money is on Reiss. The retailer has long held the middle ground between the high street and designer categories, and it’s not hard to see why. The Newman tote is a generous, handsome bag with the look and feel of a luxury Italian label but without a price tag to induce guilt.
Another frontrunner on affordable quality is high street stalwart John Lewis. The Lisbon bag is made from full grain leather with a hard-wearing micro-cord lining, and the black and white webbing detail lends it a sporty racing vibe (not to mention a certain similarity with an Italian house beginning with G). It has a detachable strap and two interior pockets, so you can locate the small important things quickly and easily.
Jean Touitou, the founder of French label A.P.C, is a master in understatement and contemporary design. The Eliott bag radiates typical Parisian cool with its simple but spot-on shape and silver-tone hardware. It has exterior pockets for handy quick access, a removable shoulder strap and is day-to-day city friendly. You won’t find a splashy logo prominently placed anywhere, but those that know will know, you know? Look out for the subtle nods of approval from random strangers.
Stockholm based Sandqvist is putting sustainability at the heart of what it does. The Damien bag is made from 100 per cent organic cotton cultivated by fairly paid small-scale farmers in India and under the FWF (Fair Wear Foundation) that protects workers’ rights. In the unlikely event it should break, Sandqvist also has an online repair shop dedicated to fixing and refashioning old bags. We also love the Damien for its spacious proportions and clever inner tech sleeve.
When it comes to buying a bag that will go the distance, the real technical brands are hard to beat. The testing grounds include extreme climates, gnarly outdoor sports and heavy-duty travel, so these products can certainly handle a quick jaunt to Berlin for Ben’s stag do, and whatever else you can throw at them.
It’s true that consumers have power and that every pound you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want, so if it’s genuine eco-credentials you want, vote for Patagonia. The brand has been ploughing profit into protecting land, pace-setters in sustainable materials and transparent supply chains for decades. The idea is for you to buy one, great bag and use it to death; except a Patagonia is damn near impossible to kill. The Black Hole duffle is probably named after the amount of stuff it can swallow up. Meet your lifelong travel buddy, right here.
The North Face
The North Face started out as a specialist supplier to mountain climbers and backpackers before branching out into skiwear and camping equipment. The logo is based on Half Dome, a towering granite rock face in Yosemite National Park. The Base Camp duffle bag has the benefit of no corners to get worn down which means it scores extra points on durability and its straps can convert it into a backpack, so it won’t slow you down. It also comes in a range of pop colours too, for those who don’t want to blend in.
Arc’Teryx has something of a cult status due to its exclusive Veilance line, but you still can tap its cool without forking out an eye-watering amount with a slick number from the main collection. Okay, so technically the Covert bag is a more-backpack-less-weekend hybrid, but we’ll make an exception because it’s a great bit of kit. It’s very light, and the hard-wearing nylon fabric is treated with silicone to make it extra mark and waterproof, while it also includes interior straps to keep the contents locked down.
Swedish outdoor brand Fjällräven also has a high sustainability score, using recycled polyester and organic cotton as key materials. The No. 6 duffle has air mesh straps for extra ventilation, with a comfortable leather grip on the handle. The main compartment has a wide opening, so there’s no rummaging around to dig out buried essentials, and the zipper can also be padlocked for extra security, which is a bonus if you’re a long way from a hotel safe.
If hiking mountains isn’t on the agenda but you want the technical look (on a budget), check out Arket, the latest retailer from the H&M stable. The packable duffle folds away neatly into its own pocket compartment so you can carry it everywhere as a standby bag to bring back unexpected holiday shopping. The polyester lining is made from recycled plastic bottles, so that’s a few less that will wind up in the ocean. David Attenborough would approve.