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Duffel Bag vs. Backpack: An In-Depth Analysis

Eric Teske | January 1, 2011

When I think, “swim bag,” there are really three types that come to mind: a mesh equipment bag, a classic duffel bag, and a large backpack. Mesh bags are great for holding wet kickboards, pool buoys and paddles, but are a lousy option for carrying dry personal items and clothing. That’s where the duffel bag and backpack come in to play. But which is the best option for you?

Let’s compare duffel bags and backpacks in terms of their size, accessibility, portability, and popularity.

Size

Typically, duffel bags are larger than backpacks. My comparison of the dimensions of full-sized backpacks and duffel bags from Speedo, TYR, and Nike revealed an average expanded volume of 3390 cubic inches (in3) for the duffels, and 2399 in3 for backpacks. If you want to get technical, Nike offers the largest bags in both types – but just barely.

Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to airline baggage, and if you want to avoid checking your swim bag, you should consider a backpack. According to their carry-on policies, most popular airlines limit carry-on dimensions to 45 linear inches (add up the length, width, and height). All of the full-sized duffels exceed 45 linear inches, with an average seam length of 47.5 inches. However, even the large backpacks would fit comfortably, with an average linear seam length of 41.5 inches. If you pack your duffel to the brim, you can still fly AirTran, Continental, or Southwest because these airlines allow carry-on dimensions of 50+ linear inches.

Accessibility

The horizontal and vertical orientations are important to consider, because the orientation denotes packing order and accessibility. When I pack a backpack, I always shove the towel into the bottom first and pile the smaller items on top. Sure enough, the first thing I come looking for after a workout is the towel – hidden at the bottom of the bag. I end up getting my clothes, wallet, and cell phone wet while digging for the towel. One solution (other than re-learning how to pack) is to pack the items next to each other in a duffel bag. The backpack is invariably a top-down packing system.

Portability

Another thing the backpack has going for it is ease-of-carry – two straps with weight evenly distributed across the back. All of the duffel swim bags come with a shoulder strap, but depending on how you stuff your bag, this may cause some uneven pressure on your back. Backpacks seem to be more manageable for smaller swimmers as well.

Popularity

The winner, in terms of sales, is clearly the backpack. In spite of what the duffel has to offer, teams seem to prefer a backpack – usually a Speedo Pro Backpack or TYR Alliance Team Backpack II, depending on team contracts.

A wide variety of swim bags are available for purchase from Kast-A-Way Swimwear at kastawayswimwear.com along with other merchandise from top competitive swimwear brands such as Speedo, TYR, Nike, and Dolfin.

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