A quality leather duffel bag is a lot like a trusty pair of jeans. It outlasts fads and just keeps looking better with age.
A while back I wrote a guide to the most durable duffel bags. Today, I’d like to focus on some of the very best leather duffel bags out there and how not to be ripped off by good looking impersonations.
By the end of this article, you’ll be well on your way to being a connoisseur of high-quality leather goods!
Be warned: If you do wind of getting one of these puppies your family might fight over it when you’re dead.
If you are in a hurry, here are some of the very best leather duffel bags on the market today. (More details on each of them later on)
What to Look For In a Proper Leather Duffel
When I Google “best leather duffel bags,” I see a lot of articles pushing lists of arbitrarily picked leather duffels off of Amazon.
It’s a bit upsetting for me because clearly, they have no freaking idea how to actually judge the quality of leather products. It seems that he authors are more interested in making sales commissions then doing any real research or offering helpful advice.
So, to kick things off…
Here’s a really helpful video by Dave over at Saddleback Leather explaining the difference between a high quality bag and crap one.
How Much Money?
Expect to pay anywhere from $400-1200.
It’s like this: high-quality leather duffels are not for cheapskates.
These are heirloom quality pieces that will last a long time. The wide price range has a lot to do with the size and complexity of the design although branding can play a significant role too.
But why so much?
Thick full-grain leather, marine-grade polyester thread, solid brass clasps, buckles, and zippers aren’t cheap. More importantly, you are paying for a skilled craftsman to meticulously cut, stitch, rivet, emboss, polish and burnish and assemble the piece.
These are true hand-made pieces.
Beware: There are plenty of over-priced leather goods too. Some well-known brands will charge ridiculous sums of money for junk….like the one below. It looks nice but it’s actually crap.
This is why you must learn how to tell what true quality leather pieces look like.
This $570 Italian leather messenger bag from Frye(above) looks nice, but the owner reviews on their own site tell the truth about the workmanship and quality of the hardware.
They tell the story of seems, buckles and hardware letting go.
Nice leather doesn’t make up for poor workmanship.
A $570 bag that falls apart within a year? Ouch!
What are they NOT saying?
Product descriptions of low-grade leather goods inevitably focus on the looks, style and pockets of the bag while glossing over the details that are really important like the type of leather, quality of the hardware, and the kind of stitching.
The brands that make the best leather duffel bags will describe their bags in far more detail because they actually care.
They will explain that the stitching material is made from marine grade polyeste, how they double-reinforced the seams with rivets and how the leather was tanned. They will point out the solid brass hardware, and how they finished the interior with pigskin leather or a quality cotton lining.
Expect very generous warranties (25 years or more) because these companies are confident in their products.
Look For This:
- Full-Grain Leather
- Bridle Leather
- Top Grain Leather
- Solid brass, copper or stainless steel hardware
- Heavy Polyester stitching
- Rivets at stress points
- Box stitching at stress points
- Heavy YKK zippers
- Long Warranties
- Genuine Leather
- Bonded Leather
- Patent Leather
- Tagged-on handles(no wrap-around webbing)
- Light & cheap hardware
- No lifetime warranty
- Scant details on materials and workmanship
- Thin cheap liners with loose threads etc.
What is the Best Kind of Leather?
Full-grain leather is the best quality leather you can get. Top-grain leather is a close second. Most high-quality duffels are made of full-grain leather. If it isn’t stated in the product description, it probably isn’t full-grain.
So, what is full-grain leather?
Full Grain Leather is made from the uppermost portion of the hide. This is the toughest, most luxurious, and most supple kind of leather. Full-Grain leather also develops a patina with age for that classic 1000-mile leather look.
As you can see from the diagram above, the toughest and most dense part of the hide is right at the surface. As you progress downward the leather becomes more coarse and fibrous.
Since full-grain leather includes the natural surface of the hide(minus the hair) it can also feature natural variations. Waves, creases, and (even small scars) can be visible. This makes for some very unique and visually stunning pieces.
No other kind of leather can replicate this.
Top-Grain leather is pretty good too but much of that durable upper layer has been sanded down because the hide had unacceptable blemishes.
How to Recognize Full-Grain Leather
Reputable leather-makers will tell you what kind of leather they are using right off the bat. If they don’t tell you then be very suspicious.
Full-grain leather should have a thick substantial feel, a rich smell, and be soft to the touch. If you stroke full-grain leather when it is new you’ll often get a two-tone effect similar to suede but much finer. Also, If you look very closely you can often see pores where the hair used to be.
Bridle Leather is a notable exception. Even though it is typically also full-grain, it has a more glossy and smooth harder texture. That is because it has been infused with greases and top-coated with a thick wax layer for extra durability and weather-resistance. Bridle Leather is an excellent choice as well.
Veg-Tanned or Chrome-Tanned Leather?
In my opinion, no matter the method of tanning, the actual quality of the tanning process is much more important than the actual tanning agent used. If the process is too hurried, the result is inevitably low quality.
However, veg-tanning is natural and environmentally friendly(the oldest form of tanning). Chrome tanning uses chromium and other harsh chemicals. It is a product of modern industrialization. The result is less expensive and quicker production.
However, Both forms of tanning can yield very durable and high-quality leathers.
- Environmentally friendly
- Brings out natural colors of the leather
- Richer Patina over time
- Rarer (10% marketshare)
- Needs more breaking in time
- Classic leather aroma
- Costs less
- Take’s less time to tan
- More color options
- More weather resistant
- Mainstream(90% marketshare)
- More pliable
Pad & Quill Heritage Duffel
Price: Around $550 (Check Latest Price)
Claim to Fame: Best Looking Leather Duffel (personal favorite)
- Full Grain Leather
- Vegetable Tanned
- UV-stable parachute nylon stitching
- Adjustable carry handle
- Padded shoulder strap(removable)
- Copper rivets(hand-pounded)
- Internal leather zipper pocket
- Luggage pass-through
- 6 lb
- 25-year warranty
Stunning...that’s my word for the Heritage duffel. I love the simplicity of one- compartment design. Just walking into the room with this bag will catch everyone’s eyes.
Pad & Quill knocked it out the park with this one. It ticks all the right boxes and is one of the most affordable leather duffels on this list.
Saddleback Leather Side-Pocket Duffel
Price: ~ $800 (Check the latest price)
Claim to Fame: Toughest leather duffel
- Full Grain Leather- chrome tanned
- Solid Stainless steel hardware
- Pig-skin lining
- Interior pocket in main compartment
- Large end pockets
- Multiple color options
- Buckle closures (no zippers to break)
- Marine-grade Polyester stitching
- 100 year warranty
Saddleback Leather, as a brand, makes some seriously stunning pieces (I especially like their briefcases). They also cover all their products with a 100-year guarantee.
The Side Pocket Duffel is constructed of large slabs of full-grain leather which minimizes the need for extra seams. All the closures are buckles. There are no zippers to break. Heavy polyester stitching and a tough pigskin liner (tougher than cow leather) complete this beast.
Filson Medium Weather Proof Duffel
Price: ~$1300 (Check Latest Price)
Claim to Fame: Best All-Weather Leather Duffel Bag
- Full-Grain, veg-tanned leather
- Specially-treated weatherproof (boot grade)
- English Bridle Leather straps and support
- Solid brass buckles, rivets, and clasps
- Embossed bridle leather luggage tag
- Carry-on compliant
- Button-down weather-guard over zipper
- Wool-felt padded shoulder strap
While much of the high price tag has to do with the Filson brand name, this is still a very high-quality duffel bag designed to work hard. If you are familiar with Filson, you know they are a highly respected outdoor outfitter that takes quality very seriously. They make a lot of tough products.
This is a true go-anywhere duffel. It is mature enough for a business trip, yet can handle the ocean spray at sea. You can take it on a rainy hunting trip or take it on your next horse-back adventure.
The English bridle leather straps, weather/salt-resistant leather, and weather-guarded zipper make this thing a true all-weather duffel.
Buckle & Seam Weekender Willow
Price: ~$480 (Check latest Price)
Claim To Fame: Best Leather Gym bag/ Every-day-carry
- Full-grain, Veg-tanned, dual-tone leather(black or brown)
- Wrap-around YKK zippers (opens very wide)
- Zippered side pocket(phone, AirPods, charger etc)
- 100% cotton lining(multiple color choices)
- Volume: 37 L
- Canvas shoulder strap(removable)
Make sure to lock it up at the gym cause this beauty may just go walk-about.
Beyond being a classy little gym-bag it makes for nice overnighter. Extra-long wrap-around zippers allow this duffel to open much wider than others which makes accessing items at the bottom a lot easier.
Marlondo Leather Weekender
Price: Check Latest price on Amazon
Claim to Fame: Best Value
- Full-grain,Veg-tanned, US-sourced leather(Tobacco, Dark Brown or Black)
- Two sizes: 22.7 L or 34.5 L
- Pigskin lining
- Heavy Marine-grade stitching
- Solid-brass hardware
- Padded shoulder strap
- Riveted stress-points
- 4 exterior pockets
- Carry-on compliant
- Free wear & tear repairs
Marlondo leather is a rare exception among Amazon’s mine-field of low-quality leather offerings. They run a proper Amazon store-front and offer exceptional quality at prices well below competitors like Saddleback Leather.
The Weekender duffel costs $300 less than Saddlebacks duffel! They both have the same style but the Weekender has more pockets. Furthermore, Marlondo uses US-sourced veg-tanned leather vs. Saddlebacks chrome-tanned leather.
Marlondo will even repair your duffel free of charge if it breaks due to normal wear & tear. That’s crazy!
Jackson Wayne Big Sur
Price: ~ $600 (Check Latest Price)
Claim to Fame: Most Professional
- Full Grain, Veg tanned leather
- HD army canvas liner
- HD American-made zippers
- Brass hardware
- Exterior pocket(phone, boarding pass etc)
- Large interior zip pocket
- 2 interior slip pockets
- Luggage tag included
True luxury doesn’t boast about it and the Big Sur is just that. It’s clean. It’s professional, and it will just keep looking better with time.
It’s understated looks may even escape the untrained eye, but anyone who knows a quality duffel when they see it will comment on it.
I think this duffel is best suited as a travel bag for business-men who are frequently on the road.
Hopefully, by now you’ve been able to get an idea of what to look for in the best leather duffel bags. The world of leather goods is not an easy one to navigate.
A good way to hone your skills is spend time handling leather goods when you’re out at the stores. Make a game of judging the quality before you look a the tag or details.
After a while you’ll be able to snag some great deals at second-hand shops simply because they don’t understand the value of what they are selling.
For more on the subject of duffel bags check you might also be interested in the my guide to most durable duffel bags on earth.