The Herschel Bowen Travel Duffle Is a Solid Weekender

There are lots of weekend bags out there. The Herschel Supply Bowen Travel Duffle happens to be a good one out of the many, many mediocre ones.

Sometimes a trip just doesn’t justify a full-blown suitcase or backpack, especially if it’s for something casual over the weekend. Trips don’t necessarily need to involve a lot of drama. In my research, the Herschel Novel seemed to get a lot of love on Amazon. But why, I wondered, was brother Bowen from the same company not getting any love despite the fact it was designed for travel?

Thankfully, Herschel was nice enough to send us a sample of each bag to road test and assess. Crowdsourced reviews can be a reliable and tested way of verifying a product’s quality and performance. But sadly, what it also does is leave other great and undiscovered options in the dust as the popular just becomes more popular. In this case, the latter rings true with the Bowen Travel Duffle. Don’t let Amazon rankings fool you on this one.

The Bowen bag retails for $89.99 on Amazon for a non-atrocious color, just about $10 more than the Novel weekender. The difference in cost is small but the difference in structure between each bag is huge. The Novel is essentially a duffel bag with a shoe compartment; the Bowen offers immense opportunities for compartmentalization and organization. Its main compartment is subdivided into two parts, with external pockets that the Novel lacks.

It’s funny, though, because when you see them side by side, the Novel appears to be the bigger bag even though the Bowen has the larger capacity at 56L, 17L more than the Novel’s own capacity at 39L. In terms of dimensions, the Bowen registers at 13 inches x 18 inches x 5 inches (33 cm x 45.7 cm x 12.7 cm) and weighs about 2.5 pounds (1.14 kg). This is well under the carry-on limit so no one should have a problem bringing it onto the plane. I certainly didn’t. This isn’t really a bag that’s designed to be stowed underneath the seat, though.

CORRECTION: After much back and forth, Herschel admitted they did calculate the capacity wrong. The correct capacity is 21L, not 56L. For what it’s worth, I was able to pack about the equivalent of what I usually pack in my Muji suitcase. The capacity of that bag is 33L.

The construction of the duffel is solid. It’s made out of polyester but it gives the impression you can definitely beat this bag up. Inside, the mesh compartments are rimmed with neoprene for reinforcement. Though the hardware is made out of plastic, this didn’t seem to bother me so much as it seemed like a very conscious style and design choice. Perhaps the biggest quibble I had with anything is that there seemed to be some tendency for the zippers to get caught while opening and closing the compartments, sometimes, for no apparent reason.

Interior lining, mesh and hardware.
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Interior lining, mesh and hardware.

It’s a nice looking bag too. Though it’s less gender-neutral than the Novel, I didn’t have a major issue traveling with it in public. I suspect that’s because a lot of travel bags are actually designed for men in mind, so the fairer sex has just become more accustomed to traveling with manlier-looking bags over time. Regardless, it’s got a nice briefcase-looking design that should appeal to most guys. My male friends complimented it, saying that the look was “very Timbuktu” with its smart zipper placements.

But it’s really in terms of compartmentalization and organization that the Bowen rues the day. Though it doesn’t include a shoe compartment like other popular duffel bags, it more than makes up for it by including more options.

Inside, the bag is subdivided into two separate zipper mesh sections which are padded with neoprene along the outside edges. Because the Bowen zips all around, there is also the ability to store something flat in between the two sections in case you need quick access to something. It actually might be ideal to store a laptop in a padded sleeve here for quick access if you’ve got to grab it quickly for security, though I chose to keep my laptop in my purse. There were some concerns that electronic cords could get snagged in the mesh but this is generally pretty avoidable if you tuck it away behind some clothing.

On the exterior, there are two side pockets. One side pocket is zippered which is perfect for storing side documents, a tablet, an e-reader or other personal belongings. The other side pocket is not zippered and noticeably less secure; I like to use this side to store snacks, candies or other flat objects like a magazine.

There are actually many ways to hold the Herschel Bowen duffel bag. There are two carrying straps with folded handles for easy carrying, with an estimated 11 inches for the shoulder drop length enabling the person carrying it to rest it on their shoulders. In layman terms, this is the measurement of the strap from top of the bag (at center) to the peak of the strap and affects how much of your arm you’re able to get through the handles.

It also comes with a detachable shoulder strap—with a padded area that measures about an inch in width—if you prefer to swing it over your body en route. To be fair, I didn’t feel the padded shoulder strap made a significant impact in terms of comfort but this probably had to do with the fact the bag was fully packed on my trip. The best part about it, though, is that there’s a side handle which is super handy when its stowed away in the overhead compartment for quick grabbing.

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(Point worth noting: I find it pretty annoying to travel with a duffel bag for air travel. Unless it’s functioning as your only bag or as a personal item in tandem with a suitcase, it’s not great for managing weight. I often use another purse so I felt like I was often carrying two duffels. I don’t think I would have minded as much as if I had taken the Bowen for a road trip.)

In terms of packing, I managed to pack enough necessities for a seven-day, six-night trip. This is what I managed to store in the bag (keep in mind this is how I like to pack, I roll my clothes religiously and I don’t count the clothes I wear to the airport):

  • 3 shirts
  • 1 dress
  • 2 pajama sets
  • 6 pairs of socks and underwear, other intimates
  • 1 sweater/jacket
  • 1 set of foldable slippers
  • Toiletry bag, loofah, razors and pocket hair brush
  • Small bag of makeup and eyeshadow palette
  • Travel straightener
  • First-aid kit
  • DSLR, laptop charger + phone charger
  • Assorted meats, hams and food (hey, it was Thanksgiving)

Basically, it was fine and the bag still had room to breathe if your goal is to really pack it in. Surprisingly, it is more than suitable for a long weekend or even for a week-long trip as your only item if you’re packing fairly light. It seems like it is strongest for trips that range from 3 to 5 nights. In other words, it is a solid mid-budget weekender bag.

But really, packing as much as you possibly can is really not the issue at hand… it’s really about how much you can fit into the bag before it becomes too heavy and uncomfortable to hold. (Then again, I’m a 5’3, 105-pound chick, not a handsome, strapping man.) That’s something most travelers will have to find a careful balance between.

The Herschel Bowen Travel Duffle Is a Solid Weekender via @maphappy
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