How to Choose the Best Overnight Bag (Expert Advice)

How to Buy a Weekender Bag by MacCase

With Fall in the air it's time to start thinking about Fall getaways. While we all have a place we'd love to go and what we'd bring, what to pack it in might be a challenge. Often, what works for a week long airplane trip is just too much for a few days away. 

This piece will give you things to look for when shopping for a new overnight bag  or duffle bag for a weekend getaway. 

There is probably not a city in the world that doesn't have a weekend getaway place for the people who live there. Some cities have several. It's typically far enough away to make you feel different, calmer, more peaceful. The environment may be more rural, more bucolic, or just different than the world you inhabit during the work week. Most are accessible by car or maybe a bus or train.

Typically, a 2-3 hour drive or a 2-3 hour bus or train ride will take you to your getaway spot. You leave on Friday afternoon and return Sunday evening. This is the definition of a classic weekend getaway.

The destination can be anything from a simple cabin in the woods to a full on, 5 star resort. Consequently, they serve the same purpose and are looking to achieve the same goal: To recharge your spiritual batteries, change your perspective and allow you to relax. 

Most people know what they'll pack for a trip like this. The problem comes from what to pack it in. This is where the weekend travel bag comes in. 

The travel bag market has exploded in the last few years. With cost of entry low and a full breath of materials available, the options for someone looking for a weekender bag are plentiful. Therefore, there are more styles and brands to choose from than ever.

Which begs the question, "which one is best for me?"

The Perfect Overnight Bag

Before we begin, let's make some general assumptions about what an overnight bag consists of regardless of price. Typically they are about 20" x 10" x 12", give or take an inch or two in any given direction. A bigger weekender bag will hold more, but might be more awkward to walk with or carry over your shoulder depending on your stature. 

Speaking of carrying, a handle or handles of some sort are often part of the design as is a removable shoulder strap. The bottom is usually flat so it's easy to load and unload. The flat bottom also helps prevent the satchel from shifting or rolling around during the actual travel. 

Zippers are the most used closure mechanism. The interiors usually consist of some sort of internal pockets, compartments or organizing system, but not always. Sometimes the interior can be just one large open space. Organize accordingly.

Some exterior designs are broken up into different shapes that reflect different compartments. These designs tend to be visually busier than their "all in one" counterparts.

Again, this is an aesthetic choice that can also affect how the case functions for you. Moreover, if you think you'll be fishing in and out of various pockets while you're traveling, a satchel with exterior compartments might make this easier. 

People often ask what is "the best this" or "best that', never stopping to realize that what might be best for one person just won't work for another. Overnight travel bags are the same way. As everyone has individual needs and wants, there is no "best overnight bag". What's best is what's best for you. 

Like with other products, price or more specifically, how much you want or have to spend will will come into play. Someone might consider a $1000 weekend travel bag to be the best. And it might be pretty special. But it cannot be the best option for someone looking to spend $300. 

Materials, build quality and whose doing the manufacturing are also key factors to consider. Then there is the matter of style. Your getaway weekender bag, like many of the other objects you choose to surround yourself with says a lot about who you are. It's an expression and extension of your personality.

Some are simple and workmanlike deriving their visual vocabulary from how the product is assembled or functions. On the other end of the spectrum are the high style, almost glamorous designs fully at home at any of the world's top getaway destinations. Consequently, don't underestimate the power of a beautiful design. 

Lastly, there is value. Is this product worth the money I am paying for it? Is it overpriced or (dramatic pause), is it an excellent value? We'll look at each of these aspects and how they play into which overnight bag is right for you. 

leather weekend bag

Your Weekend Bag - The Price You Pay

Everyone has heard the old adage, you get what you pay for. If you're looking to spend under a hundred dollars for an overnight bag, you're probably looking at a one made from man-made materials such as nylon or polyester. On the positive side, these tend to be lighter in weight than a weekend travel bag made from natural materials.

On the negative side, many in this price range are manufactured by brands who also make sportswear, workout gear and gym clothes. They'll have plastic hardware and their interiors are usually neither padded or lined. This is your basic duffle or gym bag.

They are available at all the major retail chain stores and major online outlets. The aesthetic designs tend to be formulaic and lack any sense of creative vision. Moreover, this lack of vision and content is usually plastered over with bright colors and oversized logos. If you're looking for a low priced overnight bag with large logos in bright colors, this might your ticket. 

If you're looking to spend between $100 and $200 the market opens up a bit. When you move over the $100 mark for a man-made weekend bag, the quality takes a  jump up. Why?

Companies know you can spend less than half on a nylon duffle bag so they better add some value. This typically takes the form of better quality, heavier nylon materials, nicer hardware (think metal instead of plastic), padding and a liner of some sort that finishes the interior. Look for these features as prices climb. 

This price point also moves you into the lower end of the leather overnight bag spectrum. The problem with leather weekend bags at the low end of the market is the quality of the hides. Leather is much more expensive than nylon or polyester. If you're shopping a leather overnight bag at a nylon price, there is a reason for it. 

On some online sites list "Genuine Leather" bags that are actually PCV which is polyvinyl chloride, or to use a simpler term, plastic. Be weary of this. This is where knowing a bit about the manufacturer comes in. 

Who is Making Your Overnight Bag

The cut and sew industry an easy business to get into. There is a plethora of "for hire" contract factories who will churn out their off the shelf designs and put your name on them or build a custom piece to your specs. Either way, you are beholden to their sense of quality. 

Bag companies that have been around a while are probably doing something right. It's a very competitive business for the aforementioned reasons. Consequently, the ones that are doing something fundamentally wrong, will not last. 

Another aspect to look for is how accessible a real person is. Is there a number to call? Did a real person answer? Were your questions answered or are you getting a run-around?

Did your email get a reply from a real person who answered your questions or concerns? Or did you get back an auto reply with no follow up? If your question is replied to by a real person, that's a promising sign. These types of things matter, especially if you have a problem after the sale. 

When it comes to the manufacturers, ask how long they've been around. Check the reviews. What are customers saying about not only the product, but the customer service. Lastly, what's their story? It's very trendy now for brands to "tell their story".

Their social media platforms are filled with "lifestyle" images trying to make a connection with potential customers. You either care about this or you don't. Maybe the "story" speaks to you, maybe it doesn't. Everyone likes to support brands they believe in. If this is important to you, there is no reason not to when shopping for a weekender Bag

Your Leather Overnight Bag is Made Of What? 

Another major trend in the bag industry is calling the heretofore plastic, PVC bag "vegan" to make it sound more cute and cuddly. A "vegan" bag can just as easily be cotton or canvas, but this not not how the industry is using the term.

They are using the term to mean, "non-leather". But they never mention what that non-leather material is. If it's not leather or cotton, then it's man made. If it's man-made then there is a extremely high probability it's some kind of plastic. 

If they called it what it is, plastic and were asking $1700 would that give you a warm and fuzzy feeling? Be wary of the marketing hype and gimmicky phrases. Making a weekend bag out of plastic film is one of the cheapest way to do it.

Calling it "vegan" let's the designer brands who have to fund their million dollar ad campaigns charge nearly the same price for their plastic bags as they do for their much more expensive (to produce), leather models.  

If you see an overnight travel bag sporting the "vegan" label, and are concerned, ask what the material really is. And if you do not receive a straight answer, continue shopping. 

Slightly above the PVC, imitation leather or "vegan" is bonded leather. Bonded leather is made from scrap leather, scrap PVC, fillers and bonding agents. A paste is created, heated and spread thinly over a large surface, cooled and cut into the patterns to make the product. 

The problem with bonded leather is you'll never know how much actual leather is in the mix. Is it 90% scrap leather or just 10% leather and 90% plastic and fillers?  It's great for furniture if you want a leather sofa and have young children. Whether it's the right choice for your weekend getaway bag is up to you.

One way to tell if the model you're interested in is made from bonded leather is to smell it. Because of the high plastic and filler content, it doesn't have the smell of a full leather hide. It lacks the oil content that creates the leather scent. Consequently, it will not smell like anything.

If the manufacture is claiming the bag is leather and it has no leather scent, there's an excellent chance it's bonded. There is nothing wrong with this as long as this is reflected in the price. A bonded leather travel bag should be much cheaper than one made from full or top grain hides. 

Packing your weekend travel bag

Leather Weekend Bag

Lastly, we have the $200+ category. For over $200 you can still find a made made piece that will (or should) be made from the best nylons. The overall design should be professional, and exude a sense of quality and luxury which should be backed up by the execution. Look for top quality zippers and other premium metal hardware in a $200+ nylon model. 

As the man-made models reach their peak, the leather weekend bag is just getting warmed up. From a price point of just over $200 to the sky's the limit, how much you want or are willing to spend will dictate the quality of the bag you choose. 

Given that, like any product group, there is always a sweet spot where the quality of the product is well worth or exceeds the price being asked. For a top quality leather weekender bag, look for a full or top grain hide. Study the stitching. Is it consistent. Does it appear to have been sewn with care or slapped together? 

In this price range, the aesthetic design will take on a more important role. People who spend $500 on a leather overnight bag don't want it to look like a $50 one. They want it to look like they spent $1500. Design matters and goes a long way to giving a person the feeling that they bought the best overnight bag. 

Another trend in cut and sew design, especially leather overnight bag design is to create models whose designs look like they're from the 1850s. Why? Who thinks this is a good idea? Do you drive a car that looks like a horse and wagon? Do you wear clothing in the style of 150 years ago? 

Typically, relying on the past to create a design for today, shows a lack of vision. When you're paying hundreds of dollars for an overnight travel bag, it should reflect a vision, an idea. This gives the product character and allows it to endear itself to you. 

Hardware should be top quality as well. The plating and finish should be consistent. Moreover, the interior should have the same sense of detail. Padded, lined and assembled with the sense that whomever did the work cared about what they were doing.  

Another detail to look for is the inclusion of bottom feet. This will keep your weekender bag off the ground, protect the bottom edges from excessive, premature wear and keep the bottom panel dry. This is often and overlooked feature by buyers until you set your expensive leather overnight bag down on the wet ground for the first time. 

The inclusion of bottom feet are another feature that can take a good design in the "best overnight bag" category. Look for them on the model you choose. 

The character and originality of the design, the overall quality of a bag and the attention to detail in this price range should provide a much higher value to you in the long term. Your getaway companion should last longer and be something you or the valet are proud to pull out of the trunk of your car. 

In Conclusion

To summarize, the best way to shop for the best overnight bag is to:

  • Figure out what size will be comfortable for your body type
  • Think about your "must have" features
  • Figure out how much you want to spend
  • Choose your materials, either man-made or natural
  • Be wary of marketing gimmicks and trendy "phrases"
  • Understand the materials. "Vegan" bags are made from something 
  • Look for attention to detail. Are there bottom feet? 
  • Find out about the company. Whats' their story? 
  • Is a more beautiful, modern design worth paying a bit more for?
  • Look for the best combination of materials, features, design and warranty for the money you have to spend

Following these simple tips can ensure that the weekender bag you purchase will be the best one for you no matter where your gateway destination may be. 

Do you have an overnight bag you consider the best or is your favorite? Tell us why in the comments section below. 

    Jody K. Deane
    by Jody K. Deane August 13, 2019

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