Gravel Domestic Duffel Review
The Gravel Domestic Duffel is large, spacious, and easy to store after a trip. Just be sure to provide your own pouches and packing cubes.
- Foldable design makes it easier to store
- Peel-away main compartment opening is easy to use
- Generous capacity in all its compartments
- Overall structure is quite floppy and saggy
- Minimal organization
- Sternum strap lacking in wider adjustment
1.1 lb (0.5 kg)
24 in x 13 in x 7 in (61 x 33 x 17.8 cm)
YKK Zippers, Polyester, Hypalon®, Unbranded Hardware
Laptop Compartment Size
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While we generally prefer to use travel backpacks for most trips, duffels also hold a special place in our hearts for their prowess in carrying capacity. They’re also quite flexible when it comes to their harness systems. Many brands spend the time and effort to put as many carrying styles onto their duffels, and we really dig the kind of flexibility they produce.
One such example we’re looking at in this review is Gravel’s Domestic Duffel. Full disclosure: the sample we’re using is a pre-production unit, and we’ll point this out whenever relevant. For the most part, though, it is representative of the full product. Like most duffels, the Domestic Duffel has lots of space for truly bulky gear, but with some quality-of-life improvements, such as a foldable design and peel-away cover.
The Domestic Duffel’s exterior is, as with most of the brand’s gear, all-black. Combine this with the pack’s relatively large proportions, and it makes quite the impression. Its uniform look is only broken by its seams and the sizeable Gravel logo at the front. Mind you, the Domestic Duffel is still comparatively tame versus their Backpack Travel System, but there’s certainly no doubt that this is a 40-liter bag.
The main fabric is Gravel’s 300-denier QuarryPoly polyester, that’s both water and scratch-resistant. It has a sort of crunchy consistency for a fabric, and we say this because it makes that sound whenever we puff and press the bag. It also has some form of a coating that’s gathered some scuff marks during our testing. The damage is purely cosmetic, and though you may spot some loose threads from the photos, we’re confident that those are just a side-effect of this being a pre-production sample.
There aren’t many features on the outside to occupy the fabric despite the Domestic Duffel’s largeness. You get two pig noses near the top rear corners, and two more at the bottom. Their placement is a bit odd since you usually see pig noses at the front of backpacks and not close to the back like this. This more or less rules them out for externally attaching bulky items like shoes, yoga mats, and tripods. Instead, we use them for luggage tags, keychains, or carabiners since the pig noses themselves are quite tight due to the thin Hypalon-like material.
Interestingly, most of the Domestic Duffel’s #8 YKK zippers come with garages to protect them against the elements. This helps seal that last gap between the zipper and the end of the track itself, something that’s typically proportionally large to the size of the zipper.
One really neat feature of the Domestic Duffel is its ability to fold in half. The main compartment’s buckle can also clip onto a corresponding buckle just behind the bottom handle. This feature is mostly useful to those who won’t daily carry the Domestic Duffel and need to store it in an already-packed closet. This is a particular nitpick we have with large bags; they’re great for traveling, but once we’re home, they take up a lot of storage space.
There are handles on all four sides of the pack: top, bottom, left, and right. They’re all thicker than the usual thin strip of nylon you’d find between daypacks’ shoulder straps—not surprising given the Domestic Duffel’s potential carrying capacity. There’s ample padding to make handling comfortable for getting the pack out of the car and to your hotel room.
Once again, take note that this is a pre-production sample, and one of the changes Gravel is planning is to make the side handles wider so they can double as luggage pass-throughs. That’s a welcome addition that makes the Domestic Duffel a bit more air travel-friendly if you also use rolling luggage.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the handles are the only means of carrying the Domestic Duffel as it comes strapless in its base configuration. You’ll have to shell out extra for the backpack straps add-on. To be fair, the extra expense only puts it around the same price range as similar bags like the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel Bag 40L and The North Face Base Camp Voyager 32L at around $150.
The backpack straps attach to the Domestic Duffel via gatekeeper clips. Now, the Pack Hacker crew has a love-hate relationship with gatekeeper clips since they’re often very tricky to undo. Whether it’s because the corresponding loops are too narrow or the clips do too good of a job at gatekeeping, our experience has been polarizing. The good news is that these particular ones are quite easy to operate. The loops are sufficiently wide, and the hardware has a decent balance of security and flexibility.
The straps themselves have a good amount of padding, though they do look thin relative to the Domestic Duffel’s size. On the other hand, the width sufficiently delivers good weight distribution. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the sternum strap. It is the sliding kind that we like, but there’s not enough slack to make it go wider—a potential issue for those with wider chests.
One of the backpack straps also has a party trick. The left shoulder strap can be extended to a full-length crossbody strap by taking out a secondary strap stuffed inside. It’s a clever way to introduce even more functionality to the backpack straps, and we think it makes the add-on more worthwhile.
In case you’re wondering, no, there isn’t a dedicated compartment for storage of the backpack straps. The good news is that since the Domestic Duffel is quite large, there’s more than enough space inside for them. Whether or not it’ll be convenient to access is another question, though.
This may sound weird, and that’s because it’s very subjective, but the worn-out look of the Domestic Duffel has grown on us. Don’t get us wrong; we like the clean aesthetic of Aer or NOMATIC that comes courtesy of their typically more structured bags. However, the Domestic Duffel crunched-up fabric has a bit more personality—think of it as patina.
Carrying the Domestic Duffel in backpack mode feels comfortable as an add-on feature. One con is that the gatekeeper clips, while easy to use, fall on the shoulders where we can sort of feel them. The sternum strap’s limited adjustment is also a con that we feel on a day-to-day basis whenever we try to use it.
That said, the biggest impact on carrying comfort comes from the Domestic Duffel’s floppy structure. This causes a somewhat saggy feel, but we do think this falls within reasonable expectation, given the pack’s size and capacity. Other bags of a similar size do handle this better, such as the Aer Travel Pack 3 or Travel Pack 3 Small, whether through a better harness system or overall shape, but the Domestic Duffel holds its own in terms of comfort.
Comfort is still quite good as a crossbody bag, albeit with the expected imbalance that comes with the style. You can’t shift the padded section, but coverage is wide enough that we don’t feel the need to. The Domestic Duffel’s large size can make this style seem intimidating, especially on smaller frames. However, we still like having this option since it’s arguably more convenient to pick up and carry a large pack like this versus having to fumble with backpack straps all the time.
Inside The Duffel
The first among the Domestic Duffel’s secondary compartments we’re taking a look at are the ones at the sides. The one on the left is a water bottle pocket, while the right one is for everyday carry items. Quick-access pockets like the latter are usually placed in front of a bag. However, the Domestic Duffel’s size affords it real estate at the sides.
There’s a small mesh pocket inside that can fit an iPhone 13 and stops just two-thirds of the way down. It’s a relatively deep pocket, so we recommend using this mesh pocket for items you really don’t want to sink to the bottom (i.e., really *really small items).
The left side pocket has no organization inside to accommodate large bottles better. It’s designed to fit up to 40-ounce bottles. In practice, since it’s a zippered pocket, bottles of that size just stick out. Even an 18-ounce Hydro Flask still has its cap poking out of the top—the zipper can’t just go over. All of that said, Gravel plans to add some elastic to their final design, and that should help keep bottles from accidentally falling out.
Now for the front pocket. You can also use this one as a quick grab pocket, but in our view, it’s far too big for the job. We use it mainly as a shoe pocket. Mind you, it probably won’t fit your Doc Martens, but it does fit slim ones like water shoes and flip-flops. Of course, similarly bulky gear can fit as well, like high-capacity power banks, hoodies, and gloves.
On the face of it, the Domestic Duffel’s main compartment opens up like most other duffel bags do: clamshell-style. However, Gravel decided to put a twist on their design. There are two zippers, each able to zip up and down along the sides. Unlike typical designs where both zippers can go to either side, though, the Domestic Duffel’s zippers are restricted to only one side.
Both zipper tracks terminate at the top, with a side-release clip acting as the final means of security. The zippers also have loops you can lock together to really beef up security, by the way. Now, this sounds like a step too complicated versus more common designs. However, this allows users to simply peel off the cover once the buckle is released. It’s as easy to do as it sounds.
The bucket-style interior has a ton of space you can work with. The sides stay up and don’t collapse, making packing pretty hassle-free as well. We’re happy to report that the interior really does feel like it’s 40 liters. There are little to no features that get in the way of putting packing cubes and pouches inside. We have seen bags with huge capacities, only to be let down by excessive compartmentalization.
In the Domestic Duffel’s case, you’re free to use the space as you wish. On the flip side, the use of packing cubes or hold-down straps is very much recommended to prevent clothes from getting tossed around. There are loops scattered along the sides of the floor in case you do want to use straps, which we didn’t use since we prefer packing cubes.
So that’s a ton of space in a duffel that’s not a pain to live with after you’re done with your trip. There are some issues, but most of them can be attributed to the sample being a pre-production unit. The flexibility in carrying styles is also there, which puts it on par with other duffels in the price range. The main strength here is raw capacity, with much less emphasis on organization. So if you’re already a packing cube kind of fellow with a ton of them ready to go, then the Domestic Duffel is a strong contender.
- Plenty of space, though it may be a bit too floppy
- Folds in half super easily, which is great for storage
- Interested to see how the add-on straps do with carry comfort
- A few loose threads, but we’re attributing it to the fact that this is a pre-production sample
- Material has a few scuffs here and there but is overall in great shape
- 40L capacity Feels very roomy inside, though it can get a big saggy