Best Travel Luggage For The Active Dad

Is your dad active? If so, your Father’s Day shopping just got easy. It doesn’t matter what Dad’s favorite activity is, hiking, cycling, diving, golf, skiing, tennis, whatever, if he travels to do it, there’s some piece of luggage that will make his life and his trips better. I’ve been traveling for sports for three decades, I’ve seen lots of innovation, I have personal experience with every brand here, and unlike many holiday gift guides, there are no commissions if you buy anything you see—but you can rest assured that they are proven, best-in-class picks worthy of a best-in-class Dad. These entries run a bit longer than other gift guides you’ll find online, because I really have reasons why I recommend these products, and I want you to know what you and Dad are getting for your hard-earned dollars.

If Dad loves great steak, seafood or cooking, see my Father’s Day Mail Order Gourmet Gift Guide here at Forbes, and if he loves golf, check out my Best Golf Gifts guide.

Do It All Adventure Luggage

For a black-tie wedding weekend or dressy business trip, using hard sided luggage like a 4-wheel spinner makes sense, but for active travel, nothing beats a rolling duffel—and I’ve taken every kind of bag you can imagine skiing, hiking, cycling, diving and on adventure trips all around the world. A rolling duffel gives you the maximum storage to weight ratio, is easy to roll, can go in overhead racks on European trains or stack in a taxi trunk, and they can hold bulkier items that won’t fit in one side of a spinner or any luggage that opens like a book (like ski helmets!). The best are very durable, and while my wife recently fetched her 4-wheel hard sided spinner off the luggage carousel to find the exterior shattered, that just can’t happen with a good duffel.

There are a lot of very good brands in this field, but where they vary most is price and size. Most max out at 90 or 100 liters, which often just isn’t quite enough for an adventure—especially these days when airlines stick it to passengers and checking just one bag is much more reasonable than two. That’s why I’m using Eagle Creek’s Cargo Hauler rolling duffel, a time-tested line-up of classic adventure gear, but I especially recommend the 32-inch XT model, which has a whopping 120-liter interior volume yet weighs just 9.25 pounds. That’s about as big as you’ll find on the market but at weight equal to or less than smaller bags. It’s got heavy duty wheels, a well-designed telescoping handle, a big U-shaped opening lid for easy access, a large separate outside access pocket perfect for dirty footwear or toiletries, lots of handles and lash-on attachment points (in case you want to piggyback other non-rolling luggage or strap it to roof racks) and it even has hidden backpack straps so Dad can carry it on his back if needed. The recycled polyester fabric hits the sustainability factor, and is water resistant to protect the contents. Best of all it’s a very good value in its class at $369, and because, it’s from Eagle Creek, a proven, high-quality company that makes nothing but travel gear, it has the brand’s famous “No Matter What” warranty, covering wheels, handles, zippers, fabric tears, frames and buckles for the original owner for the bag’s lifetime.

Best Active Carry On

I have been flying 100,000 miles-plus annually for decades and I’ve tried just about every kind of carry-on solution out there. For active travels you want maximum capacity, because you sometimes have to carry on stuff that just should not get checked, from golf laser rangefinders to fishing reels to anything with a lithium battery. But you also want all the bells and whistles that make for a good in-flight bag at any size: easy access, excellent interior organization, a protective sleeve for laptop/tablet, comfort, durability, etc. A backpack is the most versatile option because you can always take it even if you don’t have another carry on, it can go under the seat when the plane runs out of overhead space, and it counts as your personal item on airlines that screw you over on other carry-on luggage. But almost all backpacks load from the top, which makes finding things cumbersome, and the better solution is a clamshell model that opens fully flat like a book, giving you instant access to everything inside and making it easier to fully pack it with bulky items like running shoes. About a year ago I switched to the GoRuck GR1, and it has proven to be the near perfect carry-on bag. A companion on a recent golf trip took a picture of the label to get one, saying it was the bag he’s been searching for. The NY Times gear testing site Wirecutter picked the same bag as “The Best Buy It For Life Backpack” on the market. In its detailed review they said, “It isn’t just tough, it’s nearly indestructible.” To give you an idea, the company stress tests the top handle to lift up to 400 pounds.

The GR1 is an extremely durable military-style pack modeled on the kits used by medics on the battlefield, where you need a lot of gear but everything has to be precisely organized and immediately accessible. The large main compartment opens fully in the clamshell style, holds a ton, and has multiple interior zippered buckets you can see through. It has more of these pockets on both the front and back sides of the smaller but still sizable main front pocket—which also opens full clamshell. There’s a third smaller exterior zippered pocket integrated into the lid for really fast access items like passports, phone or boarding passes, and a fourth, sleeve-style rear pocket with exterior access in the back of the pack for laptops and tablets that is well cushioned, especially at the bottom, to protect from drops and offer immediate access. When I fly, I have an on-board routine, and with the GR1 I know exactly where everything is. The GR1 comes in two sizes, and I went for the bigger one because hey, you always want to be able to carry more, and if you don’t, well the empty space doesn’t weigh anything. The exterior is water resistant, and the only fault I found with the super-rugged and very well-designed bag is that it lacks an external water bottle pocket. But it is equipped with MOLLE webbing, a series of parallel straps that is the same system the U.S. military uses for gear attachment. There is a huge secondary market in MOLLE accessories, and I bought a color matching water bottle holder on Amazon for less than $15 that just strapped onto the side. You could do multiple bottles or buy all different size and shape accessory pockets and pouches. If you want to hyper organize your inflight process and not stress over the mad rush for overhead space, you can add a detachable zippered case for your at seat essentials, maybe noise cancelling headphones, a tablet and a book, then juts pull it off and jam the pack above. I think the GR1 is fantastic on its own and it holds plenty, but it is also designed to be the center of a modular system configured however Dad wants.

The regular GR1 is $335-$345 (two sizes), and it also comes in a lighter and even more water-resistant version made of Robic Ripstop 420 denier nylon versus the regular heavier Cordura ($385-$395). This may be a better choice for the Dad who does not beat up his gear excessively, while for that Dad, there is a crazy tough version in Dyneema, a competitor to bullet proof vest material Kevlar, incredibly strong ($495). For the Dad who appreciates classic style, there’s a Heritage edition of waxed duck canvas with leather trim ($415-$425). But only the “regular” original GR1 in Cordura has the m MOLLE straps for added functionality, while the others have a cleaner, less militaristic look.

Ultimate Day Pack

Even after years of travel and hiking trips I’m still dialing my own system in. On a recent weeklong guided hiking trip, I needed a pack to carry rain gear, snacks and a hydration bladder but nothing else. I decided to leave my “real” hiking pack home because it was too big and would be mostly empty, so I took a smaller day pack. But most smaller packs lack the technical features like padded straps, padded hip belt, internal frame and ventilated pack panel, and after three days, the thin straps were digging into my shoulders. So, I set off in search of the perfect hiking pack for basic day hikes, with enough room to carry all the essentials, food, layers, extra water and any miscellaneous accessories, but with the comfort and performance of a bigger technical backpacking pack. I found the solution at Mystery Ranch, a niche domestic pack maker that has spent four decades perfecting the art of carrying stuff, and is a top choice of serious outdoor adventurers and professionals, most notably wilderness firefighters. The company sums up its ethos as “Mystery Ranch packs have always had a single purpose: to minimize the burden on your back.” Mystery Ranch is to packs what Ferrari is to sports cars, what you’d get if you were serious about your passion and appreciated perfect design, but as the brand has racked up awards and recognition among the most serious uses, it has become more mainstream. If you read outdoor gear guides like I do you’ve probably seen them, because Mystery Ranch is a perennial winer in Backpacker and Outside Magazine’s annual competitions, including Outside’s Best All Around Day Pack of 2023. Gear website Carryology inducted the brand into its Hall of Fame, and Mystery Ranch won Best New Hiking Backpack in the Men’s Health 2023 Outdoor Awards. In short, your see the brand in just about every award for all kinds of “Best Packs.”

But for Dad’s day hikes—and my day hikes—I go with the Coulee 30, because it has just the right capacity, it’s made entirely from recycled nylon (for Dads who care about the environment like I do), weighs just two and a half pounds (!), and has a unique three-way main zipper design that allows super easy access to the main compartments. For things you don’t want to take the pack off to access, like trail mix, your phone, bug spray, compass/GPS, etc, it’s got several exterior pockets like those handy in the hip belt. It’s got dual side stretch pockets to accommodate any kind of water bottles or thermos, an interior water bladder sleeve, and most importantly, a real deal full-blown high-performance suspension system with extra comfy padded straps and thick waist belt. It just puts a ton of features in a super light package, and if you’re running late on Mother’s Day shopping, or want to do some Father/Daughter hikes, it is also available in a women specific version ($189).

Hit The Slopes

Is Dad a skier or snowboarder? If so, he needs to travel with skis or boards and boots easily, and fortunately, the folks at, America’s premier online retailer of outdoor gear, have him covered. The All-Around Double Ski & Snowboard Bag is padded, adjusts in length to snugly fits skis ( up to two pairs) and boards up to 195cm, has extra padded edge protection, a tear resistant waterproof lining (after the last day of a ski trip he can go straight from slopes to the airport without drying skis), oversized roller wheels for easy moving through airports, and it lets you clip on the matching boot bag. It’s also on sale 40% off ($180). The matching All Around Ski & Snowbaord Boot Bag is a backpack that is especially designed to fit boots, a helmet and more, with a special fleece lined goggle pocket, fold out ground mat for Dads who change into boots in the parking lot, and extra-durable fabric with tear resistant lining to protect from buckles. It’s a great way to carry boots onto a plane, attaches to the rolling ski bag above—and it’s also on sale ($120).

For All Kinds of Wet Adventures

Eagle Creek’s Pack-It system revolutionized the way savvy travelers pack with a wide variety of cubes, folders and pouches that keep dress clothes for creasing, organize workout wear, save space and make accessing your stuff during one night hotel stays so much easier. No company is more associated with travel organization, but Eagle Creek recently expanded the line to include the Pack-It Dry lineup of waterproof pouches and cubes, and this is almost certainly something Dad does not have yet. These do all the same great organizational things while protecting valuable electronics, passports and anything else from water, great for everything like canoe/kayak trips, rafting, SCUBA/Snorkeling vacations, sailing or fishing adventures. They are even great for backpacking trips or rainforest adventures where you absolutely don’t want something to get soaked by the rain.

Unplanned Adventures, Mountain Biking Or Short Breaks

Sometimes a day hike or a short bike ride pops up out of the blue when we are traveling. Keep dad prepared with the Osprey Seral 7 lumbar pack. It’s designed for mountain biking, but is incredibly versatile in a small package, and also works great for shorter day hikes, urban adventures, scenic paddle trips, anytime Dad needs to carry some layers, food, a camera or any other extras but doesn’t want to lug a day pack on vacation. It can stash easily in his checked bag when he knows he’s doing shorter jaunts, or for “just in case” pop-up adventures. The 7-liter capacity is surpassingly flexible, and it includes Osprey’s best-in-class hydration system, with a hose equipped 1.5-liter bladder. In addition to the large zippered main compartment there are quick access front pockets on the hip belt, it’s great for securing valuable during travel, and has a technical performance design with compression straps to keep it stable and comfortable without slippage while riding or hiking. At $110 with lifetime warranty and a standout hydration system, it’s a great buy in an all-around travel solution.

Rolling to the Fairway

Sun Mountain’s Club Glider does something the competition cannot, but that should not be surprising given that Sun Mountain has long been the industry innovator and leader in all things golf bags—they even invented the now ubiquitous double strap carry bag. Their products are extremely well made, long lasting and simply the best when it comes to golf bags—on or off the course. The Club Glider is their reinvention of the golf travel case, and has the usual features, extra shoe pockets, padding, heavy duty zippers, etc., but it adds the innovative pop-out legs hidden in the base that turn it into a 4-wheel upright rolling machine. There’s no easier bag to move across airports and parking lots, and if Dad is standing in line to check in, while everyone ese keeps bending down to drag their bag a foot at a time, he can push his with one finger, as it stands on its own. Believe me, it elicits a lot of airport jealousy from other golfers. A great value, the Club Glider comes in four versions, from $290-$390.

Fishing, Rafting, Watersports

Any Dad that gets out on the water will appreciate a YETI ultra-waterproof backpack or duffel. We all know the quality and bulletproof durability the company is known for, especially for its coveted best-in-class coolers, and anyone who boats or fishes already has (or wants!) one of those. But the waterproof bag lineup is newer, and includes the smaller Sidekick gear cases (phones, tackle, etc), large waterproof duffels (50,75 and 100-liter) for gear onboard, and a 28-liter waterproof Panga backpack, one Dad can wear right into the river or ocean while flyfishing or stalking bonefish. Worried about valuables at the beach? With the Panga you can just wear them into the waves.


Only serious cyclists travel with their bikes, but if Dad is a serious cyclist, there’s no improvised work around or substitute for a dedicated bike travel case. Topeak has long been the leader on all things cycling accessories, from lights to tools to pumps, so of course they make a high-tech nearly perfect bike case, the PAKGO-X, suitable for road, mountain or gravel bikes. Its shell is hard sided but superlight polycarbonate with aluminum reinforcements, sits upright with four wheels to roll easily, incudes protective inner wheel bags, a drivetrain protection cover, built-in TSA lock, even a mini work stand that folds out when opened to help Dad set up his bike on arrival. ($1000)

Hydrated Dad

Whatever outdoor activity is Dad’s thing, drinking water should be a big part of it. I’ve tried all sorts of hydration systems skiing, hiking, biking, etc. and I have not found a better bladder and hose system than those from Colorado-based outdoor gear specialist Osprey. They have fixed every issue with these systems, with a full width top opening that makes them super easy to clean and easy to load, but seals fast and securely. They are very durable, and the two-part snap connection hoses let you clean and fill the bladder without unthreading the drinking hose from your backpack straps. The bite valves give you water on demand with no buttons, dials or leakage, and they come in several sizes up to a whopping 3-liters (though the 1.5 and 2-liters are most practical, and the latter will suffice for most day hikes up to about 6 hours). They even make a horizontal 1.5-liter model designed for fanny packs. If Dad already has the packs he needs, give him the gift of never being thirsty again. These will work with pretty much any kind of pack on the market, whether it has a dedicated hydration sleeve (most do) or not.

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