Choose your country and currency

Selecting a delivery destination will navigate you to the most appropriate Radley site for your location.

(Switching between sites may empty your basket.)

International website
Americas website

You are viewing our International site. Continue to our Americas site for the most appropriate delivery options for your location.

You are viewing our Americas site. Continue to our International site for the most appropriate delivery options for your location.

Alternatively, close this window to continue shopping.

My Basket
Item Added
Your Basket Is Empty. Time to Get Shopping

Radley Stories

Style Notes

Duffle Bags and Holdalls: What are the Best Ladies’ Weekend Holdalls?

14 June 2023

From day bags to event styles and even overnight holdalls. We love (and make) all kinds of bags. And you’re in the right place to find out all about them. This is our luggage holdalls guide, where we talk about what makes the best weekend bag and tell you how to choose the perfect lightweight holdall for you. 

What is a Holdall?

A stylish holdall, a duffle, a gym bag, a weekender – these are all names given to the same type of bag. One that’s always large in size with a spacious main compartment that’s designed to carry many items at once. Due to the space, these styles are commonly used for nights or weekends away, and can also make a popular choice for carrying large sporting equipment.

Typically, a weekend holdall or duffle bag will have two grab handles that make it easy to pick up, as well as an adjustable, removable cross body strap so it can be worn hands-free. This cross body strap also enables the bag’s weight to be distributed for comfier carrying. 

Types of travel holdalls may even have wheels and a telescopic handle, just like a suitcase. These features make them practical options for airports and stations. 


Where did the Holdall Bag Originate?

The term ‘holdall’ is relatively new as this type of bag was first known as a ‘duffle’ bag. This term (with spellings duffel and duffle) dates to the 16th century and to a city in Belgium named Duffel, where duffel bag fabric was created. The definition of duffel was ‘a coarse woollen material’ and it was this that made the bag so popular - this fabric was strong and incredibly durabile. It’s also the reason why the duffle bag became a favoured choice for sailors. 

One of the earliest uses of the duffle bag was in the First World War, when soldiers would use them to carry clothing and equipment. As mentioned, duffle fabric was strong, as well as thick and lightweight, which meant the duffle bag was a practical option for carrying heavy loads. The grab handles also meant the bag could be picked up in haste. 

The practicality of duffle bags was soon recognised and they quickly began replacing older bag styles that had previously been used to transport goods. With these new uses, duffle bags began to take on different names.


Holdall Bag Trends

Over time, fashion brands began to see potential in the duffle bag. They started releasing designer weekend holdalls in different adaptations - varied colours, shapes and materials. The most popular of these newer designs is the leather duffle bag. The leather helps to make the bag more structured, it can be more durable, weatherproof and may create a more luxurious look. The leather holdall is now a popular choice for overnight trips, rather than just a staple of athleisure style. However, many designers still choose to create holdall bags using fabrics. This is because they are lightweight, can be easily machine washed and can even be packed down flat when they aren’t being used.

Modern changes and updates have increased this bag’s popularity, practicality and versatility, and now the duffle is a bag chosen by both men and women. When shopping you will see lots of brands have ladies’ weekend holdalls, as well as men’s holdall weekend bags, but many can be used by anyone. 

You will find styles crafted using leather, faux leather (you can find out how to tell the difference between the two in our Real vs. Faux Leather blog) or even non-leather materials like cotton or polyester. Here at Radley London, we use recycled polyester to make Radley Responsible handbags, in line with our sustainable commitments. 

Different Types of Holdalls

Basic holdall

A basic lightweight holdall is soft-sided, strong and simple, making it a popular choice for travelling or for carrying sports gear. It will have a shoulder strap to wear across the body for hands-free carrying, as well as top handles so it can be easily lifted and moved. No matter how much is inside. 

Wheeled holdall

A travel holdall with wheels, or a luggage holdall. These are often soft-sided, but may be slightly more structured and larger than a basic holdall. As well as straps that make it easy to pick up, it will have two or four wheels at the base and a telescopic handle so it can be pulled along easily when travelling through stations and airports. Of course, alternatives include suitcases in both hard and soft-shell designs. 

Backpack holdall

Very similar to a basic holdall, these are large, soft-sided, strong, simple, and lightweight. This version will always have two shoulder straps on the back that allow it to be carried as a backpack to make travelling easier. It might also have a top handle or grab handles for moving it when it isn’t being worn.  

The gym bag

A casual athleisure accessory, the spacious holdall bag is perfect for carrying items to and from the gym or sporting competitions. These bags might be used to carry a gym kit, sports equipment, football boots, spare trainers, towels, toiletries, and water bottles. Despite their large size, they can be easily stored away in lockers as their soft, fabric design means they can be squeezed into smaller spaces.

The overnight bag

A weekend holdall duffle bag. It’s smaller than a suitcase but bigger than a traditional backpack. It’s large enough to carry spare outfits, shoes and toiletries. Thanks to its soft structure, it’s also easy to fit into small spaces, such as overhead cabins, which makes it a popular choice of luggage holdall when flying on aeroplanes with bag size restrictions. To make it even more portable, there are some versions of this holdall weekend bag that have wheels or a telescopic handle. Fashion brands also have their own designer weekend holdalls that make great overnight bags.

The business trip bag

This stylish holdall bag is a more sophisticated adaptation that’s often made with luxurious fabrics. Smart, structured leather holdalls have become a staple piece for most businessmen and women who travel. Sophisticated, yet practical, business trip duffle bags can go from boardroom to departure lounge with ease – whilst carrying all the essentials.   


How to Carry a Holdall

We know that the typical weekend holdall duffle bag will have two grab handles for picking it up quickly. Use these when making quick moves - like when stepping onto a train or when taking the bag out of the car. Due to the size and amount often packed inside of a holdall, holding it via the handles isn’t a sustainable way to carry this type of bag. Even when you’ve got a lightweight holdall, when it’s full it can be difficult to carry in one hand. 

Holdalls often come with a cross body strap too, which means it can be worn hands-free. Slipping this strap onto a shoulder - or better yet, worn across the body - means you can go hands free. Alternatively, some styles may have shoulder straps that allow the bag to be worn as a backpack – this is also a comfortable option that will distribute the weight of the bag evenly across your shoulders and reduce the risk of muscle pain after longer journeys when the bag is heavy and full.

As a general rule, your bag should weigh less than 10% of your body weight, but if you need to carry more, the weight should never exceed more than 20%.

How to Choose the Right Holdall for You

What are you using it for?

Holdalls are designed to carry lots of items. Consider what you need to carry in yours as this will help you decide if you need large, lightweight holdalls or travel holdalls with wheels. These are ideal if you are taking a trip or transporting lots of sporting equipment or clothing. If you don’t need to carry that much, a smaller stylish holdall or designer weekend holdall may be what you’re looking for.

Holdalls are always spacious enough to carry lots of items. But some are more equipped to support lots of weight. If you’re carrying heavy items, consider which straps will be more comfortable too. If you’ll be filling the bag, making it bulky or heavy, opt for a backpack-style holdall or one with a cross body strap to distribute the weight across your body and shoulders better.

What are you carrying in yours?

Any good bag designer should know how to make a functional, practical style that meets their customers’ needs. (Our Designers are experts at this. You can find out all about their creative processes over in the Craftsmanship section of Radley Stories.) 

Practicality comes from organisation - pockets and space thoughtfully designed and equipped for storing specific items. In holdall bags, it’s important to have one large compartment for clothing or equipment. But depending on what you’ll be carrying in yours, you might want some other sections and pockets too. 

For example, our Radley London travel bags are made for overnight and weekend stays. So each of our ladies’ weekend holdalls have a spacious lined compartment, plus a range of exterior and interior pockets for storing those smaller items. We’ve also added secure zip fastenings to keep belongings safe.

However, if you’re carrying large sporting equipment, you might not want any smaller pockets. You may also want a large drawstring fastening or long zip fastening that opens the bag wide enough for taking those items out easily. These are the things to think about when choosing a luggage holdall.

Are you taking it on an airline?

All airlines have specific regulations around the dimensions of on-board luggage, so make sure that you check that the size of your bag will be allowed on board before you head off on your trip. A luggage holdall with wheels is particularly suitable for travelling as it’s easier to carry (or pull) through stations and airports. 

Test it out

Holdalls come with various straps and handles, so when you’re looking to buy a new design, make sure you test it out first. Put it on your back if it’s a backpack holdall, wear across the body with the strap if it has one and carry it by your side with the grab handles to make sure it doesn’t impact your movement or feel uncomfortable or too bulky.


Use our tips to find the perfect ladies’ weekend holdall for you. You can shop these over on Radley London, or if you’re looking for a different style of handbag, take a look at our new collection to see the latest designs. We also have a range of designer luggage, but take a look at our suitcases guide if you’re not sure what to choose.