Dive bags are not the sexiest pieces of scuba gear. But having a high-quality bag for air travel or just making it onto the boat can be crucial for convenience and protecting your gear.
ScubaLab's team of test divers evaluated 22 dive bags — including roller, mesh, and carry-on bags — on overall design, size/shape, capacity, ruggedness and convenience to determine the best dive bags of the year.
Check out the reviews below to which dive bags impressed our divers in ScubaLab's 2019 dive bag review.
LARGE ROLLER BAGS
Stahlsac Steel 34
The Steel 34 is split into two zippered compartments, one waterproof and the other vented — so you can leave a soaked 5 mm in the waterproof side overnight (as we did) without wetting what’s in the vented section. Or you can put dry things in the waterproof side and use the vented one to let damp stuff air. “Love the ability to customize the spaces and separations,” one tester wrote. The top section is flexible so the bag flattens for easy storage, but that’s also the root of our one gripe: It allows the bag to flop over if packed carelessly. Bright blue lining helps you see the contents, and the top-notch telescoping handle, wheels and comfortable, well-placed grips make the bag easy to wheel, lift or carry with a full load. Flexible, rugged and packed with convenience, the Stahlsac Steel 34 is our Testers Choice for large roller bags.
Beuchat Air Light 3
This featherweight roller is one of the lightest jumbo bags we’ve ever used — ideal for those pushing baggage weight to the limit. The cavernous internal compartment holds a ton of stuff — way more than the chintzy elastic compression straps can hope to secure. The lack of an internal frame, telescoping handle, and padding keep the bag lightweight, but the trade-off is that the Air Light 3 has trouble standing on its own, and fragile items have little protection from careless baggage handlers. Even without a telescoping handle, it’s easy to pull and lift, thanks to its height and comfortable, plushy handles. The zippers are good but might not hold up without some compression straps to relive them. The single large fin pocket is perfectly capable of carrying large fins but can also be utilized for airing out a damp wetsuit or other bulky items when you’re on the go.
Aqua Lung Explorer II Roller
The web loops along the front of the Explorer II Roller don’t serve much of a purpose but give the whole affair a tactical look. The tough-guy appearance is complemented by solid hardware and materials throughout, including good reinforcements along the corners and stiff skid rails. “Stands like a rock,” one tester commented. This bag is roomy without being overly large and proved to be the perfect fit for our load of test gear. However, testers didn’t care for the narrow access (the zippers don’t allow the bag to open fully) and felt that the compression straps were a little too short to be handy. Side handles and backpack straps would be welcome additions, but the bag still lifts and rolls well without them. Dependable and capable, with the lowest price in its category, the Explorer II roller is our Best Buy.
Seac Mate Flight HD Trolley
Mate Flight was the smallest bag in its category, and it won praise from testers for its light weight and manageable size. One tester even commented, “It seems small enough I’d almost be tempted to try and carry it on.” Of course, the Mate Flight’s travel-friendly proportions also mean that its internal dimensions are condensed. Our test gear had this bag stuffed to the gills; we resorted to packing smaller odds and ends into the side fin pockets just so it would all fit. This well-built bag manages to pack in a fair amount of protective padding — even the tiny front-panel pocket has a bit of cushioning. The bag stands well on its own and rolls easily, and has a short stature that makes it easy for even smaller divers to wrangle. While the Mate Flight might not fit your whole kit and caboodle, it’s a good option for short trips and travel-friendly dive gear.
Akona Roller Backpack
This colossal bag had room for all of our test gear and then some (held securely by a pair of excellent compression straps). This bag is so roomy that an overzealous packer could quickly flout airline weight allowances. If overweight fees are no concern, you could haul everything and the kitchen sink in this bad boy. Generous padding throughout provides ample protection, and the external pockets (one of which holds an included reg bag) are spacious and easy to access. There’s no interior lining — which turns exposed bolts into potential snag hazards — but otherwise, this expedition-ready bag impressed with its solid hardware and heavy-duty construction. No matter where you want to dive, this bag will go the distance with all-terrain wheels that look cribbed from an off-road vehicle, and ergonomic backpack straps that had testers raving.
XS Scuba Leeward 70 Roller Backpack
The roomy main compartment of the Leeward 70 has a pair of internal side pockets that handles fins up to 26 inches long, keeping them out of the way and protecting gear inside. The nearly full-size zippered flap provides ready access, and a pair of long, strong internal compression straps did a good job securing the load. “No-fuss packing,” as one tester commented. Handling the loaded bag was easy, with sturdy grips on three sides, and stout wheels and towing handle that were up to handling rough ground — although the bag’s curved bottom made it prone to nosediving when left standing. The lightly cushioned backpack straps take a little time to stow when not in use but proved surprisingly comfortable, even with a 50-pound load, making the Leeward 70 a bag that can handle expedition duties as well as airports.
OMS Cargo Roller
Along with its stout telescoping handle and large-diameter wheels, the Cargo Roller has a set of backpack straps to make it less challenging to lug on stairs. The straps, like the handle, pack away securely and quickly with zip and Velcro panels. Though lighter than most, the bag is big enough that, as one tester noted, “you’ll hit the weight limit before you fill it up.” There are a pair of zippered pockets for light gear or clothing on the inside, though no straps; the squeezing is done by a pair of external straps of 1.5-inch webbing with heavy-duty buckles that wrap the bag and pass through heavy loops sewn to the flap. The arrangement provides a lot of security, as well as some inconvenience, since opening the bag requires pulling straps and buckles out of the loops. A rigid L-shaped bottom helps the bag stand solidly, and decent handles provide a ready grip on all sides.
IST Sports Roller Bag BG03
There’s a lot of room in this beefy roller, and its design lets you make the most of it, with separate spaces that are well-proportioned for a full set of gear. Roomy outer pockets on both sides have long zippers that make it easy to get bulky stuff in and out, and they have big mesh panels at the top that provide plenty of ventilation (although they also let anyone see inside). The main compartment has a pair of long straps strong enough to keep heavy stuff from flopping around. The front panel zips wide for easy access, and has three zippered pockets of assorted sizes. The bag rolls nicely on big wheels, has comfortable grips on three sides, and totes easier with its hideaway backpack straps than we expected, despite the rub rails that rode on some testers’ shoulders. Just a shade above average weight despite its size and features, it’s a capable, well-made bag.
Scubapro Dive ’N’ Roll Light
The Dive ’N’ Roll Light looks a lot smaller than most bags here, but that’s largely an illusion. It’s close to the average volume but shorter and deeper, which gives it a compact shape that’s easier to manhandle, but it also makes 25-inch fins a snug fit. Lightweight for a bag with a telescoping handle, it comes with a backpack that attaches by zipper to the front panel. The backpack is big enough to do carry-on duty, and like the bag, it has light-blue lining to make contents visible. There’s a large outside zippered pocket and a smaller one inside, though no compression straps. With a heavy-duty telescoping handle and wide, skate-size wheels, the bag pulls nicely on pavement, but there are no backpack straps for off-roading. Some testers liked the zip-off backpack more than others, but, like the compact dimensions, the feature gives options to configure your packing.
Tusa Roller Bag (Small)
Testers appreciated this bag’s numerous pockets, especially the smaller of the two front pockets, which can hold a passport and phone or other accessories while keeping them accessible. The internal compartment easily held all of our test load. External straps on the wide front zip-up panel keep everything squeezed down and secure (and lend support to the unusual front-mounted handle). But to open the bag, you must first undo all four buckles. The bag rolls quietly and smoothly, and lifts easily with well-built, comfortable handles. The coated materials — though sparingly used — make the bag feel more suitable for heavy/wet use; in fact, it looks so expedition-oriented, we were surprised it didn’t have backpack straps. Tough and convenient, the Tusa roller bag provides plenty of options for packing. It is our Testers Choice for carry-on bags.
Aqua Lung Explorer II Carry-On
“Lots of space that’s very easy to pack” is how one test diver described the Explorer II. The bag’s big internal compartment can hold plenty of clothes and accessories (we actually added extra items to our test load to see how much could fit inside the bag), but a second set of compression straps to snug things down wouldn’t have hurt. The long U-shaped zipper on the front flap provides excellent access for packing and unpacking. Testers weren’t that impressed by the bag’s side-access vertical pocket and felt they’d rather have a pocket geared more toward phone- and key-size items. The Explorer is made from tough materials and has added reinforcements on the corners. The bag doesn’t have much padding, but it rolls well and was very easy to lift and carry, and testers appreciated that it was one of the few bags in the test with handles on all four sides.
Stahlsac Steel 22
The Steel 22 is a spitting image of Stahlsac’s larger Steel 34, but the wet/dry compartments that resonated so well with test divers in the large roller bag failed to have the same effect in its mini me. “Compartments give a lot of flexibility, though they seem more useful in a checked bag,” one tester noted. The external front pocket is deep and roomy, but the zipper runs only along the top edge, making it difficult to access at times. Multiple testers praised the Steel 22’s excellent ergonomics and high-class hardware. “Rolls like a dream,” one tester noted. And, with thoughtful touches such as well-cushioned handles, an aircraft-grade aluminum telescoping handle and an electric-blue lining (great for finding small dark-colored objects), this carry-on bag oozes class. No wonder one tester referred to it as “a Gucci bag.”
The coated fabric on the Piper gives a sense of ruggedness that is backed up by solid reinforcements near the wheels and on the back corners of the bag. It rolls quietly and smoothly, and testers appreciated its plushy handles. (Although they didn’t care for the tiny plastic one on the bottom.) The external pocket has a horizontal orientation — it goes back toward the telescoping handle — and provides quick access for smaller stuff. The overlapped zipper opens wide for easy access to the interior, which has small mesh pockets for organization. The compression straps are very good (both inside and out) and make it a cinch to secure anything from a nearly empty load to one that’s close to bursting. “Flexible/versatile for assorted gear sizes,” one diver noted.
This hard-shell hybrid boasts a lightweight design with heavy-duty protection. Tall enough to accommodate the longest scuba fins, the interior (with four zippered pockets) easily held our whole kit, with six pairs of excellent compression straps to secure it. “Lots of options for packing,” one test diver wrote. One thing not optional is fully opening the long zipper in order to access the interior. As much as testers loved the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-butter smoothness of the spinner wheels on hard, smooth floors, the bag’s tall, top-heavy design made it prone to tipping on uneven surfaces. Can the Terrapin’s shell guard gear in battle against brutal baggage handlers? We put it through the wringer to gauge how tough this bag really is — stopping short of piñata practice — but couldn’t make a dent in the Terrapin’s claims.
MESH BOAT BAGS
Stahlsac 40-inch Mesh Bag
If you’re looking for a bag to carry your freedive fins, your search is over. Just be careful not to pack more than you can carry because the leggy interior and full-length zipper make it a breeze to fill the bag to capacity. “Huge! Fits everything,” one tester commented. “Ton of space,” said another. Divers also appreciated the convenient external accessory pocket. However, if your dive kit doesn’t include freedive fins or a spear gun, the bag can be unwieldy (despite a comfortable shoulder strap); without long gear, everything tends to pool in the center. Solidly built with tough polyester mesh, good hardware and double-stitched nylon, this big bag might be more than you need for normal scuba diving. But for extra legroom, it’s just the ticket.
XS Scuba Coastal Elite
There’s a lot to love about this duffel, including a built-in reg bag, removable changing mat, and large U-shaped top opening. It held our test gear perfectly. However, the reg bag — praised for its secure retainer strap, good padding and overall convenience — does shorten the bag’s interior dimensions, so longer fins don’t fit as well. Testers felt that the tarpaulin bottom and side materials — made of some tough stuff — could withstand a lot of wear and tear, but less so the soft, uncoated mesh. “Would prefer polyurethane-coated” mesh, noted one tester. The bag doesn’t have backpack straps, but the shoulder strap, duffel handle, and molded top handle are all comfortable and ergonomic, making it easy to haul gear to the site or transfer to a boat.
Gili Gear Bag Pro
Like much of Gili’s product line, the Gear Bag Pro uses vinyl mesh made of recycled material. We like this initiative, but even if we didn’t, we’d like Gili’s mesh: It’s tough, lightweight and nonabsorbent, so it won’t stay damp, and it drains instantly. The bag’s seams, wraparound handles (with a neoprene grip), end grips and zipper are strongly stitched, and testers liked the bag’s well-made feel. On the larger end of Gili’s line (which runs from tiny to jumbo), the Pro easily held our gear. Testers lamented the lack of an accessory pocket for small items, and the bag can handle enough weight that you might wish for backpack straps if you haul it far. But the bag is well-made of good material and good intentions.
Hollis Mesh Duffel Bag
One clever feature of this bag you won’t see until you pick it up: While the sides and bottom are made of heavy-duty coated fabric, a coated mesh panel 4 inches wide runs the whole length of the middle of the bottom. That provides quick drainage as well as good ventilation, prompting more than one tester to note it would make a great drysuit bag. Though a couple of inches shorter than some of the other bags, it loads and unloads easily because of the generous U-shaped zipper on the top. There’s also an almost-hidden zippered interior pocket on one end that’s as large as the end of the bag. The top carry handles, adjustable shoulder strap and nylon handgrips sewn onto each end provide plenty of grip for handling.
OMS Mesh Bag with Shoulder Strap
If there is such a thing as a “standard” boat bag, it looks like this (aside from the pink, which isn’t the only option). While there are no special pockets, backpack straps or other extras, what this bag offers is the basic configuration done well. Big enough to handle a reasonable load of gear, it has PVC-coated mesh extending well down the sides for quick drainage after rinsing. There are no end grips, but the wraparound nylon straps have a Velcro pad, and the adjustable shoulder strap handles a 30-pound load easily enough. The straight zipper opens to 24 inches — just enough to get a BC in and out without a hassle. Seams are double-stitched throughout, and when empty, the bag folds flat. As one tester noted, “It’s basic but gets the job done.”
Oceanic Mesh Backpack
This tough, double-stitched polyurethane-coated backpack is a tight fit for larger loads, but it managed to hold all of our test gear. Its size makes it easy for smaller divers to carry and is well-suited for use as a dayboat bag. Testers liked the wide drawstring opening for packing, as well as the side zipper, which provides quick access. Two water-resistant interior pockets provide additional stowage — though testers still would have liked a front pocket. Testers loved the smaller zippered pouch for keeping keys and other small items handy but were divided on the larger pocket. “Anything in there is right on your back,” one diver noted. The built-in water bottle holder is a great addition to keep divers hydrated on the go. The top handle isn’t comfortable to use with heavy loads, but the backpack straps are good for a moderate walk to the boat.
Akona Collapsible Mesh Backpack
“Just right for what I need in a mesh boat bag,” one tester wrote about this bag’s large internal volume. The wide top makes for straightforward packing, and the long side zipper provides quick, easy access. “Lots of options, love it,” another diver noted about the bag’s numerous spaces, including an extruded cargo pocket on the front and a long water-resistant pocket inside the back. Plus there’s a bottom compartment that turns inside out to hold the bag in its collapsed state but which can also be used to store soft items like a wetsuit. Testers loved the bag’s comfortable padded backpack straps and adjustable sternum strap. One diver described them as “straps you can use for more than the length of a dock.” Comfortable, convenient and capable of hauling everything we need, the Akona collapsible mesh backpack is our Testers Choice.
Tusa Mesh Backpack
This bag’s unique feature is its unusual zipper, about 4 feet long and shaped a bit like a question mark, that stretches from the bottom of the bag up to a loop that circles the top. Opening from either end, it gives direct access to gear, whether it’s deep in the bottom or right at the top. While a handy feature, it puts a lot riding on the zipper. But the coil zipper worked smoothly and, like the bag’s other materials — from the coated fabric on the back and bottom to the rubberized mesh — was rugged and well-constructed. The backpack straps are comfortably padded, and the bag carries well with a 30-pound load of gear, although its pear-shaped bottom tends to bump on your rear end as you walk. A zippered internal pocket is large enough for storing personal items or a small dry bag.
How We Test
Our testing is aimed at gauging each bag’s comparative usefulness, convenience and durability for dive travel by replicating how it would be used in travel. Large roller bags and carry-on bags were packed with the dive and personal items testers typically travel with on dive trips that involve air travel. Mesh boat bags were packed with the gear normally taken aboard for a day of diving.
For large roller bags, the packing list included a complete set of gear and accessories for conditions that would require a full wetsuit. We also packed personal items and clothes such as those we would take on a weeklong liveaboard (very casual, with an emphasis on tees and shorts).
For carry-on bags, our packing list included a compact camera with underwater housing, lithium batteries, laptop, jacket, magazine, guidebook and other small personal items.
For mesh boat bags, we packed the gear normally used for diving with a 3 mm wetsuit, along with assorted accessories and personal items.
For complete lists of the gear we packed in each category of bags, visit scubadiving.com.
Testers rated bags in the following categories:
Overall design: How well does the bag work to pack/safely transport items you would take on a dive trip? Does it have design features or materials that are beneficial for dive travel?
External size/shape: Are the external dimensions practical and convenient for the bag’s intended use?
Capacity: Is the bag appropriately sized and shaped to handle a reasonable amount of gear?
Ruggedness: Is the bag and its components (wheels, handles, zippers, grips, straps) built to withstand the rigors of air/dive travel?
Ease and convenience: In use (packing, zipping, lifting, rolling, carrying, etc.) is the bag designed and constructed in a way that works well for securing and transporting gear and personal items?
Testers also measured and weighed each bag, and inspected construction elements such as materials, stitching, hardware and reinforcements.
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