An overnight bag is a specifically-sized piece of luggage designed for what the name implies: overnight stays, where one main change of clothes and a few small extra items are all that will be required.
Visually, it bears a lot of similarities to a weekender bag, with a narrower profile and slightly reduced dimensions. It's somewhere between a weekender and a large messenger or laptop bag.
The basic characteristic that make something an overnight bag, as opposed to another style, are:
- Narrow profile, usually with a wider bottom and narrower top
- Top-opening closure, like a purse or athletic bag
- Briefcase-style loop handles
- Detachable shoulder strap
- Larger width than a laptop bag — usually around 5″ – 7″
- Longer than a briefcase — usually 18″ – 24″
- About the same height as a messenger bag — 10″ – 14″
Of course, it's not exactly rocket science. Just about any bag that will fit a pair of trousers and a dress shirt rolled up, plus a small laptop or a pair of shoes and some toiletries, can serve as an overnight bag.
But it is nice to have one purpose-designed for overnight trips.
What's it For?
As the name implies, an overnight bag is for overnight trips. It's meant to serve as a sole piece of luggage for those trips — if you've got an overnight, you don't need a larger suitcase or a second carry-on style of bag, is the theory.
They're the gold standard for efficient packers who like to travel light. Most are built with the assumption that you'll be rolling your clothes instead of folding and laying them flat, so the bottoms are just wide enough to stack a couple rolled shirts or pairs of trousers. You can get a jacket and a pair of shoes in one too, if you need to, but that doesn't leave much room for anything else at that point.
Your basic overnight bag load is usually what you'd think: a shirt, a pair of pants, a pair of underwear and socks, an undershirt if you wear them, and maybe a belt and a pair of shoes. A jacket or light coat can go in there too, or you can slip a small computer or a couple large books and folders into the remaining space instead.
They're pretty flexible bags — just small, light, and efficiently designed.
Why You Should Own an Overnight Bag
Overnights are the way that savvy travelers keep themselves packed light.
The limited space forces you to be smart about your clothing choices, and it also makes travel a lot easier — less weight and less bulk means an easier time carrying the bag and stowing it in luggage compartments when needed.
Most overnight bags will fit within carry-on luggage requirements, meaning you can take one as your only luggage on a trip that requires air travel and skip the hassle of checking a bag and dealing with baggage claim.
And, of course, there's a serious style argument for a good overnight bag — it gives you something to take on quick trips that isn't an obviously-oversized suitcase and isn't a backpack or a cheap roller suitcase. You look like someone with an accessory, rather than someone with a piece of tourist trash.
How to Buy a Quality Overnight Bag
It's not always easy to sort good overnight bags out from other offerings, since many luggage companies don't use the term at all, and the ones that do often use it for a wide variety of styles.
For a solid example we've picked the Blue Claw Co.'s “Old Bay” overnight bag, from their Classic Collection. It gives a good idea of what a well-made overnight should feature:
- Heavy-duty ballistic nylon exterior
- Waterproof interior liner
- Full-grain leather handles, trim, and details
- Detachable nylon shoulder strap with leather pad
- Heavy-duty metal zipper and clips
- Double attachment at the handles — riveted and stitched
- Finished seams with protective lining
- Hidden exterior slit pocket for paperwork, tickets, etc.
- Tapered profile — wider at the bottom than the top
- Roughly 20″ x 5″ x 12″
It's also made in the USA, for American consumers' peace of mind. There are plenty of other weekend bags out there too, but the Blue Claw Co. version is a good place to start if you want an example of the best quality you can get.