The duffle bag has been a common item of issue for U.S. soldiers since 1943, during World War II. Before that time, the drawstring closure barracks bag was used as the repository for items of clothing and equipment to be carried by the soldier or shipped ahead to meet him at a destination. The larger and sturdier Duffle Bag was a definite improvement over the former bags. The Duffle Bag has remained in use with only a few changes since its introduction.
Duffle Bag Features
The military (all branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard) issue the duffle bag to recruits at the reception depot as the primary way to carry the other items issued. The duffle bag is made from olive drab canvas in a cylindrical shape with a sewn in round bottom and open top with a circle of grommets. It has a cotton duck carrying handle and a shoulder strap that extends from the center of bag, ending in a snap hook. The size is about 36-38 inches long and 12-15 inches in diameter.
The closure system of the duffle bag consists of a metal loop that extends through one of the grommets at the opening. A canvas flap is pulled over the contents and then each of the grommets is nested onto the metal loop in sequence. When all the grommets are nested onto the loop, the snap link on the shoulder strap is clipped to the loop to secure the closure. There is room for a padlock to add further security, although the canvas duffle bag could be easily cut open by a thief.
Later duffle bags added additional small features to the standard design:
A side pocket next to the carrying handle, secured with a snap
Replacement of the single carrying strap with a double harness so the duffle bag can be carried like a pack
The Duffle Bag is still an item of current U.S. military issue in 2006 (image, left). The current nomenclature is:
Duffle bags are stamped with a black US, usually toward the bottom beneath the carrying handle. Other nomenclature and contract information will be stamped in black inside the opening rim along the line of grommets.
The soldier's full or partial name will be stenciled or chalked on, possibly along with rank and serial number -- the details of what is marked varied with time and field conditions. The photos on this page show a number of variations.
Duffle Bags as Militaria
2nd Armored Division Duffle Bags being palletized for shipment to West Germany for Operation Spearpoint '84 from Ft. Hood, TX, 15 August 1984.
At most times, upon discharge, policy permitted the service person to keep his Duffle Bag to take home with his uniform and other service issued items that were not turned in. Therefore, the Duffle Bag is one of the most common military items available, with millions of Duffle Bags in circulation as government surplus or privately owned militaria. Other countries have also had Duffle Bags of similar design used by their military, some ending up in the U.S. market. There are also commercial copies of the Duffle Bag on the market, closely resembling the genuine issue items.