The gas diffusion layer (GDL) in a proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) is one of the functional components that provide a support structure for gas and water transport. The GDL plays a crucial role when the oxidant is air, especially when the fuel cell operates in the higher current density region. There has been an exponential growth in research and development because the PEMFC has the potential to become the future energy source for automotive applications. In order to serve in this capacity, the GDL requires due innovative analysis and characterization toward performance and durability. It is possible to achieve the optimum fuel cell performance only by understanding the characteristics of GDLs such as structure, pore size, porosity, gas permeability, wettability, thermal and electrical conductivities, surface morphology and water management. This review attempts to bring together the characterization techniques for the essential properties of the GDLs as handy tools for R&D institutions. Topics are categorized based on the ex-situ and in-situ characterization techniques of GDLs along with related modeling and simulation. Recently reported techniques used for accelerated durability evaluation of the GDLs are also consolidated within the ex-situ and in-situ methods.