Head to Head :: Adventure Duffels
The North Face Base Camp battles the Patagonia Black Hole
Sometimes you just gotta haul gear. It might be into a camp spot, up a sheer granite wall, or just in your car for a fun week away. While the classic duffel was little more than a strap and a cavity, modern gear duffels have pimped things a fair way.
We’ve chosen the largest size in this format for both brands.
That raised a few issues, as these duffels probably perform slightly better in medium sizes (straps are more in proportion and their lack of structure is not as noticeable). But heck, we wanted gear haulers so we went with scale.
The North Face Base Camp Duffel XL
Vitals: 155L, 2.2kg, TPE laminate over 840D ballistic Nylon
The Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 120L
Vitals: 120L, 1.36kg, TPU laminate on 1200D Polyester
The Look – The North Face 1, Patagonia 0
Ummm, who cares, right? These are workhorses, so look doesn’t matter too much. But in the name of thoroughness, we need a winner.
While the Patagonia looks more refined, these are adventure duffels, so we’re awarding this one to the Base Camp. It just looks like it means business.
Versatility – The North Face 0, Patagonia 1
The Patagonia is better with organizing and general usability, giving you slightly better pocketing (there’s a split internal lid pocket and an external zip pocket) and softer materials.
The North Face gets some compression straps (which only sort of help) and more useful daisy chains (which help with lashing down or piggy-backing multiple bags).
With pluses to both sides, we decided by recording which duffel we grabbed more often, and it was the Patagonia that narrowly won.
A small extra comment here is that the Base Camp gives you a handy storage bag for it.
Unfortunately, the feel good aspect of this was undermined by an excess of packaging when unboxing, which just made the experience feel not as nice.
Space and Access – The North Face 0, Patagonia 1
This is the main goal of a big gear sack, so it’s a pretty important one to get right. Both have large D openings, size 10 main zippers, and fairly easy entry and egress of gear.
It’s funny though because this was also where we got a little frustrated with both. Call us crazy, but we don’t see the need to put all the straps directly over the main opening. Can’t they go on a different face to the opening? It’s not a big deal, it just feels like something that could be better.
The Patagonia has easily removable shoulder straps (they can be unclipped and tucked under the flap if they get in the way too much for you). Combine that with the slightly softer materials which move out of the way more easily, and it’s a slight win for the Patagonia.
Burliness (Durability) – The North Face 1, Patagonia 0
This is where the softer materials of the Patagonia lose out. The Base Camp just has that next level of durability, with thicker coatings and fewer seams. Both bags will outlast 98% of users, but the Base Camp will then last just that tiny bit longer again.
Both have excellent stitching, are well reinforced, and use quality hardware.
Hauling comfort – The North Face 0, Patagonia 1
The Patagonia is a fair bit lighter at 1.36kg, versus 2.2kg for the Base Camp. That probably makes more difference to airline allowance than comfort, but every bit helps.
The reality with both these duffels is that they ride too low to be comfortable for any sustained walking. They bang into your butt and restrict natural motion. Duffels like the Boreas Erawan are starting to solve this by setting the bag higher (straps lower), but if you want real carrying comfort, you might need to look at a structured pack.
The Black Hole uses wider webbing for anchoring the straps, as well as a buckle that sits on top of the webbing rather than around it. Both these things help improve the carry comfort over the Base Camp.
Weatherproofness – The North Face 1, Patagonia 1
We couldn’t really split them. They both run with a similar approach, and will both resist lots of weather, but not submersion or torrential rain. This one is a draw.
Overall victory – Patagonia Black Hole Duffel (just)
This was close, as the two duffels really are very similar. If you need a big burly duffel, you’ll be well served by either.
There needs to be a winner though, and for us the Patagonia Black Hole ended up just a touch more useable, with compliant materials and more useful pocketing.
If you are actually hauling these up big granite walls, we think the slightly thicker laminate of The North Face will sway you to that. But if you’re a mere mortal adventuring around the world, we rate the Patagonia just slightly ahead.
An end note
We’d finish there, but we are Carryology, and we obsess on how to carry better. We couldn’t help but think that this format is not yet as resolved as it could be, especially in the larger size duffels.
Loads of brands run with duffels like this, and we’ve chosen two of the best to review. They are great bags. But they both suffer a bit of spaghetti strap-ville. It really does feel like the entry and the straps need to be on different faces, and the backpack straps need to be positioned better for load carrying (raising the duffel higher on your back). Neither of these changes would compromise the duffels, but both changes would extend the versatility of this format.