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The Patagonia Black Hole Duffel Bag is a flexible but rugged adventure-ready duffel. Patagonia offers its popular duffel bag in four sizes: 40L, 55L, 70L and a whopping 100L.
The Black Hole Duffel is available in multiple color options as well, but the Black with/Fitz Trout graphic shown in our feature photo is only available in the 55-liter version.
For Man Makes Fire, I use and test gear bags and backpacks for all sorts of outdoor activities. This includes packing for camping, fishing, hunting, the beach, and road trips. The Patagonia Black Hole Duffel works for all of these uses, but it’s also a great general-purpose travel bag. I’m a big fan.
All the Black Hole Duffel sizes have sturdy nylon grab handles at each end. These are great for pulling the bag out of vehicles or just moving them around. You also get standard duffel-bag carrying straps, which have a snap-together wrap to keep them together and provide comfort on your hands.
So far so good. Patagonia also includes removable backpack straps, which I now consider a critical benefit for any travel and adventure duffel bag. Obviously backpack straps will help you carry heavier loads, but they also free up your hands. On one trip to Hawaii, I purposely checked an overly large REI Big Haul Duffel on the plane just so I could load it up with snorkel and beach gear in Hawaii . . . and haul it all to the beach using it as a backpack.
One competitive feature of the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel is how easily the backpack straps can be removed if you don’t need them. Some competitive packs, like The North Face Base Camp, are harder to thread and remove. The Black Hole Duffel backpack straps clip in at the bottom and pop into D-rings at the top.
One drawback to the backpack strap design is that the standard carry handles on the Black Hole Duffel have nowhere to go in backpack mode. If you snap the handles together, they’ll rest against your back, which might not be comfortable with heavy loads. So you leave them unsnapped and hanging off the side of the bag.
It’s not tidy, but seriously, the Black Hole Duffel is a bag first and a backpack second. If your primary goal is to look good at the airport, you’ll want a different bag (try the sweet Black Hole MLC 45L travel bag if you like the idea of the Black Hole Duffel but want to up your game).
You might ask yourself why Patagonia doesn’t just put the backpack straps on the flat bottom of the bag instead, but if you think about it, the bottom of bags tend to pick up dirt and debris, which you might not want resting against your back. Stio’s Basin XT Duffel uses this bottom-pack-strap design, and while it keeps the carry options trim and looking good, it means you need to pay attention to where you set the bag down if you plan to use it as a backpack.
Patagonia only gives you one exterior pocket, but it goes into a generous interior pocket that expands or contracts. You get a key-ring clip on the inside, and it’s easy to slip your phone into the pocket if you’re going through security.
The primary zipper gives you a large opening to work with, and it’s burly and easy to use.
I also appreciate the lightly padded bottom, which helps protect your gear from drops.
Rugged Recycled Materials
Patagonia works hard to to lessen its impact on people and the environment. As that shakes out in the Black Hole product line, Patagonia manufactures the Black Hole Duffel from a 100% recycled 900-denier polyester ripstop with a TPU-film laminate. The fabric is weather-resistant, abrasion-resistant and highly packable. Patagonia even lined the interior with a 100% recycled polyester. And it’s all bluesign approved.
The fabric walks the fence between being very rugged and being supple and light enough to be enjoyable to use. My default mode is to believe that thicker, more rugged materials are better, but that’s not always the case. Material that is too thick makes a bag harder to zip and harder to work with, plus it’s heavier. For instance, The North Face uses a thicker material on its Base Camp Duffel, which is good, but the side effect is that the zipper isn’t quite as friendly in everyday use. If I expect to be throwing a bag out of vehicles into the dirt and onto the rocks, I’d error toward the Base Camp, but for more normal outdoor and travel use, I prefer the Black Hole Duffel.
Black Hole Duffel Sizing
The 40L Black Hole Duffel is small enough to fit nearly all airline carry-on specifications. The 55L is slightly too big for most airline carry-on specifications, but some travelers have gotten away with it when it’s not full. Technically the dimensions exceed the general rule of 45 linear inches, depth + length + width, but again, some travelers have reported getting through. Of course, you’ll definitely have to check the 70L and 100L for travel purposes.
The overall shape is a very useable rectangle, which I prefer for packing over more rounded tube-shaped duffels. While the 40L Black Hole Duffel does well as a dirt-simple carry-on bag, the aforementioned slightly larger 45-liter Black Hole MLC has a more traditional carry-on bag shape.
Many serious outdoor apparel and gear brands offer competitive rugged adventure duffel bags these days. The best blend high-quality materials and design to create bags that look good in airports but can still take a beating far off the beaten path. Here are several duffel bags that compete with the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel to consider:
REI Big Haul Duffel — The REI Big Haul Duffel competes very well with the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel in durability and even includes a couple of key competitive benefits. Remember the handles that don’t go anywhere very well in backpack mode on the Black Hole? REI’s latch system lets you easily remove the handles when you want the Big Haul to stay in backpack mode. In addition, the backpack straps tuck out of the way in their own sleeve on top when you don’t want to use them. And there’s one more utilitarian competitive advantage: The REI Big Haul Duffels include side compression straps. Any drawbacks? While the REI Big Haul is a good-looking bag, it’s not as strikingly handsome as the Patagonia Black Hole.
The North Face Base Camp Duffel — The North Face Base Camp Duffel’s biggest benefit is its legendary rugged construction made with 1,000-denier phthalate-free recycled PVC and 840-denier recycled ballistic nylon. The result is a burly bag. The biggest drawback is that the backpack straps are not as quickly and easily removable as the backpack straps on the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel. The primary opening is a little smaller, but you also get side compression straps and a handy spot for a luggage tag.
YETI Panga Duffel Bags — The primary benefit of the YETI Panga Duffel is that it is extremely rugged and completely waterproof. The drawback is that it costs about twice as much as the water-resistant Black Hole Duffel.
Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L — The Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L is a travel-focused carry-on bag. The primary benefit is its carry-on friendly shape, but it’s also loaded with storage pockets. Made from similar fabric materials as the regular Black Hole Duffel, the MLC version changes up the carry design. You can carry it like a suitcase, use a padded one-shoulder strap, or pull the hidden backpack straps out of a stash pocket and shift to backpack mode — with a chest strap, too. So cool.
Mesh pocket and straps.
Bottom pack strap clips.
Patagonia Black Hole Duffel Recommendations
All-in-all, the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel has a surprisingly simple yet sophisticated design. It looks great in person and the overall shape is surprisingly packable and user-friendly. Very highly recommended.
The Patagonia Black Hole Duffel blends stylish good looks with the sensibility of a rugged outdoor-ready travel bag. The overall fit-and-finish is excellent, and the heavy-duty fabrics will last for many years while showing very little wear. Because it is so well designed and manufactured, the price-to-value ratio of the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel makes the price worth the investment. [Back to top of review]
Is the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel waterproof?
The Patagonia Black Hole Duffel is highly water-resistant, but it is not completely waterproof. [Back to top of review]
What size Black Hole Duffel is a carry-on?
The 40-liter Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 40L is sized for carry-on compliance at most airlines. The 55L is technically too big, especially when fully packed, but some travelers have been able to use it as a carry-on when it’s not completely full. A related “Black Hole” model, the Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L, is designed to closely adhere to most airline carry-on specifications.
Note: Standard carry-on sizing is approximately 22″ x 14″ x 9″ which results in, when added together, about 45 linear inches. [Back to top of review]
Patagonia Black Hole Duffel vs REI Big Haul Duffel: Which is better?
The Patagonia Black Hole Duffel and the REI Big Haul Duffel are both high-quality rugged travel bags. They both include removable backpack straps and excellent overall quality. The REI Big Haul Duffel has a better backpack strap system, as well as side compression straps, but the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel has a more stylish design. The REI Big Haul Duffel has more functionality while the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel has a bit more flash. [Back to top of review]
Patagonia Black Hole Duffel vs The North Face Base Camp Duffel: Which is better?
The Patagonia Black Hole Duffel has an easier to use backpack strap system than The North Face Base Camp Duffel. The Base Camp Duffel is made from more rugged fabrics but the zipper isn’t as easy to use. For ultimate durability error toward the The North Face Base Camp Duffel, but for a more user-friendly everyday design — and stylish good looks — choose the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel. [Back to top of review]