I’ve spent much of my life obsessed with gear. Throughout high school and college, I worked at outdoor retail stores and gave almost all the money I earned back to my employers for the newest puffies and bike accessories. Since then, my professional career has revolved around testing the latest and greatest pieces of equipment. So I was a bit miffed when the first piece of gear I got to test for Outside six years ago was not a new mountain bike, ultralight tent, or hydrophobic down sleeping bag but a humble duffel.
There’s nothing sexy about a duffel bag. Hell, there are hardly enough features to warrant a full review of one. Which is why I’m shocked to say that of all the travel gear I’ve been lucky enough to test over the years, my North Face Base Camp duffel is one of my most prized possessions.
The design is nothing fancy—the most recent version has one zippered mesh pocket and a sleeve for smaller items and extra organization—and that’s fine. It has one job: to hold a ton of stuff. I have the extra-large version, at 132 liters, which is downright cavernous. When I first laid eyes on it, I thought it was far too large to be a practical suitcase, but I was wrong. Thanks to its ability to swallow gear, the bag quickly became my go-to hauler for skiing, hunting, and mountain-biking trips. I’ve even used it to carry video-production equipment on work assignments; there’s enough space to store a tripod, LED lights, and an entire 32-liter F-Stop Lotus camera pack.
During the winter, my wife and I leave our helmets, goggles, gloves, ski jackets, socks, and layers packed in it at all times, using it as a holding tank for all the stuff we need for hut trips. Having all that space allows me to keep my gear organized in one place. The ability to combine multiple bags into one helps me avoid extra baggage fees when flying (as long as I stay under the weight limit), and it carries well for such a large suitcase, thanks to detachable shoulder straps and side handles. It also has four compression straps, in case you don’t quite fill it up.
The best part about this bag, though, is that it’s crazy durable. I’m not sure when the word bombproof became part of the outdoor-gear lingo, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it originated with this duffel. The ballistic-grade nylon fabric is highly water resistant—my bag has been snowed on for hours and kept its contents totally dry. With double-stitched and reinforced seams, it almost never tears, but if you do manage to break it, it’s covered by a lifetime warranty.
Mine certainly has some scuffs but otherwise looks and works just as well as it did the day I (begrudgingly) got it. To me there’s no better tool for schlepping a ton of gear, and the Base Camp duffel’s uncanny ability to adapt to any sport or type of trip makes it a must-have for adventure travelers.