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Hands-on Gear Review
The North Face Base Camp Duffel Review
Cons: not super light
The North Face Base Camp wins our Editors' Choice award because it scored at, or near the top in every category we tested. We love how it carries and how easy it is to pack. While it is in the middle of the review for weight, it is among the lightest duffels with backpack straps and a D-shaped opening. It has all the right little features like a small window for contact info, dual daisy chains, multiple grab points, compression straps and a zipper mesh pocket on the inside of the lid. The Base Camps come in six volumes, giving it a nice range of sizes to choose from, whether it's short overnight flights or multi-month trips to the mountains.
The Base Camp Duffel sets the bar to which every other duffel bag is compared. While it has been around forever, the Base Camp has undergone only minor revisions and is still at the top of the pack and in line with all the more expensive duffels we tested. It has nearly all the features you need and nothing you don't. Designed with expeditions in mind, the Base Camp duffels are extremely durable and easy to carry. The Base Camp easily lashes to a sled for glacier travel and straps to Jeeps, buses and even yaks. It has many carrying options and external compression straps for lugging through airports. It is made of durable, highly water resistant fabric.
See how this compared to other products in its class on our complete Duffel Bag Review.
RELATED: Our complete review of duffel bags
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
New Base Camp Duffel versus the old Base Camp Duffel
In fall of 2015 The North Face made a few changes to their extremely popular Base Camp Duffel and after countless hours of side-by-side testing and several expeditions our review team thinks all the changes The North Face made were improvements to the old design. Most things stayed the same: fabric, pocket layout, basic design, etc, but there are are three primary changes.
The first change and biggest update is the addition of large externally accessed pocket on one end of the bag. All of our testers loved this feature adding just a little bit more organizational ability compared to the old version with virtually no weight or durability penalty.
The second change is that instead of two daisy chains running the length of the duffel, the middle of the daisy is now a grab loop. This still gives plenty of options for lashing this duffel to whatever you might need to attach it to, but the additional grab loops also make it even easier to pull off of baggage carousels or buses, or simply drag around.
The final change is on the shoulder strap's design and materials. The new version features a wider (AKA better weight distributing) and softer, more comfortable face fabric that feels better either against our skin or while wearing thin layers. There are a few other very minor updates like new more durable zipper pulls and a information window that doesn't get as cloudy, but the above are the biggest differences.
Ease of Transport
The North Face Base Camp duffel is one of the easiest duffels to transport in our review and features a design that is now copied by many other manufacturers. The Base Camp Duffel features several ways move it around whether at the airport, a remote village, or on a glacier. The Base Camp's two padded shoulder straps provide top-of-the review comfort for extended carries and performed at the top of our review as far backpack-style straps are concerned. The newest version of this duffel released in fall of 2015, features and even more comfortable feeling fabric on its shoulder straps.
The Base Camp duffel also features a more traditional baggage strap and grab loops on all four sides to help facilitate dragging it around and pulling it off of the baggage carousel. One small feature that is one of our testers favorite for expeditions or exotic locations is the two beefy daisy chains that are featured on the corners of this bag. The older versions daisy's ran the length of the bag, while the newer version features grab loops in the middle instead. All of these attachment points help you (or others) to more securely lash this duffel to anything that it might need to be attached to.
Ease of Packing
The large D-shaped openings are easy to load and dig through. Even when this duffel is absolutely brimming with gear it wasn't too difficult to zip shut. Its large, oversized zippers don't tend to get caught on items and are as durable as they come. There are two compression straps on either side that help the bag to carry a little better when you don't fill this behemoth all the way up.
One new feature on the latest version of the Base Camp duffel is the addition of a fairly sizable zippered pocket on one end. Inside this pocket there is a mesh divider that only adds to this duffels organizational ability. This small feature was thoroughly appreciated and heavily used by all of our testers and one more reason that the Base Camp Duffel remains our Editors' Choice. It is worth noting that this pocket is featured on all but the smallest two sizes (not the Small and XS volumes).
There is a zippered mesh pocket underneath the main lid that is nice for smaller, easily lost items that you don't want to put in the main compartment. While we did like the large mesh zippered pocket, we liked the similar but dual zippered pockets on the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel slightly better.
This Duffel is seriously built to last and is still the most commonly used expedition duffel for a reason. Once you buy one, you'll likely never need another. Even after literally dozens of expeditions and trips to exotic locations where the Base Camp duffel has spent countless hours on the top of jeeps, strapped to Llamas and just plain abused during transport, ours is still going strong after 10 years. The North Face has only slightly tweaked the fabric to make them even more durable.
During our side-by-side weather resistance testing, the North Face Base Camp duffel scored near the top of the review. While it's not submersible nor completely waterproof, it is pretty darn water resistant. We have used this duffel on a half dozen Denali trips where it is tied to sled and just left out to be snowed on for days at a time or buried in the snow for up to a week at a time.
While this duffel is not super light, but it's not super heavy either. At four pounds for the large size, it is nearly the lightest duffel we tested that features backpack straps and a D-shaped opening, with only Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 90L bag sporting those features and weighing and amazing 2 lbs. 10 oz. The Base Camp Duffel remains less than half the weight of most rolling duffels, letting you pack it with four to six more pounds and still keep it under the fifty pound maximum.
The Base Camp duffels all feature a small, three sided window for your contact info. We never had our slip of paper fall out, but it did get wet after extended periods outside in the rain.
There are not many gripes about this duffel. It is average as far as weather resistance goes, about the same as the Mountain Hardwear Expedition and the Gregory Alpaca. It could have one more pocket to help with organization, but this isn't a big deal.
We like that it comes in six fairly equally spread out sizes, giving a good selection of volume for various styles of trips.
XS 33L (2014 in³) 2lbs $100
S 50L (3051 in³) 2lbs 11 oz $120
M 69L (4211 in³) 3lbs 8oz $135
L 95L (5797 in³) 4lbs $145
XL 132L(8055 in³) 4lbs 7 oz $160
XXL 150L(9154 in³) 4lbs 10 oz $175
While maybe a little much; The North Face offers the Base Camp Duffel in 15 different color combinations that should please even the pickiest of users. If for some reason you find yourself not liking any of the colors offered, The North Face frequently changes their offerings.
The Base Camp Duffel is still expensive and is tied for most expensive with the Mountain Hardwear Expedition Duffel and Gregory Alpaca Duffel, but it used to be far more expensive than most duffels on the market and now its price is relatively inline with most of the duffels in our review. Take for example a former Best Buy award winner, the Helly Hansen Duffel Bag 2, which for the 90L size now costs $140 is $5 more than the Base Camp in a similar size Med (69L) and we don't think preforms as well overall. The bottom line is that we think it's well worth up to $160 (for the XXL size) because it is fully featured and will last a long time. You could buy a less expensive duffel that would work, but the Base Camp has a lot of little features to help your trip go smoother.
This duffel comes in a variety of sizes, ranging from XS to XL.
Base Camp Duffel Extra Large
The North Face Rolling Thunder
— Ian Nicholson
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: July 26, 2016
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