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Hands-on Gear Review
The North Face Rolling Thunder 22 Review
Cons: Not expandable, minimal features.
Bottom line: A classic rolling duffel for those who prefer to pull rather than carry their bag.
The North Face Rolling Thunder 22 takes all the good parts about The North Face's Base Camp duffel line and adds a frame and some wheels to it, but not much else. There's one internal pocket and three external (but small) stash pockets, and some sturdy carrying handles on the top, bottom, and one side. You can fit enough clothes in this bag to take you through a long weekend, and the sturdy wheels will make it through a variety of pitted sidewalks and gravel parking lots. The bag is nearly waterproof as well, which is nice for those of us that live in wet climates. Overall though, it's more like a duffel bag than a carry-on, and we much preferred the Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD Carry-On, our Editors' Choice award winner, over this model thanks to the travel friendly features that this bag lacks.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The North Face Rolling Thunder 22 measures 22 x 14 x 8.5 inches and weighs 7 lbs 10 oz. It's made with TNF's "Base Camp" material (1000D polyester with TPE lamination), and comes in TNF Black as well as Double Take Print/Terrazzo Pink, Brunette Brown Catalog Print, and Zinc Grey/Duck Green.
Ease of Transport
The North Face Rolling Thunder 22 has a bit of a wide turning radius, making quick turns or maneuvering through a crowded airport a bit of a challenge. Its wheels are large enough to handle a pocked parking lot with ease, but once inside the airport and on polished surfaces we found ourselves wishing for a four-wheeled bag, once again. There would be no point to that though, as this bag is made to go off-road more than on-marble. The handle was sturdy and adjustable to a shorter length, which was nice for keeping it closer to us, but the top of the handle is very wide and we couldn't get our laptop bag's carrying handle over it. There is an add-a-bag hook though for that reason, though we typically prefer the feel of carrying it against the handle.
This bag was able to accommodate everything we'd need for a long weekend trip, but lacks any sort of division or structure for keeping nice clothes looking "nice." If you're heading to a fancy wedding or on a business trip, this is not going to do the trick. Look at our Top Pick for Business Travel, the Briggs and Riley Baseline Domestic, instead. There is also no expander option for this bag, which limits its storage ability further.
This bag is really just a rolling duffel, and as such doesn't have many features to write home about. There are no internal or external compression straps, the external pockets are too small to accommodate a laptop, and not padded either so we'd hesitate to put a tablet in them. There is a sunglasses/phone pocket at the top of the bag, and an add-a-bag hook which is also a nice touch. The bottom frame does help the bag stay upright and it's not too front heavy, but it did tip over on us a few times. Compared to the Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD Carry-On, which has an endless array of features to make travelling easier, like a an elastic cord that holds down your jacket and an expandable zipper, the Rolling Thunder is on the plain side.
This bag ranked very high for durability. The material is beefy, the handle is sturdy, and every detail on this bag is well-constructed. The wheels are encased in a heavy-duty plastic cover to protect them from damage (though it can't protect them from getting dirty — more on that later), and the frame is solidly built, unlike the flimsy frames on the Travelpro Maxlite 4 22 and the Travelpro Magna 2, which dented easily. We've had TNF duffels last a lifetime, and don't doubt that this one will as well.
TNF states that they recently made this rolling duffel's frame 25% lighter. We never tested the heavier version, but this one never felt too cumbersome at 7 lbs 10 oz. You do have to pull it though, unlike four-wheeled bags that you can push, so keep that in mind before you load it up with too many bricks. It's also 3 lbs heavier than the Osprey Ozone Wheeled 22, so if you anticipate carrying your bag a lot, maybe up and down stairs on public transportation, then consider that model instead.
Our testers were mixed on the style of this bag. It comes in a variety of prints and also a high gloss black, which is the model we tested. The black bag looks cool at first, with a red interior and some contrasting red on the handle and wheels; however, after only one use the red wheels became "dirty" red in color, and no longer looked so attractive. There is a reason why every other bag that we tested had black wheels, and we don't think we'd purposefully purchase a colored wheel again. This bag also has a technical/casual look to it — it really is just a rolling duffel, and is better suited to weekend travel and camping trips than business travel. If you are looking for something sleek and sophisticated, take a look at the hard-sided Samsonit Inova 20 instead.
This carry-on is best for shorter trips, and for those who like the duffel bag styling but might have to carry their bag a fair distance, say in an airport, and would prefer to pull it behind them rather than carry it over their shoulder or back.
This bag retails for $250. The North Face Base Camp Duffel (our Editors' Choice winner in our Duffel Review), retails for $120 in a similar size small (50L vs the Rolling Thunder's 40L), so in a way you are paying an extra $130 just for the retractable handle and rolling wheels. Is it worth it? While we thought the Base Camp was a great duffel bag, the carry-on version came up short when compared to more traditional carry-ons that have a lot of traveler friendly features. If you're on a budget, the $120 SwissGear Meyrin 20 is a great bag and our Best Buy winner.
If you love duffel bags and The North Face brand, then this could be the perfect carry-on for you! It's sturdily made and can handle rough terrain - "Never Stop Exploring" after all, and should last through many adventures. While we preferred some of the more "classic" carry-ons to this style, if the bag fits your aesthetic and needs, then you probably won't be disappointed.
TNF also makes a 19", 30", and a "36 Rolling Thunder duffel.
— Cam McKenzie Ring
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