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The North Face Rolling Thunder 22 Review

A classic rolling duffel for those who prefer to pull rather than carry their bag.
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Price:  $269 List | $201.69 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Durable construction, waterproof, handles difficult terrain well.
Cons:  Not expandable, minimal features.
Manufacturer:   The North Face
By Cam McKenzie Ring ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Feb 12, 2020
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68
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Transport - 25% 7
  • Storage - 25% 7
  • Features - 20% 5
  • Durability - 10% 9
  • Weight - 10% 7
  • Style - 10% 7

Our Verdict

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, plus 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.


Our Analysis and Test Results

The Updated Rolling Thunder 22


While we weren't able to get specific details on the updates, The North Face's site states that the back panel has been strengthened and the handles have been simplified. Both of these changes are made with the intention of increasing the suitcase's durability. The price has also been raised with these new changes. See the latest version in the first photo below, followed by the previous iteration.

The North Face Rolling Thunder 22

Since we haven't hit the airport with this new version of the Rolling Thunder 22, the following review only refers to our experiences with the original version we tested.

Hands-On Review of the Rolling Thunder 22


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 several colors.

While the bag mostly fits in the sizer  the wheels do stick out a bit.
While the bag mostly fits in the sizer, the wheels do stick out a bit.

Ease of Use


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 packed 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 is sturdy and adjustable to a shorter length, which is nice for keeping it close to you, but the top of the handle is very wide and we couldn't get a laptop bag carrying handle over it. There is an add-a-bag hook for that reason, though we typically prefer the feel of carrying it against the handle.

The heavy duty material on this bag is great for travelling to wet climates like Bellingham  Wa.
The heavy duty material on this bag is great for travelling to wet climates like Bellingham, Wa.

Storage & Features


This bag was able to accommodate everything we'd need for a long weekend trip, but lacks any division or structure for keeping nice clothes looking nice. It's 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, and the external pockets are too small to accommodate a laptop. They are not padded either, so we'd hesitate to put a tablet in them.

We managed to squeeze all of our gear for a long weekend trip in this bag  but there wasn't room for a fancy set of clothe  nor a way to keep them nicely pressed.
We managed to squeeze all of our gear for a long weekend trip in this bag, but there wasn't room for a fancy set of clothe, nor a way to keep them nicely pressed.

Versatility


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. Our testers have mixed feelings 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 is just a rolling duffel and is better suited to weekend travel and camping trips than business travel.

The outside pockets can accommodate a few odds and ends  but you can't fit a laptop in there.
The outside pockets can accommodate a few odds and ends, but you can't fit a laptop in there.

This bag never felt too heavy  but it was slightly too long for this overhead bin (the handle prevented the bin from closing) and we had to store it sideways.
This bag never felt too heavy, but it was slightly too long for this overhead bin (the handle prevented the bin from closing) and we had to store it sideways.

Durability


This bag's material is beefy, the handle is sturdy, and every detail on it 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 solid. However, compared to the super thick material, hard-shelled, and practically bombproof exteriors of some of its competitors, this elaborate duffel just can't quite match.

The red wheels look good brand new  but after minimal use they just look dirty.
The red wheels look good brand new, but after minimal use they just look dirty.

Value


This unique rolling duffel is a niche item and its price reflects that. Is it worth it? Well, if you love the style of a duffel bag but hate carrying it unilaterally everywhere you go, maybe. However, we think there are much better, more comfortable and better-organized options out there.

This bag has "The North Face" written all over it - literally! The styling is great for casual trips or adventure travelers  though we weren't a big fan of the (dirty) red wheels.
This bag has "The North Face" written all over it - literally! The styling is great for casual trips or adventure travelers, though we weren't a big fan of the (dirty) red wheels.

Conclusion


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. We prefer some of the more "classic" carry-ons to this style. But, if the bag fits your aesthetic and needs, then you probably won't be disappointed.

Packing up the Rolling Thunder. This bag is great for casual travelers.
Packing up the Rolling Thunder. This bag is great for casual travelers.


Cam McKenzie Ring