Hands-on Gear Review

The North Face Rolling Thunder 22 Review

A classic rolling duffel for those who prefer to pull rather than carry their bag.
By: Cam McKenzie Ring ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 30, 2018
Price:  $269 List  |  $268.95 at MooseJaw
Pros:  Durable construction, waterproof, handles difficult terrain well.
Cons:  Not expandable, minimal features.
Manufacturer:   The North Face
68
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 11
  • Ease of Transport - 25% 7
  • Storage - 25% 7
  • Features - 20% 5
  • Durability - 10% 9
  • Weight - 10% 7
  • Style - 10% 7
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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, 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.

2018 Updates
The North Face spruced up the Rolling Thunder a bit this year. Details to follow.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

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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 have been made with the intention of increasing the suitcase's durability. The price has also been raised $20, ringing this newest version up at $269. 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 TNF Black as well as Double Take Print/Terrazzo Pink, Brunette Brown Catalog Print, and Zinc Grey/Duck Green.

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 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 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 was sturdy and adjustable to a shorter length, which was nice for keeping it close 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.

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


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.

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.

Features


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.

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.

Durability


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 5 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.

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.

Weight


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.

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.

Style


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 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.

Best Applications


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 carrying it over their shoulder or back.

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

Value


This bag retails for $269. 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 $150 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 SwissGear 7208 is a great bag and our Best Buy winner.

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 preferred 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.

Cam McKenzie Ring

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