Hands-on Review of the Patagonia Black Hole
After extensive side-by-side testing, we feel the newer Black Hole's material is a fair amount more water resistant and slightly more durable. One of the most helpful unique features of the latest Black Hole is how quickly the straps are to attach and remove for airline travel. Before, you had to unthread them through a very tight fitting buckle that was a massive pain. Now you can quickly undo the entire buckle by passing it through a larger "D" buckle, which is much simpler and quicker. While this is a small change, we appreciate it.
The new Black Hole stuffs inside of its side pocket. We don't think this is a big deal, but if you have limited storage, this feature certainly allows it take less space while not in use, and makes it easy to pack inside of another bag.
The strap attachment system on the Black Hole Duffel is by far the easiest and quickest to remove and attach among all the models in our review. Simply pass the buckle on the shoulder strap through the large "D" shaped buckle and the bottom of the shoulder straps attach with Fast-tec buckles.
Ease of Transport
This model was among the best duffels we tested for our "Ease of Transport" category and is also one of the most comfortable bags to carry for extended periods of time. We like the two well designed, articulated, and pleasantly padded shoulder straps that all of our testers commented were one of the most comfortable in the review. The straps on the Black Hole were undoubtedly more comfortable than either the Helly Hansen Duffel Bag 2, Gregory Alpaca, or the Marmot Long Hauler.
Besides being among the most comfortable in the review, the Black Hole's two backpack straps are also the straight-up easiest to remove when checking it at the airport. They feature an easy pass-through design on top and fast-tech buckles on the bottom. The only other model that came close was the Helly Hansen Duffel Bag 2; the Black Hole's were noticeably more of a breeze to put away than our award winner The North Face Base Camp.
The low profile grab loops on the Black Hole Duffel.
The Black Hole features low-profile grab loops on each end that are easy and comfortable to grab. There are two shorter straps on the side (in addition to the shoulder straps) for carrying the bag briefcase style or merely to assist in dragging it around. The Black Hole also features four sets of vertically oriented daisy chains, plus a few extra lash points to help facilitate attaching the bag to auto rooftops, yaks, or whatever else you might need. If exotic locations and expedition travel are foremost in your travel bag needs, we recommend the Black Hole along with The North Face Base Camp Duffel and Gregory Alpaca. These models provided the most lashing options (to tie them to animals and other things) than any other contender we tested.
The Black Hole Duffel features daisy chains on all four corners, which offers plenty of lashing options. We found these attachment points to be super useful for attaching to the top of a jeep, a llama (yes llama) or rigging to a sled for glacier travel.
Lastly, we like the slightly padded bottom which not only helps protect our gear from overzealous baggage handlers and the riggers of travel, but it also adds to the bag's overall durability.
The large "D" shaped opening on the Black Hole Duffel was easy to pack and search through. Its dual mesh zippered pockets on the underside of the lid are among our testers favorites for the organizational options. They also keep small items from getting lost. The twin mesh pockets might seem like a small feature but we missed them anytime we used a duffel that didn't feature them.
Ease of Packing
The Black Hole features a large "D" shaped opening that is as easy as it gets to load and search for items in. Patagonia also chose a softer and more subtle material that is less stiff. We found the fabric made it marginally easier to pack compared to bags that used more rigid materials. Our entire review team loved the two well-designed pockets, which are located under the lid; these helped us stay just a little more organized. After using these two pockets, we truly missed them every time we packed up a different model; when using competitors that only features a single giant mesh pocket, everything would inevitably get clumped together and was subsequently more difficult to find.
There is also a small zippered pocket accessible from the outside that doubles as a stuff sack in which you can store the bag. While some might appreciate it, we never found ourselves using it very much, as it was just too flat and challenging to search through when the bag was loaded up.
The side, externally accessed zippered pocket also doubles as a "stuff-pocket" for storing or transporting the duffel. While we'd take it over not having a pocket, it was difficult to access (with the exception of the thinnest of items) when our bag was full.
This competitor is plenty durable. In fact, it's more durable than the vast majority of duffels on the market and is tough enough for users over the course of a few years, potentially more depending on what you're using it for. During our side-by-side testing, and after using the Black Hole on five expeditions, we didn't think it was quite as durable as The North Face Base Camp Duffel, though it was close. The Black Hole is noticeably more durable than the Helly Hansen and is comparable to the Marmot Long Hauler and Gregory Alpaca.
At three pounds three ounces, the Black Hole is the lightest duffel we tested and is nearly a pound lighter than our Editors' Choice The North Face Base Camp. It's a half-to-a-third the weight of many rolling duffels. If you are someone who is always pushing the 50-pound limit on airlines, the Black Hole is an excellent way to get more gear to your destination.
The Black Hole, along with the Gregory Alpaca, are the most weather resistant models in our review. We did a ton of side-by-side testing by filling all the contenders with towels and spraying them down with a hose. The Black Hole, along with the products mentioned above, just barely out-performed our Editors' Choice, The North Face Base Camp and the Marmot Long Hauler.
The Black Hole is a versatile duffel that is equally at home on everything from remote expeditions, casual travel, or (in the smaller volumes) simply going to the gym. It's weather resistant and has many lashing options, as well as an easy-to-pack design; all of these characteristics make it a great choice for an expedition or extended trip. Its shoulder straps are also comfortable enough to make it a reasonable piece of luggage on any trip you'd consider a duffel over a wheeling piece of luggage. If more casual travel is your main focus, then it's not as easy to move around as a wheeled piece of luggage; but for any trip where bag weight is important or you're simply heading to more remote regions, the Black Hole should be a consideration.
The Black Hole's 90 and 120-liter volume are pretty in line with most other contenders in this review. Scoring third in our fleet, this model offers an excellent value and the 60-liter model rings in at $129. You'll find the size large, which we tested, will cost you $149.
While the Black Hole
just barely didn't emerge as an award winner, there are plenty of reasons to buy this bag. The biggest of which is it's the lightest model in our review, letting you pack more gear before hitting that 50-pound airline limit. It's also one of the most weather resistant models and is exceptionally comfortable.
While a few other models provided a higher level of durability, this bag remains PLENTY durable for most people.