Patagonia Black Hole Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Durable recycled material, easily removable shoulder straps, convenient pockets, stylish design
Cons: Thinner material than other high-end options, pricey
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Our Analysis and Test Results
After extensive testing and real-world use of previous versions of this bag over the last several years, we are more impressed than ever with the latest Patagonia Black Hole duffel. Its recycled materials are more durable and water-resistant than ever, and the backpack-style shoulder straps are easily removable for quick airport transitions with an intuitive buckle design. To remove the shoulder straps with previous versions of this bag, you had to delicately unthread them through some very tight-fitting buckles, a similar design to many other bags in our review. This convenient feature is one of several well-executed design details that earn this bag a high ranking.
Ease of Transport
This model is one of the top-scoring duffels we tested in this performance metric and is also one of the most comfortable bags to carry backpack-style for extended durations. We like the design of the contoured and padded shoulder straps, which our testers agree are among the most comfortable in the lineup. Our only wish is that the shoulder straps had an additional chest strap to make extended carries more efficient. Besides being among the most comfortable in this review, the Black Hole's two backpack straps are also the easiest to remove when checking in at the airport. They feature an easy pass-through buckle design on top and traditional side release buckles on the bottom.
In addition to the backpack straps, the Black Hole also features two shorter permanently attached straps for a traditional briefcase-style carry system. It also includes two low-profile grab handles that are convenient for lugging the bag in and out of vehicles or on and off luggage racks. Four sets of vertically oriented daisy chains, plus a few extra lash points, help facilitate attaching the bag to auto rooftops, yaks, or whatever else you might need.
Finally, when your trip is over, the Black Hole also stuffs inside its side pocket for convenient low-profile storage. If you have limited storage space for your gear, this feature certainly gives the bag a smaller footprint when not in use and makes allows it easily fit inside another piece of luggage.
Storage and Ease of Packing
The Black Hole features a large D-shaped zippered opening that makes it easy to load and access the main storage compartment. The 900-denier recycled polyester is also a bit softer and more flexible than other more rigid expedition duffels, which makes the bag easier to handle in certain circumstances, but harder to hold its shape while packing. Our entire review team loved the two well-designed pockets located under the lid that 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 with only a single giant mesh pocket, where everything would inevitably get clumped together and be more difficult to find.
There is also a small external zippered pocket conveniently located on the front of the bag that doubles as a stuff sack in which you can store the empty bag. While this extra pocket is a convenient addition, we never found ourselves using it much, as its flat shape makes it difficult to access when the bag is fully loaded.
We tested the 100-liter version of the Black Hole Duffel, which is the largest that is currently offered by Patagonia. It is also available in a 40, 55, and 70-liter volume.
The Black Hole's 900-denier recycled polyester held up to everything we could throw at it during our side-by-side testing and throughout a few remote expeditions. It's not quite as durable as other top-rated bags with 1000-denier materials, though it's close. The fabric is relatively supple and thin compared directly to the burliest duffels, which makes it more comfortable to carry and easier to store, but ever so slightly compromises its overall durability.
We also really like the Black Hole's padded base. A thin layer of padding between the outer material and the internal lining not only helps protect your gear from overzealous baggage handlers and the rigors of rugged travel, but it also adds to the bag's overall durability.
We have tested multiple iterations of the Black Hole Duffel through the years, and at one time, it was the lightest all-around expedition duffel that we tested. While improvements and additional features added through the years have increased its weight compared to its former self, it remains one of the lightest full-size expedition packs on the market. The 100-liter size that we tested weighs in at 3.8 pounds.
In addition to our real-world testing on camping trips, climbing expeditions, and family vacations, we tested each contender by filling them with towels and spraying them down with a hose. The Black Hole performed about as well as any of the other top performers. The seams and zippers are not submersible or watertight, but the fabric thoroughly keeps the water out.
The Patagonia Black Hole is one of the more expensive duffel bags in our lineup, but its list price is in line with the highest performing contenders in this review. The majority of top-end bags from all of the top outdoors manufacturers have a surprisingly narrow price range. While you could potentially save a few bucks with a similar style from another brand, the difference is small enough that we recommend getting the bag that suits you best. The Black Hole is a high-quality, fully-featured duffel that should last years and years and would make a great long term value.
While the Black Hole doesn't emerge as a top award winner, it comes close with its classy style, comfortable carrying options, and high-quality materials. While there are a few other burlier options that would be a bit more durable, this bag remains plenty durable for most people. It makes a great all-around option for world adventurers, weekend warriors, and casual travelers alike.
— Nick Bruckbauer