The North Face Base Camp Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Easy to pack, comfortable shoulder straps, excellent pockets, super durable
Cons: Heavy, not as comfortable as others, less refined style
Manufacturer: The North Face
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The North Face Base Camp duffel bags are legendary and have become ubiquitous on remote expeditions to every corner of the world. Owning and sporting an older, well-loved version is a badge of honor in many adventure circles. These bags last a long time, and their classic design has remained relatively simple throughout the years, with a few useful improvements along the way. Other companies might offer a few fancier features or more comfortable carrying options. Still, the Base Camp keeps plugging along with its simple, robust design that continues to set the benchmark for durability in this category. A broad range of sizes and colors broadens the bag's appeal for numerous users and travel scenarios.
Ease of Transport
The Base Camp receives average scores in this performance metric, with a versatile range of carrying options that have been mimicked by many other manufacturers. The classic design includes traditional carry handles joined together with a velcro clasp, adjustable and removable shoulder straps, two grab handles, and two sets of daisy chains. While these transport options are useful and straightforward, other manufacturers stand out with more comfortable padding, more easily removable straps, or more innovative adjustment features.
The two padded shoulder straps are relatively thin compared to those of many close competitors, but provide enough comfort for a backpack-style carry over most normal haul distances. They also have a wide range of adjustability to balance the load on your back and comfortably fit a wide range of users. You can lengthen the straps enough to sling them over just one shoulder, but the strips of padding are a bit short and aren't movable, making the over-the-shoulder carry method uncomfortable and imbalanced. Each shoulder strap can also be removed by threading the webbing through a buckle on each end, a pretty straightforward process.
A grab handle on each end of the Base Camp allows for easy hauling or dragging over shorter distances, or a quick grab-n-go out of the trunk or off of the baggage claim. A set of heavy-duty daisy chains runs along the entire length of each side of the duffel, providing plenty of attachment points to lash the bag onto a vehicle, motorcycle, or pack animal.
Storage and Ease of Packing
The Base Camp's sizeable D-shaped main zipper provides easy access to the main storage compartment for easy loading or digging around. Even when you stuff this duffel to the brim with gear, the heavy-duty zipper and robust material support a heavy-handed effort to zip it shut. The stiff body material also holds its shape well, making it easier to pack an empty bag or access its nooks and crannies.
One end of the Base Camp also features a relatively sizable zippered pocket that is secured with the same type of heavy-duty zipper as the main storage compartment. This pocket opens in a wide semi-circle that provides easy access and enough space to stash things like dirty laundry or a wet pair of shoes.
Inside the main compartment, a mesh sleeve pocket on the opposite end of the duffel only adds to its organizational ability. It is a great spot to keep smaller items organized like your sock collection or a hat and gloves. Note that this duffel is available in a wide range of sizes, and this mesh sleeve pocket is not included in the smallest two versions (size XS and S). Finally, there is a large zippered mesh pocket underneath the top lid. This pocket is excellent for smaller items like books, toiletries, or electronics that can quickly become engulfed in the main compartment.
This Top Pick Award Winner is thoughtfully built to last. It remains one of the most commonly used expedition duffels out there for a good reason. Once you buy one, you'll likely never need another. If you do use and abuse it, it will probably be a very long time until you need to purchase a new one. The North Face also provides a lifetime warranty covering the materials and workmanship of its products.
Even after dozens of expeditions and trips to exotic locations around the world where the Base Camp has spent countless hours on the top of jeeps, strapped to llamas, or just plain enduring abusive transport, one of our early test models is still going strong after a decade of travel. More modern variations of the duffel have only slightly tweaked the fabric to make it even more durable.
The Base Camp is constructed from a 1000-denier TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer) laminate material with an additional layer of 840-denier ballistic nylon on the bottom. This combination is one of the toughest around and has long been the standard to which we inevitably compare other duffels. It offers superior durability and excellent abrasion resistance and easily withstands dragging and rough handling.
With its extremely robust body material and additionally fortified bottom panel, the Base Camp duffel is one of the heavier models in our lineup. The 95-liter (size L) version that we tested weighs in at 4.1 pounds.
While most other similarly-sized expedition duffels weigh a few ounces less, very few matches the heavy-duty construction and proven durability of the Base Camp. We bought most of the large-capacity test models in the same 90 to 100-liter size to get a more accurate comparison, and there is a relatively small overall spread of weights in this range. Bags of this capacity can be loaded with 50 pounds or more of gear, so an extra few ounces in luggage weight likely won't be as noticeable as the additional strength and performance.
In our weather resistance ratings, the Base Camp duffel once again scores near the top of the class. The 1000-denier TPE laminate is essentially a mix of plastic and rubber and provides an impenetrable barrier to moisture.
The bag isn't totally submersible nor completely waterproof, as the seams and zippers are not fully sealed and will eventually let in an extended or pressurized presence of water. The external zippers are both protected by a rain flap, making them pretty darn water-resistant. We have used this duffel on more than a half dozen Denali trips where it was left out to be snowed on for days or purposely buried in the snow. The contents remained unscathed.
For many years, the Base Camp Duffel was one of the more expensive products in our review. Its price has remained mostly constant through the years, while other contenders' prices have increased to match their increasingly complex designs and higher-end features. Still, the Base Camp remains relevant and more than holds its own against the most expensive duffel bags on the market. If you're looking for the ultimate in durability and protection from the elements and can forgo a few fancier features, the North Face duffel is a tremendous value and will accompany you on any adventure.
You can't go wrong with this simple, classic, and top-quality duffel bag. There are now more sophisticated options on the market, but few can match the rugged durability that continually accompanies adventurers to every corner of the globe. Our Top Pick Award Winner for the most simple and rugged expedition duffel, The North Face Base Camp, makes an excellent choice that is built to last.
— Nick Bruckbauer