The Base Camp Duffel from The North Face is a venerable, long-term favorite. It is a proven design at an affordable price and thus earns our Best Buy Award. The construction and materials are robust. The fabric keeps water out, but seams and zippers are vulnerable. Ongoing improvements to the bag indicate The North Face's investment in the category. The latest addition, to at least the larger sizes, is an additional, externally accessed separate compartment. TNF keeps improving the bag while reducing the price.Other companies are edging ahead with further innovation, but the Base Camp Duffel remains relevant and an excellent choice. This is a top-notch piece of luggage for any traveler, whether climbing Denali, taking remote trips in South America, or simply going to the gym (when using one of the smaller volume options). These models are durable, weather-resistant, and have plenty of lashing options for even the most remote trips; the duffel is among our favorite overall designs from an organizational standpoint for more traditional travel.
The North Face Base Camp Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Easy to pack, comfortable shoulder straps, excellent pockets, super durable
Cons: Not super light, fabric is a little stiff
Manufacturer: The North Face
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The North Face is a perennial expedition equipment leader. Their duffel bags are legendary and ubiquitous. You can't turn a remote corner of any adventure destination without seeing one of these colorful bags. Owning and rocking a beat-up version is a sort of badge of honor. They last a long time, and TNF keeps improving the design. The price is low, considering the construction and durability. We granted the Base Camp Duffel our Best Buy award and have a hard time imagining a better value product coming along for years and years. Other companies are offering iterative and minor upgrades that move the needle and move our Editors Choice award around, but the Base Camp plugs along and does what you need it to do.
Ease of Transport
The Base Camp remains one of the most natural competitors to transport and features a design that is now used by many other manufacturers.
This duffel allows for several ways to move it around, whether at the airport, a remote village, or on a glacier. The Base Camp's two padded shoulder straps provided top-notch comfort for extended carries and were among the best as far as backpack-style straps are concerned. We only wish that getting them on and off the pack was easier.
Our review staff appreciated the grab loops, which were featured on all four sides of this bag. This helped facilitate the option of being able to drag it around or pull it off car rental-bus baggage racks. The grab loops are wide, slightly stiffened, and offset from the bag to get your hand in them.
One small feature that is one of our favorites for expeditions or exotic locations is the two beefy daisy chains featured on the corners of this bag.
The older version's daisies run the length of the bag, while the newer version features grab loops in the middle. While we liked the former full-length daisy slightly better, the grab loops are super easy to the thread while lashing this bag to truck tops.
Ease of Packing
The sizeable D-shaped opening is both easy to load and dig through. Even when this duffel is brimming with gear, it was rarely too difficult to zip shut. Its large, oversized zippers don't tend to get caught on items and are as durable as they come.
One new feature on the latest version of the Base Camp is the addition of a relatively sizable zippered pocket on one end. Further, inside the main compartment, there is a mesh divider that only adds to this duffel's organizational ability. These small features were thoroughly appreciated and heavily used by all of our testers; it's also just one more reason that the Base Camp takes our Best Buy Award. It is worth noting that this pocket is featured on all but the smallest two sizes (it is not found on the small and extra small volumes).
There is a zippered mesh pocket underneath the main lid. This pocket is excellent for small items that can become easily lost or for things that you don't want to put in the main compartment.
This award-winner is seriously built to last. It remains the most commonly used expedition duffel out there for a reason. Once you buy one, you'll likely never need another. If you do use and abuse it, it will be a very long time until you need to purchase a new one.
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, and just plain abused during transport, one of our tester models is still going strong after 10+ years. The North Face has only slightly tweaked the fabric to make them even more durable.
Similar to other duffels, The North Face uses a PU/PE fabric for the majority of the material. It offers superior durability and excellent abrasion and water resistance. However, what sets the Base Camp apart is it uses 1000D TPE laminate body with an additional layer of 840-denier ballistic nylon on the bottom.
While this duffel is not super light, it's not super heavy either.
At four pounds one ounce for the large size, it is only a few ounces heavier than most comparable models on the market.
During our side-by-side weather resistance testing, the Base Camp duffel scored near the top of the review.
While it's not submersible nor completely waterproof (seams and zippers will let extended or pressurized water in), it is pretty darn water-resistant. We have used this duffel on more than a half dozen Denali trips where it is tied to sled and just left out to be snowed on for days at a time - or buried in the snow for up to a week at a time.
For many years the Base Camp Duffel was one of the more expensive products in our review. Its price has remained largely constant, while availability has only increased, and TNF has made ongoing improvements. Other companies improve on this basic form and design, but The North Face remains relevant. Few of the more expensive bags are better than the Best Buy Base Camp Duffel.
Only the most sophisticated and new bag we tested could best the TNF bag for the Editors Choice' to have a Best Buy winner that scores a close second in our overall rating rubric is impressive and rare. This is a great bag that happens to be a great value; we wouldn't have been wrong to grant it our second Editors Choice award. Our primary issue with that is that the value is just so good now, and it's a better "Best Buy" than it is an Editors Choice.
You can't go wrong with this bag. There are now more sophisticated options on the market, but to save a few tens of dollars, the Basecamp Duffel is a worthy compromise. If budget is any concern, choose the Base Camp duffel for adventure and routine travel of any kind.
— Jediah Porter & Ian Nicholson