The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

The North Face Base Camp Review

While it faces stiffer competition than it used to, it remains the duffel that all others are compared against.
Best Buy Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $149 List | $148.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 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
By Jediah Porter & Ian Nicholson  ⋅  Oct 21, 2019
  • Share this article:
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
76
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 12
  • Ease of Transport - 22% 8
  • Ease of Packing - 22% 9
  • Durability - 22% 9
  • Weight - 24% 5
  • Weather Resistance - 10% 7

Our Verdict

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.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  
Price $148.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$163.85 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$107.99 at Amazon$399.99 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$115.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score Sort Icon
100
0
76
100
0
78
100
0
75
100
0
75
100
0
73
Star Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Pros Easy to pack, comfortable shoulder straps, excellent pockets, super durableRugged, stiff and wide opening, variety of carry optionsExcellent shoulder straps, thick waterproof coatingDurable, waterproof, comfortable backpack strapsHighly weather resistant, easy to pack, comfortable shoulder straps
Cons Not super light, fabric is a little stiffOnly one smaller pocket, heavyRelatively thin fabric, extra unnecessary featuresExpensive, narrow main opening, only two organizational pocketsExternally accessed pocket is on the smaller side, shoulder straps take a little more work to remove
Bottom Line While it faces stiffer competition than it used to, it remains the duffel that all others are compared against.The best darn duffel bag for all kinds of adventuresome travel.Carries on your back better than any other duffel we’ve assessed and is a top contender.A burly, waterproof sack that comes in a few sizes, all with nice backpack straps; it has a narrow niche, but is the only product we’ve found that checks the boxes it checks.From its streamline design to its top notch weather resistance and multitude of lashing options, this is a solid duffel.
Rating Categories The North Face Base Camp Sea to Summit 90L Osprey Transporter 130 YETI Panga 100L Gregory Alpaca
Ease Of Transport (22%)
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
7
Ease Of Packing (22%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
5
10
0
9
Durability (22%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
8
Weight (24%)
10
0
5
10
0
5
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
6
Weather Resistance (10%)
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
6
Specs The North Face... Sea to Summit 90L Osprey Transporter... YETI Panga 100L Gregory Alpaca
Weight (Pounds) 4.20 pounds (95 liter model) 4.30 pounds (90 liter model) 3.44 pounds 5.83 pounds (100 liter model) 3.72 pounds
Volume Size Options (Liters) 33, 50, 69, 95, 150 Liters 45, 65, 90, 130 Liters 40, 65, 95, 130 Liters 50, 75, 100 Liters 30, 45, 60, 90, 120 Liters
D or I opening D D D I D
Back Pack Straps Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
# of pockets (excludes main compartment) 3 1 3 2 2
Info window Yes Yes Yes ID tag Yes
Material 1000D phthalate-free TPE laminate body with additonal 840-denier Jr. ballistics nylon on the bottom Tarpaulin Laminate 1000D nylon 840D Nylon TPU Double Coated Laminate, high-density nylon, EVA 900D TPU diamond rip-stop material with additional layer of 630D nylon on the bottom

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.

Performance Comparison


The Base Camp duffel will protect your goods deep in the bowel of the most roughly loaded commercial jet.
The Base Camp duffel will protect your goods deep in the bowel of the most roughly loaded commercial jet.

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.

The wide  stiffened  and contoured shoulder straps of the latest Basecamp Duffel
The wide, stiffened, and contoured shoulder straps of the latest Basecamp Duffel

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.

The Base Camp duffel features beefy daisy chains and grab loops on all-four sides that help facilitate lashing the duffel to a variety of vehicles and animals. Photo in route to Illimani  Cordillera Real Bolivia.
The Base Camp duffel features beefy daisy chains and grab loops on all-four sides that help facilitate lashing the duffel to a variety of vehicles and animals. Photo in route to Illimani, Cordillera Real Bolivia.

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.

TNF Base Camp Duffel features four grab loops on each side of the bag. These oversized loops worked well when pulling the bag off moving carousels or anytime we needed to drag it somewhere.
TNF Base Camp Duffel features four grab loops on each side of the bag. These oversized loops worked well when pulling the bag off moving carousels or anytime we needed to drag it somewhere.

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.

TNF Base Camp features daisy chains on all four corners as well as four grab loops on all sides of the bag; they make lashing the bag to everything from sleds to llamas a snap. While we like the Gregory Alpaca's full-length daisy's marginally better  the grab loops on the Base Camp are extremely easy to thread.
TNF Base Camp features daisy chains on all four corners as well as four grab loops on all sides of the bag; they make lashing the bag to everything from sleds to llamas a snap. While we like the Gregory Alpaca's full-length daisy's marginally better, the grab loops on the Base Camp are extremely easy to thread.

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).

Our testers found the externally accessed zippered pocket on Base Camp extremely useful when separating wet  dirty clothes  or as another helpful sized pocket for staying organized.
Our testers found the externally accessed zippered pocket on Base Camp extremely useful when separating wet, dirty clothes, or as another helpful sized pocket for staying organized.

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.

The zippered mesh pocket underneath the main lid of the Base Camp. We liked the organization that this feature provided  but preferred the dual pockets of the Patagonia Black Hole and the Gregory Alpaca marginally better.
The zippered mesh pocket underneath the main lid of the Base Camp. We liked the organization that this feature provided, but preferred the dual pockets of the Patagonia Black Hole and the Gregory Alpaca marginally better.

Durability


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.

A further update to the bag is this unzipped mesh divider. It just helps to organize some smaller items inside the bag.
A further update to the bag is this unzipped mesh divider. It just helps to organize some smaller items inside the bag.

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.

TNF Base Camp proved among the most weather resistant in our review both in real-world use and in our side-by-side comparison using a timed and systematic garden hose test.
TNF Base Camp proved among the most weather resistant in our review both in real-world use and in our side-by-side comparison using a timed and systematic garden hose test.

Weight


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.

While wheeled duffels are easier on paved roads and in airports  traditional duffels excel when the going gets rough. They are known for their ability to be strapped to everything from sleds to llamas. Here's a common expedition scene while duffel bag testing in South America.
While wheeled duffels are easier on paved roads and in airports, traditional duffels excel when the going gets rough. They are known for their ability to be strapped to everything from sleds to llamas. Here's a common expedition scene while duffel bag testing in South America.

Weather Resistance


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.

TNF Base Camp duffel offers above average weather resistance. Tester Ian Nicholson has used his on a half dozen Denali expeditions where for three weeks the duffel is either strapped to a sled or buried in the snow. The Base Camp Duffel is still his go-to favorite for expedition use  alongside the Gregory Alpaca.
TNF Base Camp duffel offers above average weather resistance. Tester Ian Nicholson has used his on a half dozen Denali expeditions where for three weeks the duffel is either strapped to a sled or buried in the snow. The Base Camp Duffel is still his go-to favorite for expedition use, alongside the Gregory Alpaca.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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.

Pictured here is the Base Camp  packed up nicely in the back of our car.
Pictured here is the Base Camp, packed up nicely in the back of our car.


Jediah Porter & Ian Nicholson