Hands-on Gear Review

The North Face Base Camp Review

The North Face Base Camp Duffel
Editors' Choice Award
Price:  $145 List | $99.95 at MooseJaw
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Easy to pack, comfortable shoulder straps, excellent pockets to help with organization, super durable, daisy chains and grab loops allow for easy lashing, six nicely spaced volume options, tons of color options
Cons:  Not super light, fabric is a little stiff
Bottom line:  While the Base Camp Duffel faces stiffer competition than it used to, it remains the duffel that all others are compared against.
Editors' Rating:   
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Weight (Pounds):  4.06 pounds (95 liter model)
Size options (Inches):  XS-XXL
Volume Size Options (Liters):  33, 50, 69, 95, 150 L
Manufacturer:   The North Face

Our Verdict

The Base Camp wins our Editors' Choice award for being our favorite all-around duffel bag for the sixth straight year in a row; it's the only product we've ever tested to receive such a distinction. It routinely scored high marks in every category, especially durability and ease of packing and is among the most durable duffels we have ever used. It has all the best features, like a grab loop on each side, an additional externally accessed pocket for organization, a small window for contact info, dual daisy chains, compression straps, and a zipper mesh pocket on the inside of the lid. The Base Camp comes in six volumes, giving it a nice range of sizes to choose from, whether it's short overnight flights or multi-month trips to the mountains.

The Base Camp Duffel sets the bar for which every other duffel bag is compared against. While it has been around forever, the Base Camp has undergone only minor revisions and is still at the top of the pack and in line with all the more expensive duffels we tested. It has nearly all the features you need and nothing you don't. Designed with expeditions in mind, the Base Camp duffels are extremely durable and easy to carry. This award winner easily lashes to a sled for glacier travel and straps to jeeps, buses, and even yaks. It has many carrying options and external compression straps for lugging through airports and is made of durable, highly water-resistant fabric.

Looking for a wheeled duffel?
Check out the The North Face Rolling Thunder for the same great features as the duffel we reviewed with the added ease of wheels! This bag retails for $320 and is significantly heavier than the non-wheeled version we tested, but the extendable handle and wheels make for easy airport travel. If you like the sound of the Base Camp but are looking for an airport-friendly bag, the Rolling Thunder may be your perfect fit.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Travel Duffel Bags of 2018


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Ian Nicholson

Last Updated:
Monday
November 6, 2017

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If we could only have one duffel for everything, from expedition travel to going to the gym, The North Face Base Camp would be it. It's durable and weather resistant enough for the most exotic adventures and expedition use, but also has one of the most excellent pocket designs. The pockets are essential for keeping you organized, making more traditional travel or just general purpose use easier. Its shoulder straps are nicely articulated and among the most comfortable, helping you to lug this bag as far as needed. Its larger "D" shaped opening makes packing and searching for items a breeze.

Performance Comparison


While the Base Camp Duffel faces tighter competition than it used to and other models have some unique advantages for specific applications  the Base Camp remains our all-around favorite.
While the Base Camp Duffel faces tighter competition than it used to and other models have some unique advantages for specific applications, the Base Camp remains our all-around favorite.

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.


The newest version of this duffel features an even more comfortable feeling fabric on its shoulder straps.

TNF Base Camp Duffel features two padded shoulder straps that our testers thought were above average in comfort. We also thought the face fabric felt best against our skin while wearing thin t-shirts or tank tops.
TNF Base Camp Duffel features two padded shoulder straps that our testers thought were above average in comfort. We also thought the face fabric felt best against our skin while wearing thin t-shirts or tank tops.

The Base Camp does not highlight a separate set of more traditional briefcase style straps like a handful of other models we tested, such as the Gregory Alpaca or the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel. While we occasionally found ourselves using these straps when pulling our bags off the luggage carousel (when the backpack shoulder straps were still tucked away while checking them), it wasn't a big deal; instead, we'd just tighten the shoulder straps to the appropriate length and use it in briefcase mode.

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

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. One small feature that is one of our favorites (along with the Gregory Alpaca) for expeditions or exotic locations is the two beefy daisy chains featured on the corners of this bag. The older version's daisies ran 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 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 Base Camp also features side compression straps, which help make the bag both more comfortable and easier to manage on trips where you don't fill it all the way up.

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. Inside this pocket, there is a mesh divider that only adds to this duffels organizational ability. This small feature was thoroughly appreciated and heavily used by all of our testers. It's also just one more reason that the Base Camp remains our Editors' Choice for our favorite all-around travel duffel. 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 large "D" shaped opening on the Base Camp was among the easiest duffels to pack and search for items in. Our testers also really utilized the additional zippered pocket featured on one end of the bag.
The large "D" shaped opening on the Base Camp was among the easiest duffels to pack and search for items in. Our testers also really utilized the additional zippered pocket featured on one end of the bag.

While we did appreciate the large mesh zippered pocket, we liked the similar but dual-zippered pockets on the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel and Gregory Alpaca slightly better. However, we found the Base Camp's externally accessed end zippered pocket was far better than the Alpaca (and the Black Hole doesn't have one).

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. Either that or you have seriously bad luck.


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, ours is still going strong after 10+ years. The North Face has only slightly tweaked the fabric to make them even more durable.

Likely the most popular expedition duffel out there  TNF Base Camp Duffel is mega-durable  easy to pack  easy to lash  and as pleasant to carry as a massive duffel can be. Here we're getting duffels ready to be shuttled via mules to base camp for the second round on Aconcagua  Argentina.
Likely the most popular expedition duffel out there, TNF Base Camp Duffel is mega-durable, easy to pack, easy to lash, and as pleasant to carry as a massive duffel can be. Here we're getting duffels ready to be shuttled via mules to base camp for the second round on Aconcagua, Argentina.

Similar to all the 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; that's the thickest pairing of fabrics used in any contender in our review. Compare, for example, the Base Camp to the Gregory Alpaca, which uses 900D TPU material with an additional layer of 630D on the bottom, or the Patagonia Black Hole, which uses similar fabrics.

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.

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, 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. In fact, the only model that proved more weather resistant was the Gregory Alpaca, which earned a perfect 10 out of 10.

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.

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. The Patagonia Black Hole Duffel is nearly as durable and equally as weather resistant, but doesn't feature as many pockets; it also weighs a surprising three pounds three ounces (90L). The Marmot Long Hauler features a similar level of pockets and organization but isn't quite as weather resistant.


With that said, the Base Camp Duffel remains less than half the weight of the majority of rolling duffels, letting you pack in four to six more pounds and still keep it under most airlines 50-pound maximum. If you like the weight of a traditional duffel but wish it had wheels, be sure to check out the Osprey Ozone Convertible 22, which weighs a respectable six lbs 14 ounces - only a little over six pounds once its detachable backpack has been removed.

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.

Features


The Base Camp models all feature a small, three-sided window for your contact info. We never had our slip of paper fall out, but it did get wet after extended periods outside in the rain.

The additional externally access zippered pocket located on one end of TNF Base Camp Duffel. We loved this feature to both help keep us organized as well as to keep specific items easily accessible. The only model with as comparable a pocket was the Marmot Long Hauler.
The additional externally access zippered pocket located on one end of TNF Base Camp Duffel. We loved this feature to both help keep us organized as well as to keep specific items easily accessible. The only model with as comparable a pocket was the Marmot Long Hauler.

Best Applications


The Base Camp 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 a smaller volume). These models are durable, weather resistant, and have plenty of lashing options for even the most remote trips; the duffel is our favorite overall design from an organizational standpoint for more traditional travel. While a wheeled duffel is still slightly easier to pull heavy loads around, when the going gets rough, or bag weight starts to become an issue, the Base Camp's shoulder straps were among the most comfortable in the review. They helped our entire testing team easily manage this contender just as you could expect from any non-wheeled piece of luggage.

Value


The Base Camp falls on the more expensive side of the spectrum, but its price is relatively in line with most of the competitors in our review. We find it's worth the price tag. However, take, for example, our Best Buy award-winning Marmot Long Hauler; for the 105L size, it costs $140 - only $5 more than the Base Camp.

Conclusion


The bottom line is that we think it's well worth up to $175 (for the XXL size) because it is fully featured, will last a long time, and is a perfect companion for many exotic adventures. You could buy a less expensive model that would suffice, but the Base Camp has many extra features to help your trip go smoother. If you were going to use it for pure expedition use, the Gregory Alpaca is slightly more weather resistant and has even more strapping options; folks using it for these types of trips will likely not care about it being smaller or having a more petite zippered end pocket. But, when all is said and done, the Base Camp is tough to beat for more traditional travel, as well as journeys to exotic locations.

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.

Color Options


While maybe a little much; The North Face offers the Base Camp Duffel in 15 different color combinations that should please even the pickiest of users. If for some reason you find yourself not liking any of the colors offered, The North Face frequently changes their offerings.

Size Options


We like that it comes in six fairly equally spread out sizes, giving a good selection of volume for various styles of trips.

Volume comparison
  • XS 33L (2014 in³) 2 lbs, $100
  • S 50L (3051 in³) 2 lbs 11 oz, $120
  • M 69L (4211 in³) 3 lbs 8oz, $135
  • L 95L (5797 in³) 4 lbs, $145
  • XL 132L(8055 in³) 4 lbs 7 oz, $160
  • XXL 150L(9154 in³) 4 lbs 10 oz, $175
Ian Nicholson

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Most recent review: November 6, 2017
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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