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