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Hands-on Gear Review
The North Face Rolling Thunder 30" Review
Bottom line: A top-notch all-around piece of luggage that is stacked full of awesome features; it would be absolutely perfect if it wasn't so heavy.
The North Face Rolling Thunder series is the wheeled siblings of the Base Camp Duffel, which won our Editors' Choice award for the best all-around competitor. The two collections are made from a similar durable and weather resistant material, with the exception of the Rolling Thunder line bags, which sport an even more robust fabric in higher wear areas. The two also have several of the same pocket designs and organizational features. The Rolling Thunder is aimed at air travelers who want the durability and easy-to-pack design of a duffel but with the ease of a roller bag. We looked at all four volumes that the Rolling Thunder is available in but focused on the 30 and 36-inch sizes.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Travel Duffel Bags of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The North Face Rolling Thunder 30" is easily one of the best all-around pieces of luggage you can buy. It's built as durable as they come, is extremely weather resistant, and packed full of useful features including a host of sweet pockets to help with organization. Its extendable handle is also among the most robust we've tested, and we wouldn't hesitate to load this bag up with another 50-pound bag (which we've done many times) for use as a moving-dolly. The only reason this bag didn't quite win an award is the fact that it's just a little heavier than average and we feel with its volume most people will have to exercise a little caution to avoid going over most airlines 50-pound limit.
Ease of Transport
The Rolling Thunder 30" was one of the most straightforward models to transport, thanks to its robust handle and frame. Its length, as well as the distance between the handle and the top of the bag, provided top-tier leverage. This resulted in exceptional control and maneuverability.
Our review team liked the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled and it took home our Editors' Choice for a wheeled model. It was noticeably easier to wheel around, particularly when fully loaded up; it beat the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled 32", which featured a long handle but not as much distance between the bag and the handle. The North Face Rolling Thunder 36" didn't feature an extendable handle at all.
The Rolling Thunder 30's frame and chassis are among the stiffest of any model we tested. This rigid structure didn't buckle or bend when a carry-on or even a second duffel (often an additionally 50 lbs bag, at that) was strapped to the outside. It helped us maintain some level of control and wieldiness when transporting this set-up through airports and subways.
The Rolling Thunder 30" also sports slightly larger-than-average wheels that roll over unpaved surfaces like gravel roads, cobbled paths, or grass significantly better than most wheely bags currently on the market. The one exception is the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled, which while we liked the Rolling Thunder's handle more, the Gear Warrior featured larger wheels and was better at rolling over bumps and cracks. Lastly, whether loading buses or luggage carousels, all of our testers appreciated that it featured a grab loop on each of its four sides.
Ease of Packing
Ease of packing, as well as the number of pockets and overall organization options, are one of this model's strongest selling points - and one of the primary reasons to buy the Rolling Thunder. The Rolling Thunder features a large "D" shaped opening and a very deep compartment that is easy to load all the way up; it also remained relatively easy to zip shut, even when full. It was noticeably easier to maximize space and pack than either the Osprey Ozone Convertible or the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled.
Under the lid are two see-through mesh zippered pockets that are fantastic for keeping easy to lose items organized and was several of our review team's favorite features. On the top end (handle side) are two externally access zippered pockets, which further increase organization.
This model, along with the rest of the Rolling Thunder series, features a flattish pocket along the outside of the bag; this pocket is suitable for small items, travel documents, a book, or magazines, making the things easy to access - even when the model is super full.
The Rolling Thunder features compression straps that help make the bag more manageable when not loaded all the way up, minimizing stress on the zippers and adding control.
The Rolling Thunder is freaking burly and is seriously built to last. Most of the bag is constructed of the same material as the tried and true Base Camp Duffel (1000D polyester laminate). However, to make this model even more long-lasting, it has been reinforced with 1680D nylon, compared to the Base Camp's still mega burly 840D. Overall, we found the Rolling Thunder topped the charts for durability and is one of the burliest models we've ever seen.
At 9 pounds 14 ounces for the 80-liter size, weight is certainly the biggest downside of this collection. While it isn't ridiculously heavier than other contenders, it is one to pounds heavier than most, and nearly four pounds more than a handful of ultralight wheely bags. In exchange for forfeiting 1-2 pounds, you'll receive durability, organizational pockets, a design that's easy to pack, and top-notch weather resistance. You'll want to keep in mind that the heavier your bag weighs, the less you'll be able to pack (especially if you often come close to the 50-pound weight limit). Compared to other models in our review, the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled weighs 7 pounds 8 ounces, while the 92-liter Eagle Creek Gear Warrior weighs 7 pounds 9 ounces. Both models are more than two pounds lighter.
The Rolling Thunder 30" performed very similarly to the Rolling Thunder 36" (no surprise there), as well as the Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled. While it was tough to dial in if one of these was noticeably better than the others, all three certainly outperformed both the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled and the Osprey Ozone Convertible.
The Rolling Thunder 30" is about as versatile a piece of luggage as you can get. It features tons of useful pockets, a comfortable handle, and large diameter wheels, which help it excel, and are made for more traditional travel. But even for more exotic trips, we found this model to perform about as good as we could expect from a wheeled duffel. Its fabric and construction were easily the most durable and weather resistant in our review. The only people this model might not be ideal for are folks who are already regularly coming close to most airlines 50-pound limit. Why? The Rolling Thunder 30" is slightly heavier than most wheeled models and could force those used to packing close to the 50-pound limit over the edge.
At $289, the Rolling Thunder offers a pretty good value, as it is easily one of the most long-lasting pieces of luggage currently available. It's $40 less than the slightly smaller Patagonia Black Hole Wheeled ($330) or the lighter Osprey Ozone Convertible (also $330), and slightly less than the equally feature rich but not quite as burly Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled ($290).
The North Face Rolling Thunder is a mega durable and highly weather resistant piece of luggage. It features one of our favorite all-around designs for ease of packing and organization. Its frame is super bomber, and it sported one of our favorite handles in our review, providing a comfortable way to wheel this beast around. Its only downfall is it's quite heavy, and to some extent, we have a hard time knowing that 20% of our 50-pound baggage allowance isn't going to our gear, but to the bag itself. If you are someone who wants a rugged and weather resistant bag that handles heavy loads exceptionally well, and you aren't regularly pushing the 50-pound weight limit (or you don't mind paying extra for overweight bags), this rolling duffel is hard to beat.
Other Versions and Volume Options
This model is available in the 19, 22, 30, and 36-inch models. The 19 inch has 33 liters, 22 inch has 40 liters, 30 inch had 80 liters, and the 36 inch, which we also reviewed, offers a giant 155 liters. They range in cost from $239-$319.
What Size Should I Get?
The North Face makes the Rolling Thunder in 22" which meets nearly all carry-on specifications and maximizes your space to fit in an overhead bin. It's perfect for most 2-4 day trips. The 19" is a more average size carry-on size that you can even fit under the seat in front of you. It's also good as a carry-on to go with another bag or as a 1-2 day sized bag on its own. The 30" size is a great size and our testers favorite volume for a wheeled bag. When packed with average weight/bulk items, it almost always weighs in around 50 pounds when packed full. We'd go for the 36" size if you know you need to pack longer items or bulky things like fins, wetsuits, or lots of insulation. We didn't love that the 155L size didn't come with an extendable handle, but its multiple grab loops worked fine, but we sometimes slightly wished it featured a more typical handle.
— Ian Nicholson
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