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The North Face Rolling Thunder 30" Review

Price:   $299 List | $299.00 at REI
Pros:  Extremely durable, very water resistant, bomber frame, easy to pack, good number of organizational options, sweet pockets, many carrying options
Cons:  Heavy
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.
Editors' Rating:   
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Manufacturer:   The North Face

Our Verdict

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

Review by:
Ian Nicholson

Last Updated:
Monday
November 6, 2017

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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.

Performance Comparison


The Rolling Thunder is a top-notch duffel that is as durable as they come. It sports a ton of well thought out features to help keep certain items handy  organized  and accessible. The only thing we didn't love about this wheely bag is how heavy it is - at nearly 10 pounds it's a whopping 20% of your 50-pound limit.
The Rolling Thunder is a top-notch duffel that is as durable as they come. It sports a ton of well thought out features to help keep certain items handy, organized, and accessible. The only thing we didn't love about this wheely bag is how heavy it is - at nearly 10 pounds it's a whopping 20% of your 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.

The width of a given bag's wheelbase plays a significant role into how easy it is to maneuver in tight spaces or crowds. Wheel size  handle length  and how far the handle extends above the bag itself are also important factors. Shown here: the bottom of the Rolling Thunder.
The width of a given bag's wheelbase plays a significant role into how easy it is to maneuver in tight spaces or crowds. Wheel size, handle length, and how far the handle extends above the bag itself are also important factors. Shown here: the bottom of the Rolling Thunder.

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 was  along with the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior  one of the most stable models while standing up on its own. It never tipped over unexpectedly. Even with another bag attached  the Rolling Thunder proved stable enough that  unless our carry-on item was super heavy  it was fine to be just left hanging off the handle.
The Rolling Thunder was, along with the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior, one of the most stable models while standing up on its own. It never tipped over unexpectedly. Even with another bag attached, the Rolling Thunder proved stable enough that, unless our carry-on item was super heavy, it was fine to be just left hanging off the handle.

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's wheels are slightly larger than average  but not as big as other models we tested  like the Patagonia Black Hole or the Osprey Ozone. While those models featured marginally larger wheels and might perform slightly better when being pulled across uneven ground  it wasn't a major difference. Overall we still think that this model performs well in that terrain.
The Rolling Thunder's wheels are slightly larger than average, but not as big as other models we tested, like the Patagonia Black Hole or the Osprey Ozone. While those models featured marginally larger wheels and might perform slightly better when being pulled across uneven ground, it wasn't a major difference. Overall we still think that this model performs well in that terrain.

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.

The Rolling Thunder's huge flap and cavernous opening made it the straight-up easiest model to pack and unpack in our review. Despite the zipper going more or less all the way around the edge of the top of the bag  the Rolling Thunder was incredibly easy to cram full and zip shut  even when we had maxed its volume.
The Rolling Thunder's huge flap and cavernous opening made it the straight-up easiest model to pack and unpack in our review. Despite the zipper going more or less all the way around the edge of the top of the bag, the Rolling Thunder was incredibly easy to cram full and zip shut, even when we had maxed its volume.

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.

All of our testers loved the two mesh zippered pockets located underneath the main access flap. These pockets were a great place to store small items that we wanted to keep easily accessible  and items in these pockets were were easy to locate due to the see-through mesh.
All of our testers loved the two mesh zippered pockets located underneath the main access flap. These pockets were a great place to store small items that we wanted to keep easily accessible, and items in these pockets were were easy to locate due to the see-through mesh.

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.

Above the main access flap are two overlapping flat-ish pockets  each accessed from one side. While not great for a wide range of items due to their thin nature  all of our testers found themselves utilizing them as a great place to keep a magazine  phone  wallet  or book and considered it a sweet feature.
Above the main access flap are two overlapping flat-ish pockets, each accessed from one side. While not great for a wide range of items due to their thin nature, all of our testers found themselves utilizing them as a great place to keep a magazine, phone, wallet, or book and considered it a sweet feature.

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 two wide compression straps on either side of the bag. When we didn't fill this model all the way up  the straps helped cinch the bag down  making it a bit more wieldy. On the zipper side  there are two large fast-tec buckles that also pull double duty to protect wear on your zippers and provide a back-up in the event a zipper fails (because your bag can still be held shut).
The Rolling Thunder features two wide compression straps on either side of the bag. When we didn't fill this model all the way up, the straps helped cinch the bag down, making it a bit more wieldy. On the zipper side, there are two large fast-tec buckles that also pull double duty to protect wear on your zippers and provide a back-up in the event a zipper fails (because your bag can still be held shut).

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 features two externally accessed zippered pockets on the handle end of the bag. One pocket is fairly small and suitable for documents and things of that nature  but the other pocket is larger and can comfortably fit a pair of shoes and a fleece without a problem.
The Rolling Thunder features two externally accessed zippered pockets on the handle end of the bag. One pocket is fairly small and suitable for documents and things of that nature, but the other pocket is larger and can comfortably fit a pair of shoes and a fleece without a problem.

Durability


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.

Sporting the most robust fabric combinations of any model we tested  along with one of the beefiest frames and handles  the Rolling Thunder is one of the most durable wheeled duffels on the market.
Sporting the most robust fabric combinations of any model we tested, along with one of the beefiest frames and handles, the Rolling Thunder is one of the most durable wheeled duffels on the market.

Weight


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.

Weather Resistance


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 handle on the 30" Rolling Thunder.
The handle on the 30" Rolling Thunder.

Best Applications


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.

Value


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 Rolling Thunder is one of the most weather resistant and durable wheeled duffels out there. It likely sports our favorite all-around design and feature set - the only thing that kept it from winning an award is its nearly 10-pound weight. With that said  it's only 2-3 pounds heavier than a majority of models on the market  and if you don't often find yourself within 2-3 pounds of the 50-pound limit (or don't care to go over) then this is a rad model that will last you many years of adventures.
The Rolling Thunder is one of the most weather resistant and durable wheeled duffels out there. It likely sports our favorite all-around design and feature set - the only thing that kept it from winning an award is its nearly 10-pound weight. With that said, it's only 2-3 pounds heavier than a majority of models on the market, and if you don't often find yourself within 2-3 pounds of the 50-pound limit (or don't care to go over) then this is a rad model that will last you many years of adventures.

Conclusion


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


Volume Comparison
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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Most recent review: November 6, 2017
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