Guides that fly every spring to Alaska and then drag 100 pounds of equipment to 14000 feet on Denali choose the Wild Things Gear Mule. It is super durable, the right shape for sled mounting, and is made in the USA. The remaining 99.99999999+% of the world's population still might have reason to purchase the Mule. It is a excellent Alaska expedition duffel for us, though the lighter Top Pick REI Roadtripper 140L is better for Denali for mortals.Beyond that, it is super sturdy, relatively light, has a design and materials that have been proven for over 20 years, and carries a cachet that is unmatched. The carry options are limited. You wrestle it, or you drag it. Backpack carry is primitive, at best. It isn't submersible (but few duffels are, despite lofty claims. Only the Top Pick Yeti Panga 100 is truly submersible), but it'll keep out light to moderate weather in the out of doors. Most importantly, and we'll reiterate this over and over, this bag will last a long, long time in heavy, heavy use.
Wild Things Gear Mule Review
Cons: Limited carry options, limited organizational features
Manufacturer: Wild Things
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Mule is sort of a timeless throwback product. The materials and dimensions of this product have been displaced in recent decades, but the utility of the Wild Things Gear Mule suffers none for the "progress" made elsewhere. The long history of this particular product alone sets it apart; this is legendary kit. Further, the classic design has genuine utility and value.
The design and product is relatively inexpensive. Wild Things has amortized the cost of initially developing the Mule over the last many many years. They now sell it to us at a reasonable price. For that reason, we grant it our Best Buy Award. It shares that award, currently, with a more typical modern design at a higher price. Regardless of awards and history and price, the Mule is a solid all-around product.
Its smaller siblings are similar in materials and shape at a smaller volume. Much of what we say about the Mule can be extrapolated to the Wild Things Gear Burro, Wild Things Gear Goat, and Wild Things Gear Carry-on. The Mule is the largest of these all-nylon, simple, long, and narrow bags. For flying across the world and throwing your bag on a sled or animal, for many, many expeditions over a long, adventurous life, you can't beat Wild Things duffel bags. There are lighter options for human-powered trips, and there are more robust bags (both awarded here in our comprehensive duffel review) for extensive mechanized travel, but there aren't any bags better than the Wild Things Gear duffels for old-school, classic adventure travel, and expeditioning.
Ease of Transport
Especially with a bag as large as the Gear Mule (144 liters) your duffel can get darn heavy; it wouldn't be impossible to load this bag with over 100 pounds of gear. What would nearly impossible is moving that amount of gear in this very bag. Without a sled or mechanized assistance, the Mule is among the most annoying bags to transport. All it features for portability is a pair of typical "brief case" style handles and grab loops on each end. Each of these four handles is padded and reinforced (and color-highlighted for visibility) with a simple layer of additional webbing. That's it. That is all you get for transport.
There are no backpack straps, no wheels, and no long shoulder sling. This simplicity is welcome in some instances. There is little to fail and you don't have to agonize over your choices for short moves. We can rationalize the transport shortcomings, but the truth is that the Gear Mule is hard to move around. We won't sugar coat it and no one will apologize for it. This is a robust, simple bag for gritty adventures where the least of your worries is how to backpack carry your duffel bag. Incidentally, some testers have found that they could wiggle the grab handles onto their shoulders for longer carries. Other testers, making up the majority of our team, found this difficult at best and downright sketchy (for mobility-limited shoulders and heavy loads) in other cases. Don't say we didn't tell you it was possible, but also don't say that we recommended it highly.
The good news about portability of the Mule is that the fabric is way bombproof and there is nothing wrong with short to medium distance dragging of this bag. Pack it well, padding hard stuff away from the bottom, and you could even drag extended distances on smoother surfaces with little to no consequence.
Ease of Packing
Open the one long, smooth, straight, giant zipper and throw, tuck, and jam all your kit in there. A D-shaped zipper opens wider, and newer types of fabric stand up to hold their shape while you load and unload, but the Mule doesn't suffer too much for its simpler design. There is one external, small accessory pocket that closes with the same size (giant…) zipper. Again, this whole program is simple and clean but unsophisticated.
We definitely prefer, by a small margin, the stiffer fabrics that stand up on their own while the bag is empty and D-shaped zipper openings that open wide for packing and unloading. You'll note through this whole review that the theme of the Wild Things Gear duffels is simplicity. Even the nearly all-black color scheme is austere. This isn't an Instagram-friendly product for sunny, prestigious travel. This is a stout piece of equipment for travels that take you to gritty, obscure, authentic corners.
The flip side of a lack of features is durability. There is little to nothing to fail on the Wild Things Gear Mule. No compression straps, no plastic buckles, no clippys or danglies. The zipper is immense and of the form that we know to hold up to the most rough of use. Every part of this duffel could be slammed in the door of a HiLux while racing to catch the dry season's last bus out of that crazy corner of Bolivia.
You'll laugh at the idea of caricatured airline baggage handlers trying to destroy your bag. This thing is stout. The 1050 denier nylon main fabric (and the whole thing is made of this main fabric) is the most robust we've found in any part of any duffel bag on the market. Other bags tout their "1000d" fabrics. It is actually hard to find 1050 denier nylon. Wild Things Gear goes the extra mile to source this fabric that ekes out 5% more.
Durability adds weight, but so do features. The Gear Mule, as compared to similarly-sized bags, is lighter than average. The weight of other bags is attributed to extra (and largely unnecessary) straps etc. We weighed the Mule to be 3.35 pounds. You won't get much lighter than this (for this volume) before you start to worry about the integrity of a bag's contents on a bus roof or plane hold or on the back of a yak.
It isn't that common that we can give a product (in any category, really) high marks in durability and in weight. The Mule strikes that balance, doing so by omitting other features. Again, continuing the theme, this is simple luggage for gritty adventures. Ounces might matter on said trips, but padded backpack straps and flashy accents do not.
The fabric of the Gear Mule is made with an entirely waterproof backing. The bag is made with this backing on the "inside" where it is less vulnerable to abrasion. Your gear is all that can wear a hole in the waterproof coating. It will do so, over time and many miles. Also, the bag is vulnerable to water at seams and zippers. This isn't a waterproof bag. Wild Things admits this in their catalog copy. They call it "highly water-resistant"; in the same sentence, they also indicate that it is made of a "single piece of Ballistic Nylon".
Dunk this in the lake and your stuff will get wet. Forget to put your down jacket in a plastic bag and then send it in a Mule with an arriero to the Ishinca Valley through a Peruvian afternoon shower and you shouldn't worry. This bag is what we might call "splashproof". Set it down briefly in a puddle and the aforementioned one-piece construction will minimize the intrusion.
We granted the Gear Mule our Best Buy Award. For luggage that you can truly fit an expedition's worth of gear in and confidently send out of your sight, this is the least expensive product we know of. That it is light, crazy durable, and made in the USA are just additional value perks.
Expedition climbers in the mid-1990s lusted after Wild Things duffels. Modern-day travelers can do little better than this same technology and design. It is hard to quantify, but the cachet and style of this sort of throwback product has value of its own. This bag, and gear designed with its same philosophy, pull your travel experience from the gear to everything else. Also tricky to quantify is the value of USA manufacturing. All Wild Things Gear duffels are made in the United States. For US citizens, this is meaningful and valuable. In other businesses and categories, you pay a premium for local manufacturing. That this is a truly high-value product at a reasonable price with the advantage of ticking that patriotic box really seals the deal. Just purchase understanding the simplicity and that alternatives are going to be easier to move around.
— Jediah Porter & Ian Nicholson