Patagonia Black Hole Mini Messenger 12L Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
Patagonia now only offers the Black Hole Messenger Mini with an advertised volume of 12 liters (down from the old 24-liter version). We thought this might significantly detract from its performance, but we found it to be an even better and more thoughtfully designed product. Way to go once again, Patagonia! The Mini wins our Editors' Choice Award for best messenger bag. It is a well-rounded messenger that is easy to pick up for a variety of uses while remaining extremely durable, lightweight, and supple to handle.
The new 12 liter "Mini" version of the Black Hole Messenger is half the size of the old 24-liter version, which means that Patagonia was able to slim down the comfort features a bit, eliminating the padded shoulder strap. Instead, the bag features a wide shoulder strap which we found to be perfectly comfortable for the size and weight of loads we could reasonably pack into this mini messenger bag.
The Black Hole proved to be comfortable on most of our commutes. It is not optimized for bike travel (no crossbody strap), but with increasing options like cycling backpacks and panniers, this weighed less in our overall judgment.
Comfort was the weakest category for the Black Hole Mini, but it still scored well above average. The comfort features are a match for the smaller size of this bag, as well as for the intended applications—which is mostly casual use, likely carrying it when you're on foot or riding public transit.
The Mini is not optimized for bike commuting as it has no cross-body stabilizing strap. For a more traditional messenger bag designed for bike commuting, check out the Chrome Mini Metro or the Timbuk2 Classic. The Black Hole is excellent for the modern urban commute, carrying smaller electronics like tablets with ease and saving on bulk. But if you're traveling a bit heavier for business reasons, check out another comfortable messenger, the Timbuk2 Command.
The Mini has a padded back panel that keeps your electronics safer, but also rests more comfortably on your side or back when carrying it (and lends it some structure which helps it stand upright when you set it down and open it). The Outdoor Research Rangefinder has a similar feeling fabric, but OR put a bit more attention into carrying comfort. This back panel balances comfort and structure without feeling cumbersome or annoyingly rectangular. For this reason, we prefer the Mini over the Timbuk2 Command, unless you need those added electronics features.
We either carried our messenger bags slung over a shoulder on one side, or across our body on the opposite shoulder. The purest messenger is meant to hug very closely to your back, slung across your body—and to make the geometry work out well for this design, the more traditional messenger bags like the Chrome models often didn't rest well when slung over just the same-side shoulder. The Black Hole Mini carried comfortably on either shoulder.
We agree with Patagonia's decision to make their messenger into a Mini Messenger. If you're going to be carrying heavier or bulkier loads, there are lots of backpacks out there to choose from, and for the sake of the long-term health of your back and improved posture, we think that's the way to go.
This bag had just the right amount of organizational features, disappearing our gear like its namesake region of spacetime. As the theory of general relativity predicts, this sufficiently compact mass can deform spacetime to form a Black Hole. Or at least a miniature one.
The Mini is an excellent blend of organizational features and simplicity, so you don't get sucked into the Black Hole digging around for your tiny iPod shuffle that got buried under your gym socks somewhere in the depths of the bag. The bag functions well for a variety of uses, from daily commute to airplane carry on, and often has enough room for a quick run to the grocery store for a couple of items when you forgot your reusable grocery bag.
The Mini does not hold items as securely as the Chrome Buran, but the tradeoff is that the contents are easier to access than with the Buran. We were particularly impressed at the size of documents we could still slide into the Mini. It looks small, but we were still able to fit slender, large format magazines inside without curling or bending them.
We would have appreciated a rear document sleeve for quick trips, such as grabbing our mail or carrying a document in to a meeting down the hall, etc. This was a much more rare feature in this review, featured only in the Chrome Buran, Mobile Edge ECO, Timbuk2 Command, and Kenneth Cole Reaction Risky Business.
The Mini also still has the handy key clip inside the main compartment, which always lends peace of mind…
The Mini has simple but effective padding on the back of the bag as well as on an internal divider sleeve. There is also a third, much smaller sleeve on that divider which can fit smaller electronics like a small tablet. There is a buckle that secures the contents of both of those sleeves to keep your valuable electronics safe while in transit.
The rest of the pockets in the Mini are easy to access and a good size for a variety of electronics accessories. There are two zippered pockets, one on the flap that closes the bag (straightforward access) and one on the outside of the bag just under that flap (added security in this location). They are not waterproof, so be sure you put electronics inside the bag when it rains—especially if you like to keep your phone in that external zipper pocket like we do—because the bag is otherwise fairly waterproof.
If you travel often with electronics, check out the Timbuk2 Command which was designed with the Tech user and business traveler in mind. The Mobile Edge ECO was a close competitor in this category, but we do like the simple and streamlined design of the Black Hole. If you're looking for more of a briefcase hybrid, the Command or Mobile Edge might be ideal.
Ease of Use
When we first picked up the Black Hole, we were immediately impressed by the supple and pleasing (but durable and waterproof) fabric. The sturdy fabric gives it enough structure to be easy to open, close, and load, but is still supple enough to form to your body when slung over a shoulder. The Black Hole is an easy bag to keep close all day long.
The pockets are immensely useful. There is a quick access zippered pocket on the outside of the pack, but the rest are under the buckled flap. There is one more zippered pocket which is a great place to keep things safe, and the rest are tucked inside the main compartment and easy to see into and empty or load with cords, pens, keys, etc.
There is also a divider with a buckle and an extra slim pocket in that divider, both serving well to hold a variety of electronics, from a 15-inch laptop to a small tablet.
We also really appreciated how easy it was to use the Osprey Flapjack, which was the main competition in this category. The OR Rangefinder has a very nice feeling fabric, similar to the Black Hole fabric, but the bag has less organizational features. For a bag full of excellent organizational features, check out the Mobile Edge ECO. Then, of course, there is the very classy Timbuk2 Classic.
We were mildly annoyed with the way Patagonia anchored the shoulder straps onto the bag. On one side, it has a plastic buckle which would often turn sideways and cause the strap to bunch up; this looked awkward but didn't really affect performance, just a minor nuisance. Otherwise, the design and organization scheme of the Black Hole keeps this bag low profile, making it great to travel with, whether on the metro, bus, bike (for shorter distances), airplane, or on foot.
Wear & Tear
The Black Hole is made of a supple but very burly polyester ripstop with highly weather-resistant TPU-film laminate and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. It is one of the most durable and waterproof bags in this review. The only fault in the weather-proofness was the lack of a waterproof zipper on the outer flap. This did let water droplets through in a rainstorm, so be sure you keep your electronics under the flap or keep your phone in a waterproof case.
The Chrome bags were some of the most rugged and long-lasting bags we tested, with impressively durable fabrics, a solid folded seal at each corner of the bag, and no external pockets to leak any water.
The Black Hole Mini scores very well for the volume it holds per unit weight. This is a more durable and weatherproof bag, so it's not the lightest for the volume, but the simple and streamlined design helps keep it relatively lightweight, which we always appreciate.
If you like the looks of the Tom Bihn Daylight Briefcase, it's small and simple. It is also very modular, so you can add extra padding or organizational features, or you can keep it super light and simple.
The Black Hole Mini Messenger is an impressive bag, useful for a wide variety of missions. The new size, half the size of the previous model, is still just as useful. It doesn't hold the same volume, of course, but it still holds standard size laptops and documents and even large format magazines.
While you probably can't get everything for work, your lunch from home, and your afternoon gym session all in this bag, we actually preferred that; a heavy, overloaded messenger bag is not exactly ergonomic or balanced, so if we really need to haul all of our life around for the day, we will likely take a backpack. This Mini is excellent for lightweight commutes; it's small enough for daily use, is the perfect size for your airplane "personal item", and eases through many other adventures.
Along with the volume, Patagonia also slashed the price of this bag; but the value, we think, comes out even higher. At $89, this is an excellent deal. It is highly versatile, impressively durable, and looks good in a variety of situations. The black one can even be dressed up for the office. It's certified as Bluesign approved; Patagonia explains: "Bluesign technologies, based in Switzerland, works at each step in the textile supply chain to approve chemicals, processes, materials, and products that are safe for the environment, safe for workers, and safe for the end customers. Any fabric you see that's Bluesign approved offers the highest level of consumer safety by employing methods and materials in their manufacture that conserve resources and minimize impacts on people and the environment."
The newest iteration of the Black Hole Messenger, the new 12 liter Mini Messenger, is half the size of the previous model, and twice as useful. We think Patagonia was wise to reduce the size. No matter how well you pack a messenger bag, it always puts the weight mostly on one shoulder. So, for the sake of our postural health, we fully support the move to a smaller messenger bag. The Mini is big enough for a short work trip to the office, library, or cafe, great for your daily commute, and will hold a couple of extra items for that last-minute stop at the grocery store on your way home.
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