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The North Face Rolling Thunder 30" Review

A rough and tumble option that could work for anything from gear hauls to business trips
The North Face Rolling Thunder 30"
Photo: The North Face
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $300 List | $299.95 at Backcountry
Pros:  Large wheels roll well, stable, convenient external organization
Cons:  Not much in the way of interior organization
Manufacturer:   The North Face
By Clark Tate ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Aug 27, 2021
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70
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 11
  • Storage & Organization - 25% 6
  • Ease of Transport - 25% 7
  • Reliability - 25% 9
  • Weight - 15% 5
  • Style - 10% 7

Our Verdict

The North Face Rolling Thunder combines the ease of a soft-sided duffel with the smart traveling compartments and carrying support of a roller. We prefer four-wheeled options to thread through crowds, but two wheels are still better than none when hauling heavy stuff around, and they are large, rugged, and roll well. The main compartment is wide open, creating plenty of space for gear. A small compartment up top makes it easy to keep track of necessities, and a larger one works great for dirty clothes, shoes, or layers. A rough and ready plastic base, water-resistant fabric, zipper flaps, and sturdy handle come together to create a bomber package for frequent travelers who are hard on their gear.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award 
Price $299.95 at BackcountryCheck Price at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$379 List$295 List$85.00 at Amazon
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Pros Large wheels roll well, stable, convenient external organizationSmooth ride, sensible features, excellent organization, great styleAmple storage, water-resistant, durable, heavily featuredIntegrated TSA lock, rolls well, smart organization options, stylishInexpensive, smooth travel, great storage
Cons Not much in the way of interior organizationZippers could be smootherMany features that aren't that useful, bulky designHeavy, fabric is easier to markTips over, lacks durable materials
Bottom Line A rough and tumble option that could work for anything from gear hauls to business tripsA durable, stylish, and high-value suitcase suited for all types of travelA tactical and durable adventure suitcase that excels at packing bulky gearThis bag is heavy but it looks good, is easy to organize, and can keep up with whatever you have plannedA very low priced suitcase with great storage capacity but a propensity to be tippy
Rating Categories The North Face Roll... Timbuk2 Copilot Eagle Creek ORV Tru... Away Expandable Large AmazonBasics Expand...
Storage & Organization (25%)
6.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
Ease Of Transport (25%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Reliability (25%)
9.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
4.0
Weight (15%)
5.0
6.0
8.0
4.0
7.0
Style (10%)
7.0
7.0
3.0
9.0
4.0
Specs The North Face Roll... Timbuk2 Copilot Eagle Creek ORV Tru... Away Expandable Large AmazonBasics Expand...
Measured Weight 10.2 lbs 9.4 lbs 9.1 lbs 14.5 lbs 9.9 lbs
Volume 80L 80L 98L 106 to 114L 105L
Liters per pound 7.8 8.5 10.8 7.3 to 7.9 10.6
Construction Roller-duffel Clamshell & peek-a-boo access, softshell Zip open, softshell Zip open, softshell Clamshell, softshell
Measured Packed Dimensions 28.5" x 15" x 16" 25" x 14" x 10" 30" x 17" x 15" 28" x 19" x 12" 20" x 11" x 29"
Expansion Zippers? No No No Yes Yes
Number of Wheels 2 2 2 4 4
Number of Large Interior Compartments 1 2 1 2 1
Interior Storage Features 1 mesh organizational pockets on lid of duffel 2 Mesh dividers with organizational pockets. Three smaller organizational pockets 1 dirty clothes bag, 2 zippered panels, compression straps Smaller organizational compartment with mesh organizer
Number of Exterior Pockets 3 pockets, top and middle. Several gear loops on the exterior. 1 pocket on top, 1 large sleeve 2 large pockets, top and bottom. Several gear loops on the exterior. 1 with two smaller ones inside 1 large pocket
Compression System Internal and exterior compression straps Internal compression straps Removable gear holder keeps items in place, but not compression. Compression buckles on the outside. Expandable boot pocket on the interior of the backpack. Internal compression panel and straps Internal compression straps
Handle Height from Ground 42.5" 40.75" 42" Low: 37"
High: 41"
Low: 38"
High: 42"
Built-In Lock No None None Yes Yes
Main Exterior Material 1,000-denier polyester with TPE laminate/1,680-denier nylon Nylon and polyester Bi-Tech Heather, 1000D Helix Polyester Twill Water-resistant nylon 150D-polyester
Unique Features Duffel on wheels Peek-a-boo front pocket, padded front pocket for a 13" laptop. Gear specific storage Includes a dirty clothes bag None

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Rolling Thunder is our favorite suitcase for adventures, rugged enough to cart around heavy gear without ripping at the seams.

Performance Comparison


The Rolling Thunder will take you from quaint inn tours to...
The Rolling Thunder will take you from quaint inn tours to cross-country backcountry missions.
Photo: Clark Tate

Storage & Organization


There's a lot of room in this 80-liter duffel, and you can use almost all of it. The main compartment is a cavern. It does have two structural supports running along the back, and if you're using packing cubes, they limit your capacity a bit. But if your style is to stuff socks in every corner, you'll be able to take full advantage of every inch.


There are two thin mesh pockets on the inside of the main flap. They're big enough to organize your toiletries or to serve as your sock drawer. There are also two webbing straps to hold and compress everything you're packing inside. They don't offer much in the way of organization or compression but can hold a stuff sack or packing cube in place for a barebones approach.

There are two pockets at the top to store any items you may need in...
There are two pockets at the top to store any items you may need in transit.
Photo: Clark Tate

There is no dedicated place for a laptop or electronics in the Rolling Thunder, and we wouldn't place them in the mesh flap inside because it doesn't provide any padding. So you're just left with the option of packing a fragile computer in a nest of clothes. Not great, but doable if need be. An external pocket on the same main flap gives you quite a bit of room to stuff things, but it encroaches on the main packing space. For this reason, The North Face's recommendation that you use it to move items you've already packed from the clean to the dirt section of the pack is a good one.

The two pockets up top work better. There is a large one that's big enough for shoes or layers if you're moving between climates. A smaller one above that is great for a phone, charger, wallet, and tickets, so you can have everything ready every time you park your bag.

The larger pocket at the top is great for holding shoes, though...
The larger pocket at the top is great for holding shoes, though using it makes the main pocket smaller, shown here with an expanded camp pillow for scale with some compression/organizational straps in the background.
Photo: Clark Tate

Ease of Transport


The broad base and wide wheels combine to make the Rolling Thunder a stable roller bag, one of the steadiest two-wheeled rollers we tested. Sturdy platforms on the bottom let you securely park it as well. We also appreciate the sturdy retractable handle. It's activated by bright red buttons on either side. Though we find it harder to compress those side buttons than we do the options that have one in the center of the handle, it works fine. The 16-inch handle seems a little long, making the roller unwieldy in really crowded conditions, but the leverage helps if you're heading up or down steep hills.


Four-wheeled bags with swiveling wheels are generally easier to maneuver than two. They can turn on a dime. The fixed wheels on the Thunder require more thoughtful, planned turns, so it doesn't earn top marks for maneuverability and ease of transport. Still, this is one of our favorite two-wheeled options.

The two fixed wheels roll well but don't corner as sharply as...
The two fixed wheels roll well but don't corner as sharply as four-wheeled options.
Photo: Clark Tate

Thanks to its generous handle placement, this bag is also pretty easy to load in and out of cars, trains, planes, and buses. We like larger luggage to have at least three handles meant for grabbing and dragging — one on the top, one on the bottom, and one on the left or right side. This bag has all three, meaning that it's easy to pick it up to load it in a car or pull it off the conveyor belt no matter the angle.

Reliability


The plastic molded body and thick nylon fabric showed no signs of wear during our testing period. We also appreciate that the fabric has a durable water repellent finish. The bag isn't fully waterproof, but it will fend off light showers to keep your clothes dry. Flaps over the zippers help since those are the weak points where water can still get through.


Speaking of the zippers, they're large with sturdy toggles and didn't give us any trouble. You do need to slow down when you pull them through the corners, but they don't catch. The undercarriage is sturdy and took a few hard-hitting curbs in stride with no issue. The broad, large wheels seem durable and are easily replaceable with a single hex key.

The small upper pockets are lined with relatively thin fabric, but they should hold up well, providing you don't toss in too many sharp objects. The mesh pockets inside the main panel are the weakest point. As long as you're careful with your brushes, combs, and razors, though, they should stand up to some abuse.

We never spend time worrying about this bag, and we really...
We never spend time worrying about this bag, and we really appreciate that.
Photo: Clark Tate

Weight


Weighing in at 10.2 pounds, you can pack the Rolling Thunder with about 40 more and still check this bag on most airplanes. The problem that you may run into is that the luggage is roomy enough that it's easy to overdo it on the weight. This certainly isn't the lightest suitcase we tested, but we think the durability and strength make it worth it.


Style


The Thunder does a nice job of combining functionality with a sleek, sporty look. It's outdoor chic. It's not your typical business casual look, but what is that these days?


One of our favorite features of this bag is that the upper pockets are big and well-placed enough to keep you feeling organized. While organization is a different element than style, it goes a long way to helping you feel stylish and put together, no matter what kind of adventure you're on.

This bag looks ready to go places, and we love that.
This bag looks ready to go places, and we love that.
Photo: Clark Tate

Value


This suitcase is an investment, but one we think you'll get enough mileage out of to justify the cost. Its rugged construction is built to last, and its study rollers and well-placed handles make it very easy to use.

The durable water repellent (DWR) finish on the bag is also Non-PFC. That means it's not made with perfluorocarbons, which harm human health and our living environment. Buying a less toxic bag is better for your health, offering additional value to you.

We think this bag is reasonably priced for its volume, function, and...
We think this bag is reasonably priced for its volume, function, and durable features.
Photo: Clark Tate

Conclusion


This sturdy rolling duffel bag is one of our favorites. Unnecessary frills are trimmed away to leave you only what you need, a suitcase to help you get your things from one place to the next with just enough organizational support. The North Face Rolling Thunder will hold your things without hiding them from you like packs with too many pockets tend to do.

This is the bag that we'd recommend to our friends that take their...
This is the bag that we'd recommend to our friends that take their gear everywhere.
Photo: Clark Tate

Clark Tate