Patagonia Black Hole MLC Review
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Patagonia Black Hole MLC
|Price||$239.00 at Backcountry|
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$149.00 at REI
|$160 List||$159.00 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Versatile, duffel-like ease of use, simplistic features, max volume carry, upgraded harness system for comfort||Tapered for easy loading, comfortable harness system, adventure friendly, very light||Versatile, sleek, camera box, vented wet shoe compartment||Big and lightweight, a duffel that can be carried as a backpack, weatherproof, super durable||Distributes weight nicely, good structure, attachment clips, daisy chain, sturdy handles, comfortable harness system, plentiful organization|
|Cons||Soft body sags when not stuffed, no exterior easy-access pockets||Does not sit upright, laptop sleeve unpadded||No waist belt or sternum strap, no water bottle holder, back panel not very breathable, tall||Uncomfortable unless full, must pack with intention||Not great for bulky items, cumbersome security loops|
|Bottom Line||A well-thought-out, user-friendly, and versatile clamshell pack with high-level stuffability and a newly updated harness system for more comfort||With its tapered shape and backpacking pack structure, this is the perfect bag for the outdoor adventurist that doesn't want to spend an arm and leg||With its convertible camera cube, ventilated shoe compartment, and padded device sleeve, this pack was made for the outdoor photographer on the go||A duffel-style backpack with an unmatched weight to volume ratio for longer vacations or expeditions||A stylish and slim 40-liter three-way travel backpack with stellar organization and a comfortable harness system, perfect for a weekend getaway|
|Rating Categories||Patagonia Black Hol...||REI Co-op Ruckpack 40||Mammut Seon Cargo 35L||Patagonia Black Hol...||Topo Designs Global...|
|Packing and Accessibility (25%)|
|Volume to Weight Ratio (15%)|
|Specs||Patagonia Black Hol...||REI Co-op Ruckpack 40||Mammut Seon Cargo 35L||Patagonia Black Hol...||Topo Designs Global...|
|Volume of Main Compartment||45L||40L||35L||55L||40L|
|Measured Weight||3.35 lbs||2.10 lbs||2.10 lbs||2.57 lbs||3.65 lbs|
|Volume to Weight Ratio (bigger is better)||13.43||19.05||16.67||21.4||10.96|
|Dimensions||22.8" x 8.6" x 14.5"||24" x 13" x 10"||24" x 14" x 9"||26.7" x 15.7" x 11.8"||22.5" x 14" x 7.5"|
|Carry-on Size Compatible? (22" x 14" x 9")||Yes, if squished||No||Yes||Yes, if squished||Yes|
|Stuffed Dimensions||22" x 14" x 10"||22" x 9" x 14"||24" x 14" x 9"||27" x 16" x 12.5"||22.5" x 14" x 7.9"|
|Fabrics||Polyester ripstop with TPU laminate||Recycled nylon ripstop and recycled polyester lining (bluesign approved)||600D waterproof polyester, 840D ballistic nylon||900D recycled polyester, 200D recycled polyester||1000D recycled nylon, 400D recycled nylon, 210D recycled nylon, 1680D recycled ballistic nylon|
|Frame Type||Foam backpanel||Ventilated mesh||Foam padding||None||Foam with nylon padded backpanel|
|Access Type||Clamshell design||Top loading||Panel loading||Clamshell||U-Zip|
|Number of Pockets||5 zip, 8 no zip||6 zip, 7 no zip, 2 water bottle||3 small zippered, 1 ventilated, 1 camera comparment, 1 main||Internal/external zippered side pocket, interior mesh lid,||External: 2 large zippered security, 2 water bottle
Internal: 1 laptop, mesh organization
|Waist Belt Type||Padded||Padded||None||None||Removable|
|Different Sizes Available?||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Volume Options||26L, 45L||18L, 28L, 40L, 65L||35L||40L, 55L, 70L, 100L||30L, 40L|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Black Hole MLC is available in two sizes, a mini 26-liter version and the 45-liter version we tested. This clamshell-opening, briefcase-style travel backpack has a unique convertible hip belt-shoulder strap, offering many different carrying options. It is 22.8 x 8.6 x 14.5 inches, unstuffed, but the internal zippers on both sides of the clamshell opening allow for prime stuffability. It also rocks Patagonia's fully recycled, TPU laminated Black Hole fabric.
While previous iterations of the Black Hole MLC have suffered in our comfort metric due to lack of structure and a hip belt, that is not the case for the most recently updated version. Patagonia listened to users' complaints and made the appropriate alterations.
Until recently, the MLC lacked a hip belt, but now the shoulder strap doubles as one, completing the harness system when wearing it as a backpack. The back panel is also slightly more firm, and the zipper opening is now on the same side as the backpack straps providing a bit more structure. The shoulder straps are firm, hold their shape, and are breathable, which makes them perfect for rushing through the airport or walking around for longer distances.
While the bag itself is less floppy than previous models, it is still soft, so if you pack it properly, it remains very comfortable. The laptop sleeve is sufficiently padded and strategically placed on the back panel of the bag, closest to the carrier's back. Placing your dense, heavy laptop close to your center of gravity helps to avoid any extra torquing on your shoulders. If traveling with a laptop, large sketchbook, tablet, or any other thin flat, firm item, placing it in this designated sleeve lends support and structure to the bag, which in turn makes wearing it that much more comfortable.
In addition to the backpack style carry, the MLC offers the option to wear the pack over one shoulder, messenger bag-style. Simply remove the hip belt and attach it to two Duraflex clips that tuck away neatly when not in use. The backpack straps also tuck away easily, but getting the hip/shoulder strap out of the hip belt position can be difficult when the bag is already stuffed to the gills. If packed with heavy items, this style of carrying can be awkward and cumbersome as it is large for one shoulder. Most of our testers opted to carry the pack on their backs rather than over their shoulder, but we appreciate the option for both.
The MLC is a simple-featured bag designed for casual business travelers, adventurous weekend warriors, and even car campers. There is nothing crazy unique about this pack except that its execution is clearly very intentional. Not one strap falls out of place, every unused clip can be tucked away neatly, and every pocket has a purpose.
If you want to switch from a backpack to a shoulder bag or need to protect your straps from pesky conveyor belts, simply unclip your shoulder strap and slide them into the back panel compartment. The stowable harness system is extremely efficient and easy to use, which is greatly appreciated considering this bag stretched the limits of some airlines' carry-on bag dimensions. The bottom buckles are tucked into a "garage" and remain out of the way and immune to conveyor belt abuse. Voila, you have a sleek and smooth soft suitcase in your hand.
Not only can you carry this pack on your pack, shoulder, or briefcase style with the top handle, it was also designed to be secured to the handle of a rolling suitcase. There is a pocket on the bag's back panel that will slide perfectly over the handle of your rolling suitcase. Our testers are such Patagonia Black Hole luggage enthusiasts that we actually own several of the wheeled duffels — and it's an impeccable match.
A few more features we like are lockable zippers, daisy chains, and multiple handles. All the outside zippers are lockable, and there are no fast-grab pockets, so everything feels very safe. The laptop sleeve is on the back panel but can only be accessed from inside the bag. The daisy chain is a simple yet useful addition. Since the bag does not have a designated spot for a water bottle, we attached it to the chain with a carabiner. Lastly, multiple handles make it easy to maneuver, even when all the straps are tucked away.
Packing and Accessibility
The Black Hole MLC opens up like a clamshell or a traditional suitcase, allowing for easy access to anything in the main compartment as long as you have the space to lay it flat. There are three total pockets in the main compartment to help keep clothes, shoes, and toiletries nicely organized.
The main compartment is made up of one large area enclosed with a zippered mesh divider for clothing and two smaller pockets on the other side for additional organization. This larger area is where the bulk of your packing happens and does not offer compression straps, so we recommend using packing cubes (sold separately) if you are planning a longer trip. The other side is much shallower, with two pockets, one mesh, and one opaque. We liked keeping our socks and undergarments in these pockets.
The other half of the clamshell offers even more small compartments for items like headphones or snacks, which you might need on the go. The laptop sleeve inside the back panel opens horizontally, making removing your devices easy at airport screening. The simple rectangular shape of this bag makes it easy to manage through the airport, stuff into the overhead bin on the airplane, and chuck in the trunk of a vehicle. Overall, this is a very user-friendly suitcase-style backpack.
We really appreciate the use of lighter colors on the interior and mesh dividers. Since some of the compartments are larger, the light-colored mesh offers almost full visibility into each compartment. This way, even if you aren't using packing cubes, you can find what you need quickly and efficiently. However, due to the soft nature of this pack, everything sags to the bottom if it is not stuffed to the brim. This could be easily prevented with the addition of a few compression straps inside the main compartment. That said, you can easily combat the sag with a few handy packing cubes.
Volume to Weight Ratio
The MLC has a carrying capacity of 45 liters and weighs under four pounds. While this is not the lightest bag in our review, we are still impressed with this weight-to-capacity ratio. Generally speaking, the more durable a material is, the more it weighs, so durable yet light material is tough to find and/or quite pricey. The Black Hole fabric is super tough for the weight and lasts through a tremendous amount of abuse. We know this material from Patagonia's line of duffel bags — we have long favored the Black Hole duffels for their rugged weatherproofing and long-term durability. These bags are worth the investment.
MLC stands for Maximum Legal Carry-On, which we think is a bit misleading. The softer structure of this bag allows for it to be stuffed very full, making it quite large and potentially uneven. The bulging may hinder your ability to fit it into the measurement bin at the airport and therefore cause issues if overhead bin space is limited. Again, packing cubes can help you avoid being asked to check your bag, but be sure to whip out the measuring tape and know your airline's carry-on size restrictions if you want to be properly prepared.
The MLC exterior is made of 300D 100% postconsumer recycled polyester ripstop with a postindustrial recycled TPU-film laminate and showed no signs of wear even when placed on the ground and tossed into overhead bins. The interior is made of 200D 100% recycled polyester with a PU coating. Patagonia's Ironclad Guarantee also helps instill confidence in this department.
While we don't anticipate having to take advantage of that guarantee — at least not for a long time — we truly appreciate having it. The Black Hole MLC is a rugged, durable, and thoughtfully constructed travel backpack. The YKK zippers and Black Hole fabric with the TPU-film laminate offer durability like no other. The zippers are smooth and glide easily, vulnerable straps tuck away neatly, and the weatherproof material has proven itself able to endure the harshest of treatment.
Should You Buy the Patagonia Black Hole MLC?
We all know that Patagonia products are often on the pricier side of the spectrum, so it's no surprise that the MLC is one of the more expensive packs in our test suite. That said, when you purchase Patagonia products, you receive durable gear and support an ethical company. The Black Hole TPU laminate material used in this backpack is Bluesign approved to ensure that products are safe for the environment, workers, and customers. Looking at the bigger picture, we feel the price of this pack is worth it in more ways than one.
What Other Travel Backpacks Should You Consider?
The Patagonia Black Hole MLC continues to be a standout performer in our review. However, if you are looking for a less expensive but still high-performing option, the REI Co-op Ruckpack 40 is a great alternative. It is designed a little more for those traveling with gear and takes on the shape and style of a backpacking pack. If you are looking for something more photography-oriented, there is no better option than the Peak Design Travel 45, though it too is expensive. The suitcase-style Cotopaxi Allpa 35L is a little cheaper than the MLC, but the performance is far from comparable.
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