What is the best haul bag for big wall climbing? While it would be hard to climb with all eight of these bags head-to-head, I did use them all over 110-plus big wall ascents from Yosemite to Norway. Each bag was evaluated on five variables: durability, capacity, waterproof-ness, ease of access, and suspension.
The Best Haul Bags for Big Wall Climbing
The Editors' Choice goes to the Metolius Half Dome. It is a great size, super burly, and has a great closure system. The only way to improve it would be to make it a little more short and wide. But otherwise, it is darn near perfect. We much prefer this size to the El Capitan, which we think is too big. If you feel you need a bigger bag, either pack lighter or try and use another small bag clipped underneath or to the side.
Read Review: Metolius Half Dome Haul Bag
This is not only one of our favorite haul bags; it's one of our favorite bags, period. It doubles as a big crag pack or a suitcase. It's like a North Face Base Camp Duffel that is harder to access but much more comfortable to carry. We have been using one for over a decade and there is almost no sign of wear. It's about as bomber as a bag gets. It's still small for most walls unless you are going for just a night and pack light. For an overhanging route. We would much rather bring two of these than one big bag. Two bags makes it much easier to access stuff and more comfortable on the way down.Three scenarios where this bag excels:
1) Pair with the Half Dome on most 3+ night walls.
2) On 1 or 2 night steep walls, or if traveling super light, we would recommend each partner bring one of these. Each person gets their bag and it's easy to access everything compared to using one of these and a Half Dome.
3) Travel SUPER light and take just one of these and have the second jug with a small pack full of the light n' fluffy stuff like sleeping bags. This is kinda annoying for the follower but is ideal for low angle routes like Half Dome where you want as few things to get hung up as possible.
Read Review: Metolius Quarter Dome Haul Bag
If you want to get all your stuff is one big bag, this is the one to get. We prefer using the Half Dome or the Half Dome plus a Quarter Dome. However, for some applications, like hauling a lot on low angle terrain, it can be advantageous to get everything in one bag. In those situations, the El Cap excels.
Read Review: Metolius El Cap Haul Bag
The Sentinel can be your best friend or be a bit of an awkward size. For most applications, we would much prefer the bigger Quarter Dome or Half Dome. They are not that much more expensive but much more useful sizes. That said, many people love the Sentinel as their UberBomber sidekick. It's an armor-plated backpack that can take about any abuse. That said, it's not nearly as comfortable as a daypack and has poor breathability (expect a soaked back).
Read Review: Metolius Sentinel
Read Review: Black Diamond Touchstone Haul Bag
Read Review: Black Diamond Zion Haul Bag
Like the Sentinel, the Stubby is either a super durable crag pack and big wall sidecar or a bag that is better replaced by a daypack. Daypacks are a lot more comfortable, breathable, and less expensive. The Stubby is durable and ideal for putting up first ascents and where you a bag that drills and tools won't poke holes in. It's also nice as a crag pack because it stands upright and gives you easy access. However, other crag packs do this better.
Read Review: Black Diamond Stubby
The Waste Case is one of the few off-the-shelf big wall waste solutions. It comes with everything you need and saves you from a DIY project that can hours to buy all the right materials. It's also bomber where a DIY poop tube can be super bomber, or break apart, depending on construction. Most DIY solutions also have a lid that can be easily dropped or require making a keeper sling to the lid that usually is only sorta secure or airtight. Scroll down this Big Wall Bivy, Food and Water article for instructions on building your own or just watch this How to Make a Poop Tube Video.
Read Review: Metolius Waste Case
It may seem suspicious to rate Metolius higher than Black Diamond across the board. While we LOVE many BD products, haul bags are just a category where Metolius does better. Metolius uses a more durable material and uses a closure system that is more weatherproof and easy to access. And the Metolius bags are priced about the same. We like and have used the BD bags, we just like the Metolius ones better.
Here is what to consider when buying a haul bag or haul pack for aid climbing, big wall climbing or just cragging.
There is no best size for every application — no one size fits all. So before you buy a bag think hard about how often you are REALLY going to use it and for what. Just going to do a wall or two? Mainly into fast and light ascents? Want a bag that also doubles as a crag pack? Once you know exactly what you are using your bag for it is more clear what to buy.There are roughly four sizes:
Haul packs: 1,500-3,000 cu inches
Small haul bags/haul packs: 3,000-5000 cu inches
Medium: 5,000-8,000 cu inches
Large: 8,000-10,000 cu inches
The size of the bag you want depends on both the type of route and how long you will be up there.
For The Nose I like to have one large option (8000 cu in + like the El Cap) so that everything fits in. On The Nose, where there are a lot of low angle pitches and lower-outs, you don't want multiple bags or a lot of stuff dangling from the bottom of the bags. The more stuff that dangles the more likely you will snag roofs, corners, or the haul line itself. Keep in mind there is a significant downside to big bags: taller that 32 inches and you have to dive to get stuff in the bottom. It becomes hard, especially at the top of the route, to find that last bottle of water. Also, look out for any bag that feels too narrow. In general,manufacturers make the bags too long and narrow, which makes it hard to access the bottom, especially at a hanging belay. Look for bags that feel wide relative to their height.
In contrast, on a route like Zodiac where many of the belays are hanging, it is nice to have two medium-sized bags (4000-5000 cu in) because it is easier to access what you need. You don't need to worry about the bags getting hung up because the wall is so overhanging.
Small haul bags (less than 4500 cu in like the Quarter Dome) are sometimes the most versatile size and sometimes unnecessary. They are excellent for overhanging routes if you can fit everything into one of these and one medium bag. They excel at fast and light walls like the Regular Route of Half Dome (that is if you can get everything to fit inside). I used a small bag on a one-night ascent of the Salathé Wall on El Capitan but I packed exceptionally light, brought tiny sleeping bags, and climbed it in August. A small haul bag is the least essential bag for big walls but it is the most useful for non-big wall activities. They have great crag packs because they fit in a ton of stuff and are free-standing. We use the Quarter DOme to deliver all SuperTopo books to the post office.
There are two main types of material: vinyl coated nylon and urethane (Metolius calls their urethane Durethane). In general, we prefer urethane/Durethane. It's the stuff river rafts are made of and is the burliest. Yes, you can put holes in it if you don't pack your bag right and haul low-angle slabs…but you have to work at it. Urethane also doesn't seem to break down as much over time whereas vinyl seems to get more crackly and susceptible to wear. Vinyl is less expensive and also lighter. If you are doing a very steep route, vinyl is no big deal. If you are doing a low angle route, you need to take more care to pad the inside your bag with a foam sleeping pad and made sure there are no sharp objects. We prefer urethane but have used plenty of vinyl bags and never busted one open mid-wall. If you climb less than five big walls, the durability doesn't even come into play.
When it comes to closure systems there is a trade-off: the more watertight the closure system, the more material you have to manage and therefore the less convenient it is to access the bag. The most waterproof seal is a "river bag" style closure, which means a big skirt you have to roll and unroll every time you want to access the bag. Since I didn't experience my first big wall storm until big wall ascent number 103, I feel the trade-off between having a less waterproof and more convenient opening system can at times be worth it. Also, the truth is that no closure system is truly waterproof if you are in a serious wet storm with runoff. Plus, even bags with river bag closures need to be pretty full and closed just right to keep a puddle from forming. Even then, water can still get through. So if you are serious about keeping everything dry, everything needs to go in a true dry bag inside your haul bag. At the very least, you want a river bag for your sleeping bag and synthetic layers.
One nice benefit of a closure with a big skirt is that it makes a great improvised bivy bag on the summit. I have probably spent 30 nights on the top of El Cap with my legs in a haul bag and every extra inch keeps you that much cozier.
Also, the closure system is either made if denier nylon or ballistic. Ballistic is the more bomber and waterproof.
Seams and stiching
All models have a big seam down the middle. There are two ways to deal with this: weld the seam or sew the seam. Welded seams are the most bomber. Of all the haul bag failures I have had, it was always a sew seam that blew out. That said, this was often after the bag had been up 15-plus walls and wasn't always cared for properly.
Mos suspension systems are pretty similar and tuck away when not in use. I have long debated which is the most comfortable, but they're are all equally uncomfortable when you have 80-plus pounds on your back.
Your bag should have a generous inside pocket so you can easily access sunscreen, a snack or two, and your headlamp. All bags we've seen have these pockets. Some also come with internal daisy chains. We appreciated this feature, but it's not mandatory.
— Chris McNamara