For the last 11 years, we've put 8 of the best haul bags to the test. For our review update, we purchased each model and hauled them on over 110 big wall climbs around the world. Led by our Founder and Editor-in-Chief Chris McNamara, who has climbed El Capitan over 70 times and holds nine big wall speed climbing records, these bags have made their home in Yosemite — the birthplace of modern climbing — and have traveled across the globe to places as far-reaching as the mountains of Norway and back. We analyzed each bag's storage capacity, carrying suspensions, materials, and construction quality to help you find the best model.If you're stoked on big wall climbing, you might also be interested in our big wall harness and ascender reviews, where we compile our favorite gear from our years of experience on the wall.
The 3 Best Haul Bags for Big Wall Climbing
Top 8 Product Ratings
Check Price at REI
Check Price at REI
$299.95 at Amazon
|Pros||Free-standing, easy to get in and out of, comfy to carry||Simple, light, easy to get in and out of, comfortable to carry||Comfortable shoulder straps, easy to get in and out of|
|Cons||No waterproof closure, hard to clip stuff underneath||Not waterproof, not as durable as other options||No waterproof closure, not as burly as other bags|
|Bottom Line||Compact and bomber, this bag comes in a variety of sizes and is a decent price||It's comfortable, simple, lightweight, comfortable, and comes at a decent price||While it isn't as burly as some, it offers average performance and is comfortable|
|Rating Categories||Black Diamond Stubby||Black Diamond Touch...||Black Diamond Zion...|
|Closure systems/Ease of Access (20%)|
|Carrying/Suspension System (20%)|
|Specs||Black Diamond Stubby||Black Diamond Touch...||Black Diamond Zion...|
|Volume (cu inches)||2136||4272||8848|
|Weight||3 lb 15 oz||5 lb 4 oz||9 lb 8 oz|
|Main container material||37 oz vinyl-laminated nylon||37 oz vinyl-laminated nylon||37 oz vinyl-laminated nylon|
|Closure material||840 Denier ripstop||840 Denier ripstop||840 Denier ripstop|
|Sewn or welded seam||Sewn||Sewn||Sewn|
The Metolius Half Dome is our favorite overall haul bag. 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 shorter and a bit wider. But otherwise, it is darn near perfect. We much prefer this size to the El Capitan, which we think is too big. If you need a bigger bag, either pack lighter or try and use another small bag clipped underneath or to the side.
Read more: Metolius Half Dome Haul Bag review
This is not only one of our favorite haul bags; it's one of our favorite bags, period. The Metolius Quarter Dome 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. That being said, it's going to be a little small for most walls unless you are going for just a night and pack light. For overhanging routes, we would much rather bring two of these than one big bag. Two bags makes it much easier to access stuff and is more comfortable on the way down.There are three scenarios where this bag excels:
- Paired with the Half Dome on most three or more night walls.
- On one or two night steep walls, or if traveling super light, we 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.
- If you're traveling SUPER light, you can 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 more: Metolius Quarter Dome Haul Bag review
If you need a monster bag and want to fit all your belongings in one place, the Metolius El Cap is the haul bag for you. We prefer using the Half Dome or the Half Dome plus a Quarter Dome. However, getting everything in one bag can be advantageous for some applications, like hauling a lot on low-angle terrain. In those situations, the El Cap excels.
Read more: Metolius El Cap Haul Bag review
The Metolius 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 more: Metolius Sentinel review
The Black Diamond Touchstone is a good value, but we prefer the similarly sized Metolius Quarter Dome or to spend a little more for the Half Dome. The carrying system is maybe a little comfier than the Metolius system. Maybe. We prefer just about everything else on the Metolius, especially the closure. BD uses the old-school cinch system that is fast if you only use the drawstring. However, if you want to use the "outer cinch webbing," which you should, then you have to weave webbing back and forth and try to get the sides to pull in symmetrically. It's less convenient and less weather resistant than the Metolius system. And the Metolius materials are more bomber.
Read more: Black Diamond Touchstone Haul Bag review
Black Diamond doesn't make a bag similar in size to the Half Dome (7600 cu in). They have the Touchstone (4272 cu in) and then jump all the way to the Zion (8500 cu in). This is unfortunate as that middle Half Dome size is our favorite. The Zion is a good size for long walls or where you need to haul on low-angle terrain and just want one bag. However, like the similarly sized Half Dome, it's difficult to access the items at the bottom. You either have to take everything out and clip it securely to a daisy or flip upside down and dive into the bottom. Some people think it's more comfortable to carry than the Half Dome, but we see it as a draw. The closure system is not our favorite, as the outer webbing closure takes some trial and error to get things to cinch symmetrically.
Read more: Black Diamond Zion Haul Bag review
Like the Sentinel, the Black Diamond 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, where you need a bag that won't get holes poked in it by your drills and tools. 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 more: Black Diamond Stubby review
The Metolius 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 doesn't always work that well. It's a totally bomber solution where a DIY poop can sometimes self-destruct if not built correctly. Most DIY solutions also have a lid that can be easily dropped and are not airtight.
Read more: Metolius Waste Case review
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.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review was spearheaded by Outdoor GearLab founder and Editor-in-Chief Chris McNamara, who has climbed El Capitan over 70 times and holds nine big wall speed climbing records. He has spent countless nights sleeping on big walls and living out of haul bags for days on end. Few people have the breadth of experience with this type of equipment as Chris does. The search for the best haul bag began by taking a closer look at what our testers were already using in their personal climbing pursuits. Between their recommendations and those of other big wall climbing experts, we narrowed our selection down to incorporate only the best and most trusted options.
Analysis and Test Results
A haul bag is a crucial item for any multi-day big wall adventure. Haul bags uniquely need to withstand the abuse of literally being dragged up the side of cliffs. Your average pack would be shredded after being hauled up one pitch, let alone 30. Despite having a fairly simple design, haul bags come in various nuanced shapes and sizes. We looked at the overall value of each bag, capacity, durability, closure systems, carrying and suspension systems, and waterproofness. Read on below for an in-depth explanation of each metric.
Haul bags are durable pieces of equipment that, except for perhaps the most ardent wall climbers, should last you quite a long time. That being said, haul bags do get absolutely shredded over the years, so making sure you purchase one that is durable and won’t break the bank is important. Over the years, we’ve found Metolius bags to provide the best values. Offering a great combination of size, functionality, and price, the various offering from Metolius are sold at a competitive price point.
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, we 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 that big bags have a significant downside: taller than 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, making 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 the 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). We used a small bag on a one-night ascent of the Salathé Wall on El Capitan, but we 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.
Durability is a function of the bag's material and the style of seams and stitching used. 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 we have had, a sewn seam always blew out. That said, this was often after the bag had been up 15-plus walls and wasn't always cared for properly.
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 of 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.
Closure Systems/Ease of Access
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 we didn't experience my first big wall storm until big wall ascent number 103, we 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. We 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 of denier nylon or ballistic. Ballistic is the more bomber and waterproof. Another factor affecting the ease of access is the inclusion of internal pockets. 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 appreciate this feature, but it's not mandatory.
Most suspension systems are pretty similar and tuck away when not in use. We have long debated which is the most comfortable, but they're all equally uncomfortable when you have 80 plus pounds on your back.
The waterproofness of a haul bag is directly related to the material it's made from and its closure system. As discussed above, the more waterproof a closure system is, the less convenient it will be. We again found Metolius bags made from more waterproof material and a better closure system.
After purchasing and testing the eight best haul bags on the market, we were able to discern which performed the best for everything from multi-day adventures to quick outings to the crag.
— Buck Yedor & Chris McNamara
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