It’s not often that we review a brand that markets to the canine demographic, but for co-founders Raj Rihal and Gio Guidetti, the human and the dog are an inseparable duo. According to Rihal, “…we noticed the only times we weren’t behind the screen, was when we took our dogs out. Pups forced us to stop working, put down the phone and get back out into the world. We would be doing weekend hikes, climbing trips, daily walks and of course, as designers, were constantly searching out and testing new gear. I was also consistently reading articles and books about dogs and how we co-evolved. Some believe it was our relationship with dogs that helped humans surpass the Neanderthal. To this day, as we grow and change, dogs follow us on the journey. It’s an intimate love story, and DUO is an homage to this everlasting relationship.”
We were given the chance to test DUO’s flagship bag, the Hoplite with the optional Multipurpose Compression panel (MPC). They were also nice enough to throw in the Eclipse Adventure Dog Harness, but since this is primarily a bag review site, I will only touch on that very briefly for those interested.
Of note, everything I received was manufactured in the USA, and although this is not true of every product made by DUO, it is their eventual goal to produce their entire line domestically.
2.36 lbs (with MPC)
1.07 kg (with MPC)
|Capacity||680 cu. in.||11.1 L|
|Primary Materials||500D Cordura, Hypalon, ITW Hardware|
Quality and Comfort
The first thing that hits you with the Hoplite when you take it out of the box is that it’s really solid. For a 10L bag, it has a great heft to it that seems to hint that it can take a beating. The beefy #10 YKK zippers and reinforced everything back this up and after a few weekends in the desert with this bag I can confidently say it’ll live up to the lifetime warranty. The bag is small, but everything attached to it feels big and ready to take on the outdoors. I never had problems operating the buckles, zips, or the Hypalon tag in the internal compartment even while wearing thick gloves.
Normally, my hiking pack is anywhere from 15-30L depending on the conditions so a smaller bag was both a conundrum for my packing list and a blessing on my back. Even loaded down with water, dog treats, and a small FAK, it’s hard to get a 10L pack to tip the scales at anything that would require heavy-duty suspension, but the DUO team seemed determined to over-engineer all the contact points to keep you as comfortable as possible. This comes at a bit of a trade-off since the layers 3D-spacer mesh can only go so far to prevent SBS (sweaty back syndrome) but the back’s small footprint (back-print?) means that I never really felt stifled by the heat.
The base Hoplite (without the MPC beavertail) trends towards a slick, minimalist look with an asymmetric zipper on the back and subdued (but present) branding. I could definitely see this as a great commuter bag on it’s own for a smaller person and it’s about as work-appropriate as a hiking bag can get as far as aesthetics go. If you’re in the market for a bit more versatility at the price of some tactical-looking PALS webbing, the MPC pushes the looks of the bag more towards the outdoors or the range, but still not out of the ordinary for what you might see on public transit these days.
If you’re looking for a small pack that can easily transition from urban to wilderness, this might be a good one to consider, especially if the “Made in the USA” tags help you look past the $200 price point.
Like many clamshell bags, this one is basically just one big compartment, but with a mesh divider giving you a small part in front of the bag that can be accessed from the outside via a full-length zipper or inside with a clever little Hypalon-velcro pull tab that I’ve really learned to love over the past few weeks. The designers intend the two different compartments to separate the “dog-side” from the “human-side” of the bag, but in practice I found the smaller compartment usually turned into the phone/wallet/keys dump which was fine, but not exactly optimal. I would have loved to see either a bit more organization/compartmentalization, or a separate compartment for these EDC items.
I’m rarely a fan of tons of MOLLE and the hoplite does a great job of keeping it subtle yet functional with a full internal back panel as well as three rows on both lower sides of the bag to add little dedicated carry pockets (either available for separate purchase or bring your own). If you add on the MPC panel you get a whole new level of expandability with PALS webbing on the back and compression / beavertail functionality. Although I’ve never been a fan on add-on tails like this, I actually found myself using this one quite a lot, though whether it was just to compensate for the smaller volume of my hiking pack I’m not sure. Either way, it was easy to set up, very sturdy, and didn’t interfere with normal use of the pack thanks to an easy-to-use buckling system.
In addition to adding space to the pack, the MPC can be used as a dog-rescue system for pups up to about 45lbs (20kgs) by reattaching the tail at the front and using it almost as a kangaroo pouch for your dog. Co-founder Raj has had personal experience having to haul one of his dogs off the trail after it suffered from hypothermia. He said that the ability to have the dog in front of your body to both warm and calm the animal was key and that this had the added benefit of not having to move your pack to the front of your body and perform strange acrobatics to convince your dog to climb into your back harness. With a quick photo tutorial, I was able to setup the harness system and both my 25lb (11kg) and 40lb (19kg) dogs were surprisingly willing to be “rescued” in the MPC and were carried comfortably for 500 meters on rough terrain thanks to the webbing that moves most of the weight of your pup to your hips.
Overall, I was a pretty big fan or the pack’s layout and going with a bit smaller volume was a nice exercise in mindful packing. My only major gripes were twofold: first of all, it seems like this pack holds less than other 10L packs I’ve used. I’m pretty sure that’s from the relatively shallow depth which I realize is also a major reason it’s so comfortable – a definite trade-off that I understand the decisions behind, but I’m not sure it works for my needs, especially when space is so scarce to begin with. Second, to convert the MPC from the beavertail to the “rescue” configuration, you need to move around a bunch of straps and buckles. I think an easy way to fix this would be to make all the buckles on the beavertail “male” and all the buckles on the bag “female”, thus eliminating this small, but frustrating issue.
- Solid construction. This bag feels like it will be virtually bombproof.
- Very comfortable as a lighter pack without the need for hip belt.
- Slick looks and a bit of MOLLE without looking overly tactical.
- My dogs seemed surprisingly okay with being rescued.
- Internal Velcro pocket has a neat little nubbin’ of Hypalon that makes opening the partition a breeze..
- Top sides of straps are sewn with the seam out which looks unfinished for a $200 bag.
- Buckles for MPC need to be reversed when converting between beavertail and “rescue” configuration. Making all the ends either male or female as opposed to alternating would solve this problem.
- This bag feels like it holds less than other 10L packs I have. The MPC partially solves this with added expandability.
- Would be nice to have an integrated stash pocket for phone, keys, poop bags, etc. As it stands, these have to be added on the side PALS webbing or internally.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with this bag. It’s construction is excellent and I think it serves its purpose very well for a smaller day-pack with or without your dog. Personally I find I need a bit more space when I’m going on a longer hike with two dogs, but I can see where this might fit someone’s niche perfectly. Of note, the MPC dog rescue system is only designed for dogs up to about 50 lbs, but DUO has said they have something in the works for larger pups.
The $200 bag market is quite a competitive one and at $235 for the bag + MPC there might be some other options within that price range that work better for you such as Hill People Gear Tarahumara, LBT 8005A, or Evergoods MQD24 to name a few, but the Duo Hoplite is absolutely worth your consideration if you’ve previously looked at things like the Recycled Firefighter line, or the GORUCK Bullet.
All things considered, I’m not sure if this pack will stay in my quiver or not. I definitely enjoyed having a “dog only” pack stashed in my car for last minute adventures so I could definitely see it fulfilling the Raj and Gio’s vision of a “doggy GoBag”.
Epilogue: The Eclipse Harness
Although we are primarily a site dedicated to bags, I wanted to take a moment to discuss the Eclipse Harness sent over by DUO. Overall the construction follows the same high-quality standards set by the other products reviewed. The materials are top notch and there’s just enough padding without being over built. I was sent a size small which is meant for 10lbs-35lbs but honestly have trouble believing it would fit many dogs smaller than 20lbs depending on the breed. My 25lb collie-mix had a fair amount of wiggle room with the straps cinched almost all the way, although she is a bit barrel-chested so your mileage may vary depending on the breed.
Is this a high quality product? Definitely. Is it worth $75? I’m not sure. Personally, I prefer something lighter (and cheaper) for trail running like the Ruffwear Hi & Light or something more capable and expandable (although more expensive) for multi-day trips like the Ruffwear Palisades pack. Although, keep in mind, this is more of a bespoke product and made in the USA, which you won’t often find with the larger brands.
That being said, DUO offers a pretty good 30-day return policy which allows you to find the perfect size for your mutt and decide it works for you. If you have more questions, feel free to drop them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to get them answered.
Editor’s Note: Hoplite, MPC, and Eclipse were provided by DUO Technical Gear as samples for review purposes. The content of this review was not shared with DUO Technical Gear before publishing. Our reviews are unbiased and never modified to keep a brand happy.