After moving to a new base, and finding that the locker rooms were under renovations, I found myself in need of a new gym bag. I wanted a bag that would be big enough to hold a set of workout clothes and a full duty uniform, plus boots. Additionally if the bag could function as a gear hauler while traveling for work and fun that would be a great bonus.
After copious amounts of research I landed on the The North Face Base Camp Duffel, settling on the ‘Small’ size, which at 50L is not tiny. The Base Camp series ranges from 31L (Extra Small) to 150L (XXL), so all kinds of uses can be accommodated in one of these offerings.
Quality & Comfort
The Base Camp Duffel has become legendary for its durability, mostly as a result of the materials chosen to construct this tank. 1000D Phthalate-Free TPE Fabric Laminate, 840D Jr. Ballistic Nylon was selected for the majority of the Duffel’s body. Not only does this material provide the bag with some light water resistance but I feel good in the knowledge that it’s mostly comprised of recycled PVC and ballistic nylon. The bottom of the bag has the same nylon but double walled to increase protection from being dragged on less-than-smooth surfaces. All of this is tied together with extra bar-tacks and double stitching giving the Base Camp Duffel a very robust feel and heft.
Few things are harder on bags than a trip through an airport’s checked baggage section. Previously my go-to duffel for travel was a huge 80 Litre Eddie Bauer and while that bag worked great, after my first international flight I could already see fraying in the reinforced bottom fabric, which did not inspire confidence. After a few more trips I could see holes coming in the sides and bottom of said bag. Personally, I’m not someone to baby my gear but I was surprised to see this bag disintegrating in front of my very eyes. .
I’m happy to report that the Base Camp Duffel has held up exceptionally well to 18 plus international flights with only a few minor signs of wear worth mentioning. All of the stitching on this bag is top notch, I’m seeing no real frays in the fabric. With all of the use the grab handles get, I’m pretty impressed. Unlike on my old bag the bottom of this TNF Duffel is double reinforced with a nylon shell to improve overall durability. I could kick this bag all the way to the front of the check-in counter at my airport and see no major wear marks.
The exterior of the Base Camp Duffel is packed with thoughtful touches that fit a “High Speed Low Drag” mentality. The North Face has included adjustable, alpine-cut shoulder straps that turn this traditional duffel into more of a backpack hybrid, though they can be removed. Personally I’m not a big fan of this feature as most duffel bags to include this one are not very comfortable in “Backpack Mode.” With that being said, when the bag is packed with stuff, the duffel is of cylindrical shape, which sits very well on the back. I opted to take one of the straps and attach it from one side of the bag to the other, creating a single shoulder strap. I found this to work best for my needs.
Along the exterior of the bag, TNF have sewn a row of daisy-chained nylon loops for attaching additional gear to the bag like carabiners, gloves and even rope. There are also four small compression straps along the exterior of the bag to tighten the contents together for more comfortable travel. Finally there are two padded side handles that serve as both duffel-carry and haul handles.
Organization & Access
To me, duffel bags are really good for one thing: holding lots and lots of gear. Not only does the Base Camp Duffel succeed in this department, but The North Face has thrown in a few additional organization options along the bag. The main compartment is a D-shaped zip opening with a weather-resistant, zippered flap allowing for easy access to the inside of the pack.
The main compartment has a zippered mesh pocket and an end-cap mesh sleeve pocket for more organization. I found these to be good spots for documents, smaller items or the included backpack straps when not in use. On the exterior of the bag there is a small water-resistant ID window on top, and that’s about it. The Base Camp duffel, like most, is pretty slim on organization. The benefit of this simplicity is that, when not in use, the duffel can be stowed away in an included mesh compression sack, to keep its overall footprint down.
- Build Quality is second to none, this is a bag that you will be able to use for years without worrying about it falling apart.
- Well designed with lots of extra small quality of life features not seen on other duffels across the market
- Offered in multiple sizes, to date North Face has six sizes of this bag so you can always find the size that fits your needs.
- Price: compared to other duffel bags on the market, the Base Camp line is expensive..
- Weight, all that durability comes with a cost and in pounds, 4.1 to be exact!
- When in backpack mode there’s no way to easily access gear inside the bag.
Six months, 18 international flights and countless gym sessions later, I’m happy to report that this duffle lives up to the hype and is worth every hard earned penny I paid to get one.
There is a reason why, since 1986, the Base Camp Duffel has been chosen for the most rigorous outdoor expeditions known to man. Its build quality is second to none, and it packs in enough extra features to allow for a variety of uses. Regardless of whether I’m going to the gym or prepping for a mission, the Base Camp Duffel will be able to accommodate whatever I ask of it.
Disclaimer: The Base Camp Duffel was purchased privately and subsequently used for this review. This review was not shared with The North Face prior to publication. Our reviews are impartial and never modified to keep a brand happy.