Published on July 3rd, 2009 | by Greg0
Truly Outdoors: Bags for Every (Outdoors) Occasion
Back to our feature already in progress, we'll be reviewing a wide array of interesting outdoor items throughout July for a section we call Truly Outdoors. On the 1st, we had our first in the series. Today, we turn to three different bags from three companies- North Face, Patagonia, and Mountainsmith.
The North Face Base Camp Duffel comes in four sizes and six colors, but our test model is a large in yellow- not the most attractive bag, but one that certainly stands out and is hard to lose. Like most North Face items that we've tried, the bag is incredibly durable- our tests on these bags were pretty serious, trying to stress out the weight limits and damage zippers, and the Base Camp came through slightly scuffed but pretty much OK. The straps didn't fray, the zippers held tight, and the bag itself seems made of some impervious material (OK, it's thick PVC, perhaps not the most eco-friendly).
The bag is fairly light- at four pounds, the lightest of the bags we're looking at today. It also features the sturdiest handles and overall construction, but keeps the feature set minimal with fairly basic handles on both sides as well as the top, an ID pocket, and compression straps to help reduce the size of the bag once full. At 90 L of carrying capacity, it matches the Mountainsmith, and can capably handle a week's worth of clothing or a large load of camping gear. At $125, it's also the cheapest of the three. Basic is good for duffel bags, and the Base Camp is a great choice (or set of choices). Now if only the handles would've been a little more adjustable and comfortable, it'd be darn near perfect.
If it's comfort you want, how about wheels? Or comfy backpack straps? Better yet… how about both? It sounds unlikely, but Patagonia has managed to fit it all into their MLC Wheelie. The MLC stands for Maximum Legal Carry-on, allowing the bag to be carried on with even the strictest airline requirements. It's offered in four colors, and ours was a pleasant reddish-orange. It does weigh 7 pounds, making it the heaviest of our bags, and holds about 40 L, the least. But the MLC Wheelie was the hands-down favorite for testers unconcerned with weight or space. A nice bonus: the polyester material is 100% recycled.
The handle pops up to a comfortable height, the wheels are quite solid, and there's still plenty of room for clever packers- a few days worth of clothing, plus a laptop (15-inches or smaller fit nicely into the padded compartment). Other compartments are also included- a smaller padded pocket for your iPod or phone, the usual passport pocket. And there are even little mud flaps that can cover the wheels when using the bag in backpack mode, or the straps can stowaway. The top handle, as is often the case, isn't much good for larger loads, the interior spacing is odd due to the nature of the bag, and it can tip over annoyingly easily. The Wheelie is solidly-built though, except for the pull-out handle being a bit finicky and unlikely to hold out on the heavier stresses- ours buckled a bit. At $200, it's a great, unique, if slightly flawed bag- attention-grabbing, easy-to-use, and fun.
The Mountainsmith Modular Hauler 3 System is fun too, for a different sort- the folks who like organization, who separate the foods on their plate. Three separate, differently-colored removable cube pouches allow easy packing of any sort- we put snacks in one, gadgets in another, and towels and clothing in the last, but that's just us. Quilted foam sides and a rubber bottom don't make the bag super-sturdy, but each pouch is also lined, and there is even an upper zippered compartment for a bit of extra space. Each bag has its own handles, as does the "mother" bag, both top and sides, though no shoulder strap was included.
The MMH3 is quite large too- about 90L- and weighs a bit under 7 pounds. The sectional nature is great from some tasks and less suited for others, and removing them leaves you with a less-than-excellent main bag. One oddity was the zippers- the worst/weakest of the bags we tried, though none broke in our testing. Compression straps are a nice touch, and the bag is nice-looking in grey and black. It won't catch many eyes, but that's not the point. In fact, it might be nice to even have a little more compartmentalization, to further differentiate the bag from others- make one pouch super-insulated to serve as a cooler, another with small sections for gadgets, etc. Overall, the Mountainsmith Modular Hauler is a good way to never unpack, and at around $130, you kind of get four bags in one.