North Face Base Camp DuffelA seriously strong and roomy duffel that you can stuff a lot into with ease. You can carry it on your shoulder, in your hands, or as a backpack. View Latest Deal
The North Face Base Camp duffel is one of the many newer style duffels that also doubles as a backpack. This gives you the room of a big and stuffable duffel with the convenience that comes with carrying a backpack.
Add to this North Face’s always top-notch quality and materials and you have one heck of a successful duffel.
It’s not all sunshine and lollipops though, there are some downsides, and in this review, I will show you exactly what I think of this duffel after months of testing.
The following is an overall rating of this pack in all the categories that matter for a duffel and backpack, which helps give you a quick idea of how good this bag is (or isn’t).
Below are more details on each section, which can help you make the decision whether to buy or look elsewhere.
Duffels are all about one massive area to stuff your stuff into. And the North Face Base Camp certainly does its job with this.
When you open the lid you will see one huge cavity to throw everything but the kitchen sink into. And, with the insanely strong materials they use, you won’t be afraid of what you throw in there either.
I don’t expect a huge amount of organization in a duffel, but North Face has given you a few things to help.
First, there is the lid mesh zipper panel, which can hold all the small items you don’t want to get lost in the huge cavity of the duffel. It’s flexible enough to allow you to stuff some thicker things in there, like underwear, socks, or electronics if you like. It’s kind of like the lid zippered compartments you get on softshell suitcases if you are used to that. Only the mesh is more breathable, with more little holes in it.
On the larger versions of this bag, you can even fit a laptop or tablet in this pocket because it is the full length of the lid (which is itself about 90% the length of the bag).
On the small version of the Base Camp, the one I picture here, there is only room for a small zippered side pocket, which is great for things like your keys and other valuables. It is well protected by the material of the duffel, so you could also throw a phone or similar things in there too.
If you go for the medium or large, they give you an end pocket which is a whole lot bigger and easier to access, but on the small kinda made no sense.
This is large enough to fit quite a few things in such as shoes, wet or dirty clothes, etc. Depending on what you are doing with this bag (travel, gym, general use) you can make some good use of this for sure.
Let me be a little honest here, you won’t be buying a duffel, even this one, for its comfy back support or shoulder straps.
The Base Camp is designed to be both a duffel and a backpack, and it does this job well. But it is not designed to hike with or haul large loads for hours. If this is what you want it for, then try something like an Osprey Aether or other hiking back that has a super comfy hip belt and shoulder straps.
But, having said that, this bag is not meant to be comfortable, so I can hardly punish them for designing a duffel that is not soft and cuddly, can I?
If we look at it in terms of what they do provide, it’s actually pretty versatile. And for me, that overrides comfort in this case because of what it’s designed to do.
The huge bonus on this duffel bag is the (easily) detachable shoulder straps. You can’t put them on in under a minute, but it didn’t take me long. When shooting the photos for this review, I had to do it a few times and it’s pretty easy. However, in most cases, you are either going to use them all the time or not at all.
They attach on some simple strap loops on the top and bottom (when you have it tipped on its end for “backpack mode”. And the bag then sits against your back with the bottom sticking out to the back.
There is no cushion or other helper on this pack, they are simply lightly padded shoulder straps. But, they do the job.
The Base Camp comes with lots of grabs handles all over the bag. So, you can easily grab, pull, throw this bag around to your heart’s content.
The handles are also made of very strong nylon weave that is often folded to give it even more strength. Again, these handles are not the “hand caressing” comfy handles of your dreams, but they are super strong and handy. They also stick out a bit from the side of the bag, so are super-easy to grab.
There is one on each side and end (4 in total).
If you want to throw the bag over your shoulder, you have to use the shoulder straps as handles, which is not ideal but doable. I would always go with backpack mode personally, or if you need to move it from one spot in the gym changing room to another, use the grab handles.
You could see this lack of top handles as a weakness, but that is how the bag is designed – a duffel/backpack hybrid. So, I don’t.
Depending on what you are throwing into the duffel, it might not always be full. If this is the case, North Face has added four handy compression straps on the sides of the bag. They allow you to easily cinch down the bag if you don’t want things moving around.
It’s a handy thing to have on a bag like this because when you put it in “backpack mode” on its end, things will move around (a lot).
There are also a few daisy chain style loops just above those straps on the side which can be handy for throwing a carabiner on and then attaching stuff like your favorite drink bottle.
North Face has really used some heavy-duty materials in this bag, as you can see from the above closeup. The handles are double-folded woven nylon that is also stitched for extra strength. I challenge you to actually take this bag for a ride – towing it behind your car. I honestly think the handles would hold up with a heavy load and the outside material too. At least for a long time.
It’s 1000D phthalate-free TPE fabric laminate, which is not only insanely strong and wear-resistant, it’s also got the environment in mind too.
Of course, such heavy-duty materials have their downside. The bag is not light like hiking back would be (say the Osprey Hikelite). But then again, I don’t think the Osprey could be thrown around like this, and dragged on rough surfaces, without sustaining any serious damage.
The other parts of the bag are also super-durable & high quality. The zippers are strong and have well-thought-out pulls on them, that are double tied to the zipper to keep them on and make opening the bag, and the pockets, super easy.
The straps are also made of high-quality nylon. The kind you see on many a webbing. And you will know from experience is strong and almost never frays or breaks.
This bag is built to take it. And then some! (This bag is actually used by my wife to go to the gym, and there is so far not even a mark on it!).
This bag is a little more expensive than its counterparts like the Osprey Transporter, but it’s a slightly different beast in my opinion.
The Osprey, and others like it including the Marmot, are more of a travel bag and not nearly as robust. They often don’t have the flexibility of the removable straps either, or they have a tuck-away system that is nice to have, but ultimately too complex for most people.
This bag is value for money if you are looking for a super-durable, large, and easy-to-use duffel that you can take anywhere and use for anything. I don’t think you would need to replace it..perhaps for decades. And judging by other packs I have that are far less durable, and the little wear this has sustained in a number of months, that is definitely the case.
It’s still a decent price for the great quality that you get and for the right person, it is probably even a bargain.
If you want a super-durable but very simple duffel that will last you for decades, this bag will not disappoint.
I was actually surprised that my wife wanted it for her gym trips. But she loved the look, the durability, and most of all the convertibility to a backpack. All the students at her university were using them, which is where she got the bug to buy one!
Is this bag perfect for everyone?
No. If you are going long distances with loads, then this is not something you want on your back. There are only basic shoulder straps and no hip belt, and nothing comfy on your back. Just the top flap of the pack. If this is the case, you might want to consider a wheeled duffel.
But if you want a huge bag (whichever size you get is big, she has the XS and it’s still bordering on too big for only her gym gear) that you can do anything with, and rely on it forever, then this bag rocks!
If instead, you want something more stylish – the Hershel Novel Duffel is another great option.