Patagonia Black Hole duffel bags are the stuff of legend: vaunted by seasoned outdoorsmen, recommended by us many times over for their practical bona fides, and beloved by this very writer for their dependability. For years I used a shiny Black Hole duffel as my go-to weekender bag in the urban wilds. And like a pair of leather boots, mine developed its own patina over time, with wear and tear only adding to its overall appeal. I’ve since moved on to other duffels, but you never forget your first Patagonia.
So, when the company announced a surprise upgrade to the Black Hole line late last year—an all-new look that strips the shiny laminate material of the original models for a matte, eco-friendly finish—I was eager to check out how the new launches held up against their hardy predecessors. Over a one-month testing period, I hauled a pair of them, one 40L and one 70L model, between New York to South Carolina (and back again) on a winter trek stymied by rain, sleet, and snow. Here’s how they stack up, spec for spec, against the originals.
Are the Specs Any Different?
First, let’s start with the good news. Everything you’ve admired about the original line is still present: The price point, the overall silhouette and features, the versatile straps that let you carry it by the attached handles or with your arms looped through them like a backpack—check, check, check.
Even when stuffed to the gills with gear, each bag feels just as comfortable to sling on your back. The straps distribute weight evenly for longer treks and easily slide on and off when you’re rushing through security. And I found that the attached handles were just the right height to prevent the bottom from dragging on the ground.
Patagonia’s original model trimmed all the fat so there was no extraneous bulk, and the same holds true for the thin polyester material here. There’s no wasted space or filler features, and if you want even more add-ons, you can still clip a carabiner onto the exterior daisy chains on either sides of the bag to turn this into a true carry-all. The zippers, handles, stitching, and hardware are still as good as ever, too.
Of course, the true test of a Patagonia product isn’t how it holds up over a four-week testing period. It’s how it lasts over the years, if not decades, especially for a brand that boasts a lifetime guarantee for these things. And as countless Black Hole customers can attest, these duffels are nigh invincible. I used mine to transport all of my extended family‘s holiday gifts home on a long road trip, and the bags didn’t let me down. Each one withstood rain and snow without wetting the goods within, and it was satisfying to watch beads of water roll right off the side without breaching the interior. I even submitted each duffel to a simulated downpour in my shower to get them as saturated as possible. A small amount of moisture did leak through to the inside, but since they aren’t meant to be fully waterproof, I can’t knock them for that. (For a true waterproof Patagonia bag, check out the brand’s Guidewater.)
The laminated polyester ripstop fabric is also as strong as ever, and unless you’re planning to rough them up out in the wilderness, I can’t imagine that rips and tears will be a regular problem. Even after being shoved into the back of a packed car, plus being attacked with a pair of scissors (for research purposes, of course), the bags came out largely unscathed—besides some wrinkling and a minor scratch. When Patagonia says “abrasion-resistant,” it means it.
One of my only lingering gripes is the lack of an over-the-shoulder strap. Look, I get it. Patagonia products are designed for trekking through the outdoors, not just sprinting through the terminal at LaGuardia, but an extra carrying strap never hurts. If you’re okay with a more motley look, you could always add your own, but I wish Patagonia had a quicker fix for this.