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The North Face Base Camp Duffel Review

The North Face Base Camp Duffel
Editors' Choice Award
Price:   $145 List | $134.76 at Amazon
Compare prices at 5 resellers
Pros:  Easy to pack, comfortable shoulder straps, excellent pockets to help with organization, super durable, daisy chains and grab loops allow for easy lashing, six nicely spaced volume options, tons of color options
Cons:  Not super light
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   The North Face
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor
Tuesday

Our Verdict

The Base Camp Duffel wins our Editors' Choice award for the sixth straight year, the only product we've ever tested to get such a distinction. It routinely scored high marks in every category, especially durability and ease of packing. While it's in the middle of the review for weight, it's among the lightest duffels with backpack straps and a D-shaped opening. It has all the right little features like a small window for contact info, dual daisy chains, multiple grab points, compression straps and a zipper mesh pocket on the inside of the lid. The Base Camps come in six volumes, giving it a nice range of sizes to choose from, whether it's short overnight flights or multi-month trips to the mountains.

Update - Fall 2015
In fall of 2015, The North Face made some changes to their classic bag, adding features like a large access pocket at the end of the bag and updating some of the materials. Keep reading to find out more about these changes.

The Base Camp Duffel sets the bar to which every other duffel bag is compared. While it has been around forever, the Base Camp has undergone only minor revisions and is still at the top of the pack and in line with all the more expensive duffels we tested. It has nearly all the features you need and nothing you don't. Designed with expeditions in mind, the Base Camp duffels are extremely durable and easy to carry. The Base Camp easily lashes to a sled for glacier travel and straps to Jeeps, buses and even yaks. It has many carrying options and external compression straps for lugging through airports. It is made of durable, highly water resistant fabric.

See how this compared to other products in its class on our complete Duffel Bag Review.

Looking for a wheeled duffel?
Check out the The North Face Rolling Thunder for the same great features as the duffel we reviewed with the added ease of wheels! This bag retails for $320 and is significantly heavier than the non-wheeled version we tested, but the extendable handle and wheels make for easy airport travel. If you like the sound of the Base Camp but are looking for an airport-friendly bag, the Rolling Thunder may be your perfect fit.




RELATED REVIEW: The Best Travel Duffel Bags of 2017

Our Analysis and Test Results

New Base Camp Duffel versus the old Base Camp Duffel


In fall of 2015 The North Face made a few changes to their extremely popular Base Camp Duffel and after countless hours of side-by-side testing and several expeditions our review team thinks all the changes The North Face made were improvements to the old design. Most things stayed the same: fabric, pocket layout, basic design, etc, but there are three primary changes.

Check out a side-by-side comparison below, with the current model of the Base Camp Duffel pictured on the left and the older version shown on the right.
The North Face Base Camp Duffel
The old version of The North Face Base Camp Duffel

Here's a full summary of the updates:
  • Pockets — The biggest update is the addition of large externally accessed pocket on one end of the bag. All of our testers loved this feature adding just a little bit more organizational ability compared to the old version with virtually no weight or durability penalty.
  • Grab Loop — Instead of two daisy chains running the length of the duffel, the middle of the daisy is now a grab loop. This still gives plenty of options for lashing this duffel to whatever you might need to attach it to, but the additional grab loops also make it even easier to pull off of baggage carousels or buses, or simply drag around.
  • Shoulder Strap's Design and Materials — The new version features a wider (AKA better weight distributing) and softer, more comfortable face fabric that feels better either against our skin or while wearing thin layers. There are a few other very minor updates like new more durable zipper pulls and an information window that doesn't get as cloudy, but the above are the biggest differences.

The new and old North Face Base Camp Duffel's are fairly similar with three key differences. One difference noting in this photo is the newer models wider and more comfortable shoulder straps (Blue is newer).
The new and old North Face Base Camp Duffel's are fairly similar with three key differences. One difference noting in this photo is the newer models wider and more comfortable shoulder straps (Blue is newer).

The review below reflects the text and ratings of the older (pre- Fall 2015) version of The North Face Base Camp Duffel

Hands-On Review of the Original Base Camp Duffel


Check out the chart below to see where the rest of the duffels fell in line behind our Editors' Choice winner, the Base Camp.


Ease of Transport


The North Face Base Camp duffel is one of the easiest duffels to transport in our review and features a design that is now copied by many other manufacturers. This bag features several ways move it around whether at the airport, a remote village, or on a glacier. The Base Camp's two padded shoulder straps provide top-of-the review comfort for extended carries and performed at the top of our review as far backpack-style straps are concerned.


The newest version of this duffel released in fall of 2015, features and even more comfortable feeling fabric on its shoulder straps.

The North Face Base Camp Duffel features two padded shoulder straps that our testers thought were above average in comfort. We also thought the face-fabric The North Face uses helped them to feel the best against our skin while wearing thin t-shirts or tank tops.
The North Face Base Camp Duffel features two padded shoulder straps that our testers thought were above average in comfort. We also thought the face-fabric The North Face uses helped them to feel the best against our skin while wearing thin t-shirts or tank tops.

The Base Camp duffel also features a more traditional baggage strap and grab loops on all four sides to help facilitate dragging it around and pulling it off of the baggage carousel. One small feature that is one of our testers favorite for expeditions or exotic locations is the two beefy daisy chains that are featured on the corners of this bag. The older versions daisy's ran the length of the bag, while the newer version features grab loops in the middle instead. All of these attachment points help you (or others) to more securely lash this duffel to anything that it might need to be attached to.

The North Face Base Camp Duffel features four grab loops on on each side of the bag. These over-sized loops worked great pulling the bag of moving carousels or anytime we needed to drag it somewhere.
The North Face Base Camp Duffel features four grab loops on on each side of the bag. These over-sized loops worked great pulling the bag of moving carousels or anytime we needed to drag it somewhere.

The North Face Base Camp Duffel feature daisy chains on all four corners as well as four grab loops on all sides of the bag that make lashing the bag to everything from sleds to Llamas a snap. While we like the Gregory Alpaca's full length daisy's marginally better  the grab loops on the Base Camp are extremely easy to thread.
The North Face Base Camp Duffel feature daisy chains on all four corners as well as four grab loops on all sides of the bag that make lashing the bag to everything from sleds to Llamas a snap. While we like the Gregory Alpaca's full length daisy's marginally better, the grab loops on the Base Camp are extremely easy to thread.

Ease of Packing


The large D-shaped openings are easy to load and dig through. Even when this duffel is absolutely brimming with gear it wasn't too difficult to zip shut. Its large, oversized zippers don't tend to get caught on items and are as durable as they come. There are two compression straps on either side that help the bag to carry a little better when you don't fill this behemoth all the way up.


One new feature on the latest version of the Base Camp duffel is the addition of a fairly sizable zippered pocket on one end. Inside this pocket there is a mesh divider that only adds to this duffels organizational ability. This small feature was thoroughly appreciated and heavily used by all of our testers and one more reason that the Base Camp Duffel remains our Editors' Choice. It is worth noting that this pocket is featured on all but the smallest two sizes (not the Small and XS volumes).

Our testers found the externally accessed zippered pocket on The North Face Base Camp duffel extremely useful whether for separating wet of dirty cloths or as simply another helpful sized pocket for staying organized.
Our testers found the externally accessed zippered pocket on The North Face Base Camp duffel extremely useful whether for separating wet of dirty cloths or as simply another helpful sized pocket for staying organized.

There is a zippered mesh pocket underneath the main lid that is nice for smaller, easily lost items that you don't want to put in the main compartment. While we did like the large mesh zippered pocket, we liked the similar but dual zippered pockets on the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel slightly better.

The large "D" shaped opening on The North Face Base Camp Duffel was among the easiest duffels to pack and search for items in. Our testers also really utilized the additional zippered pocket featured on one end of the bag.
The large "D" shaped opening on The North Face Base Camp Duffel was among the easiest duffels to pack and search for items in. Our testers also really utilized the additional zippered pocket featured on one end of the bag.

The zippered mesh pocket underneath the main lid of the North Face Base Camp Duffel. We liked the organization that this feature provided  but liked the dual pockets of the Patagonia Black Dole and the Gregory Alpaca marginally better.
The zippered mesh pocket underneath the main lid of the North Face Base Camp Duffel. We liked the organization that this feature provided, but liked the dual pockets of the Patagonia Black Dole and the Gregory Alpaca marginally better.

Durability


This duffel is seriously built to last and is still the most commonly used expedition duffel for a reason. Once you buy one, you'll likely never need another. Even after literally dozens of expeditions and trips to exotic locations where the Base Camp duffel has spent countless hours on the top of jeeps, strapped to llamas and just plain abused during transport, ours is still going strong after 10 years. The North Face has only slightly tweaked the fabric to make them even more durable.

Likly the most popular expedition duffel out there  The North Face Base Camp duffel is mega-durable  easy to pack  easy to lash  and as pleasant to carry as a massive duffel can be. here getting duffels ready to be shuttled via mules to base camp for a second round on Aconcagua  Argentina.
Likly the most popular expedition duffel out there, The North Face Base Camp duffel is mega-durable, easy to pack, easy to lash, and as pleasant to carry as a massive duffel can be. here getting duffels ready to be shuttled via mules to base camp for a second round on Aconcagua, Argentina.

Check out the chart below to see where each bag ranked in the durability metric compared with the Base Camp, shown in blue.


Weather Resistance


During our side-by-side weather resistance testing, the North Face Base Camp duffel scored near the top of the review.


While it's not submersible nor completely waterproof, it is pretty darn water resistant. We have used this duffel on a half dozen Denali trips where it is tied to sled and just left out to be snowed on for days at a time or buried in the snow for up to a week at a time.

The North face Base Camp duffel offers above average weather resistance. Tester Ian Nicholson has used his on a half dozen Denali expeditions where for three weeks the duffel is either strapped to a sled or buried in the snow and the Base Camp Duffel is still his go-to favorite for expedition use.
The North face Base Camp duffel offers above average weather resistance. Tester Ian Nicholson has used his on a half dozen Denali expeditions where for three weeks the duffel is either strapped to a sled or buried in the snow and the Base Camp Duffel is still his go-to favorite for expedition use.

Weight


While this duffel is not super light, it's not super heavy either. At four pounds for the large size, it is nearly the lightest duffel we tested that features backpack straps and a D-shaped opening, with only Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 90L bag sporting those features and weighing and amazing 2 lbs. 10 oz.


The Base Camp Duffel remains less than half the weight of most rolling duffels, letting you pack it with four to six more pounds and still keep it under the fifty pound maximum.

While wheeled duffels are easier on paved roads and in airports  traditional duffels excel when the going gets rough and excel for there ability to be strapped to everything from sleds to Llammas  Here A common expedition scene while duffle bag testing in South America.
While wheeled duffels are easier on paved roads and in airports, traditional duffels excel when the going gets rough and excel for there ability to be strapped to everything from sleds to Llammas, Here A common expedition scene while duffle bag testing in South America.

Other features


The Base Camp duffels all feature a small, three sided window for your contact info. We never had our slip of paper fall out, but it did get wet after extended periods outside in the rain.

Dislikes


There are not many gripes about this duffel. It is average as far as weather resistance goes, about the same as the Mountain Hardwear Expedition and the Gregory Alpaca. It could have one more pocket to help with organization, but this isn't a big deal.

Volume Options


We like that it comes in six fairly equally spread out sizes, giving a good selection of volume for various styles of trips.

Volume comparison
XS 33L (2014 in³) 2lbs $100
S 50L (3051 in³) 2lbs 11 oz $120
M 69L (4211 in³) 3lbs 8oz $135
L 95L (5797 in³) 4lbs $145
XL 132L(8055 in³) 4lbs 7 oz $160
XXL 150L(9154 in³) 4lbs 10 oz $175

Color Options


While maybe a little much; The North Face offers the Base Camp Duffel in 15 different color combinations that should please even the pickiest of users. If for some reason you find yourself not liking any of the colors offered, The North Face frequently changes their offerings.

The additional externally access zippered pocket located on one end of The North Face Base Camp Duffel. We loved this feature to both help keep us organized as well as keep specific items easily accessible. The only model with as comparable a pocket was the Marmot Long Hauler.
The additional externally access zippered pocket located on one end of The North Face Base Camp Duffel. We loved this feature to both help keep us organized as well as keep specific items easily accessible. The only model with as comparable a pocket was the Marmot Long Hauler.

Value


The Base Camp Duffel is still expensive and is tied for most expensive with the Mountain Hardwear Expedition Duffel and Gregory Alpaca Duffel, but it used to be far more expensive than most duffels on the market and now its price is relatively inline with most of the duffels in our review. Take for example a former Best Buy award winner, the Helly Hansen Duffel Bag 2, which for the 90L size now costs $140 is $5 more than the Base Camp in a similar size Med (69L) and we don't think performs as well overall. The bottom line is that we think it's well worth up to $160 (for the XXL size) because it is fully featured and will last a long time. You could buy a less expensive duffel that would work, but the Base Camp has a lot of little features to help your trip go smoother.

Ian Nicholson
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