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The North Face Base Camp Duffel review: a robust, spacious expedition bag that’s built to last

This classic expedition duffel has heaps of space for stashing your gear at camp or flying out on your next hiking holiday and is tough to withstand the gnarliest of adventures

The North Face Base Camp Duffel
(Image: © The North Face)

Our Verdict

This seriously sturdy expedition duffel is roomy enough for transporting all your adventure gear to base camp or lugging it across town on your bike

For

  • Extremely spacious
  • Water resistant
  • Padded carrying handles and detachable shoulder straps
  • Made using sturdy, recycled materials and tough zips
  • D-shaped main zipper provides easy access
  • Two handy zipped mesh pockets for separating dirty shoes or wet clothes

Against

  • No padded back for when you’re using it as a backpack
  • Heavy

The North Face Base Camp Duffel: first impressions 

The North Face Base Camp Duffel is an iconic piece of mountaineering kit that’s been updated, making it perfect for hauling your heaviest gear whether you’re trekking in the Himalayas or biking across town. Now made using recycled materials with DWR finish, it features double stitching and seriously robust zips, so it will last for years and keeps your gear well protected from rock, rain, airport X-ray machines and whatever else your adventures hurl your way.

The duffel design doesn’t narrow at the top like a hiking backpack, so you’ll find this bag has considerably more space for bulky items like sleeping bags and sleeping pads than your typical outdoor bag. The D-shaped main zipper makes it easy to open and access your gear. Two handy secure-zip mesh pockets help you keep your gear organized, and it has both padded carry handles for and detachable shoulder straps so it’s a versatile travel bag for getting your gear to base camp, whether that’s up a mountain or in a hotel.

It’s not padded, so if you choose to wear this as a backpack, you’ll want to pack it with your softest items against your back, but it’s a small price to pay for all that extra space and a piece of luggage that will last a lifetime.

Specifications

• RRP: £100 - £130/$129 - $185
• Unisex: Yes
Sizes available:  XS (31L) - XL (95L)
• Weight: 1.6kg/3.5lbs (medium)
• Materials: 1000-denier Thermoplastic Elastomer) laminate material with an additional layer of 840-denier ballistic nylon on the bottom
• Colors: Banff blue, Rose dawn, Red, Summit gold, Monterrey blue, Black, Tea green
• Best use: Mountaineering, camping, adventure travel

The North Face Base Camp Duffel: in the field 

The North Face Base Camp Duffel

If you’ve ever watched any of the best climbing films, you’ve seen the North Face Base Camp Duffel because it’s used by all the Himalayan mountaineers (Image credit: The North Face)

If you’ve ever watched any of the best climbing films, you’ve seen the North Face Base Camp Duffel because it’s used by all the Himalayan mountaineers. Now that I've had the opportunity to try it out, I can understand why. This bag is easily the toughest piece of mountain equipment I’ve ever owned, from the rugged, water repellent fabric to the seemingly indestructible zips which have held up well to all my abuse on camping trips and urban escapades.

Unlike my usual hiking backpack, the shape of this duffel means it doesn’t narrow at the top, so it’s like a Tardis and I don’t lose precious space. I love the D-shaped main zipper which means I can open it all the way up and find my gear easily. Not only have I loaded this up with camping gear, I’ve used it to carry power tools and even a basketball and I’ve yet to run out of room or even see any signs of wear and tear. It has handy mesh pockets to help keep things organized and while I haven’t submerged it in water, I’ve had it out in plenty of heavy downpours and have yet to have any soggy contents.

It’s definitely not a substitute for a hiking backpack – it’s really for travel and leaving back at camp – but it has detachable shoulder straps and I almost always carry it as a backpack. It’s not padded, so I definitely need to pack the soft stuff like clothing at the top so it’s against my back, but when I do that it’s ideal for keeping my hands free around town and at the airport. It’s a little heavier than a lot of similar bags, but I honestly think that’s the trade off for such a tough piece of gear.

Here’s how it performed:

Capacity 

The smallest version carries 31 liters while the largest holds 95 liters and whichever size you choose, the shape will allow you to pack more gear more easily than a backpack with the same capacity.  

Comfort 

Without padding or chest and waist straps, it’s not as comfortable as a hiking backpack, but pack it the right way and it’s great for carting gear around for short periods. 

Ease of use 

The mesh pockets and D-shaped zip make this easy to pack (and rummage through) and the versatility of carry straps mean you can carry it in one hand, over one shoulder or like a backpack. 

Weather resistance 

Though it’s not fully waterproof, it’s pretty close to. The fabric plus DWR finish and taped zips keep even heavy rain out. 

Durability 

I haven’t actually tried to destroy it because I like it so much, but I don't know if it's even possible. I’ve definitely given it some rough handling, from loading it up with sharp power tools to slinging it in the back of the van and it still looks brand new. You should expect this to last a long, long time. 

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.