I dont know about you but over the years I have accumulated a helluva lot of gear for an ultra runner. Its funny that one of our most basic of pastimes should just include a pair of shoes, some clothes and maybe a water bottle has turned into a long list of gear including compression, backpacks, shoes, water-bottles, head torches, walking poles, gloves, more shoes, shades, GPS device etc etc . And this is nothing compared to a weekend away actually competing at a 100 miler when you add in a change of clothes, crew kit, medical and food. It didnt take long for the better half to put their foot down and get all my gear stored in one place.
The most convenient option I found was a giant duffel bag where I could chuck all my gear pre and post race safe in the fact that I had every last possible item should the conditions require it. Since a young kid I have enjoyed the outdoors and always marvelled at this incredible Himalayan expeditions where hundreds of support crew carry tonnes of equipment just to give a dozen or so climbers a shot at summiting a peak. There was one item that kept making it onto the images of National Geographic or a Discovery Channel documentary and that was the North Face Duffel in its distinctive bright colours of yellow and black. It didn’t take me long to pick one up and for the last decade or more I have come to rely on their exceptional build quality and also there practicality when transporting outdoor sporting equipment.
So it made sense to use the same tried and tested approach for my trail gear. The duffel comes in a range of sizes from a small hand-luggage sized 25l right up to a mega XL 155l bag. It is this larger bag that I use as my storage depot for all my gear with the smaller sizes coming in handy for weekends away or a day trip to the mountains.
So what makes them so dependable and used by the worlds best mountaineers. Without doubt the primary reason to get one is its virtually indestructible reputation. The hammering my bags have received over the years from being stuffed well beyond what is permitted coupled with the treatment they get on long haul flights and baggage carousels is nothing compared to being slung over the shoulders of sherpas or roped to yaks making the slow trudge to Everest base camp.
The bag is made of a very durable ballistic grade nylon which whilst not quite scratch resistant is definitely able to withstand sharp objects from penetrating. The handles are built of similar strengthened nylon and the stitching is laid down several times to ensure the weakest joints are tough enough.
The holdall itself is simple in design with a large single compartment. The opening that has a square shaped lid with a very thick zipper. This allows you to partially open the bag and push your hands into the far corners of the bag to retrieve items. The zip handle itself is very thick and allows you to grab it easily especially if you have cold hands or are fumbling in the dark.
In the lid there is a simple mesh storage compartment ideal for valuable and maps and again is separated by a string zipper. On the outside the bag has two handles that velcro together and also two shoulder straps that allow the bag to be used as a temporary backpack. It also comes with a couple of grab handles at both ends which is ideal when you want to snatch it off a baggage carousel or from the boot of a car.
It is not 100% waterproof but after years of ownership I am yet to find conditions where water has managed to penetrate the interior when the zip is done up. For those looking to get all Bear Grylls and swim across a raging river with their belongings in their duffel, North Face now make a fully submersible version apparently.
If you are serching for a bag that you can segregate your belongings then this wont work for you. There is no wet and dry department often found on modern day sports bags and there is no padding to protect more delicate gear. In fact I cannot recall North Face making any modifications whatsoever to this bag over the years I have been using them.
If you are worried about keeping this bag neat and clean then shy away from the more bold white and yellow colour options as these show up scratches and marks too easily. In fact even my black versions needs a little TLC now and then especially if I have been doing a lot of flying as baggage carousels tend to leave their mark. A couple of dabs of nail polish remover or acetone seems to do the trick and the marks soon disappear.
So if you are looking for a holdall that will outlast pretty much any item of outdoor gear in your posession then this is a great investment, and you will win a bunch of brownie points with your other half when you finally pack all your gear away and as they say “Outta sight outta mind.”