The North Face Base Camp Duffel bag

Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Unless your name ends in “Sherpa” you don’t want to use it as a backpack.

Nearly all product descriptions and reviews of The North Face Base Camp duffel begin by trying to sell you on the bag’s ability to be strapped to a yak.

Admittedly, I’m lacking in the yak department, but I have found that the Base Camp Duffel is a good companion for my own beast of burden. For over 60,000km - from Newfoundland to Panama - the large, grey cargo carrier has been strapped to the back of a motorcycle, and it’s still going strong.

This review shows the medium sized bag, with a 70 litre capacity (4200 in3)

Large handles on either end offer a burly grab point for hefting it onto the bike, across rocks, or off of an airport baggage conveyor. There are also standard gym-bag duffel handles, though these seem useful only if you’re carrying a light load.

The removable “Alpine cut” backpack straps are lightly padded and have a comfortable curve. Being able to carry the duffel on my back allows me to keep both hands free for carrying the rest of my luggage and helmet. It's an appreciated feature on a bag this big. The backpack straps let me walk away from the motorcycle - everything in one load - to wherever I’m staying for the night. This can be a big deal in if you’re staying in a sketchy area.

That said, this is *not* intended to be a backpack - there is no hip belt or load bearing frame. With it’s barrel-like geometry and the amount of cargo a bag this size encourages you to carry, there is just too much weight on your shoulders to carry any long distance.

The big D-shaped lid opens like a trunk for easy access to your gear. The daisychains that run both lengths of the bag provide secure tie-downs that don’t interfere the opening of the lid. This makes for ideal motorcycle luggage.

*Note - The large white strip is reflective material I have added.

Other than the zippered pocket under the lid, there are no internal dividers. The "base camp" concept is that it’s a single piece of luggage used to carry other bags and gear to your destination.

I manage to carry: a tent and poles, sleeping bag, thermarest, motorcycle tools, tire irons, food, clothes/rain gear, tripod, netbook, AC adapters/chargers, first aid kit.

The length of the duffel fits the Manfrotto 190XB tripod, though I’ve found that the ball-head needs to be removed to get the legs in and out of the lid easily.

Four side compression straps help to tame less-than-full loads - the bag must be fairly full to maintain it’s shape and stay on the motorcycle securely. Of course, loose loads are no problem for carrying on buses, cars and airplanes. Or a yak.

The bag is made of a very thick laminate material, similar to the tarpaulin you’ll see on highway-going truck trailers. Solid stitching, bar-tacks and a hefty lockable zipper cause airport baggage handlers to gnash their teeth on sight of the burly bag.

Though the heavy material is obviously waterproof, the thousands of stitching holes will let water drip in over time. I'm talking heavy rain for several hours here, a quick downpour won't be a problem.

Water resistant, yes. Water proof, no.
In practice, this hasn’t been much of an issue. Anything that can’t be wet gets put in a drybag before it goes inside the duffel.

There are 100% waterproof duffel bags out there, but dry bags have few tie-down points. Getting to your gear means you have to unlash/re-lash the bag every time. That’s a big deal considering how often you need to get to your food, or warm clothing. The Base Camp duffel is just more “livable” for day to day use on a long trip.

Fumigation at the Belize/Guatemala border 

The Base Camp Duffel has been through torrential rain in Newfoundland, sandstorms in the Sonoran desert and muddy mountains in Guatemala. The worst I can report is two bar-tacks on the daisychain popping out after many months of strain on the road. I’ve been told by a North Face rep’ that I can send it in for free repair under warranty.
I’ll be using this bag for years to come, it just works.

I’ve given the Base Camp Duffle a 2 out of 5 for concept, it’s just a duffel bag after all. But it deserves a 4 out of 5 on execution for it's build quality and  for having just enough well thought out features to be useful. There’s no fluff on this duff'.

Anthony teaches  motorcycle travel photography at www.motojournalism.com


  1. How did you get those patches on your bag. I've got an iron on.. but the plastic.. not so sure about that!


  2. Yep I was cautious about ironing on the vinyl too.
    What I did was scrub the back of the iron-on patches with coarse sandpaper, and the area of the bag where I stuck the patch too. Then I used Seam Grip to glue the patches to the bag. http://www.mcnett.com/Seam-Grip-Seam-Sealer-Outdoor-Repair-P133.aspx

    I remember using stacks of wood or books or something to apply even pressure to both sides of the bag/patch while it dried overnight.

  3. Just a heads up, you can find these at North Face outlets for somewhat less than you would pay at REI or TNF stores. They are irregular, but I have not found the irregularity on mine. Im thinking an errant stitch rendered it to its fate. But the beauty is, a medium is $90 vs the $129 or so they go for. Plus a Memorial Day sale, and I walked out with a yellow medium for $67-ish bucks.


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