If my Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 55L had a passport, it would probably be full by now. I’ve taken it on camping and road trips, loaded it with ski and rock-climbing gear for outdoor excursions, and lived out of it for weeks at a time abroad. Often, it’s the only piece of luggage my partner and I share on international trips. I’ve even found plenty of at-home uses for the 55L duffel, from using it as a makeshift laundry bag for hefty loads to shuffling around household items on moving days.
The biggest problem I have with the galactically roomy bag is that, sometimes, it’s just too big. Fifty-five liters is a lot of space for a weekend trip, say.
Enter the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 40L.
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Compared to the 55L duffel, the 40L duffel appears quite small. So much so that I had to double-check the dimensions of the bag I already owned when my new Black Hole came in the mail. Patagonia’s Black Hole Duffel collection comes in four sizes: 40L, 55L, 70L, and 100L. Wheeled models that forgo the wheel-less duffel’s removable backpack straps are available in 40L, 70L, and 100L.
It didn’t help my confusion that the 40L duffel was roughly the size of a washcloth when it arrived. The bag has an interior pocket that can be accessed via both internal and external zippers, which the entire duffel can also be stuffed into for packability.
Admittedly, it took several minutes to unsheath the bag from its interior pocket. Patagonia’s Black Hole Duffels are made from a sturdy yet pliable recycled polyester material that’s laminated with thermoplastic polyurethane film to be both water-resistant and rip-proof. I imagine it would take twice as long to return the duffel to its packable state, but the prospect of having a deceptively spacious bag that packs up compactly for trips where you expect to come home with more than you left with is a boon for shopping-prone travelers. On a recent trip to Vietnam where my partner and I planned to have a considerable number of clothes made and tailored in Hội An, for example, I remember lamenting how much space the extra soft-sided duffel we’d nested in our suitcase took up on the way over.
Now, you might be asking, how many souvenirs can the Black Hole Duffel 40L fit, exactly? Frankly, that’s a difficult metric to convey the size of the bag. Instead, I’ll explain based on my first excuse to put the duffel to use: a two-week housesitting stint in the Bay Area with a quick weekend trip to Los Angeles midway through.
For my two-week stay, I managed to fit three pairs of shoes in the Black Hole Duffel 40L: my generously cushioned Saucony running shoes, a pair of ankle-height rain boots, and a pair of Birkenstock sandals in preparation for the inconsistent late-summer weather. I also packed a puffer jacket, a thin rain layer, two pairs of jeans, one pair of shorts, a dress, a skirt, several tops, a pair of sweatpants, pajamas, a bathing suit, plentiful socks and delicates, a Sonicare toothbrush, a hairbrush, and a sizeable toiletry bag filled with all of my daily essentials, including an entire 30-something’s skincare routine. This is more than I’d bring on many two-week trips, but I wanted to see how much the bag could really hold. All things said, it was full but not completely stuffed.
For my quick stint in Los Angeles, I unpacked and repacked the duffel with a fraction of the items I’d brought to housesit, taking only what I’d need for a warm-weather weekend trip. Despite being relatively empty, I was surprised that the bag held any semblance of its shape. Together with the wide, U-shaped zipper that allows easy access to the main compartment, this is crucial to maintain any sense of organization. The Black Hole Duffel 40L has little in the way of internal compartments, with just one interior-exterior side pocket and one interior mesh lid pocket.
The 40L duffel fit neatly under my seat on the flight to Los Angeles and is designed to fit almost all carry-on requirements. While I’ve managed to fit my 55L duffel in the overhead compartments of multiple airplanes, it’s technically too big.
The second feature that gives my Black Hole Duffel 40L an edge over my 55L version is the removable backpack straps. Both models share this feature, but I’ve found that the larger bag is less comfortable and less practical to wear on your back. Comparably sized backpacking packs include hip belts and chest straps for extra support. The Black Hole collection is designed first and foremost to be a duffel bag, with snap-shut haul handles on top, grab handles on either end, and external daisy chains for external attachments.
The lightweight 40L duffel fit my back nicely. The padded straps cushioned my shoulders throughout the travel day, and I was able to adjust them one-handed when I was on the go. The straps themselves are easy to add and remove using a pass-through buckle system on one end and a release buckle on the other.
Some reviewers complain about the fact that the straps attach above the main compartment, leaving the haul handles to press against your back when using the duffel in backpack form. I kept my haul handles snapped shut and barely noticed that they were there, but you can also unsnap them and let them hang to the side. While I wouldn’t choose the Black Hole Duffel 40L over a standard backpack for everyday use, I would pick it over any other weekender I’ve tried so far.
Surely, the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 40L isn’t a fit for every occasion. It would be hard to keep your clothes neatly pressed inside the loose main compartment on a business trip, for example. But there are few situations I can imagine where I wouldn’t grab the adventure-ready bag for a weekend away or even a light two-week trip.
I suppose I’ll find out as I continue traveling with the duffel. Because with Patagonia’s Ironclad Guarantee — which covers a generous variety of returns, refunds, repairs, and replacements — the Black Hole Duffel 40L is truly designed to be a lifelong bag.
Patagonia sells the Black Hole Duffel 40L for $159.
A brief review of the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 40L: specs, pros, and cons
Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 40L specs
- Volume: 40 liters
- Dimensions: 21” x 13.7” x 10.6”
- Weight: 930 grams (2 lbs 0.8 oz)
Pros of the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 40L
- Surprisingly spacious due to rectangular shape
- Durable, weather-resistant recycled material
- Cushy, removable backpack straps
- Full, easy access to main compartment
- Carry-on compliant
- Easily cleaned and stored
Cons of the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 40L
- No internal compression straps
- Limited compartments for organization
- Non-removable duffel handles
- Mediocre packability