The Highs: Super light weight, surprising capacity, “cool” factor

The Lows: Lacks structure; retrieving onboard items is not easy

The Verdict: For the right traveler/trip, a viable alternative to conventional luggage

It saddens me to report that the folks at Patagonia no longer answer my emails.  Perhaps they were unamused by my review of the Patagonia MLC®.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel DuffelHey Patagonia:  I’m not the guy who determined that it was a good idea to call a bag the “Maximum Legal Carry-on” and then make it 80% of the size of a maximum legal carry-on.  Sorry, in the course of reviewing the bag I thought this was a noteworthy fact, and one that my readers might find…  interesting.   You just need to figure out a more appropriate meaning for the “M” in the name; perhaps “More or less” would work.

I tease.  At the heart of things, I like Patagonia.  I like their humble beginnings with Yvon Chouinard hand forging steel pitons, their current product line, their environmental policy, even their iconic, multi-colored logo, – their whole ethos.  And, as I pointed out in my review, I like the MLC – its only significant shortcoming is that it’s smaller than advertised; it’s still a fine bag.  So what was I to do when Patagonia came out with the intriguing Lightweight Travel Duffel earlier this year?

Well, of course I wrote to them and asked for a PR sample.  Despite my most carefully worded, earnest pleadings, Patagonia opted to hit the Delete button in response to my emails.  So I went out and bought one.  Patagonia, please fasten your seat belt…

What is it?

The Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel is a super lightweight duffel-style bag targeted at sports enthusiasts and casual travelers.

Although by name it’s a travel bag, Patagonia primarily positions it as a gear bag:

“Rope bag, gym bag, backpack or duffel, this compressible bag has multi-sport applications and stores away into its own pocket.”

Yet for certain types of travel, I think it has tremendous potential.  Its weight is extraordinarily low (14 oz.) yet its load carrying capacity is substantial.

And let’s get one thing out of the way right away:  the published dimensions are accurate; in fact, the depth dimension (10.5″) may be slightly understated.  Who da thunk it?!  Featuring one large duffel-type compartment, the Lightweight Travel Duffel is surprisingly commodius.  In addition to the duffel compartment, it sports one zippered 9″ x 12″ pocket on each side as well as a ~6″ x 9″ pocket with a semi-circular opening on its end/top.

The bag offers two carry options:  a conventional Velcro® closure wrap-style handle which joins two web loops, and backpack straps that stow in a zippered compartment; there’s no provision for a shoulder strap (although you can jerry-rig one if you wish, as we’ll cover a bit later.)  Finally, there’s a grab handle on one end for pulling it out of an overhead, from beneath the seat in front of you, or from a trunk or truck bed.

Basic specs:

  • 17″ x 12″ x 10.5″  (2,196 cu in)  (By comparison, the Tom Bihn Western Flyer‘s capacity is 1,600 cu in)
  • 14 oz (397 grams)
  • Large center-zip main compartment
  • Exterior side zipper pockets (2) organize small essentials
  • Top pocket holds music in backpack mode or wallet, phone, TSA 3-1-1 bag, etc.
  • Tuckaway backpack straps; 1″ wide webbing waistbelt
  • Bottom/back is padded with 1/8″ thick perforated foam for comfort (foam is removable to use as a seat pad)
  • Compression straps and cinch collar: hold jacket, sports gear, shoes, etc.
  • 50-denier Nylon 6 triple ripstop with polyurethane coating and DWR (durable water resistant) finish. Reinforced (?) (see below) on wear surfaces with 150-denier polyester (47% recycled) double-weave “ShiftLayer”
  • Available in 5 colors:  black, gravel (grey), desert clay (burnt orange), green, & phosphorous (yellow)
  • Made in the Philippine Islands

A photo tour.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel overviewPhotographs can’t convey:  this bag is ultra light.

Most of what you see in this pic is made with 50 denier triple ripstop Nylon 6.  Used for parachutes, sails and hot air balloons, ripstop has a terrific weight to strength ratio; moreover, small tears or holes, should they ever develop, do not easily spread further in the fabric.  Bottom linealthough wonderfully light, this is a tough bag.

Although you’d never give a nanosecond’s thought to checking this bag, within its limitations it seems reasonably durable and the materials do in fact impart a sense of quality.

In terms of compartments, it couldn’t be much simpler:  there’s one large duffel compartment flanked by zippered side pockets and a third compartment on the top of the bag. The main compartment measures 17″ x 12″ x~11″.  The side pockets measure 12″ wide by 9″ deep (the zipper is 9″ wide, so if you’re bringing your prized 12″ ruler with you, you’ll have to angle it to get it in the pocket).  The top pocket is 6¼” deep and about 9″ wide at its base.

The main compartment’s zipper is 16″ long.  In order to place clothing that’s been bundle wrapped into the bag, you have to push, prod and bend things a bit, but (as we’ll describe later) the bag’s capacity is surprisingly great.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel - handle detailLeft:  a close-up of the web loop handle.  The handle material is the same 50 denier ripstop that makes up most of the bag; Velcro serves as the closure mechanism. The web straps themselves (below) are quite thin:

dsc_0667

.

.

.

.

.

By the way:  as always, click on any of these pictures for a much larger image.  A detail shot of the stitching; it was uniformly excellent:

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel - stitching detail

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel - zipper detail

Something not mentioned on the Patagonia site:  the zippers are splashproof types.  The pulls feature the same corded pulls that I enjoyed trashing in my “First Take” review of the MLC: on that bag, they seemed cheap and inadequate; here, they seem in keeping with the bag’s design, purpose and execution.  This is NOT a knock on the Lightweight Travel Duffel; much of my reaction to them on the MLC was driven by the fact that that bag costs $180.  Here, I’m OK with them:

The top pocket can be used for an iPod or the like, or perhaps your TSA liquids bag.  I found it easier to insert that bag zipper side down:

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel - top/end pocket

The side pockets are fairly large – fine for your toiletries, odds and ends, a paperback book (I actually put a hard cover copy of Made To Stick in one of these pockets – easily) and boarding passes.  One of the pockets features a removable key tab and a pulls on both sides of the zipper…  so that you can compress the bag and store it in this (12″ long) pocket:

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel - stored in its pocket

According to Patagonia, all of the critical wear surfaces feature a heavier gauge (150 denier) polyester double-weave “ShiftLayer.”  ShiftLayer implies a two layer wall – one heavier layer topped by a lighter layer – to reduce abrasion and absorb friction.  Try as I may, I could find no evidence of anything shifty here – other than (again!) sloppy ad copy.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel - 150 denier poly on wear surfaces

For the record, I called Patagonia Customer Service and the rep I spoke with said that they feature this (quoting) “two separate layers” approach in many of their bags.  It appears that the Value Analysis Team at Patagonia got hold of this feature and deep sixed it…  but the folks proofing the copy and manning the phones don’t know it.  (If I’m wrong, I’d love for someone at Patagonia to set me straight.  Seriously.)

In any event, I don’t think it matters all that much – what’s important is that the surfaces which bear the brunt of abrasion are made with the heavier material.  It’s a slightly different shade and has a more prominent woven texture as you can see in the above photo.

As with many travel bags, backpack straps deploy from the rear pocket:

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel - backpack mode

Here’s a view of the perforated (for weight control, I imagine) 1/8″ thick foam pad which is tucked into the rear wall of the bag for comfort when you use it in the backpack mode.  Although not mentioned on the Patagonia site, it’s removable so you could presumably use it as a seat pad:

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel - back panel perforated padding

One feature that is a bit of a concern are the backpack straps themselves; they are made with a mesh material and are quite thin and light; only extended use will prove out their durability:

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel - backpack strap detail

Unlike the formed/shaped straps used on many backpacks and daypacks (and on bags like the MLC and Tom Bihn Aeronaut) these lightweight straps tend to quickly migrate toward the edges of your chest, and armpits.  They aren’t uncomfortable; they just may be a bit different than the backpack straps you’re accustomed to:

Patagonia Lightweight Duffel:  backpack straps in use

Storage slot for bottom backpack straps / waist beltMy assumption with all of these bags is that we all have preferences in terms of how we carry them, so I tend to think users will not switch back and forth frequently between carrying modes.  The backpack straps themselves of course deploy and store quite easily; the waistbelt and web straps that buckle to the backpack straps deploy/store via two small openings at the bottom of the storage pocket:

Getting the straps in and out of these small ports is a bit of a pain, although the more you do it, the easier it becomes:

(The color is a bit washed out in this video as I was experimenting with lighting; it should give you a good idea of what’s involved, however)

Attaching a shoulder strap to the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel

Earlier I mentioned using a shoulder strap on the bag.  I simply clipped a Tom Bihn Absolute Shoulder Strap to the compression straps on the top of the duffel, outside the quick release buckles (click for a close-up).

After adjusting the Absolute Strap to make it a bit shorter, it worked just fine:

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel - "shoulder strap mode"

My impressions of the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel:

For the right trip, this could actually be a great little bag.  A few observations:

  • As a travel bag, the Lightweight Travel Duffel certainly is a niche play.  If you’re a road warrior who’s on the road for several days each week, if you travel with a laptop, if your travel requires suits or a couple of sports jackets, look elsewhere – this bag will absolutely, positively NOT work for you!
  • But…   if you’re doing business casual travel for a few days, perhaps traveling with a netbook, this bag is a viable alternative to more conventional bags. For out-and-out casual travel in warm weather, I think it’s terrific
  • As a piece of luggage, its greatest attribute – light weight – is paradoxically its biggest handicap:  the bag doesn’t have a lot of structure.  Although you can see it sagging a bit in the “shoulder strap” photo above, it’s not too bad.  In the backpack mode, your contents tend to slump toward the bottom of the duffel
  • If you fold when you pack, that’d be a disaster.  With bundle packing, it should not be a significant issue.  As we’ve discussed here in the past, the bundle has a certain amount of “structural integrity”: because the clothing is interwoven, it holds up well when a bag doesn’t have internal compression straps – or, in this case – a whole lot of structure
  • The bag is surprisingly capacious:  I put the same bundle I used in the Aeronaut review in this bag, added a couple of undershirts and underwear on top, and still had room left over.  That bundle consisted of 5 longsleeve shirts, a pair of chinos and a couple of golf shirts.  This bag CAN hold a lot of stuff!
  • The bag and contents as described above (plus toiletries, liquids, a hard cover book, etc.) only weighed about 11 lbs!
  • You can use the compression straps on the top of the duffel to secure a light jacket or hoodie
  • One other issue – retrieving your “onboard” stuff – magazine, book, music player, glasses, etc. – WILL be more difficult with this bag, especially if those items are in the main compartment, as you have to negotiate the compression straps and cinch cord to get at them; best to use a packing cube or something like the KIVA Key Chain Pack
  • Similarly, if you were to travel with a netbook, the only spot you could put it would be atop (or within layers of) your clothing; getting it out onboard would be a bit more difficult than say, pulling it out of one of the end pockets on the Aeronaut.  On the plus side, even packed with all the clothing mentioned above (the Aeronaut bundle) it’d still fit beneath most airplane seats – except for regional jets, perhaps – enabling you to take a bit more time retrieving your onboard essentials
  • The bag has that intangible “cool” factor, especially in a couple of the funkier colors – yellow and the burnt orange, in particular
  • Price:  $100.  Sold at Patagonia.com and several other quality online retailers

What’s Next…

I’ll be traveling to Dallas next week, and the trip is the sort that might be well suited to the Lightweight Travel Duffel: fly out one afternoon, arriving late at night; attend one on one meetings with customers the next day (business casual), go to a reception (sports jacket); fly home early the next morning (casual).

I was planning on taking the Aeronaut on this trip, but I’m sufficiently intrigued by the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel that I’m going to use it instead.  I’ll document my packing process and how things work out and will post about it.  To keep things interesting, I’ll bring along my Asus netbook.

Thanks for being here, and reading this review. As always, your comments are most welcome!

The fine print:  this post contains an Amazon affiliate link (KIVA key chain bag)

Similar Posts:

Share this article:

10 Comments on First Take: Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel

  1. Miguel Marcos says:

    I love Patagonia products myself for the two reasons:

    – The products are generally excellent
    – The way the company is run and their philosophy

    Still, there’s no reason I can see why they should shun you; your comments on the MLC and here are pretty rational. Perhaps you’ve run into the wrong person there. They’re pretty good at self-criticism (see http://www.thecleanestline.com.....ed-it.html).

    Anyway, thanks for this and all the other bag reviews.

    [Reply]

  2. Michael W. says:

    Based on the specs you mentioned, it’s a lot bigger than a Western Flyer. But how does it compare to the MLC, Air Boss, Aeronaut?

    Can’t beat the weight, huh. 14 ounces! Sheesh, I think an Air Boss WITHOUT the strap is 4 pounds, IIRC, and the “light” Steves Classic is 3 pounds….

    [Reply]

  3. Michael W. says:

    I read the review again at work and have a couple of comments. Overall this is an excellent review and in many ways you are less critical of the “floppiness/flimsiness” of the bag than I am (I have the gray version).

    When I tried to experimentally pack mine when it first arrived, I was put off by the fact that the sides of the bag are so lightweight (for a good reason, I know, and not at the expense of durability, I agree). The light weight means the sides don’t stay up on their own, they flop back down – there isn’t enough naturally fabric stiffness, like on some ballistics nylon duffel bags, to prop the sides up while you fill it. For me, packing the Paty duffel felt a little like packing a saggy pillowcase, if that makes sense!

    Then, when I put it on my back after originally stuffing it with towels last month, everything DID slump down to the bottom, just like you said.

    Based on reading your article, I took a few minutes before the commute to work to pull the contents from my pre-packed OTHER duffel of the moment (a Timbuk2 sport duffel, no longer in production). For that OTHER duffel, I have been experimenting using the Rick Steves Packing Cubes that I ordered, then set aside, when I got the Steves Classic convertible bag. The Steves Packing cubes are great, a terrific bargain, lightweight and capacious at 14″x11″x5″ for the full-sized one and 7″x11″x5″ for the “half” cube version. Since I already had a full-sized and half-sized one packed with clothing for my upcoming transpacific trip, I just them out and stuffed them into the Patagonia and – whaddya know –

    It was a completely different experience.

    The large packing cube slid easily into the relatively narrow mouth of the Paty duffel, and it was easy to orient it lengthwise to make best use of the bottom, more rectangular portion of the large main compartment.

    I then stuffed the second “half” cube on top of it, pyramid style to match the sloping top sides of the Patagonia, and then filled the edges with toiletries kit etc..

    Finally, I hoisted it on my shoulders and – Amazing – with the large stiff cube on the bottom to add structure, the Paty duffel now felt like “real” luggage!

    In other words I learned two things: packing cubes ROCK when used in this bag (they keep the “bundle” in shape); and you have to be creative to adapt to the trapezoidal, as opposed to rectangular, shape of this duffel.

    I didn’t even need to play my usual trick of cutting out a section of foam sleeping pad to line the bottom of the Paty duffel to give it structure, something I do with other “unstructured” bags and packs.

    So you are right – if I can get past the “stuffing the bag” part, carrying is not going to be a problem. BTW I am getting sold on packing cubes, at least the ones that aren’t overbuilt. Besides letting me move stuff from bag to bag to see which works best, I can see them being a real assist if I have to pull stuff out for inspection, plus the cubes let me pre-organize in little “drawers” for use at the destination.

    A couple of specific responses to a couple of your comments:

    You said, “One other issue – retrieving your “onboard” stuff – magazine, book, music player, glasses, etc. – WILL be more difficult with this bag, especially if those items are in the main compartment, as you have to negotiate the compression straps and cinch cord to get at them; best to use a packing cube or something like the KIVA Key Chain Pack.”

    My comment is, first, agreed, access to the main compartment is a PITA if you have it buttoned down with ALL THREE closure methods (zipper, compression straps, cinch mouth cord) not to mention those closed duffel straps hanging over the main compartment mouth. On the other hand, access to the two side pockets and top pocket is insanely EASY, so if those pockets are enough for a traveler’s onboard stuff, there really isn’t a problem.

    My second observation is that yes, if the outside pockets aren’t enough, it really helps to use a small, similarly light “onboard items” bag to collect all the seat-side items in one place instead of just tossing them in the main compartment.

    My own favorite bags for this purpose are the shaving-kit styled Air Space silnylon zipper bags from Granite Gear in a variety of volumes. These are ultra-light (1 or 2 ounces) hiking “stuff sacks” made with a top-to-bottom zipper instead of a draw cord at one end (the Outdoor Research – OR – Zip Sack is a similar design).

    These “shave-kit” style silnylon zip pouches will generally fit in the magazine slot in front of me on a flight, and even a Bihn “convertible” packing cube (packing cube with shoulder strap attachment points, sized to fit the end compartment on the Aeronaut) will fit that slot if I’m quick and clever enough to pull out all the in-flight magazines and “hide” them somewhere.

    I can certainly understand why you recommend the Kiva key chain bag, though, since it comes with shoulder straps, a big plus if you can pull the onboard items out of your carry-on before even boarding.

    You also said: “I was planning on taking the Aeronaut on this trip, but I’m sufficiently intrigued by the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel that I’m going to use it instead. I’ll document my packing process and how things work out and will post about it. To keep things interesting, I’ll bring along my Asus netbook.”

    Wow, I hope Patagonia appreciates how far you bend over backwards to give them fair trial and objective review, both here and on the MLC.

    I think Patagonia may have taken the “teenzy zipper pulls/not really MLC” comments in the MLC review way out of context on a generally very positive, and certainly very complete review.

    To understand their sensitivity, I think you have to try leaving a user review for one of their products on their website, and then read the hilariously over the top “suggested” subject line comments they offer up as samples. In their Lake Woebegone-ish world, apparently the only operative adjectives are superlatives.

    And anyway, I think the Air Boss or Steves Classic are closer to Maximum Legal Carryon than the slightly runt-ish MLC from Patagonia. That’s not necessarily a BAD thing (except from the standpoint of objectively comparing the various options) because I’ve essentially sidelined the Steves Classic on the past two Thailand trips simply because IT’S TOO BIG and the MLC would have worked with its more compact dimensions. Although, hilariously, I’m planning on using the Steves Classic as more compact CHECKED luggage on my next trip, in lieu of a much heavier, awkward wheelie (a wheelie, even a “carryon” sized wheelie, is often hard to squeeze into an Asian taxi trunk when you have other luggage too), my usual choice when I want to check a bag.

    Anyway, a great review. I went back and re-read some of your old “one bag” reviews, since you haven’t “gifted” us with a grand comparo yet, and I have to say that the reviews just keep getting better and better. You are rapidly becoming the Siskel & Ebert of one bag reviews – Doug Dyment may have beat you to the punch articulating the benefits of soft-sided carry-on instead of wheelies, but I can’t think of any other website or blog that nails the pluses and minuses of individual bags in this niche the way you continue to do.

    BTW, I know it would be a “heresy” for you at this point given your commitment to bundle-wrapping your clothing…but I’m starting to like packing cubes, and if you can find the right ones, might like them for certain bags too, like this duffel and some daypacks and totes. Let’s face it, on the Air Boss, with three compartments, the bag itself is the packing cube – but on some of these other innovative bags, a cube will keep clothing in place, it’s like adding a compartment to the otherwise under-structured bag.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    @Michael – Thanks for your very kind comments, I appreciate it. A comparo review would be interesting – but would require reshooting the Steves Classic, which I gave to one of my sons. But I like the idea and will keep it in mind.

    When I travel next week I’ll use a packing cube in conjunction with the Lightweight Travel Duffel, as the bundle won’t be large enough to avoid “sloshing” around inside the duffel.

    @Miguel: totally agree on Patagonia; love their stuff. I visited the blog you linked to and it’s neat and consistent with their philosophy.

    @Kate: a perfect illustration of just how much you can carry with this bag. What’ll be fun is revisiting the bag a year from now to see how it’s worked out and held up.

    kc

    [Reply]

  4. Kate Stone says:

    Using packing cubes (old ones from LL Bean) I can get four t-shirts, two prs. jeans, 1 dress pant, 2 dress shirts, shoes, small bag of jewelry, and toiletries in this bag for a seven day trip to NYC coming up. It is tough getting the largest packing cube in the opening but once in the other two smaller ones sit on top of the larger one easily. It doesn’t sag once I’ve filled up the cubes and it is only as heavy as I make it. I am using it along with Patagonia’s Crosstown backpack. The combo of the weightless duffel and “urban” backpack work perfectly for me and give me a great deal of travel freedom. I have all the clothes I need and my endless electronics gear, Moleskines, and other “stuff.” I’m thinking that if this combo works for seven days in NYC it should work for fourteen days in Sydney, AU later this year. I love both pieces of gear.

    [Reply]

  5. Michael W. says:

    Some trial packing observations:

    My itinerary in Thailand has changed. I will not be able to leave my checked bag at the arrival hotel during our trip to Koh Samed, because we will be staying at a different hotel once we return to Bangkok.

    I don’t want to haul around 3 different bags (personal bag – small day pack; carryon; checked) to Samed and back, and I don’t want to leave a bag with relatives that I will have to retrieve later – Bangkok taxis are best appreciated from a distance, not from inside.

    So this small change means I have to ditch my favored carryon bag, a now-discontinued Timbuk2 gym duffel, for the Paty Duffel – why – because I want to be able to pack my carryon into the checked bag to reduce my bag count to a more manageable 2 bags to Samed and back. And the T2 duffel is just too bulky and heavy to stick into the checked bag.

    BTW I am reducing some of my redundant clothing – I was going to take enough so I wouldn’t have to sink wash or do laundry, but since I am going to 1.25 bag it to Samed, I need room in the checked bag for my carryon bag and its contents.

    So I removed half the underwear and socks from my carryon.

    Then I tried trial packing a Paty Lightweight Courier. Whoops, too small, although it would pack down to nothing to fit into the checked bag later.

    Next, the new Paty Lightweight Duffel.

    Yep, room to spare.

    Rick Steves packing cube in sideways (to push out the sides, pushed down to the “bottom”, the end away from the haul strap. Perfect fit!

    Next, a very bulk Under Armour smooth-face fleece hoody, rolled up and stuffed into an old sleeping bag stuff sack. This fit on the other end of the duffel, on the floor.

    Toiletries kit on top of that.

    Light in-flight pullover on top of the Steves cube.

    Room left over, yeah! (TSA pouch in convenient, exterior accessible end pouch. Perfect size. Yeah!)

    Now I see why they have the compression buckles, they take any stress of the zipper on a moderately full packing.

    I only made two modifications, to my personal taste:

    1. I cut down an old camping foam pad to fit the bottom, to cushion and add a little extra structure.

    2. I am going to be carrying vertically by the end haul strap, and it cuts into my hand, so I used a Bucky “handle wrapper” to add some bulk and cushion to that strap – it has an i.d. holder on the inside of the wrapper, which is a nice touch.

    Resulting weight? 7 pounds.

    Ability to repack the contents into the half-empty Steves Classic “Europe through the back door” bag, and then put the empty, light, non-bulky Paty Duffel into it, so I’m just “one bagging” it?

    Priceless.

    [Reply]

  6. Michael W. says:

    Oh yeah, I won’t have to open the Paty duffel in-flight to put my transit jacket inside. I can just stuff it under the compression straps, loosened to minimize wrinkling. I am hoping I won’t need the inflight pull-over, but some flights are frigid and some are a little warm, you never know, and I’d rather be prepared.

    [Reply]

  7. Maximus P. says:

    Hello….just a comment about your admittedly innocent observation that the MLC is a bit smaller than the “max legal carry on” standards of airlines. I can speak from first hand experience that your observation is not necessarily true. I have had to repack my MLC to conform to the standard space requirements on two separate european flights. Perhaps your view is very North American centric?

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Maximus: The MLC is smaller than: a) Patagonia claims it is, and b) the maximum allowable luggage size per all U.S./N.A. airlines. I can’t speak to the requirements for European airlines, as you suggest, as they apparently vary from airline to airline. Refer to this article: http://travelsentry.blogspot.c.....urope.html

    [Reply]

    jack Reply:

    My MLC size was not the problem on euro airlines, so much as weight.

    [Reply]

Leave a Reply