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®.
Hey 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.
- 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.
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 line: although 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.
Left: 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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
My 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)
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:
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
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)
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