The Highs: A key problem with the previous design is fixed, price is lowered

The Lows: Oddly, a couple of nice features disappear

The Verdict: Still waiting for the ultimate MLC

Regular Practical Hacks readers will recall that things got a little weird when I reviewed the last generation Patagonia MLC.

I basically liked the bag, but one feature really disappointed, and the fact that this “Maximum Legal Carry-on” was considerably smaller than the dimensions Patagonia claimed on its website was for me, totally unacceptable.  (For the record:  the claimed dimensions of the old MLC were 21.5″ x 14.5″ x 8″; it actually measured 20″ x 14″ x 7″)


So I had some fun with the review, put Red Oxx “monkey’s fist” zipper pulls on the bag, showed it alongside the Air Boss (left) (which according to Patagonia’s ruler should have been smaller than the MLC), and never heard from Patagonia again.  Sigh.

It was with some interest, then, when I learned that Patagonia had again updated the MLC (the version I’d reviewed was actually the 4th  generation).  What’s more, the price had actually been lowered from $175 to $160.  I wondered if they’d addressed the bag’s shortcomings, had retained the previous version’s good features, and had invested in a more accurate measuring device.

So I summoned all my charm (using the word loosely) and wrote to Patagonia, requesting a sample of this newest iteration.  Shockingly enough, someone answered and even more shocking, agreed to send along a sample.  Let’s take a look back before we focus on the new MLC…

The previous generation MLC:  high and low points

I wasn’t being flip in my earlier review when I said I liked the last generation MLC.  It was (and is) a good looking, capable bag.  The high points:

  • Overall build quality and materials were quite nice
  • 3 carrying modes:  briefcase handle, shoulder strap, backpack straps
  • Comfy albeit slippery shoulder strap – slitted so you can place the strap over the briefcase handle & avoid snagging in on armrests
  • YKK waterproof  zippers
  • Elliptical (elephant ear) pocket on front with numerous small compartments & a key tab/retainer
  • Small zippered compartment also on front of bag – perfect for 3-1-1 liquids bag
  • Grab handle on side of bag for retrieving from overhead
  • Comfortable backpack straps
  • 3 primary compartments; main compartment unzips on 3 sides, features “floating” mesh compartment for dirty clothing, shoes, etc.

Disregarding the size issue, there really wasn’t much on the 4th gen MLC that I disliked.  One issue which struck  a discordant note right from the top however, was the unfortunate combination of stiff-operating YKK waterproof zippers and really small zipper pulls.  Unlike similar zippers on other bags – Tom Bihn comes to mind – these zippers were a bear to operate and the tiny zipper pulls were an instant turn off.

But there wasn’t much else to complain about.  The bag had a number of nice features, was reasonably well made, and hit a price point between higher end bags like those offered by Bihn and Red Oxx and lower end bags from Rick Steves and eBags.

So I was really curious to see how Patagonia had updated the bag.

A few basics

Right from the Patagonia website, the new MLC’s key features:

  • Main compartment opens like a book for easy packing, access and organization with a compression pocket to secure contents
  • A secondary zippered sleeve pocket separates dirty clothes or shoes
  • Padded back panel holds shoulder straps, protects your back and a separate padded pocket stores a laptop or works well as a clothing organizer
  • Comes with a ticket/passport pocket, as well as a quick-access pocket for office/personals
  • Three carrying options: Backpack: ergonomic shoulder straps tuck neatly into a zippered compartment; Shoulder bag: comfortable split-shoulder strap for over-the-shoulder carry slides over carry handle when not in use; Briefcase: Two carry handles
  • Body: 1,200-denier polyester (100% recycled). Lining: 200-denier polyester. Both have a polyurethane coating and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish
  • 1318 g (2 lbs 15 oz)
  • Made in the Philippines

As for dimensions, the bag is basically the same size as the old MLC:  20½” x 14″ x 7″.  Overstuff it a bit, and it obviously will exceed these dimensions by a bit.   Most U.S. and international airlines typically specify a maximum of 45″ (length + height + width), so this is marginally under that spec at 41½”.  (Note that there are exceptions to this policy, and that weight limits also vary from airline to airline.  I’ve added TravelSmith’s one page Carry-On Luggage Guidelines to the FREE Downloads page – check it out if you have questions.)

What’s changed?

There’s good and bad news here.

The good news:

  • The zippers have been updated, and operate much more easily; as a result, the zipper pulls are adequate
  • And in fact, the pulls on the zippers for the main compartment are larger
  • The removable, “floating” divider now features two additional zippered storage compartments
  • There’s now a padded storage compartment for a laptop or netbook; you may wish to use a separate sleeve for additional protection
  • A sternum strap has been added to the backpack straps, providing more stability and comfort
  • The backpack straps themselves are more ergonomically shaped than the previous generation’s straps
  • The price is lower; it’s now $160 vs. $175 for the prior iteration

The bad news:

  • Although some derided the appearance of the elliptical pocket on the front of the old MLC, that relatively large opening provided unfettered access to the pocket; the new straight zipper doesn’t (more on this in a moment)
  • Inside, that pocket now features a few pen slots and one elastic-top mesh pocket; the old MLC had a key tab/retainer, two zippered pockets, and a hook & loop closure on another, passport-sized pocket
  • The old design featured another pocket above the “elephant’s ear” pocket; this one was great for your 3-1-1 TSA liquids bag; it’s gone

A quick photo tour

Here are a few photos which capture some highlights.  First, an overall shot.  The stitching on this particular sample produced some puckering on the top surfaces; this color, by the way, is Bitter Chocolate, and it’s especially attractive in person:

Patagonia 3rd generation MLC

The straight zipper toward the top is 8.5″ wide; the pocket to which it allows entry is a full 16″ wide and 10½” deep; it’s a pity that the zipper isn’t bigger.  Bring back the elephant ear!  The other pocket (directly above this one) is great for file folders, papers, and writing tablets; in a pinch, of course, it’ll accommodate extra clothing.  I imagine most people will put their 3-1-1 bag in this pocket as well; with double zipper pulls and a large opening, retrieving the 3-1-1 bag and placing it back in the MLC should be easy.

Just as a reference, here’s a shot of the elliptically shaped, “elephant ear” opening on the old MLC; note how much access it provides:

Elephant ear on the Gen II MLC

By contrast, the new pocket, below.  The actual pocket is fairly large (16″ x 10½”), but the small by contrast 8½” zippered opening is restrictive.  Patagonia designers found that some users of the previous MLC design complained that items would fall out of the elephant ear pocket when the bag was hoisted into the backpack position; this change is a nod to them.  In my view, an (at best) modest gain in security has come at the cost of a couple of nice features.  And after all, all one needs to do if concerned about security is zip it closed!

3rd gen MLC front pocket

The zipper pulls on the main compartment have been upgraded; this shot also gives a good view of the stitching, which is uniformly excellent:

Upgraded zippers on the main compartment

As you can see below, the briefcase handle is offset toward the side which will face your body, a curious decision.  The natural tendency will be for the bag to bump into your leg or hip when carried with this handle  (EDIT: this handle location compensates for the weight of a laptop in the laptop compartment, allowing the bag to hang vertically.  Please see the comments following the post)—

Briefcase handle offset

A much more positive change — here’s a view of the updated backpack straps with (non-removable) sternum strap; the straps are quite comfortable and represent a solid improvement over the previous version:

Backpack straps

Clever – the position of the sternum strap is adjustable via sliders which grip a rib on each strap:

Sternum strap detail

I yanked on one of these fairly hard, and it didn’t give at all; under normal use these should stay in place.

As with the previous MLC, the backpack latches hide away in small pockets when not in use; you can see the pocket beneath this latch:

Backpack strap latch & pocket

The main compartment, featuring a redesigned “floating” divider for shoes, clothing which has been worn, and so forth.  Two zippered compartments have been added, one mesh, one solid.  The entire divider can be removed, if you wish (note the loop at bottom for hanging from a door knob or clothes hanger.  This compartment will easily accommodate enough clothing for 3-5 day trips – or longer if you’re a minimalist packer:

MLC main compartment

A look into the padded laptop compartment.  The zipper on the end of the bag allows access when the bag is stored in an overhead, a nice touch.  This compartment is enormous; the walls all feature enclosed foam padding:

Computer "sleeve"

The new MLC alongside my Air Boss.  The MLC (20.5″ x 14″ x 7″) is slightly taller, but not quite as long or as wide as the Air Boss (21″ x 13″ x 8″).  Of course the Air Boss is a much heavier duty, more expensive bag than the MLC.

Air Boss (left) & the new MLC

A few thoughts about the redesigned MLC

This remains a handsome, useful bag, and it surely represents a good value. It’s not a brute like the Air Boss, nor does it offer the sort of  feature rich design typical of Bihn, but it occupies a different position in the market.  If you travel a couple of times a month and are looking for a dependable, good looking bag for 3-5 day trips, this could easily fit the bill.  At 2½ pounds, it’s a genuine lightweight yet is tough enough to withstand regular use.

Personally, I’m disappointed that Patagonia chose to remove the “3-1-1” pocket on the front, and the new straight zipper on the remaining front pocket is a decided step backward from its elliptically shaped predecessor.

All in all, it’s a split decision.  Patagonia did an excellent job of addressing one of the previous iteration’s weak points (the balky, hard to operate zippers) and the upgrade to the backpack straps is solid.  As for the pocket(s) on the front of the bag, in my opinion they took a step backward.  Nevertheless, the MLC remains a very nice bag and at the lower price, a good value.

You can see the new MLC here:  Patagonia MLC

The previous generation MLC is available on the web from a couple of resellers; if you’re interested, search for it on Amazon.

The Fine Print:  I have no connection to Patagonia

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45 Comments on Review: 2009 redesign of the Patagonia MLC

  1. Paul Z says:

    Nice review. I just took a look at the dimensions of my 2005 MLC: 22″ x 13″ x 9.5″, which probably helps explain why I like it better than my Tri-Zip. Especially the 22″ dimension — this way I can fold a suit jacket in there and the shoulders will fit without my having to resort to origami folding. And mine also has a straight zipper for the small front pocket, like this one has, so this is a reversion to an older design that evidently worked well for them.


    Kevin Reply:

    Paul – Thanks for the comment. I know folks who have the first gen version really like it. I’ve never actually seen one, although every once in a while one will show up on eBay.


  2. Michael W. says:

    I visited the local Patagonia store a week and a half ago, just before my trip to Thailand, and the sales person there told me Patagonia had some problems with the elephant ear zippers coming off their track due to owners not following the curve when moving the zipper pulls.

    I am sure the elephant ear zippers are more expensive to make too.

    I definitely like the elephant ear zipper design on my old versions of the Lightwire Brief (in many ways a scaled down MLC) (I picked up one at retail and the other half off as a close-out when I discovered I actually liked the original design much better than it’s replacement – my wife can use the extra one).

    On the new edition of the Lightwire Brief, the “straight zipper” design for the outside pouch suffers from exactly the same problems you mentioned for the MLC – much smaller, harder to access, fewer internal nooks and crannies. Won’t hold a 3-1-1 pouch anymore, which is the biggest problem – although the gargantuan laptop pouch at the rear of the Lightwire Brief swallowed my netbook AND the 3-1-1 bag (I can’t imagine how much more gargantuan the laptop slot is on the much larger MLC – seems like a waste of space – plus all my bags have laptop slots which is redundant).

    I think Patagonia should bring back the elephant!

    Thanks for the details in your new MLC review – as usual you noted many more changes than I saw when I checked out the new edition in-store last week. I think you should give a little more credit to those mesh pockets on the panel divider – I bet those will come in handy for nail clippers, other small items, maybe even a more secure place for documents.

    I think I’m actually going to get the MLC just for the primary reason you poke fun at it – it’s smaller dimensions.

    That is actually a good size for me – I’m smaller, so are my clothes, I don’t need a sport jacket or other bulky items, I fly to tropical countries. I’d like the zipper to be self-locking, like on the Red Oxx products, but since I’m unlikely to check this bag through, it shouldn’t really matter, and at least the waterproof feature stiffens the pull a little (which I see as a GOOD thing).

    You noted that the MLC is cheaper – but it is actually a LOT less cheaper than the comparable Red Oxx bag, which is the Sky Train (backpack straps) and not the Air Boss (shoulder strap only).

    And you can’t beat Patagonia’s workmanship and guarantee.

    Just wish Patagonia could have some state-side production – I like the fact that Bihn and Red Oxx provide jobs over here.


    Kevin Reply:

    Michael: actually, I don’t think I made any derogatory comments about the size of the MLC in this review at all. I am perfectly ok with the size. Your point about the pockets on the divider is valid – they’re a nice improvement. I’d trade them in a heartbeat though, for more storage compartments in the front pocket and a larger zipper, elliptical or otherwise!

    Waterproof zippers or not, they can be spread apart quite easily. Short of having self-locking zippers as Doug Dyment describes (and the Red Oxx stuff has), a small lock would deter petty thieves.

    As for workmanship, I’m a Patagonia fan, but take another look at the side by side shot of the AB and MLC (click on it for a close-up). I doubt the puckering all over the MLC would have made it past QC at Red Oxx. Or Bihn. Just sayin’… ;-)


  3. Paul Z says:

    Actually, my 2005-vintage bag is at least the 3rd generation MLC design (at least according to Doug Dyment); one of the previous designs was smaller, the other about the same size, but both had waist belts where mine doesn’t.


    Kevin Reply:

    Thanks for clarifying… I was never sure when the MLC originated (I should have checked Doug’s site). That would make the new version Gen 5 – at least.


  4. Michael W. says:

    Is it possible the carry handle is offset to compensate for the weight of a laptop?


    Kevin Reply:

    Michael: Great question, and in fact you’re absolutely correct. With a full sized laptop in the compartment and a 5-6 lb. load of clothing in the main compartment, the bag hangs vertically. Good thinking – I totally missed it. I’ve updated the post accordingly. Thanks.


  5. Michael W. says:

    The zipper slot in FRONT of the main compartment (not the computer slot) – is it deep enough to accommodate more than just legal pads and papers? Is it padded or unpadded? Could I fold a travel jacket and slip it in there?

    The Paty website seems to indicate that compartment could be used for shoes, but I suspect it’s too thin for more than flip flops.

    BTW I was reading up on my Lightwire Brief over at the Paty website, and the ad copy for the Lightwire Pack (its cousin) was mixed in with blurbs about the Brief – I have the Brief, and they describe details and functions that simply aren’t there!

    Patagonia needs to take a more careful look at their website. In the past, weights and dimensions have been off, now that’s spilling over to the product descriptions too. Often they are simply wrong! Hence a word to the wise: try to see their products in person if you can, or make sure you have free shipping on the return if you purchase on the internet.

    BTW I might pick one of these up for my next Thailand trip in January (if I can make it, I hope so!). I used an 18″ Briggs Riley wheelie and Lightwire Brief on the trip over, and a Patagonia Lightweight Travel Pack and the same Lightwire Brief on the trip back. These bags held my stuff just fine, but they were filled to the brim. I’m beginning to think that since the airline will allow me to carry a larger bag for carryon than just the Lightweight Travel Pack, I’d be better off with the MLC and underpacking it. (No the wheelie won’t carry as much as the MLC – I think – due to the inefficiency of wheelies with all their hardware.)

    Here are some pix of me in Bangkok –

    On the Chao Phya river bank in Nonthaburi with the brown belt from the academy (I’m the one with the sunglasses):

    Group picture at the end of the gi competitions day, I am in the black long sleeve shirt at the rear of the photo with my arm raised:

    With my team mate, who won two silver medals, and Peter the brown belt with an official’s shirt on (he reff’d):


    Kevin Reply:

    MW: The pocket you ask about is not padded. It measures ~19″ x 14″ x 0″ (there really is no “bottom” surface to this pocket. Any volume it offers is achieved by stealing volume from the adjacent main compartment. Best to pack this pocket first). You could fold up a travel jacket and store it in this pocket.

    Agree, the descriptions on the Patagonia site are simply horrible. Some of these companies frustrate me with their inability to properly describe and frankly, sell their products.

    Thanks for the links to the photos!


  6. Ken says:

    Thanks for a very thorough review. I have the Tom Bihn Tri-Star which is a little smaller, but works well as a carry-on. Would the MLC serve a similar function (in which case, I wouldn’t buy one unless it became my backup)?


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks for the comment. Here’s a quick pic of the two side by side – – and as you suggest, the Tri-Star is a bit smaller. Certainly the MLC offers similar functionality. Of course the Tri-Star is arguably heavier duty and certainly more fully featured. If you’re simply looking for a more economical back-up, you ought to consider the Rick Steves Classic. There’s a review on the site. Thanks again for visiting and commenting! Glad to have you here! kc


  7. Harris says:

    This is an excellent review and I am glad I found your website (directed here from I am blessed with a first generation MLC that was made in the USA, and for whatever reasons, Patagonia decided to re-design a perfectly good product and outsource its production. None of the follow on MLC bags have been nearly as good as the original.


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks for your kind words… and I’m glad you found your way here. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that comment! I found an original MLC on eBay at one point but failed to bid on it; I should have! Apparently first was best in this case. Thanks again.



  8. Michael W. says:

    Based on your review, I went ahead and purchased this edition of the MLC in black from, which is operated by 20% off coupon (I’m on their mailing list) and free shipping – which is a drop ship from the Patagonia distribution center in Reno so it is fresh, current merchandise. $126 net. Sweet.

    In black this bag looks sharp.

    The main reason I bought this was to have something less gargantuan and less floppy than the Rick Steves Back Door Classic I purchased last year – your 5 bag comparison pictures and review comments and measurements helped me figure out this might be just the right size for me. For me this “smaller than Air Boss” size is “just right.” It’s good to find a blog that lays out the differences in sizes in bags that are all supposedly “maximum” legal carryon size.

    Backstaps + shoulder strap on this MLC = redundancy I don’t need.

    But it’s nice to know I have both options.

    For now I stowed the strap in the front “office” compartment so I won’t lose it. For vacation travel I’ll use the backpack straps, because backpack straps are simply the best way (imho), short of wheels, for carrying luggage. For business travel I’ll probably use the shoulder strap for its more “professional” appearance, fwiw.

    Sometimes people tend to forget that everything shoulder straps can do, backstraps can do better – even single shoulder carry.

    But of course backpack straps will always have that “backpacker/low rent” image that will keep me out of all the classy hotels, according to Rick Steves. ;-)

    In black this bag looks sharp. Did I say that already? :-)

    I’m finding that looking sharp means more to me than I thought it did. I don’t want to look TOO sharp though. Just as with sizes, this bag is in the middle – not funky like the Steves Classic, not too metro like the Bihns.

    I am as perplexed as you by the awkward “mini” opening to the rather large “office” slot on the front panel.

    The office slot is not as well thought out as on the old one – no zipper on the mesh slot, no more key chain. Not a bad place to stow a ticket folder and a magazine, probably not a good place to stow a passport. Unless you like those nervous moments when you can’t grab your passport from the spot where you stowed it last.

    (Why doesn’t Patagonia “steal” Rick Steves “pouch on a clip” idea, that clips into the bottom of his bag onto an o-ring, or Bihn’s o-rings and pouches everywhere approach?)

    I am really perplexed by the design of the zipper slots (which are very useful) on the “tie down” or “divider” panel in the main compartment. When I open my MLC, they seem to be upside down! I can’t reverse the panel, due to the use of male/female buckles on the sides. I suppose I can unthread the webbing and rethread it to the buckles the way I like it. Maybe my sample was assembled wrong? How about yours?

    The padded “computer slot” behind the main compartment – next to the backpack straps slot – is insanely large. Oddly enough, although my Lightwire Briefs (both editions) and MLC Dawn Patrol Pack have a “roll” of padded material at the bottom of their laptop slots to cushion against “set down” shocks, this new edition of the MLC doesn’t – so I guess if this slot is actually used for a laptop, I would need to roll up some clothing for padding and put it at the bottom of the slot.

    I DO like the fact that the laptop slot only unzippers partway down the long side (but all the way across the narrow side, which is the top when in backpack mode). That’s a nice way to limit the risk of an accidental spill.

    I like the “minimalist” fabric-only (no foam padding) haul handles on the side and top (side and top as viewed in backpack mode). I think it’s crazy that some makers pad their haul handles to such an extreme that the handles, and only the handles, are the one item preventing the bag from fitting into a “size testing” box at the ticket gate. Any protusions from the glorious rectangularity of a carryon bag should flatten to the side of the bag when required, as they do here.

    I’m not sure about the right way to use this piece most efficiently. Usually I can spot book and movie endings a mile away, and can easily read-back a designer’s intentions in a product, but this bag was either designed by someone insanely clever and beyond my level of understanding, by a committee in response to inane customer comments, or by a beginning bag designer –

    * awkward access to “office slot;”
    * no key chain;
    * no zipper top to keep items from spilling out of the mesh slot and meandering through the rest of the office slot;
    * floating main compartment divider panel that requires adjustment of not two, but four webbing straps to adjust for size;
    * floating main compartment has a loop at one end for carrying the panel – but the loop is too small (to my eyes) to fit on a knob door handle;
    * upside down storage slots on divider panel;
    * insanely large computer slot (especially in an era of incredibly shrinking laptops) that fails to protect a laptop from the most common cause of shocks, setting the back down;
    * insanely large computer slot that eats up a lot of storage space in an era of briefcases and laptop cases to carry laptops.

    On the the other hand, I find a lot to like about this bag, and overall more to like than to dislike:

    – It looks great in black…while this sounds trivial, the surface finish of the material is great, so that compared to the Rick Steves bag, I don’t feel like a cheap tourist anymore (I think the look and feel is as nice as RedOxx, but a little more “metro”);
    – yes the bag gives up some volume as a result of the two thick foam pads required to make the laptop slot, BUT the foam also gives the bag some nice structure which is sadly lacking in the Rick Steves carryon;
    – I have to admit I agree with Patagonia that the “short zipper” on the front office slot is probably a good idea since I have often forgotten to re-zip my 3-1-1/netbook slot after a frenzied rush through a security line;
    – The office slot is sort of useful for nicknacks, what won’t fit here can fit in the divider panel in the main compartment and the office slot is GREAT for the 3-1-1 (my preferred location instead of the “dirty laundry” slot above and behind it);
    – while I’ll probably never use the laptop slot for a laptop, it looks like a perfect place to stow a jacket, sweater, shopping bag with last minute book and magazine purchases (I’ll probably use an LLBean Sack Pack which has almost matching measurements to wrap my jacket/sweater);
    – The “dirty laundry” slot does steal space from the main compartment, but that’s good, it means that when it’s not in use, the main compartment can steal that space back. In the meantime, the dirty laundry slot will keep be from forgetting which laundry is clean and which is dirty (admit it, sometimes in the rush of travel you can’t tell/remember either);
    – The main compartment panel divider does a better job of separating piles of clothing that ribbon tie-downs. Yes, even if you use a packing board or packing cubes, the divider is useful – sometimes you might want to stow some sweaters or other items that are big and bulky enough that they don’t really need their own cube or wrapper, and the panel divider does the job nicely. Plus it has storage slots. Plus you can take it out to save space and weight if you really don’t like it;
    – and most importantly, this bag is configured much better than any traditional backpack for luggage use – it is taller than a typical daypack, but narrower, so it hugs my back more closely than a bookpack, it is also wider, but the 7″ limit on thickness helps assure that this won’t whack everyone when I turn around. Yes, all the other bags shown in the “5 bag picture shot” (except the AirBoss) will also fit on the back, but as I complained earlier, some are too fat, and some are too skinny, and the MLC is just right. At least for me.

    Now my goal for my January trip is to NOT stuff it to the gills, but to leave room for magazine and book shop purchases, for clothing added and subtracted during transit. I want this baby to look UNDER filled next journey.


  9. ng says:

    One reason I recommend the MLC rather than the larger bags with more capacity is that on an airplane it can be comfortably put beneath the seat in front of you with space on either side for your feet. I say this from experience. This is important when traveling on planes without space in the overhead compartments. I think that the MLC really is the perfect airline carry on bag.


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks for commenting. The Western Flyer, the Tri-Star, the Steves Appenzell – and many others – will fit beneath airline seats, and in fact the bags mentioned here will fit beneath the seat on CRJ’s. I like the MLC as well, but it’s hardly perfect. Which generation of MLC do you have?



    ng Reply:

    My point was not that it fits under the seat, as indeed other bags larger than it also do, but that it fits under the seat and is just thin enough that you can push your feet to either side of it, allowing you to stretch your legs. I don’t own stock in Patagonai, so I’m not trying to push this bag on anyone, but in some of these reviews there is a credo of “bigger equals better” so long as it fits within the airline’s carry-on size requirements. I was trying to be helpful by commenting to fellow shoppers that sometimes bigger equals worse, depending on one’s use for the bag.


  10. Kevin says:

    @ Michael W:

    re the Divider Panel & the zipper pockets being upside down:

    (Sorry for the delay; I’d forgotten you’d asked about this) —

    Do you mean the entire panel is facing downward? Or that as you partly unzip that compartment, wanting to retrieve something, that the zippers on the pockets are away from you, i.e., facing the bottom of the bag?

    If it’s the latter, yes, mine is that way as well. And there’s no way to fix it.

    It’s one of those pesky little details that manufacturers sometimes miss – it looks ok when you glance at it, but when you go to retrieve your iPod, or passport, or whatever while on a plane, suddenly you realize it’s not been properly thought through. Sigh.


  11. Michael W. says:



  12. Alan Birnbaum says:

    I am in the process of replacing my twenty year old MLC, overall a very nice bag. Interesting to see the newest version, particularly as I am looking very seriously at the Red Oxx Air Boss. The current iteration of the MLC likely would attract someone who needs a carry-on bag to fit the overhead in an Embraer or Bombardier “regional jet.” The former just barely fits my 17 x 13 x 7 inch camera case, so the thinner profile of the MLC and its backpack straps give it an advantage over the Air Boss there. BUT, as I would be OK with using “gate check” for one hour or so flights, and generally would simply be putting the Air Boss atop the wheeled bag which my wife won’t give up, not having the backpack straps likely won’t be an issue. I did over the last year acquire the now-discontinued Patagonia wheeled Overhead Shed, an interesting, well-built, but rather difficult to pack bag, and also have acquired the Tumi-Tech folding one suiter bag. I’ll probably use each of these depending on the type and length trip, and the mode of transportation. But, I’ll probably pack lighter in the future regardless, using any of these more than my 29-inch Rimowa Salsa, a capacious bag which can be too easily damaged for its $450 cost.


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks for your comments; very interesting. If you can find the last generation MLC (eBay?), it’s a very nice bag with some features eliminated on the latest version.

    And of course you can’t go wrong with the AB, it’s a great bag. Keep in mind that it lacks some of the thoughtful little features you’ll find on other bags like Bihn and the last gen MLC.

    Let us know what you decide and how you make out.



  13. Harris says:

    It is impossible to replace a 20 year old MLC – in my opinion one of the best products Patagonia ever made. The closest thing I have found is the Red Oxx Sky Train. Believe it or not, you can cram almost as much stuff into it as you could into the original MLC.


  14. MichaelW says:

    Eagle Creek PackIt Folder 20″ fits the MLC like they were designed for each other. Just got one to try to give some structure to the MLC’s cheap rival the Outdoor Products Essentials Carryon but guess what – won’t fit the OPEC.


  15. matthew harris says:

    i just found an mlc on sale for $120 as i have been looking for something a bit smaller with a little more structure than my rick steves 44″ unstructured bag and also something a bit larger than his appenzell backpack which i have used for my main bag on some trips…


  16. Bob Adams says:

    Hi I’ve followed this thread for a while as about 6 months ago I purchased a mlc copy. Its made by a fairly well known manufacturer here in Australia called Blackwolf. The bag is called the Skedaddle

    as you can see from the website it pretty well looks like the second to last version of the mlc. except that the elephant ear has gone and a large semi crescent zip opening is in its place.

    And its design addresses some of the faults identified by Michael in a previous post, eg

    * awkward access to “office slot;” This is larger in this version
    * no key chain; A removable key chain is included
    * no zipper top to keep items from spilling out of the mesh slot and meandering through the rest of the office slot; the mesh slot in the Skedaddle includes a zipper
    * floating main compartment divider panel that requires adjustment of not two, but four webbing straps to adjust for size; Still the same!
    * floating main compartment has a loop at one end for carrying the panel – but the loop is too small (to my eyes) to fit on a knob door handle; no loop is included on the Skedaddle
    * upside down storage slots on divider panel; the Skedaddle storage slot is the right way for me.
    * insanely large computer slot (especially in an era of incredibly shrinking laptops) that fails to protect a laptop from the most common cause of shocks, setting the back down; The Skedaddle includes a laptop sleeve that also includes a zipped mesh pocket on the front and a carry handle. It is also attached to the inside of the compartment via a velcro strip.
    * insanely large computer slot that eats up a lot of storage space in an era of briefcases and laptop cases to carry laptops. The Skedaddle laptop sleeve can actually be used as a mini briefcase and the laptop compartment used as a slot for an eagle creek packing folder.

    In addition to the above the organizer section includes a large zipped pocket for documents a small pocket with keep for a mobile phone and two pen holders, the large opening makes it very easy to access all the items when needed.

    The small pocket above the organizer pocket would be suitable for a 3-1-1 bag. It is also felt lined so it can be used for your Iphone, blackberry etc without fear that they will get scratched.

    The laptop sleeve ( or mini briefcase ) also includes two O rings attached to the outside. So if I use the pack with the back straps I can attach the shoulder strap to the laptop case making a very elegant solution as I free up space within the pack for clothes etc.

    I find in this mode I can travel on a casual business basis for up to a week.

    My bag is black and doesn’t look out of place in a business meeting



    Kevin Reply:

    Wow. Bob, just out of curiosity, is the Skedaddle made in Viet Nam? And, again just curious, how much did it cost? Thanks for a really interesting comment!



    Bob Adams Reply:

    Hi Kevin,

    The bag is indeed made in Vietnam. And it costs anywhere from 110 to 150 aussie dollars depending on discounts etc.

    Anyway thanks for your work during the year, I find this site one of the most interesting and helpful sites on the net. Your gear reviews are fantastic and really help me.

    again thanks and Merry Xmas and a happy new year to you and all the readers.


    Kevin Reply:


    First, thanks for your comments about the blog – you’ve certainly made my day!!

    For everyone else, 130 Aussie dollars are the equivalent of ~$115; of course this is quite a bit less than what Patagonia charges for the actual MLC.
    Interesting to note that the Skedaddle actually includes a separate laptop sleeve.

    Bob, thanks for sharing this… very interesting.

    And Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family!

    Alex Reply:

    It looks like the Skedaddle claims significantly less carrying capacity (30l vs 45l for the MLC). What are the dimensions of the Skedaddleas they’re not listed on the website?



    Bob Adams Reply:

    Hi Alex,

    The dimensions for the skeddadle are the same as the MLC , I think the capacity figures that Blackwolf advertise are more close to the mark than the inflated Patagonia claim.


  17. T.H. says:

    I recently bought the MLC. I think you’re way too hard on this bag in your reviews. And tend to give a pass to Binh’s bags and RedOXX. First off, those bags are very expensive…with discounts these days you can fairly easily find an MLC online for much less 130$.

    As for style, those other bags are UGLY. They are just not attractively designed bags…I’m talking about the skyboss and aeronaut. Way over-rated. Clearly they get a boost, being US-made. The Patagonia is made for recycled materials, did you know that? Give them some credit for it.

    I think you nitpick on things like zippers (in the former version), and now missing the elephant ear thing.

    This is a great bag, and in its size class, and now discounted price, there is very little competition. You could look at the Travellite and Eagle Creek Overland but there is not much that makes those a compelling option over the MLC except for preference.

    There are small design touches in the MLC that your review overlooks…such as the divider/compressor that can be removed and hung up from say, a hook/doorknob to help for organizing in a small hotel room (such as in London where many don’t have a counter in the bathroom).

    The lap top section gets criticized for being too big?? And instead you want an elephant ear pocket back? For what? To not be able to hold your ipad, kindle, a water bottle or much else… Are you kidding? here is what the size of the laptop section is great for, holding your laptop in its own case as well as the power cable. you could also put an ipad or tablet device in there or whatever you want. without that, you’re not going to easily have one bag are you? you’ll need another one just for your laptop.

    I really appreciate that you review this bags at length. But i do think you hammer patagonia on minutiae that upon closer examination is really your own preference vs. an objective evaluation.

    I don’t work for Patagonia nor am I related to anyone who does. But I do appreciate their products and find that they tend to be exquisitely designed and hold up well.

    I’d take on any day over Redoxx or Tom Binh products. Even if cost wasn’t an issue.


    Kevin Reply:

    I believe the MLC reviews on this site are well balanced. If you re-read this review, this is how I concluded:

    “Patagonia did an excellent job of addressing one of the previous iteration’s weak points (the balky, hard to operate zippers) and the upgrade to the backpack straps is solid. As for the pocket(s) on the front of the bag, in my opinion they took a step backward. Nevertheless, the MLC remains a very nice bag and at the lower price, a good value.”

    If you feel that the zippers used on luggage are a trivial matter, or that it doesn’t matter if a manufacturer misrepresents the dimensions of a bag, I don’t know quite what to say.


    Michael W. Reply:

    I own the MLC “non-elephant ear” design. I believe this is still the most current edition.

    The issues I have with it track Kevin’s:

    1. The laptop slot is very wasteful of space – a great idea when laptops were 17″, but not so good for even a 13.3″ laptop, a 13.3″ rattles around unless you stuff clothing in there. Putting a smaller laptop in a neoprene case does protect against scratches from power brick prongs etc. and provides privacy while transiting security, but having to use a neoprene case is a bit of a penalty for the ultralight travelfan. At a minimum on the next update, I hope Patagonia puts a Velcro divider option in the laptop slot so it can be configured into two compartments instead of one. The other alternative is a strip of Velcro on the inside so a laptop case with corresponding Velcro strip can be anchored in place (the RickshawBags approach).

    – also note that the laptop slot does not “suspend” the laptop against actual contact with the edge of the pack, the way the Patagonia daypacks do – with a suspension design you have MUCH better protection from “set down bumps”, which are actually the most common “shock”.

    2. The MLC IS the smallest of the many convertible backpack/suitcase style travel bags I own or have inspected.

    For a bag called the MLC or “maximum legal carryon” the smaller size is a big negative, certainly for the overly trusting shopper.

    For me, the reduced size is a plus. Volume is reduced compared to the Airboss or to a Rick Steves Classic Pack, but since the shape if a perfect “suitcase rectangle,” packing is a breeze and there are no inefficiencies compared to a lumpy tear drop shaped day pack.

    Patagonia is one of my favorite brands and I agree with you that some of Kevin’s negatives are nitpicks more than major flaws. On the other hand, they certainly are things I want to consider when really critically evaluating where to spend my shopping dollars. Your post is a valid counterpoint, but I wouldn’t really say either of you are 100% right or 100% wrong – certainly for a first time consumer, it’s better to have all the possible pluses and minuses out there to consider, and then make up our own mind. And the beauty of a blog is of course the back and forth opportunities in the comments section!

    P.S. – imho, the reduced entry on the front slot pocket of the MLC makes it much harder to access stuff inside. Added security vs. added inconvenience …


    Michael W. Reply:

    The “best” size carryon bag really depends on how much you have to carry on, for a particular flight. Sometimes a change of undergarments and a single replacement shirt is all you need. Sometimes you are traveling for several weeks and sinkwashing. Sometimes you need a place to stuff a winter weight warmlayer from your destination when you arrive in the tropics. A true “maximum legal size” bag can be a problem at times – it may not fit at your feet or in the overhead compartment on a smaller regional jet, and have to be checked. If you are less tall, a true mlc bag might not fit on your lap for a local bus trip without getting in front of your face. If you are packing less, unless the onebag has compression straps (in my collection, ONLY the Rick Steves has compression straps), and stuff may sag if the onebag is only partially filled.

    The Patagoina MLC lets you pack lightly but adequately UNDER its internal compression panel, leaving room on the other side for a “take off” (or “put on”) jacket or fleece. The external dimensions are modest compared to huge bags like the Rick Steves and Airboss. Yet the volume is distributed very efficiently, for packing, in a rectangular, not teardrop, layout.

    So there is much to like about the Patagonia MLC – except its NAME!


  18. TH says:

    Fair enough… thanks

    anyway, for anyone who wants an MLC these days, you can get them for 100-135 discounted, online.

    i saw the “elephant-ear” model selling on e-bay as well for around 150$.

    so which model do you like better? the current MLC, or the elephant-ear one? and with the elephant ear, where did you store your laptop?


  19. […] on-line) è poco diffusa e si trova a prezzi ancora più elevati. Su Practicalhacks c’è una recensione del 2009 in cui questa valigia viene paragonata alla Red Oxx Air Boss. In definitiva la MLC è più […]

  20. Trompenfoot says:

    The offset handle is a deal killer for me. Patagonia made a big mistake assuming that the majority of potential customers for this bag own and travel with a big laptop.


  21. Skydaddy says:

    Hi guys, thanks for the information.

    I bought this bag yesterday (March 2013) and I think it is still the version discussed above. I’d like to comment on the missing key strap in the organizer compartment.

    The bag I bought yesterday has a WEBBING TAB (loop) on the mesh pocket which can – and is obviously intended to – be used to

    a) attach a key strap
    b) attach a small carabiner
    c) attach a split ring

    I’m going to attach a small flat organiser pouch there.

    A few other thoughts:

    The MLC fits EXACTLY with the Eagle Creek Pack-It cubes – especially the “Complete Organizer” type (one full cube on one side, two half cubes on the other, foldable), which I don’t want to miss anymore. I can pack two Complete Organizers plus a 20″ Pack-It Folder in the main compartment plus another 18″ Pack-It Folder in the “Laptop Compartment”.

    The exact fit with my Pack-It Folders was the reason I bought this bag. (I actually wanted the eagle Creek Adventure Weekender for this purpose, but could not get it here in Singapore.)

    Things that could be improved:

    – the zippers are not “lockable” (although one could pull a small padlock through the holes in the tabs)

    – between the moving parts of the zippers there is still a small opening (visible in the “zipper close-up” photo above). I think the zippers could fit better to minimize the space between them to avoid dust or water getting into the bag

    – there is no reinforcement at the bottom of the bag. I wonder how long this is going to last if the bag is put in the ground, maybe even pushed forward (at a check-in queue, for example, or by other people handling the bag, e.g. when travelling in a coach).

    For now, I like the bag, and am looking forward to my first trip with it.


    Kevin Reply:

    Thanks for a great comment!


  22. Kit says:

    I came across this – seems similar to the MLC. Would be great to see a review if you are familiar with it? Also the MLC has a wheeled version now.


    Kevin Reply:


    I’m not familiar with the Kelty bag, although it looks good. I’ll keep an eye open for one; thanks for the suggestion.


  23. Organicchook says:

    I have been using the mlc for a few years now. I think it’s the 2nd generation. I love it. I use the large computer section for a travelon flat out toiletry bag. (placed in the flat out position). If I take a small laptop I pack it in the main compartment in its own protective sleeve. I use packing packs, a mixture of eagle Creek black wolf and cheaper mesh ones. 5 days of clothing fit comfortably within the 7kg limit. It slides easily into the overhead plane compartment. I love the ease of using it as a backpack or carrying it on its side. I love not waiting for my bags at the carousel and not having to juggle awkward bags on stairs or escalators.


  24. Kit says:


    I saw that the MLC has a new design for 2104 – seems to be getting good rating so far.

    You think you might review it here?


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