With the recent easing of board bag fees across a number of U.S. airlines, there’s tried and true strategy for efficient surf trip packing that’s also lightest on the wallet.
Consider this: the way many carriers are charging for board bags now means that your boards count as your first checked bag. A second checked bag means excess cash, so the name of the game to avoid any additional fees is to remember the rule of three. One board bag, one carry-on bag that fits in the overhead compartment, and one backpack.
Carry-on bags come in many shapes and sizes, but having spent countless hours meandering through airports, I can say with certainty that a structured, wheeled duffel bag is the ideal style. Emphasis on wheels there because they’re the only way to take extra weight off your back and shoulders, and in a pinch, you can do a bit of a split-wheelie technique where your board bag trails you and your carry on wheels off in front of you.
Of all the myriad options available to satisfy your wheeling carry-on needs, arguably Patagonia’s effort (a carry-on approved, wheeled variation of their Black Hole bags that are a favorite among outdoor enthusiasts for their sturdiness) may be the burliest out there. The good folks over at Patagonia recently sent their 40L Black Hole Wheeled Duffel our way, and here are our key takeaways.
Sturdy Seams and Zipper
Over the years, I’ve split my fair share of zippers on bags I’ve inadvertently overstuffed. It’s less than ideal when your go-to bag pops a hole the night before a trip and even worse when you’re in another country. On a recent family trip, I was tasked with packing a week’s worth of clothes for myself and our one-year-old into the Black Hole. I had hesitations. “It’s not all going to fit,” I said. It did. And where other bags would called mercy, the Black Hole swallowed it all. The zippers especially are some of the most well-known I’ve seen on luggage.
Always Stands up Straight
Ever have one of those carry-ons that stands on its own great when it’s empty but as soon as it’s full it gets lopsided and always seems to tip over? Not the Black Hole. Even when filled to the absolute brim (see above) when left upright it doesn’t fall over.
Sturdy Telescoping Handle
Another common annoying trait of a poorly-engineered carry-on is common malfunctions with a telescoping handle. You press the button in the middle and pull and somehow one side raises higher, the thing gets stuck, etc. So far, this one feels incredibly well-made and the handle itself feels ergonomic and comfortable.
Big Durable Wheels
The wheels of any bag are literally where the rubber meets the road. Many bags seem to skimp on the quality of the wheels and as a result, they become the first thing to break. Patagonia’s Black Hole does not. There are only two of them, though, which was a bit of a con (see below).
New to this year’s Black Holes, every bag in the collection is 100 percent recycled – from the body material to the lining to the webbing. According to Patagonia, this season’s bags used 10 million plastic bottles to build that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill or in the ocean.
Two Wheels, Not Four
For some accustomed to wheeling a bag through the airport on four wheels, transitioning to two can be a tiny adjustment. On many bags, all four wheels are often on casters which can further make them prone to breaking. But they also push sideways, forward, backward, and any which way. Again, if that’s what you’re used to the Black Hole doesn’t offer that.
Only One Outer Pocket
If you’re a surf traveler hoping only to wheel a carry-on and a board bag and ditch the backpack, note that the Black Hole does not have any outer pockets save a side pocket that I’ve only been able to fit a passport and boarding pass into when the bag is packed to the brim. If you’re looking for a separate compartment for a laptop so you don’t have to pull out your underwear at the terminal for all to see, this is not the bag for you. It really works best as part of a travel system.
Overall, the 40L Black Hole Wheeled Duffel may be the burliest and most ideal carry-on wheeled bag for surf and adventure travel out there. At $299 it is on the pricier side, but so farI’m confident it’ll span the life of at least three lesser-made bags easy. Learn more here.