Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L Pack Review
Full of features and backed by Patagonia's bullet proof build quality and fix-it policies, read up on the good and the bad in our latest bag review.
Introduction To The Patagonia Black Hole MLC Review
Patagonia is a giant in the outdoor space. We all know that. They are also a giant in the "responsible company" space. We might not all know that part. Beyond that, they are also a favorite brand of travelers everywhere. Their quality products, outdoor focused looks, and "we'll fix it for you" attitude has built an untouchable reputation over the years. (Seriously, they travel around the country doing roadshows to fix your gear, it's pretty awesome.)
When I first started to get into the idea of "one bag travel" I'd say I started slow. Not in a bad way, but I also wasn't prepared to spend a boatload of money on a cool designer bag if it wasn't going to work for me. I went for the eBags Motherlode Weekender first, and it was a solid choice. It helped me learn that I could in fact, in most cases, get by with one bag. It was a revelation, really.
I then made the jump to the Black Hole duffel. Randomly, I came across the bag we're looking at here. The Black Hole MLC 45L bag. The "MLC" stands for "maximum legal carry-on". So it's designed to fit into those little metal cages airlines have at the gates now. How dare they try to cage me! Whoa, OK, I think I need to talk to someone about that. Back to the review.
It's big, it's pretty flexible in it's storage options, and can also carry a laptop. The newest version is also made from 100% recycled materials, which is great (Remember, I already said they are a leading "responsible" company. How's that for for foreshadowing?).
This is my review of the Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L. This bag was purchased with my own money and researched on my own time, I've had no interaction with the company. The opinions in this review are my own and it is not sponsored in any way.
Patagonia Black Hole MLC Overview
One bag travel. A single bag for your whole trip. What a time to be alive!
The Black Hole MLC 45L is what we've come to expect from Patagonia in general, and more specifically from their Black hole line as a whole. It's built out of really high quality, durable materials that will last for pretty much forever. On top of that, due to the coatings they use, you get a very high amount of water resistance from this bag (not proof, more on that later).
Zippers are YKK, and the big kind. The kind that feel good when you open and close it. This bag is square, has a clam shell style opening so it's just like a suitcase (which is my go-to style), and has hide-able backpack straps for when you want to carry it by the handle and not have them dangling off (like boarding a plane for instance).
There are 4 major storage pockets. The main compartment (two, technically). The front organizational pocket (for all your bits and bobs, pens, cables, chargers, etc.). A slash pocket for flatter items or quick grab needs on the very front. And finally, a laptop sleeve on the back between you and the main compartment.
It will fit most domestic US airline carry on limits, and most major carriers abroad. Be careful over stuffing this though on the discount airlines - they might get ya.
The bag retails on their site for $199.00 USD.
Additional Black Hole MLC Bag Features
Some other features are also worth noting here. The handles on here are heavy duty - no worries about holding by those when pulling out of an over head bin or a trunk (boot, y'alright UK!?). Inner mesh has two further pockets, though I rarely use those. There are lash points and d-rings all over this thing, so go ahead and put your Hero Clip on there.
What else? The zipper pulls are a solid nylon, no issues there. And, we have a luggage pass through so you can pop this on top of your roller. But, really, you're supposed to be practicing one bag travel here, so hopefully you don't have to. Unless, you're carrying equipment that is. Or a really, really small person inside it. You shouldn't do that, though.
There's really a lot to like about this bag. The legendary build quality and guarantee behind the product. The big, beefy zippers on the major pockets on the bag. Flexible carry options (shoulder strap, which I don't use; back pack; handle carry). I like being able to tuck the straps away as well, so I'm not hitting my neighbors on the airplane with them as I board or deplane (shameless plug for my Airplane Etiquette article; read it, and nod your head as you agree). And I was very happy with the organization on this.
For instance, the left inside compartment while smaller and more shallow than the main compartment, is a great place for some less bulky items. Flatter/low profile packing cubes fit great here. Often for me, this is where I place a sport coat or jacket if I'm going somewhere I'll need it for dinner, or for a wedding or something. It's great for that. But you can also put your spare outdoor jackets here as well. Maybe your rain shell and fleece when you don't need them. Up to you, go wild on this one!
I also like the volume. 45L is really a perfect size for a the 5 day sweet spot I target when I travel. For a 4-5 day trip, you'll be golden. For longer? You're still golden because you should be packing for a 5 day trip at the most, and doing a wash. Trust me on that. But regardless, 45L is great and in some cases, like on a discount carrier, might be enough to get you in trouble. You can stuff a lot in it. Generally speaking I was always able to fit what I needed, and for those times I DID need that nice jacket, I found myself reaching for this vs. the duffel, which is technically bigger, because of that ability to use the left side for that purpose.
The front two pockets also offer enough quick grab ability to pull out my tech kit and headphones before putting the bag in the over head bin on a plane.
Well, the flip side here is that 45L is a lot, and based on this bag forming around the things you have inside, I bet you could fit more than that. And, it does LOOK big when it's packed out - even if it's really not any bigger than competitors. That's why I say you'll need to be careful of any over zealous gate agents looking to snag people on pack sizes. This also could tempt you to pack more just because you can. Don't. Resist that. Only take what you need. And if that means taking your smaller bag, do that. But stop overpacking!
Another knock on this bag is the fact that it doesn't really have it's own structure. It's all a bit floppy. So as it picks up the weight, it will sag in places because of that which will move your cubes around a bit. Don't get me wrong they aren't going to be waking up and doing calisthenics in your bag and be in completely different locations at the end like some weird riff on The Secret Life of Pets. But, they can shift and squish. Worth mentioning. I do in fact like a bag with some structure, but I knew this going into my purchase. Wasn't a deal breaker for me, but it might be for you.
The zippers. I know I complemented them earlier and I stand by that. They are high quality zips, to be sure. But in this case, they aren't water proof. On the laptop pocket either. That would go a long way to push more for the water resistance on this bag. And in this price range, you tend to find YKK AquaGuard zippers. Those zippers also are not lockable. I don't typically go that route, but if you're a lock-up-your bag kind of peep, maybe cause you are in hostels or on some crazy long train rides where your bag might not sit with you, something to note. I will say the holes are big enough for those wire bag locks. They just aren't designed as locking zippers, if that makes sense.
Patagonia Black Hole MLC vs. The Field
This space is crowded right now. There's no getting around that. Most of the major brands, including the indie designer brands, have a travel pack at this point. WANDRD, Nomatic, Chrome, Evergoods, AER, Tortuga, North Face, REI, the list goes on. And on. Annnnd on.
I would say there are three major points that will cause you to choose between all of these brands. Styling. Structure/Organization. And brand loyalty/brand message. Some of you might want a more urban-minimalist look. This bag is not it (try the AER, Nomatic, Evergoods, Tortuga, or WANDRD for that). But, some of you might like the outdoorsy aesthetic and color choices (I did). Chances are, if you are into a certain bag company, they have a travel pack. So you could go with who you are loyal to.
The closest bag I can think of in style, structure, and materials to this would be the Cotopaxi Allpa 42L. Same clam shell, multiple internal org spots, and similar un-structured/soft pack style. Also comes in typical Cotopaxi crazier colorways.
Here's some pics with an example pack. Items are as follows: 3 button downs (only one travel focused/weight); packable day pack; oxfords; 2 performance undershirts; 3 t-shirts; 4 underwear; 3 socks, one being travel dress socks; toiletry kit; tech kit; full-size headphones; 13 inch laptop; iPad pro 11; Kindle; passport sleeve. I also snuck a pair of jeans into the final packed picture. As you can see this didn't even test the bag's capacity one bit. I further switched the headphones and tech kit to the front pocket, which is how I use it. I would use the left side for a down jacket and rain shell, perhaps. I want to note that I don't generally travel with a laptop, just the iPad (or previously, a Surface Pro) - but I wanted to include it in order for you to get an idea that it was still zero problem to include it.
The Improvement Requests for Patagonia Black Hole MLC
The bag is pretty awesome, and I've definitely been very happy in my ownership of it. But it's not without its criticisms and areas that it could get better. Patagonia, if you're reading this: I'd like to see the addition of taped zippers for water proofing (a lot of bags at this price point have it). One more major improvement in my mind would be to try and add some sort of self-structure for this bag. I get the Black Hole MLC is just an extension of the classic Black Hole duffel, but I think it would add more protection to your stuff and make it better at standing on its own.
Lastly, while I didn't really dock any points for this, I'd like to see some improvements to the laptop sleeve. It's all based on soft padding, and again, I've not experienced anything negative from this, but I just kind of feel like there could be some harder materials around this.
Final Thoughts On My Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L Review
I've personally been using this pack as my go-to travel pack for nearly 2 years now. It's performed really well for me. I've taken it on weekend trips (probably over kill) as well as multiple European jaunts (land on Thur, depart on Sun). I've never had a bad experience with it outside of the points for improvements mentioned above. I'd say that's a pretty solid track record. Unless another bag like this comes my way that's better, I'll be taking this to Vietnam at the end of the year, too.
So speaking of today's version with the materials update - you're getting an environmentally responsible pack backed by a company known for practicing what they preach. They'd rather you NOT put more bags into the graveyards out there, so they will fix/repair your bag for free if they can. Or, I believe they will take it back. They always examine it to check if the defect fits their warranty, and if it does, they'll replace it. So you're not taking a gamble here.
For a travel pack that has a ton of features, great build quality, and can be that city travel pack or the outdoorsy companion you need, this is a great pick. Even more so if you are a loyalist to this brand. That said, if you're looking to an urban style, minimalist look, etc. - this won't be the droid you're looking for.
With a view to it's general performance, and as a long-time user of this bag, I can 100% recommend the Black Hole MLC 45L from Patagonia. The sticking point will simply be your choice of style, and probably if you want a bag with more structure to it.
They sell directly from their website so hop on over:
Gear In The Pictures:
Western Rise Limitless Merino Shirt (our Limitless Merino Shirt Review)
Bellroy Passport Holder (Discontinued)
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