Editors' Choice 2009 Gold Award: The North Face Base Camp Duffel

There might be a journey too daunting for this load hauler. But it's not on this planet.

No one should fall in love with vinyl luggage. But Google “North Face Duffel” and “love” and you get 485 entries (at press time). And only six of them are BACKPACKER editors! Sure, we’ve shared lots of big adventures with these indestructible carriers. But our affection is totally practical: Its gaping U-shaped opening makes short work of stowing and sorting all our junk; beefy zippers have never failed despite years of overstuffing; padded shoulder straps let us carry it too far over rough terrain; handles and daisy chain webbing loops have not met a bus/camel/yak to which they couldn’t be secured; and the phthalate-free (a toxic chemical) PVC vinyl hasn’t punctured, melted, or worn through.

Proof: BACKPACKER crews, while producing TV shows in the ’90s, dragged six of these bags from Tasmania to Iceland over the course of seven years, 13 weeks each year. A decade later, those duffels–the same ones!–still get constant abuse on test trips. On the way back from our Editors’ Choice trip to Wales, a luggage handler at O’Hare–among the nation’s busiest airports–spotted one of our well-used bags. “Oh, a North Face duffel!” she exclaimed, pure love in her voice. “I’ve had one for years. They’re the best!” Available in five sizes. Specs for the XL: $160; 9,070 cu.in.; 4 lbs. 15 oz.; thenorthface.com

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