As a college freshman, I used to go to practice with my gear in a plastic Harris Teeter bag. It was all I needed to transport my loot: a water bottle, a pair of cleats, and a light or dark depending on what I was already wearing. I’ve been accumulating more and more gear ever since: I now lug around warm up pants, a rain jacket, cones, and food. Simply put, I’ve got of stuff, and I need a good bag to carry it around in. The Patagonia Black Hole ($139, 90L) is that bag.
The Black Hole is big and easily carried. I use it to get my clothes, a sleeping bag, and a pillow to tournaments or to bring cones, speed ladders, and cleats to coaching sites. I’ve never come close to filling it up, yet it still isn’t cumbersome to carry.
The Black Hole’s best feature is its backpack straps, which free up my hands for taking sips of water, fiddling with my iPod, or hugging Elliot to console him about the bag going 0-for in the Hat? category. The straps are thick and padded, easing the pressure on my shoulders even if I’ve got a full load and giving the pack a sturdy feel that’s nice for walking across big field complexes or taking it on a hike. Another subtle perk: they’re stationed on the top side of the bag, which makes the opening flap immediately accessible when I take the Black Hole off my shoulders.
The Black Hole’s pockets are also clutch. There are three: one on the outside and two just inside the opening. The outside one is the smallest, but like the rest of the bag, it’s waterproof. I use it for items that I need quickly and frequently like car keys and my wallet, but it’s big enough for items like lacrosse balls and tubes of sunscreen. The inside pockets, which are identical, located on the opening flap, and made of mesh, are great because they’re big and see-through. I like to keep items that I need at the field– sunglasses, my coaching whistle and markers, gloves– in one and non-playing items– toiletries, a phone charger, a book– in the other. I love the Black Hole’s pockets’ simplicity.
I have very few qualms with the Black Hole, all of which can be offset with a bit of resourcefulness. The first is that the 90L is a bit too big. I like the no-frills design of one giant compartment, but unless I pack it full the items in the back can shuffle around once I use it as a backpack. I could solve this problem, however, by simply getting one of the smaller Black Holes, as they come in 45L and 60L as well. Having only one compartment also makes keeping wet or dirty gear separate from the clean, so I keep a cleat bag around for after I play. The opening flap’s zippers can be a bit tough to access because there is extra fabric there to shield them from the rain; this one is fixed by attaching a small keychain or lanyard to one of the zippers. Finally, there are times when, even though I love the backpack straps, I wish there were a shoulder strap. When I feel the need, I simply elongate one of the backpack straps, snap it in so that it runs across the top of the bag, and I’m good to go.
The Black Hole is waterproof and backed by Patagonia’s lifetime Ironclad Guarantee. Three quarters of the bag is a slick material– Deluge DWR (durable water repellent)– and the bottom panel is thick and tough. I’ve kept my laptop in it in the rain and feel fine tossing the Black Hole down onto dirt or pavement. No more scrounging for trash bags when I feel rain drops or buying a new bag every couple of years because of broken zippers or torn fabric? Yes, please.
Price is relative, ya know? The 90L Black Hole costs $139, which is a lot when compared to the $50 I’d drop on an in-region tournament but not much compared to the costs of a club season. A quick “duffel bag” search on Dick’s Sporting Goods’ site yields prices that range from $35 to $90, and most of those bags are less roomy than the 90L Black Hole and lack its durability and weatherproof features. I’d say the Black Hole’s versatility and guaranteed longevity make it worth the extra $50, a cost that would be even less if I were to buy a smaller version. Like a nice mattress or winter coat, the Black Hole is a quality product I’ll never need to replace.
The Black Hole is versatile, durable, and permanent. It’s the Mercedes Benz of bags. Its utility also extends far beyond ultimate: I use mine every time I travel, and the moves I make are more comfortable and efficient as a result. All this, plus you can put your dog in it. The Patagonia Black Hole is the best bag I’ve ever used.
Patagonia Black Hole Duffel – 90L ($139)