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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

This Really Is the Greatest Bag Ever Made

I should give you fair warning: You’re about to read an article on how I fell in love with a bag. But it'll be worth it, for I will impart some truly valuable information. You see, despite a life spent writing about gear, I still find it hard to narrow my choice when asked outright, say, “What are the best headphones?” You’d think I’d know. But I don’t. There are too many variables. What’s your budget? Wired or wireless? Style or substance? Are you one of those running people? Do you have Spock ears or the usual kind?

The same can be said for TVs. Actually, it’s worse for TVs. Don’t ever ask me about TVs. I’d rather eat my own feet than give you TV advice. If you want that, ask Parker. He is a man blessed with infinitely more patience than I.

I can recommend a bag, though. Unequivocally, wholeheartedly, and plainly. No qualifiers needed, no lines starting “if you’re the kind of person,” no hedging or sneaking in alternatives for those on a higher budget. This is the bag for you. This is the bag for anyone.

Ah, but there are all different kinds of bags, I hear you cry. Well, pipe down. I know there are all different kinds of bags. But this one covers a lot of bases. It can morph into other forms, hold more than the laws of physics would seemingly allow, and be useful in a whole raft of situations—so many, in fact, that I have no reservations feverishly recommending this bag to literally anyone who is even vaguely interested in luggage of any kind. It is the bag to end all bags. Let me tell you about it.

Hard-Wearing Duffle Backpack

Filson Duffle Pack$285 at REI$285 at Filson

I have had a Filson Duffle Pack since it debuted in 2017. That’s right, I've been testing this workhorse for five years. I got it in the original Whiskey color, though I could have gone for Otter Green. By the time Filson added Dark Navy in 2019, I was so hooked and fearful that the company would discontinue such a genius item, I got that version too. 

Filson started kitting out prospectors for the Klondike Gold Rush, and the company has continued making items for 125 years designed specifically to withstand whatever backcountry madness you throw at them. While the brand is usually known for crafting bags from heavyweight tin cloth, for the first time ever with the Duffle Pack it switched this out for ballistic nylon—a 600-denier, all-weather, tear-resistant, synthetic fabric.

To put into perspective just how hard-wearing this ballistic nylon is, consider that the fabric was originally developed by DuPont as a material for flak jackets. Needless to say, the Duffle Pack shrugs off any wear and tear that inevitably comes from being thoughtlessly slung around on commutes and at airports. Neither of my bags have any damage whatsoever, despite almost constant use. None. Not a scratch, rip, or scuff. Another advantage of this fabric is that it’s both lightweight and supple; when empty, the Duffle Pack squishes down to practically flat.

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But let’s get to the Duffle Pack’s party piece. This bag has the ability to change between a rucksack, a hand-carry, and a standard shoulder duffel, depending on what you need. Two backpack straps have been cleverly hidden in the base, which means that when you don't need them they are pleasingly zipped away from view, then you carry the bag just like any other duffel with the handle or the shoulder strap. And it takes just seconds to deploy these straps, then sling it over either shoulder or both.

Then there’s the attention to detail. Not only have those rucksack straps been designed to slide out of sight, but they are also wide and well-padded, making them comfortable even when the bag is fully loaded. Stashed away between the base and those backpack straps, you'll find a padded, zip-up pocket sized to fit a 16-inch laptop. That same pocket can easily stow an iPad Pro at the same time.

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Filson also has seen fit to provide an expandable, waterproof liner in one of the cavernous side pockets, so you can separate wet gear from dry. If you're on a weekend trip, going to the gym or swimming pool, out hiking, or dealing with young children’s mishaps, this is not a pocket, it is a godsend. 

Indeed, look anywhere on the Duffle Pack and you’ll find care and love has been lavished on the little things that make all the difference. According to Adam Hogarth, associate director of design at Filson, a normal zipper on the top was seen as insufficient. “We used a 10-gauge zipper in the end, which is not only super durable, it’s functional. They don't freeze up easily,” he says. “If you take this out into the field and it gets very cold, it will always work.” The brass zipper pulls with leather loops are also intentionally larger, for easy grabbing with gloved hands.

The designers made the top opening extra wide, so you can get stuff in and out in a trice. Filson easily could have linked the carry handles with more ballistic nylon and some Velcro. But no. Here you get a quality bridle leather carry grip secured with metal fastenings, which will be stiff at first but ages over the years to be buttery smooth and pleasingly flexible. 

“It was always designed for field use,” Hogarth tells me. “But it's been adopted by the everyday carrier because it is so versatile. I have one too, and I use it a lot when I'm going on trips as a carry-on bag.” 

So do I. In fact, I shun my more expensive wheelie cases in favor of this Duffle Pack every single time I fly. The low-cost, money-grabbing UK airline Ryanair likes nothing more than to charge you extra for even taking overhead carry-on suitcases onto a flight, but backpacks are free (for now). I can easily fit more than a week’s worth of clothes, all my toiletries, my tech, adapters, cables, and sunnies into the Duffle Pack’s 46 liters of space—more than Away’s 40-liter carry-on—then breeze onto the flight with the bag in backpack mode without having to pay one cent extra. Joyous.

In the airport and on the subway, I lightheartedly skip down steps and escalators as the wheelie brigade are left jostling their sliding suitcases, struggling to wrangle them into line on anything other than marble-flat flooring. I leave them in my wake to be the first person through security once again.

And if my Duffle Pack ever does let me down, Filson has a lifetime guarantee against failure or damage for “its intended usage,” though I’m not sure what you can’t use this bag for. 

Hogarth finishes our chat by reassuring me that Filson has no immediate plans to cast aside this carrying marvel. “It will remain in the line in some way. It may be updated. And when I say updated, I mean it's only going to get better,” he says. Not possible, if you ask me. For my money, this is the greatest bag ever made.


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