4.5Overall Score

I was always envious of my wife when she could pack far more in carry-on luggage than me, since her clothing and footwear were much smaller. Sadly, just one of my size-13 shoes would fill up nearly a third of the backpack she still uses for trips of up to two weeks. I have no immediate plans of cutting off toes to fit a smaller shoe, but I did find a comparable carry-on backpack that fits everything I need on vacation: the Patagonia Black Hole 32.

Since our year-long trip, when I lugged too big a bag around the world, I’ve been on a mission to pack lighter and travel more comfortably. And while I’ve since invested in the best of large, wheeled luggage for extended trips, I still wanted a daypack solution offering a durable, water-resistant, minimalist design. That’s exactly what the Patagonia Black Hole 32L provides.

Patagonia Black Hole 32L Gear ReviewThe Black Hole family of bags includes duffels, rollers, backpacks, and messenger bags that all share a distinct polyester ripstop, treated with a thermoplastic urethane laminate. This makes the bags incredibly water resistant and wear resistant, even when tested to the extremes by some reviewers who submerged them in bathtubs and dragged them behind cars.

My favorite feature, though, is the simplicity of the bag that places nearly all 32 liters of carry capacity in one large “Black Hole” of a main compartment. This is accessed through a unique double zipper that opens across the folding top and all the way down one side of the bag, making easy work of packing and unpacking.

Some small internal compartments can help organize smaller items, a padded sleeve will fit a 15-inch laptop, and a zippered front pocket adds some convenience—but the vastness of the large main compartment was the answer to all my big-shoe packing problems.

On a recent nine-day trip, I filled the my Patagonia Black Hole 32L with a pair of shoes (size 13); a pair of flip flops (size 13); an an Eagle Creek Packing Cube that held one pair of Levis (size 34×34), one pair of Prana Zion shorts, one pair of swim shorts, two  dress shirts (size large), four T-shirts (size large), four pairs of underwear, four pairs of socks; my hygiene kit; backpacking towel; a 350-page novel; a Canon 5D Mark III and 24-70mm f/2.8 lens; extra memory cards; extra battery; and charger.

It was a bit of a tight fit, but the bag didn’t seem close to rupturing and could have held even more if I’d left the lid flap unclipped (but still sealed with the heavyzeight zippers).

Patagonia Black Hole 32L ReviewSure, there’s other,  larger carry-on options that offer more capacity, but the ease at which I could move around and stash this backpack made it feel like the perfect size. As previously mentioned, I’m 6’6″ tall and the 32-liter pack doesn’t look or feel big on me at all. But when making a side-by-side comparison to the Mountain Hardwear Piero backpack that my wife carries, there’s not that much different in size.

I will mention one element of backpack design that confuses me, and that’s the lack of supportive hip belts on any daypack that can carry over 3o liters. Even removable hip pads that could help distribute some of a fully-loaded pack’s weight would be a God-send at times. The only other improvement that could be made to the Black Hole 32L would be a stiffer frame sheet to help keep the “heavy-duty” back panel from bending out of shape under a full load.

Other than that, the Patagonia Black Hole 32L is the perfect travel backpack for a couple of weeks exploring cooler climates, or even a couple of months spent traveling with lighter clothing in the warmth of S.E. Asia.