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Why Is Everyone So in Love with the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel?

Jul 16, 2023

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We look into the appeal of one of the most recognizable, reliable and recommended bags in the outdoors.

Among outdoors enthusiasts, Patagonia is a beloved company in its own right. But even within its own catalog, there are a few products that have achieved a cult status that transcends the brand. One standout example is, undeniably, the Black Hole Duffel Bag.

Shop at any mainstream outdoor retailer, and it'll carry the Black Hole. Log onto any forum or Reddit thread discussing it, and users will rave about how they've owned their bag for years, and how it's the cream of the crop when it comes to rugged, durable duffels. Book an epic adventure and there's a good chance the person next to you on the plane, train or automobile taking you there will be toting one.

However you slice it, the Black Hole is one iconic product. (So iconic, in fact, that we are going to spell it duffel for the rest of this article, as opposed to our preferred spelling of "duffle.") Now, 19 years after its inception, why is it still so dang popular?

Released in 2004, the Black Hole Duffel made waves thanks to the material used in its innovative, eye-catching outer fabric: TPU, or thermoplastic polyurethane. TPU gives the Black Hole Duffel the quintessential shiny, plasticky look and feel that serves as a tactile reminder of just how water-resistant, abrasion-resistant and tough these bags are.

"The copious amounts of gear packed into these expandable universes not only return for use, but also arrive ready for action after being transported via plane, mule train or on your back again."

TPU has been the not-so-secret sauce to the Black Hole Duffel for almost two decades, but like the styles of bags, the material hasn't gone unchanged in that time. (More to come on that front.) And to be clear, the Black Hole wasn't even the first rubbery, plasticky outdoor duffel — that would be The North Face's Base Camp Duffel.

However, the Black Hole is the bag that made a TPU-coated duffel a downright status symbol in the outdoors. Everyday travelers and Patagonia's own ambassadors alike speak with reverence about the Black Hole and its influence on adventures close to home and around the globe.

"Typically the 'event horizon' of a celestial black hole prevents anything that enters it from returning," says Timmy O'Neill, professional rock climber, first ascensionist and public speaker. "But fortunately for us the copious amounts of gear packed into these expandable universes not only return for use, but also arrive ready for action after being transported via plane, mule train or on your back again."

If you've been recreating in the outdoors over the past 20 years, you've seen many a Black Hole Duffel in the wild. They're everywhere from the aprés parking lot hangs of ski slopes to campsites in the desert, mountains and seasides the world over.

Since its beginnings with the duffel form factor, the Black Hole has evolved from an easily recognizable bag into a full-blown collection, featuring backpacks, totes, roller bags and more. While the line has seen new additions in styles of bag, the bags themselves also get continuous updates.

In 2019, Patagonia announced that all of its shells and Black Hole bags would be made using recycled fabric. This week, in a continuation of its move toward 100 percent recycled gear, Patagonia announced new updates to its Black Hole bags, which include a brand-new Gear Tote, new 25L Pack and 32L Pack, as well as the use of recycled TPU laminate in all of its Black Hole products.

For Spring 2024, Patagonia continues its recycled TPU journey with the Black Hole Collection by converting the coating on duffels and cubes. They'll be made with not only 100 percent recycled body fabric, lining and webbing, but also a weather-resistant recycled TPU-film laminate.

So as the unbeatable bag approaches its 20th birthday, we have no reason to believe it won't be around for another 20 years — and possibly much longer.