These days, backpacks can't afford to be single-minded. The best backpacks can carry textbooks to class, sneakers and T-shirts to the gym, a laptop and the necessary tech to an office, toiletries and other essentials onto a train or plane, or a few changes of clothes on a short camping trip. In other words, they need to do it all and seamlessly.
And that's even more true for the duo of backpacks reviewed here, as these two double as duffle bags.
Yes, convertible backpacks — hence the name — can be easily switched from backpack to duffle, with the quick tucking or tying-down of the shoulder straps to secure them out of the way. A handle pops up or pulls out, and boom — you're suddenly carrying it a completely different way.
The style can cause compromises on either end, whether the bag is a better duffle or is best used as a backpack, and vice versa. But these — Patagonia's Black Hole Duffel Bag and Away's F.A.R. Convertible Backpack — represent the rare few that work well in both modes, if you will. One is a newcomer; the other is a legend in the category. So, which is the right one for your next trip?
The Contenders for Best Travel Bag
Patagonia Black Hole
A steadfast classic, Patagonia's best overall travel bag is a duffle first, but its prominent straps make it easy to convert.
- Capacity: 40L
- Dimensions: 21" x 13.7" x 10.6"
- Weight: 2.8 lbs
The F.A.R Convertible Backpack is a versatile travel-oriented option, built for multi-day stints in the great outdoors or backpacking new city blocks.
- Capacity: 45L
- Dimensions: 21.7" x 13.6" x 9.5"
- Weight: 3.32 lbs
How to Choose the Right Travel Bag for You
Test #1: Size and Storage
There's a five liter difference between Patagonia's popular Black Hole Duffel Bag and Away's F.A.R. Convertible Backpack: they're 40 and 45 liters, respectively. However, both bags are shaped similarly, with a U-shaped zipper that opens up a wide, undivided center pocket.
On both bags, the lids have their own mesh pockets underneath. Patagonia's is one long pocket, with no separated compartments; Away's is divided in half, which helps prevent the products inside from bunching together on either end when the bag is flipped over or set down.
Within, the bags are basically the same, save for Away's added room. You can easily fill them with folded clothing or packing cubes, because both brands make ones that match, making a Tetris-like inside totally achievable.
I did find, however, that I could ultimately fit more into the Away bag — and that isn't just because it's a little bigger. Away's F.A.R. Convertible Backpack comes with a compression strap, which you can use to cinch down bulky sweaters, sweatshirts or snow gear. Patagonia's lacks this, making it less capable of condensing an oversized load. The compression strap is a real difference maker when you're trying to squeeze in one more thing.
Test #2: Toughness
Both bags feel tough, but they have their weak spots still. Because they both double as backpacks, they have one side that doesn't look like (or work like) a duffle. It's made from mesh or mesh paneling, and it dirties faster than the plain polyester shell. It can also act like a sponge if set down on a wet spot — or in a puddle.
While they're helpful for keeping your back cool when you wear the bag like a backpack, they're less than desirable when you turn it into a duffle, even if the parts where the mesh panels are still prove waterproof. On Patagonia's bag, the mesh pads act as cushion, but there's still far from a hardsided suitcase, which means it wouldn't be wise to put your laptop in there. Away's, on the other hand, has a dedicated laptop sleeve.
Both are water- and abrasion-resistant, while the Black Hole Duffel has an actual TPU-film laminate on it, which acts as a membrane between it and the outside world — that's why the Black Hole bags often look shiny. Away's is a little more matte.
Test #3: Versatility
The Black Hole bag's shoulder straps attach to the outside of the duffle using carabiner-style clips. There's nowhere to store them, except for inside, occupying space you could've allotted elsewhere. On Away's the straps tuck into a top zipper, which you can only really see when the bag is upright (and directly in front of you).
While Patagonia's handles are bulkier, they feel less sturdy. That's because Away's are actually anchored into the bag, providing stability and better load-bearing. They're much more comfortable, a few trips wearing this one revealed. Away's bag also comes with a trolley sleeve, which runs through the back. That makes towing this bag through the airport easier, especially if it's with an Away suitcase (though it's compatible with just about every suitcase with a telescopic handle).
Test #4: Aesthetics
I'm someone that strives for products with no logos. I don't go as far as getting mine removed from my clothing by a tailor, but I avoid bags and suitcases with visible branding — whenever possible, of course. Away's suitcases, for example, have a small box logo on them, but not much more, making them more distinguishable by their shape and design than the actual logo itself.
That being said, Patagonia's Black Hole Duffel, depending on which color you pick, will come with an obvious Patagonia logo on it — likely in a bright, contrasting color. My Basin Green (camo) bag, for example, has bright orange accents. I'd say that this is an outdoor bag first, and commercial travel comes second, meaning this looks more like a bag you'd take camping than you would store in the overhead cabin.
Away's, on the other hand, feels more ready for air or train traveling — even though this is part of brand's expansion into the outdoors. The trolley sleeve helps make it more maneuverable; the colors are more city-friendly, and the strap system results in a slimmer silhouette.
Verdict: 2 Bags, Each With Their Own Advantages
Away's F.A.R. collection was the brand's deviation into the outdoors, a step away from airport travel to, well, everywhere else — places without airline hubs or WiFi. These were bags designed to support the traveler, no matter where they are. That's what they do, even if they're still city-leaning.
The F.A.R. Convertible Backpack totally works on a camping trip, my testing found, but it's equally as useful on city blocks, in busy airports and on busy planes and trains. The straps felt more secure, which helped me avoid subway commuters on a busy train out of Penn Station, while Patagonia's proved a little more unruly with roughly the same amount of weight inside it.
Patagonia Black Hole
Patagonia's Black Hole Duffel is ironically best for getting away — going outside or off the grid or deep, deep into the woods. It's big enough for a few-day trip, but it doesn't offer the same versatility as Away.
The duffel is a respectable classic — a bag millions have depended on since the collection's inception — but it's not nearly as nimble. Is it still one I'd recommend someone get for road tripping, when you won't wear it as a backpack nearly as often? For sure, it just wasn't as comfortable of a carry through a crowded terminal or on and off a fully-loaded Amtrak train.