My friend Quinn and I hastily spilled mountaineering gear over the Pikes Peak parking lot at DIA, reshuffling gear before our rapidly approaching flight to Washington. He pried the luxuriously large The North Face XL Base Camp Duffel Bag out of my hands and started stuffing his gear inside. I dropped the Large TNF Base Camp Gear Box on the pavement beside him and started loading it.
My approach was more thoughtful, though — axes, pickets, and poles down first, then the first-aid kit, bundles of climbing gear, and then my mountaineering boots, crampons, and the rope snaking in between. Then I carefully slotted electronics, including my Garmin, avalanche beacon, and radios into one of the internal pockets. Trail snacks went into another.
With the big pieces in place, I meticulously stuffed the fluffy bits in between the big gear. My big puffy jacket, La Sportiva Alpinetech pants, hardshell jacket, gloves, and socks all slotted in nicely to maintain the organization. Then I layered my sleeping bag on top to fill all the last open spaces. I dropped the lid and zipped it up.
For its relatively compact size, the large Gear Box holds a ton of gear. I was psyched at how well that went given that I hadn’t test-packed to make sure everything fit before going all-or-nothing at the airport. When I opened the box at the trailhead the next day, my gear was organized exactly how I’d left it.
In short: The North Face’s new Base Camp Gear Boxes land right in the middle of the duffel bag to plastic storage bin spectrum. Available in medium and large sizes, these boxes portage all manner of gear safely, securely, and in an organized fashion to and from the trailhead or campsite. They’ll keep gear tidy in your car or gear closet, or flatten to stay out of the way. Don’t get caught carrying a heavy load long distances on your own, though.
4 lbs., 1.8 oz. (1,865 g)
300D recycled polyester with TPU coating
3,966 cu. in. (58.2 L)
16'' x 22.2'' x 12'' (40.6 cm x 56.5 cm x 30.5 cm)
16.5'' x 31.5'' x 12.3'' (42 cm x 80 cm x 31.12 cm)
Great way to maintain organization
Stack and stow easily
Awkward to carry alone, without a strap
Slightly less durable than a duffel by nature of its shape
The North Face Base Camp Gear Box Review
Big, burly duffel bags are an outdoor enthusiast’s best friend. You can stuff them full of gear, regardless of size or weight. They’ve typically got backpack-style straps that make hauling easy. I’ve got a healthy collection of duffel bags kicking around the house, including Patagonia Black Holes, a Marmot Long-Hauler, and a TNF XL Base Camp Duffel. I use them constantly all year round.
Never once did I think to myself, Gear duffels are great, but what if they were rectangles? But when a pair showed up at my house, I thought, Why did it take so long for someone to invent this?
Gear Boxes are having a moment. YETI, Rux, and Radius Outfitters have all come out with $200+ challengers to the classic hardware store storage bin like the $17 Greenmade 27. Price differences aside, TNF’s take makes more sense to me than other versions. It’s closer to a duffel bag (and thus farther from a standard storage bin) than the others.
TNF’s Gear Boxes offer an interesting approach and some key benefits over a bulkier storage bin. For one, they can compress down to flat by lifting the internal metal kickstands. While they don’t come with dividers, the internal walls and lid are covered in mesh pockets with elastic openings. Those offer tons of separated storage compartments. The pair of burly zippers can be locked with a small padlock as well.
Carrying The North Face Base Camp Gear Box
From the Pikes Peak lot, Quinn and I started hustling toward the shuttle stop. That’s when I knew something was awry. At first, I was carrying my TNF Gear Box with the main straps. But at a hair shy of 50 pounds, it wasn’t easy. I held it out to the side but it kept doinking against the outside of my knee as I shuffled.
Then I tried slinging it over one shoulder. That helped a lot, but the unpadded strap was severe on the meaty part of my shoulder, and it was just a little too short — nothing like the removable backpack straps found on The North Face Base Camp Duffel Bag.
After a combined hour of trying new carrying configurations, I landed on the shoulder strap being the only feasible option for the 50-pound payload.
Here’s the caveat to painful carrying — if you can ink a deal with at least one traveling companion to co-carry the Gear Box, you’ll be golden. The box has sturdy (and comfortable) handles on each end, as well as a pair of handles on each long side.
Carrying it between two people like a big cooler is the way to go. You’re going to want a solid contract, though. Don’t get caught carrying that thing on your own.
Large vs. Medium Gear Boxes
Both the Large (86 L) and the Medium (58 L) found themselves employed in my weekly gear rotation.
The medium box ($150) is the perfect size for a compact camp kitchen. It packed my full arsenal of camp cookware, utensils, and even my Primus Kinjia two-burner camp stove with fuel. When not employed for a specific use, the medium Gear Box found a home in the back of my car. It kept my mountain bike helmet, hip pack, selection of tools, and shoes ready to go and tidy.
Where the medium Gear Box met my day-to-day gear-toting needs, the large box ($175) was made for the weekend. At 86 L, it’s the right size for car-based adventures, road trips, and I imagine #vanlife.
Unlike a duffel, it slides into and out of the car and stacks wonderfully. It’s great for all the loose camping gear — sleeping pads and pillows, tents, compact camp chairs, and even sleeping bags. My wife, self-described as “hyper-organized,” was thrilled at how much tidiness the boxes introduced to our car camping experience.
Box vs. Duffel
The Gear Boxes won’t replace my trusty The North Face Base Camp XL Duffel Bag. Instead, they’re complementary. After using them for every conceivable outdoor gear application, I’ve come to a few internal prescriptions for when to call on the box versus the bag.
If I only need to transport gear and the vessel from my gear closet to my car, I’m reaching for the Gear Box. It stacks better in the car and keeps gear more organized. If I need to carry it more than a quarter mile, I’ll probably opt for The North Face Base Camp Duffel Bag.
The boxes can fit any type of gear, but I found them particularly handy when packing things that are long, metal, delicate, and awkward. Snow pickets, ice axes, trekking poles, fishing rod cases, bike pumps, and packed tents with poles, etc., all fit well and transport more safely in the box. I wasn’t worried about them poking through a bag, tearing something inside, or getting damaged.
If I want to show up at my destination and have my gear organized, I’m reaching for the box. Duffel bags are great because you get to throw everything in there without thinking about it too much. Get to your destination and dump it all out.
But when you show up with a box, assuming you’ve packed carefully, the gear is exactly how you left it. Generous and numerous internal pockets keep things tidy, and gear doesn’t mash around in there like the inside of a cement mixer.
Waterproofing and Durability
I accidentally tested the waterproofing of both the Base Camp Duffel and the Gear Boxes by virtue of leaving them outside the tent during a 2 a.m. downpour. The contents of the Gear Boxes actually stayed drier than the duffel. The Base Camp Duffel bodies are 1,000D polyester with PVC coating. The Gear Boxes are a much lighter 300D recycled polyester with TPU coating.
Both did a fine job of repelling the rain, though I suspect water seeped through the duffel bag’s top seams. The Gear Boxes’ flat tops made the water bead and flow off the top and down the side, getting the zipper wet but preventing any major seepage.
Though these boxes are in excellent condition after 2 months of intensive use and travel, I suspect that they are objectively less durable than their duffel counterparts. There are simply more edges, corners, and flat surfaces to wear down over time. Corner zippers, lightweight boards in the lid and base, and the internal kickstands all offer opportunities for failure. That said, treat these boxes well (and don’t sit on them) and they’ll certainly last a lifetime.
These Gear Boxes are almost perfect. But there are two features on my wishlist. Given that carrying comfort is my sole gripe, I’d love to see even just one padded shoulder strap included, even if it simply clipped to the existing daisy chain circumventing the outside of the box.
And speaking of daisy chains, small parallel daisy chains along the inside edge of the box would go a long way in adding packing security when it isn’t stuffed full. They would allow the user to secure the payload with ski straps, bungee, or paracord.
The North Face Base Camp Gear Box: Conclusion
The North Face’s new Gear Boxes fill a storage void I didn’t know I had. Whether you’re transporting mountaineering gear across the country, storing cycling essentials in your car, toting a camp kitchen, or packing for a simple picnic by the lake, the Medium and Large Gear Boxes are ultra-versatile and hyper-cool.
You won’t want to carry a heavy load long distances without a partner or an improvised shoulder strap. But these boxes make gear storage and portaging easier than a plastic storage bin and more organized than a duffel. And it doesn’t hurt that they’re easy on the eyes.
The post Why Stuff When You Can Stack? TNF Base Camp Gear Boxes Review appeared first on GearJunkie.