With the start of winter, many of KMG’s guides begin busy travel schedules associated with instructing avalanche programs throughout the state as well as expeditions around the globe. From now through the spring KMG guides will be everywhere from Durango and Silverton, Vail, Telluride, Ouray, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Africa, Alaska, the North Cascades, and more. When you travel this much, you need durable luggage that can do it all and take some serious abuse. The Mountain Hardwear medium size Expedition Duffel is our choice this year for handling our gear around the globe. Over the years KMG guides have used numerous models and brands of duffels. These have included nine different brands of duffels and 12 different models. Materials on these expedition or basecamp style duffels included: tough rubber like fabrics, light weight woven fabrics, and plain old Cordura. Features have ranged from stripped down minimalist sacs with nothing more than handles to full featured international expedition duffels filled with extra pockets, fancy openings, and backpack straps. Prices have ranged from $34.99 to $200+
Now before you say, “well of course they like the Mountain Hardwear Expedition duffel, KMG is sponsored by Hardwear…” The reasons we chose to work with Mountain Hardwear is because we believe in their products as meeting the extreme use and abuse that our guides dish our, and this includes the Expedition Duffel.
The Technical Specs
- Cost: $170
- Capacity: 5500 CI or 90 L
- Weight: 4 lbs 15 OZ/ 2.25 KG
- Material: Body- Hardwear Tarp LT. Bottom- Hardwear Tarp XT
- Pockets: Two mesh inside on either end. Two outside on either side.
Gear Inside While Tested
- Mountain Hardwear Sarpa softshell alpine climbing pants
- Mountain Hardwear Full side zip alpine shell pants
- Two mid-weight long underwear tops
- Mountain Hardwear Microchill Zip T expedition weight long underwear top
- One mid-weight long underwear bottom
- Mountain Hardwear Kepler apine climbing shell jacket
- Mountain Hardwear Hooded Compressor mid-weight puffy coat
- Mountain Hardwear Bazooka leather guide gloves
- Two pairs Smartwool socks
- Flylow light weight leather gloves
- BCA Tracker 2 avalanche beacon
- Scarpa Phantom Guide boots
- Mammut 8.9 Serenity rope
- Camp Speed helmet
The two huge carrying straps carry the load well. The 2 inch wide webbing straps are super burley as well as easy to adjust. Many duffels use 1 or 1.5 inch webbing straps. The thicker straps on the Hardwear duffel seem to be easier to adjust. There is also a huge oversized Velcro catch that secures the straps together. Again, this seems to be larger than on some other duffels, making it more secure and easier to carry. In addition, the two carrying straps also function as backpack straps. Other duffels on the market also have backpack straps. However, the carrying straps and the backpack straps are often separate, meaning there are four straps total; two for the backpack and two for the normal carrying handles. Hardwear was able to eliminate two of the straps by combining the carrying handles and backpack straps into one, thus eliminating bulk. Less bulk means less straps to get caught in conveyor belts, luggage terminals, and X ray machines etc.
The outside of the Hardwear duffel has two pockets. These are perfect for small items that you might need last minute at the airport on upon arrival, such as your headlamp, headphones, or Ambien…. The luggage ID slot fits a business card well with enough room that you are not stretching the plastic to get the card in or out. The aluminum handles on either function great, but are a little overkill adding a few ounces of unneeded weight.
Getting your gear in and out of the duffel is extremely easy due to the huge U shaped zipper opening. There are two YKK zipper pulls that allow for easy access in any direction. The large pulls make opening the bag easy even with gloves on (such as on a glacier if you are using it as a sled bag).
Once in the bag, the thick material helps hold it open and upright as opposed to collapsing back in on itself. For the easily frustrated (read: me) this makes packing and unpacking easier due to the bag staying open. The “tall” walls give the most room possible with this size bag. Think of being in a tent with walls that are straight up, as opposed to sloping. The tent with the straight walls allows more usable space without bumping your heard. Same thing here.
There are two interior mesh pockets that easily fit two pairs of gloves, a hat, and avalanche transceiver. We found that having the interior pockets on the ends as opposed to inside the lid like some other duffels provided more usable space. It also did not collapse the opening flap. Other expedition or basecamp duffels where interior pockets are on the flap tended to collapse back in. Or when the bag was open, anything in the mesh pocket on the flap would force the walls to collapse.
Lastly, there are two interior compression straps that keep all your goodies contained. Every piece of gear could always use a minor tweak here or there. If there was one down side to the Mountain Hardwear Expedition Duffel it would be that it is a little bit heavier tan the completion. Why would that ever matter in a duffel? Well, if you have two duffels to fly with, and each weigh 2 lbs more than other base camp duffels on the market that’s 4 lbs total. 4 lbs of gear cold easily be two jackets, a pair of boots, etc… You get the idea. At $170 MSRP it’s not inexpensive. However you can expect for this duffel to last as long as you do. Divide that over the years and the cost is well worth it. Over all though the Mountain Hardwear Expedition Duffel easily gets an A in the category. If you are looking for that last minute gift for the seasoned traveler who “has everything” consider getting them a duffel that will travel the globe with them for decades to come. We look forward to putting our duffels through some serious use this winter on all our travels.