Review: Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L Travel Pack

Travel Pack
Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L
$169, 32L/1,831 c.i., 1 lb. 12.6 oz./810g
One size

If you’re like me, whenever you’re flying somewhere for a few days, maybe a week or more, you ask yourself the same question: Can I do this without checking luggage? Not only do I loathe paying a luggage fee, but I don’t want to give an airline the opportunity to lose my luggage. Plus, I like the convenience, low expense, and the ethically and morally correct choice (in this age of climate crisis) of using public transportation to and from airports—which is really only feasible when carrying one small, light, portable bag or pack. For me, the carry-on of choice is the Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L.

For starters, I generally like having a small and light pack or bag with shoulder straps that I can throw onto my back to move quickly through airports; wheeled luggage of any size quickly loses its convenience when you’re in a serious rush in an airport, have no choice but to go up or down stairs (which I prefer, anyway, to standing on an escalator behind a line of stationary people), or are taking subways, buses, or trains.

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The Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L back panel and shoulder straps.
The Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L back panel and shoulder straps.

On my most recent trip, flying cross-country to visit family and friends—two flights and a layover of 90 minutes or more in each direction—I wanted to avoid checking luggage (for all the reasons given above). Packing frugally, I fit everything I needed into my Black Hole Pack 32L for a weeklong trip, including my laptop and clothing and gear for a two-day hut hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. (I wore my hiking/running shoes traveling and strapped an empty hiking daypack to the daisy chains on the front of the Black Hole Pack.)

The pack’s main compartment, opened wide by the clamshell-style zipper, swallowed most of what I needed for a week away, and the mesh, internal organizer pocket keeps charger cords and other small, critical items easily accessible.

As it turned out, I had to gate-check the Black Hole Pack both heading out and returning home (I pulled the hiking daypack off it to use as my carry-on) and it survived two flights and transfers in each direction without so much as a scratch, thanks to the virtually impregnable, water-resistant, bluesign-approved, 300-denier, 100 percent recycled polyester ripstop fabric with a TPU film laminate. Bonus: If you’re carrying this pack on your back in the rain while traveling, precipitation runs right off the fabric.

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The Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L laptop pocket.
The Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L laptop pocket.

Measuring 22×10.5×6.75 inches/55.9×25.4×17.1 centimeters, this TSA-compliant travel pack falls well within carry-on size limits (which are 22x14x9 inches/55.9×35.6×22.9cm, including wheels and handles; all three measurements may not add up to more than 45 inches). Being soft-sided and not as bulky as many pieces of hard-sided carry-on luggage, it naturally squeezes more readily into tight spaces in overhead compartments—and unlike hard-sided luggage, if you underfill the Black Hole Pack, it fits into an even smaller space.

The separate, zippered laptop pocket behind the back pad opens flat for TSA compliance, holds a 15-inch laptop, and has two organizer sleeve pockets. The zippered top pocket has as much space as I’ve seen in the equivalent pocket on many 50-liter backpacking packs—easily fitting wallet, phone plus its charger cord, snacks, small book, and then some. The large, zippered front pocket fits a light jacket and book/e-reader or similarly flat or soft objects; it doesn’t have much depth (or bellows-like expansion), especially when the main compartment is packed full. Two side pockets, made with more-durable stretch mesh than found on many backpacking packs, are convenient for snacks and a water bottle or travel guidebook.

Reinforced top and front handles are convenient for lifting the pack from an overhead compartment or luggage carousel—and probably reduce the chances of it being mishandled when you must check it as luggage.

Without a frame structure of any kind or a waist belt (and just one sternum strap), the Black Hole Pack lacks the comfort and stability for use as a hiking daypack—and it would certainly be more comfortable for carrying in travel with either a second sternum strap or, perhaps more logically, a thin, webbing waist belt, which could be made removable to avoid it hanging loose if you must check the pack. It also comes in just one unisex size, although the wide adjustability range of the shoulder and sternum straps will likely make this adequately comfortable for all but those people with very small or very large torsos—at least for carrying the relatively short distances involved in travel. This pack also lacks the retractable handle and wheels of carry-on luggage.

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But traveling usually with no more than about 25 pounds/11 kg inside, I have found it plenty comfortable and compact enough to carry on my back for long walks between airport terminals, to stretch my legs on a layover, and to carry on public transportation from airport to destination, thanks to the well-padded shoulder straps and back panel with breathable mesh and the adjustable sternum strap.

The smaller version, the Black Hole 25L ($149, 1 lb. 7 oz./650g), a bit lighter and cheaper, would be fine for travelers who are hyper-efficient at packing or on short trips. Patagonia also has wheeled Black Hole duffels in 40-liter and 70-liter sizes; and its classic Black Hole duffels (40, 55, 70, and 100 liters) have long set the standard for gear duffels.

The Verdict

Organization, smart features, good volume, durability, and the convenience of being able to throw it on your back for walking through airports or using public transportation, the Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L makes an ideal travel pack—especially for people accustomed to carrying a pack—at a price well below that of most carry-on luggage.


You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L at or, a Patagonia Black Hole Pack 25L at or, or any Patagonia Black Hole product at or

See “The 10 Best Down Jackets,” “The Best Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking,” “The 10 Best Hiking Daypacks” and all reviews of outdoor apparel and hiking gear at The Big Outside.

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.

—Michael Lanza

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