Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L Review
The Patagonia Black Hole Pack 32L has a top-loading main compartment that’s surprisingly easy to pack thanks to a slanted opening that provides easy access.
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- Recycled ripstop polyester rugged and environmentally friendly
- Wide and easy access despite a top-loading design
- Simple harness system comfortably handles the 32-liter capacity
- Both exterior pockets lack organization inside
- Key leash slow to access in main compartment
- Can feel laptop’s stiffness despite built-in sleeve
Like the Look
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1.79 lb (0.8 kg)
Postconsumer recycled polyester ripstop body with a TPU-film laminate
Recycled polyester liner with a PU coating
22 in x 10.5 in x 6.75 in (55.9 x 26.7 x 17.1 cm)
Recycled Polyester, Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU), Polyurethane
Laptop Compartment Size
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Patagonia’s Black Hole Line may not have all the bells and whistles of more upscale bags, but they are still very functional. Case in point, the Black Hole Pack 32L utilizes a top-loading main compartment that Patagonia subtly but cleverly designed for easier access. We usually have trouble with top-loaders, especially on bags upwards of 30 liters in size, so we appreciate any effort to make them easier to pack.
The features are a little basic, but the important aspects have been addressed. The harness system is well-padded and comfortable, while the fabric is durable and weather resistant. As a bonus, the recycled polyester ripstop fabric is Fair Trade Certified™. It’s also a very roomy backpack, with very little compartmentalization standing in the way of efficient packing. It truly feels like a black hole at times, accommodating a lot of bulky gear with the twist of being able to take them out (black holes are notoriously hard to escape in real life, you know). So, without further ado, let’s take a look at what exactly makes the Black Hole Pack 32L a compelling backpack for travel.
The main material on the Black Hole Pack 32L is a 300-denier recycled polyester ripstop fabric. If you didn’t know, the emphasis on recycled materials and fair trade practices are core concepts of the Black Hole line. You can tell that the fabric is ripstop by the subtle grid pattern on the glossy parts of the outer shell. We think the shiny gloss and crinkled appearance look very utilitarian and functional, though it can be a bit polarizing and can come off as cheap-looking. It looks a bit like tarpaulin, but, here at Pack Hacker, we know better than to judge a bag by its looks. Besides, tarpaulin-based bags can be pretty sleek-looking, too.
More importantly, the entire bag is quite well-made. Ripstop isn’t always the toughest fabric out there since it’s more designed for lightness (with the grid pattern acting as reinforcement), but, to the contrary, the Black Hole Pack 32L’s outer shell feels notably beefy. There’s no loose stitching or threads randomly dangling around, and the base is made of rougher, more abrasion-resistant fabric since it will have the most contact with the ground. There’s also a layer of TPU laminate to keep the entire bag weather-resistant. Mind you, it’s not 100% waterproof, so it’s still not a good idea to toss this bag into a pool—even if it’s for a prank.
At the front are two sets of daisy chains, each with eleven loops. Twenty-two is a lot of loops, so the creative among you will probably already have ideas of stringing a bungee cord across them. We’ll let you go bananas over the potential of those loops. As for us, we dig the option for externally attaching gear. After all, your bag may have enough room, but it’s probably not a good idea to stuff dirty cleats inside after a day of your preferred sports.
There are handles on the outside of the Black Hole Pack 32L, and one is in a peculiar spot. Instead of being on the top, one of the handles is located just below the fold of the main compartment’s hatch (in other words, at the front near the top). This makes for an awfully unbalanced carry if you try to use it to pick up the bag from the floor. However, we eventually learned to use it to slide the bag around while it’s on its back. We gently cradle the base with one hand and use the other hand to hold onto the handle.
There’s also a handle between the shoulder straps for moving the Black Hole 32L over short distances (i.e., across the room). Whichever hand you decide to use will encounter thin nylon, so don’t expect great comfort when you’re holding onto them for very long.
The water bottle pockets on the smaller Black Hole Backpack 25L are functional, if a bit basic. They’re simple mesh with elastic rims for grip. Our only gripe with them is their lack of depth for taller bottles, and that’s not the case with the 32-liter version. By virtue of being larger and, therefore, having more depth, the Black Hole Pack 32L’s water bottle pockets have no problems taking in bottles, whether they’re 18 ounces or 24 ounces in size.
The harness system is also similarly basic, but Patagonia nails the important fundamentals here. The shoulder straps are thick and well-padded with foam. Each side has a loop where you can route your hydration bladder’s drinking tube, plus a set of loops where the included sternum strap mounts. We’re not fans of sternum straps that mount via clips and loops since they’re susceptible to falling off as the hardware loosens. We’re typically more in favor of sternum straps that slide along rails, but the one on the Black Hole Pack 32L gets the job done, and it hasn’t fallen off over the course of testing.
The back panel is also covered in a layer of mesh (Patagonia calls it Airmesh). We were a bit skeptical at the lack of any air channels at first. Given the large size of the Black Hole 32L, we would’ve liked to see one or two air channels to let air circulate more freely when the temperature gets hot. There is a gap in the padding in the middle, though it’s not an air channel per se. With all of that said, the mesh does a good job on its own, letting the air escape.
The simple harness system doesn’t prevent the Black Hole Pack 32L from being a comfortable backpack to carry. The straps provide decent cushioning to ensure a full load feels reasonably tame. The Black Hole 32L’s tall shape is the larger factor impacting comfort. Much of its length is biased downward, meaning those with short frames can feel the base of the pack brush against the tailbone and rear waist area. It’s not the end of the world, though, and the pack remains comfortable.
Another noticeable quirk of the Black Hole Pack 32L is how we feel a laptop inside the built-in sleeve. We feel where the laptop sleeve ends along the back panel, and that’s a bit worrying. Other backpacks would typically handle this better with tons of back panel and laptop compartment padding.
Inside The Backpack
At the front, you will find a side-opening pocket with a zipper running about three-fifths of the bag’s height. Bulkier accessories, large-capacity battery banks and winter gloves, will be at home here. On the other hand, there is no organization to speak of, so tiny gear can bunch up near the floor.
Fortunately, there is an alternative place for them inside the top pocket. This pocket covers the entire top portion of the Black Hole Pack 32L’s hatch and is even more spacious than the one at the front. There’s still no organization, though being at the top means it’s easier to sift through small items and find what you need. Sometimes accessibility can overcome a lack of organization, and that’s a trend that you’ll find holds true for the Black Hole Pack 32L’s main compartment as well. By the way, this top pocket’s also a convenient spot to put a toiletry bag since it’s easy to reach when you’re going through airport security.
The laptop compartment is one of the chief weaknesses of the Black Hole Pack 32L. It’s not so much that it lacks protection or functionality, but it feels inconvenient to access. It’s on the back panel, with the zipper going around the edges so that it opens like a clamshell. The problem is that the zipper track goes under the shoulder straps, and you have to maneuver around them in order to open the compartment.
Small-frame users notice that tightening the straps emphasizes the problem. This leaves little room to move the straps out of the way, and it’s honestly not worth doing and undoing the straps’ adjustment whenever we need access to the laptop. We end up forcing the straps to the side or settling for a looser adjustment to make the process easier. Either way, it’s really not ideal.
To be clear, a clamshell-opening laptop compartment has its benefits. For example, it makes it easier for TSA to check when going through airport security. Of course, it’s still their call if they’ll make you put it in a bin, but the design does have a travel-focused function. We’ve seen this concept better executed on other backpacks. The NOMATIC Travel Pack 14L has a similar laptop compartment, but its zipper track runs around the back panel and the shoulder straps.
Inside the laptop compartment are two sleeves, one for your laptop and another one in front of it for a tablet or some documents. There is some padding and a false bottom to protect your device from damage, but nothing exceptional. In fact, some might find the amount of padding lacking since, as we said in the fit notes, you can feel the stiffness of your laptop on your back when it’s in the sleeve.
There’s a buckle at the top to help better secure your laptop in place, and it also works to hang a hydration bladder. Yep, that’s also a feature of the Black Hole Pack 32L. You can route a drinking tube through a hole at the top and into either of the attachment loops on one of the shoulder straps.
Now let’s get into the really good stuff: the main compartment. For the Black Hole Pack 32L, Patagonia decided to go with a top-loading design. It’s usually not our favorite for a travel backpack as we find clamshell-style ones easier to pack, but Patagonia has found a way to make it work, and it’s quite subtle, too. Instead of a straight top-down opening, the Black Hole Pack 32L has a slanted hatch that gives you a better view of the interior and its usable space.
But before we discuss how it packs, let’s look at the extra goodies and our nitpicks. First, there’s a zippered mesh pocket just below where the hatch folds. This is where we keep tech accessories in case we have a toiletry kit in the external top pocket. Strangely, Patagonia decided this was the ideal place for a key leash. We think putting a key leash within the main compartment only really makes sense for keeping house keys in a deep and secure spot when we’re traveling for a long period of time. It keeps them out of the way of more frequently used items when you’re on a trip, but once you get home, you have to hunt for them. We would rather have it in the top or front pocket for more convenient access since we use keys daily, not just when traveling.
Again, the Black Hole Pack 32L handles the packing process really well, thanks to its slanted top-loading design. As we alluded to earlier, the Black Hole Pack 32L’s main compartment may be lacking in terms of organization, but the relative ease of access more than makes up for it. This is in stark contrast to rolltop backpacks or other top loaders with fairly narrow openings where it’s tricky to insert really bulky gear. That said, large items like towels and packing cubes still stack from the bottom up, so getting to the gear you put in first can be tricky, so we still encourage using organizers.
Despite its ominous name, using the Black Hole Pack 32L never feels like just dumping gear into an empty void, hoping they don’t get jumbled up once we got to the hotel room. All of the available space is easily accessible through some clever design choices made by Patagonia. We appreciate that when it comes to trips—this is one black hole we wouldn’t mind our gear getting sucked into.
- Roomy interior great for short trips
- Laptop compartment is blocked by shoulder straps, which slows down access
- Digging the recycled and Fair Trade Certified fabric (which is familiar to the Black Hole line)
- Digging the wide opening that makes for easy packing
- Main compartment feels roomy—just be sure to use packing cubes
- Roomy top pocket is a great place to store toiletries for quick grabs during airport security
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