If I were writing gear reviews at the time, I could have written this Patagonia Black Hole 25L review four years ago. That’s how long I’ve had my Black Hole pack and that’s how long I’ve known that it will be an icy-cold day in hell before I let another outdoor backpack into my life. Save for the thick coating of chalk at the bottom of its main compartment (so much precious Unicorn Dust gone to waste), it looks about the same as it did in my first few months of ownership. It’s a timelessly designed piece of gear that truly lives up to its name—and if you’re looking for a pack upgrade for everyday carry or outdoor adventures, you’ve come to the right place.
Patagonia’s Black Hole line (which, in addition to daypacks, also includes duffel bags, tote-style packs, hip belts, and packing cubes) is known for its roomy main compartments, abrasion-resistant polyester ripstop fabric, and durable water repellent (DWR) finish. The Black Hole 25-liter travel backpack that I use every day has both of these key features, plus a few add-ons that have come in handy on day hikes, rock climbing trips, and my regular old gym commute.
First, the storage: It has a top pocket above the top-loading main compartment for easy access to small items. To give you an idea of its capacity, my wallet, phone, earbuds, keys, mask, hand sanitizer, and a wad of Lactaid pills can all fit comfortably inside this pocket–with room to spare. There’s also a front pocket that spans the “face” of the pack, so to speak, which is a great spot for chargers, gloves, and anything else you want to have on hand at a moment’s notice (I can unzip this pocket while wearing the pack).
Speaking of quick access, the external water bottle pockets on this bag are a breath of fresh air. Too often are backpacks’ side pockets too small for my enormous jug of a water bottle, but the stretchy mesh pockets on the Black Hole easily accommodate it. (I should point out that this is where I’ve seen the most visible signs of wear and tear, given the fact that these pockets aren’t made from the same burly material as the rest of the bag.)
Next, the fit: Between its sternum strap, adjustable shoulder straps, and padded back panel, the Patagonia Black Hole 25L backpack can truly fit flush against my back, which helps reduce bounce and distribute its weight evenly. I’m on the smaller side and tend to overpack, so having a bag that doesn’t feel like it’s going to pull me backwards every time I put it on is a major plus.
I have put this bag through the wringer over the last few years. I’ve worn it through the rain, squished it inside crash pads, dragged it over boulders, and thrown it down rocky inclines. It’s absorbed crumbs, chalk, dirt, and sand. I’ve yanked it up by its top handle, front daisy chain, and shoulder straps, all of which feel secure and sturdy. Should I take better care of my stuff? Yes. Is this bag holding up even under my rough treatment? Again, yes.
The Black Hole reliably carries everything I need for a day outside or just a day out of the house (there’s a laptop sleeve in the main compartment if your plans won’t allow you to go completely off-grid). It is most definitely water-resistant which, in my own experience, makes it somewhat stain-resistant, too. I have yet to notice a rip in the bag’s main body and the zippers have never snagged or gotten stuck. I think the best thing I can say about the Black Hole is I’ve never had to think too hard or for too long about whether I should bring it with me—wherever I go, whatever I need to bring, this backpack will meet the challenge.
Should you buy it?
If you’re looking for versatility, functionality, and, frankly, a backpack you won’t have to worry about replacing next season, give the Black Hole a try. It also comes in a 32-liter capacity if you’d like more room or want something closer to carry-on size. It doesn’t have the space or structure you’d need in a long-term backpacking pack, but for casual excursions, it makes a great trail companion. Now, if you need me, I’ll be vacuuming out all that pesky chalk.