Metolius Half Dome Haul Bag
Stated Capacity: 7600 cu. in. (125 L)
Stated Weight: 7 lbs. 7 oz. (3.4 kg)
Stated Dimensions: 31″ tall x 18″ dia. plus 15″ collar (787 mm x 457 mm plus 381 mm)
Days Tested: 10
Test Locations: Zion National Park, UT; Yosemite National Park, CA; various crags across Colorado, Utah, and California
The Half Dome haul bag sits in the middle of Metolius’ lineup, between the Quarter Dome ($179, 69 Liters) and the El Cap ($229, 157 Liters).
I was particularly intrigued by one key piece of information tucked away on the tech specs list: the Half Dome is made of urethane (proprietarily dubbed “Durathane” by Metolius) rather than the vinyl-laminated nylon seen in Black Diamond or Fish haul bags.
There’s a reason river rafts are made from urethane, and it’s because they are constantly abraded by giant granitic boulders. So I was interested to see how the Half Dome held up.
A case could be made that a review of the Half Dome, relative to its competitors, all comes down to durability. After all, abrasion resistance is a crucial feature when assessing a haul bag.
Haul bags, however, aren’t a completely Manichean choice of “urethane vs. not-urethane,” so I’d like to point out a couple other things about the Half Dome that should help move the needle in one direction or the other for those looking to gear up for a wall.
The Half Dome is distinguished from its competition from Black Diamond and Fish by small details, like its metal (rather than plastic) buckles, a drain hole at the bottom, and two internal gear loops near the top of the bag. All these things make the experience of using the bag smoother and easier than the Fish or Black Diamond options.
However, in a very utilitarian piece of gear like a haul bag, experience leads me to place less importance on such features and more importance on things like durable outer materials, appropriate size-for-objective pairing, and price.
The Half Dome offers a 7600 cubic inch capacity, which is just about right for a single overnight. It’s worth noting that how much capacity you need for a given interval of time on the wall can span a wide range depending on, say, how much water you’ll need as well as externalities like how packable your clothes and sleeping bags are, and so forth.
Ultimately, this is how this calculation breaks down: you want enough space to get all your gear up the wall with you, but you don’t really want more than that. Too much haul bag can make it so that it’s near impossible to reach things at the bottom while on the route (especially at a hanging belay).
Additionally, the standard backpacking vox populi applies: if you’ve got extra space in your bag, you’re very likely to fill it with crap you don’t need to get up the route.
This is, of course, a familiar concept to experienced backpackers; I’ll speak to my experience, but know that there’s some wiggle room here depending on how you pack.
At 31 inches tall, the Half Dome strikes a fantastic balance — not too much space for a two-day wall, not too tall to dig through furiously on shorter trips.
Were I to try for a three-day route on El Cap, the Half Dome would probably be a bit tight, but could be made to work (especially with the addition of a second, smaller haul bag). But a bit larger bag would likely be more comfortable.
Close inspection of the Metolius and Black Diamond haul bag lines reveal a significant off-set in sizes — which is great, since it means that there are more options to fit your bag to your objective.
For example, the Half Dome at 7600 cubic inches sits comfortably between the Black Diamond Touchstone (their mid-sized bag at 4272 cubic inches), and the Black Diamond Zion (8848 cubic inches). The next step up in the Metolius line is the El Cap, offering a 9600 cubic inch (157 Liter) capacity, so there is little overlap between the Black Diamond and Metolius lines.
For an overnight wall climb, I found the size of the Half Dome to be spot on. This means that choosing from the Black Diamond line for a similar trip leaves you stuck between too small, and slightly too large. But if you’re gearing up for a three-day push on The Nose, for example, the extra room available in the BD Zion makes sense, and you don’t have to jump all the way up to the Metolius El Cap. All this is to say that, before you settle on a bag, I strongly recommend taking advantage of this offset in sizes by thinking hard about your objectives.
After some time using the Metolius Half Dome both at crags and on big wall trade routes, the abrasion resistance has been remarkable. In fact, the single worst day the Half Dome has had in my possession was the result of the checked luggage crucible that has been the death of so many packs.
Of course, it’s important to pack your haul bag carefully on a big wall so as to avoid sharp tools or gear puncturing your bag. And it’s good to have a similar mindset before handing your bag over to the airlines. Between my time on walls and my trips through airports, the Half Dome has received some small scrapes and bruises, which is pretty much unavoidable — wall climbing can be taxing on both people and gear. For its part, the Half Dome has kept the lasting signs of this abuse to a minimum, more so than the smaller BD bag I’ve used in the past.
Perusing spec sheets, you’ll notice that the Fish haul bags track fairly closely with the Metolius line in terms of size. They employ the same vinyl-laminated nylon as the Black Diamond bags, but are most noteworthy for their low price.
If you’re on a budget, the Fish bags are extremely hard to argue with. The Fish Budget Haul Bag is nearly biometrically identical to the Half Dome (7500 cubic inches, 33 inches tall) but retails for $120 (plus $10 for heavier-denier fabric) compared to the $220 of the Half Dome. This is an inescapably large difference, and also where the comparison shopping stops for the budget-conscious, big wall aspirant.
However, if you’ve got a more flexible budget and if the Metolius / Fish sizing scheme seems to be most appropriate over the BD sizing breakdown, I would recommend the Half Dome over the Fish Budget bag simply because of the materials involved. If that seems rather simple and obvious, it is. All of these haul bags have been streamlined over the years to feature and incorporate the wisdom of decades of big wall climbing. So the real deciding factor is the materials used — how well they hold up. And that’s where the Metolius Half Dome is the clear winner.
All told, the Half Dome is a phenomenal haul bag for two-day walls, and even three-day walls if you want to pack light. This thing will last a long, long time, and it’s worth the extra coin relative to the Fish Budget Haul Bag if you’ve got the money to spare — especially considering that the upfront cost is spread out over the lifetime of the bag.
If you’re really pinching pennies, the Fish Budget Haul Bag wins. And if you think you’ll need just a little more space, the Black Diamond Zion could be a better fit. But the Metolius Half Dome’s capacity and durability make it a great mid-sized choice.