Patagonia Black Hole 32L Backpack
Size Tested: One Size
Blister’s Measured Weight: 824 grams
- Light and strong polyester ripstop with highly weatherproof TPU laminate and a DWR finish
- Hybrid pack with integrated folding lid for easy access to main compartment
- Padded sleeve protects most 15” laptops or holds a hydration reservoir
- Front stash pocket for small items
- Heavy-duty molded back panel for comfort and durability
- Padded shoulder harness, sternum strap and simple webbing belt
- Top-mounted, reinforced haul handle
Reviewer: 5’8”, 155 lbs
Days Tested: 50+
Test Locations: Fort Collins & Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Patagonia’s Black Hole duffel bags have been a staple in their line for years, and have always been designed with an emphasis on durability and water resistance. A few years ago, they expanded the line beyond just duffel bags, and it now also includes ski bags, messenger bags, totes, roller luggage, organizational “cubes,” and backpacks. I used the first version of the Black Hole 35L backpack for a few years and was very impressed by how well it held up to the daily abuses of bike commuting, various day hikes, and even some overnight backpacking trips.
So, when Patagonia released the replacement for the Black Hole 35L Backpack, I was very interested to see how similar or different the new 32L version was. The new Black Hole 32L Backpack features a lot of small, but significant changes: a new, lighter fabric, a completely different flap closure, a side zipper, and a new shoulder harness. So, my main questions for the new 32L pack revolved around how much of the durability, water-resistance, and versatility of the previous version the new pack maintained.
Like the old 35L version, and most of Patagonia’s other daypacks, the Black Hole 32L only comes in one size. The foam back panel of the Black Hole 32L is 18.5” (~47 cm) tall, and I’ve found it to be very comfortable for my 5’8” frame. For reference, my back measurement from C7 vertebrae to my Iliac crest is 18”. I can only attest to my own experience, but the fit of the Black Hole 32L seems pretty average for casual daypacks.
A couple years ago, Patagonia updated their entire Black Hole line with a new fabric. The older bags used a 14.7 oz, 1200-denier polyester plain weave with a TPU film and DWR finish. Patagonia replaced this with a lighter, 13 oz, 450-denier polyester ripstop weave and kept the TPU film and DWR finish.
I was worried that the new lighter fabric wouldn’t be as durable as the previous version, but so far I haven’t had any issues. The new fabric is noticeably more supple than the previous, and maintains the same excellent water resistance thanks to the TPU film and DWR. And, though there are plenty of factors that contribute to this, it is worth noting that the Black Hole 32L weighs 212 grams less than the old 35L version.
Though it doesn’t feel as beefy as the old fabric, I still believe that the new Black Hole fabric is a significant upgrade in terms of durability and water resistance when compared to the average plain-weave nylon you see on many casual daypacks.
While its fabric is fairly hefty, the Black Hole 32L’s features are pretty minimal. There’s a 11.75” (~30 cm) pocket on the front panel of the bag, and this is a carryover feature that I really like from the old 35L version. It’s great for stashing items you want easy access to like sunglasses, pens, or small books, and the water resistant fabric covers the zipper to keep out water. It’s not the most voluminous pocket, so don’t expect to jam a ton of stuff in there, but it’s great for a few thinner items.
Inside the main compartment there’s a padded laptop sleeve that Patagonia says will fit most 15” laptops (it fits my 15” MacBook Pro with a little room to spare). There’s also a narrower sleeve for a tablet or hydration reservoir, and a port to run a tube to the shoulder harness.
On the other side of the main compartment there’s an array of organizational pockets for your smaller items, and I appreciate that Patagonia put the pen slots right next to the main zipper for quick access.
The Black Hole 32L doesn’t have any external water bottle pockets, which is worth noting. However, it does have an internal mesh water bottle sleeve that will fit an average coffee thermos or nalgene, and this helps keep the bottle upright and in one spot inside the pack.
I think the feature I miss the most on the Black Hole 32L is side compression straps. This isn’t because the pack has any trouble accommodating smaller loads (the top flap and straps handle this just fine), but because side compression straps allow you to strap longer objects to the outside of a pack.
Apart from the fabric, I think the unique entry design of the Black Hole 32L is what sets it apart from other bags. A zipper runs along the top of the pack and down one side, like an upside-down “J”. However, the zipper is separated at the upper corner (the bend in the J), so you can independently open the top, or the side, or both. The side zipper also separates from both ends so you can open it from the top or bottom. The top of the pack has a buckle and strap on each side and, when buckled, the Black Hole 32L resembles a flap-style pack, but with the added security of a fully zippered bag.
Though it took some getting used to, I’ve come to love this zipper design for most situations, and especially while bike commuting. You can unzip the bottom of the side zipper to quickly grab smaller items from the bottom of the pack (even while on the bike), you can unbuckle the buckles and dig through the pack through the top zipper, or you can unzip both and open up the whole pack.
Though I love it for its easy access, the zipper design isn’t ideal when you are really stuffing the pack to the brim. Here, I’d prefer a simple cylinder top-loading design like the old Black Hole 35L. The Black Hole 32L’s zipper design does make it easy to access the entirety of the pack, but when it’s completely unzipped it can be a bit difficult to keep all the contents in place when zipping it up. However, since I’m often getting stuff in and out of my pack many times throughout the day, and don’t usually have it filled with a ton of gear, I much prefer the increased accessibility of the Black Hole 32L, and am willing to take a bit more time when packing the bag for larger loads.
The one thing I would appreciate here is a heftier zipper. Since the zipper runs along the side of the pack where a seam would normally be, it has to deal with some of the pressure of the contents inside the pack, and this makes me a bit nervous when really stuffing the pack to its capacity. However, I haven’t had any issues yet, and will update this review if I do.
Stated pack volumes can vary a lot, and the Black Hole 32L is extra tricky due to it’s unique flap design. When you really fill the main compartment, I’d say the Black Hole 32L is at the very least on par with other 32-liter packs, and maybe even larger. However, when you fill the main compartment like this, the pack extends above your head and is kind of annoying, especially while biking. However, even when it’s full, you can still fold over the very edge of the flap and buckle the straps so that the top zipper is covered by the water resistant fabric.
Though it isn’t the most comfortable when packed completely full, I never get close to using the max capacity of the Black Hole 32L with my daily essentials consisting of a laptop, some folders, water bottle, shell, mid layer, and other small accessories. And when it isn’t totally full, you can cinch the straps down tight, leaving you with a compact bag.
Though the Black Hole 32L’s shoulder harness straps are narrower than those on the old 35L version, I’ve actually found them to carry heavier loads more comfortably than the older version, which I’d credit to the strap’s more anatomical shape and thicker padding. In general, I think the Black Hole 32L carries weight a bit better than most frameless, casual daypacks.
That said, the flap design and lack of compression straps make the Black Hole 32L better suited for urban use or short hikes where you don’t need to use all of its volume.
The Black Hole 32L is a very water resistant pack. Though it uses a regular, exposed zipper on the side, I’ve never noticed any significant amount of water enter through the side zipper, and every other part of the pack uses the TPU-coated fabric. It isn’t seam-sealed, and it isn’t a true roll-top, so the Black Hole 32L isn’t completely waterproof, but for shorter rides and hikes in moderate precipitation, it does great, and is significantly better than packs with non-coated fabrics.
After more than 50 days of use, the Black Hole 32L shows no noticeable signs of wear. Though I was nervous at first about the lighter fabric, so far it’s proven very durable, and I’ll update this review should any durability issues arise.
The Patagonia Black Hole 32L takes the water resistance and durability of the old 35L version and adds some design elements that make it more convenient for use around town. It’s not quite as versatile as the previous version, but if you’re looking for a durable, water resistant pack for everyday, urban use and the occasional day hike, the Black Hole 32L is an excellent choice.