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Sat, 03 Jun 2023 04:36:20 +0000


Adventure | GearJunkie

The Best Duffel Bags of 2023

Fri, 02 Jun 2023 14:55:14 +0000

Girl on top of truck with duffel bagsTesting duffel bags on dusty overland trips in Africa; (photo/Chris Carter)

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We tested the best duffel bags of 2023 with options for every adventure and budget. Top picks include Patagonia, Black Diamond, and more!

The post The Best Duffel Bags of 2023 appeared first on GearJunkie.

Girl on top of truck with duffel bagsTesting duffel bags on dusty overland trips in Africa; (photo/Chris Carter)

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They’re at the start of every expedition documentary. Explorers in a conga line, chucking bulging bags loaded with ropes, food, and tents into the back of a seaplane or weathered Land Rover. You see them piled on docks, in airports, or swaying back and forth on pack mules as they wind their way to basecamp — duffel bags are the storage backbone of any long adventure.

Use them for your next three-month foray through Patagonia, or to visit your in-laws in Michigan over the weekend. Duffels are versatile pieces of luggage for anything on your travel tick list.

Any duffel bag worth its salt needs to meet certain metrics. They must be sturdy enough to protect and transport hefty loads of technical gear, yet light enough to merit use on an expedition. They should exhibit thoughtful organizational features, and have to be packed and unpacked with ease.

Those are big shoes to fill, and with so many top brands churning these workhorses out, it can be difficult to narrow in on the best pick. So, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you.

We took the finest duffel bags money can buy, and pitted them against each other on dusty overland trips in Africa, climbing expeditions through Mexico, and weekend cabin getaways, to bring you the crème de la crème of these brawny bags.

Check out our top picks below, and be sure to browse our comprehensive buyer’s guide at the end for help in choosing the perfect duffel. Use our comparison chart for a quick overview, or have your burning questions hashed out in the FAQ.

The Best Duffel Bags of 2023

Best Overall Duffel Bag

Patagonia Black Hole 70L


  • Weight 3 lbs., 2.8 oz.
  • Volume Options 40, 55, 70, & 100 L
  • Face Fabric 900D 100% recycled polyester ripstop with TPU-film laminate
  • Straps Removable backpack straps, top carry handles, 2 side handles
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Versatile, stylish design
  • Durable yet lightweight
  • Comfortable carry system


  • Flimsy material doesn’t stay open when packing
  • No zippered pockets at either end
Best Budget Duffel Bag

Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 60L


  • Weight 2 lbs., 3 oz.
  • Volume Options 40, 60, & 90 L
  • Face Fabric 1000D Helix Poly & 600D Poly TPU
  • Straps Removable backpack straps, 4 side handles
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Great value for the price
  • Solid organization features
  • Sturdy, weather-resistant construction


  • No top carry handles
  • Fabric doesn’t hold shape while packing
  • Not the highest quality zippers
Best Expedition Duffel Bag

Black Diamond StoneHauler 120L


  • Weight 3 lbs., 13 oz.
  • Volume Options 45, 60, 90, & 120 L
  • Face Fabric 600D & 1500D SuperGrid ripstop & 1640D polyester
  • Straps Removable backpack straps, 4 side handles
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Extremely durable materials
  • Bomber tubular webbing loop around entire bag
  • Foam-reinforced fabric in high-use areas


  • No top carry handles
  • Non-laminated fabric absorbs water faster than TPU-coated duffels
  • Backpack straps aren’t the most comfortable
Best Duffel Bag for Casual Use

Peak Design Travel Duffel 35L


  • Weight 2 lbs.
  • Volume Options 35 & 65 L
  • Face Fabric 100% recycled 600D nylon canvas & 900D waterproof base
  • Straps Single shoulder strap, top carry handles (can be backpack straps), 2 side handles
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Sleek, stylish look
  • Thoughtful design
  • Comfortable, versatile carrying options


  • Cord hooks difficult to pull out of strap loops
  • Not the best for long adventures in rough conditions
Best Ultralight Duffel Bag

Matador Freefly 30L


  • Weight 8.5 oz.
  • Volume Options 30 L
  • Face Fabric 70D Robic nylon UHMWPE ripstop, with PU waterproofing & 50D mini ripstop nylon
  • Straps Top carry handles, front and back grab handles, single shoulder strap that splits into backpack straps
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Ultralight
  • Extremely packable
  • Waterproof materials (not submersible)


  • Lower durability than other duffels
  • Thin, basic carry straps aren’t the most comfortable
Best Rolling Duffel Bag

The North Face Base Camp Voyager Roller Duffel 21”


  • Weight 6 lbs., 13 oz.
  • Volume Options 40 & 94 L
  • Face Fabric 840D recycled ballistic nylon with DWR finish
  • Straps Three side carry handles, telescoping top handle
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Durable, weather-resistant fabric
  • Sturdy wheels and chassis
  • Carry-on compatible


  • Heavy
  • Pricey compared to duffels of similar volume
  • Wheeled duffels aren’t as versatile
Best Waterproof Duffel Bag

YETI Panga 75L


  • Weight 6 lbs., 1.6 oz.
  • Volume Options 50, 75, & 100 L
  • Face Fabric EVA molded bottom & ThickSkin waterproof nylon shell
  • Straps Removable backpack straps, 4 side handles
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Fully waterproof
  • Extremely durable material
  • Simple, easily attachable backpack straps


  • Minimal feature set
  • Heavy
  • Expensive
Best of the Rest

Osprey Transporter 95L


  • Weight 3 lbs., 6.4 oz.
  • Volume Options 40, 65, 95, & 120 L
  • Face Fabric 900D & 600D TPU-coated DWR recycled polyester
  • Straps Stowable backpack straps, 4 side handles
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Uber comfortable backpack carry straps
  • Durable, quality materials


  • Minimal extra pockets
  • Not many lashing points

REI Co-op Roadtripper 100L


  • Weight 1 lb., 6 oz.
  • Volume Options 40, 60, 100, & 140 L
  • Face Fabric Recycled polyester
  • Straps Single shoulder strap, top carry handles, 2 side handles
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Affordable
  • Simple, sleek design
  • Lightweight and packable


  • Simple straps are uncomfortable during long carries
  • Fabric isn’t as durable or water-resistant as other models

The North Face Base Camp Medium


  • Weight 3 lbs., 9.1 oz.
  • Volume Options 31, 50, 71, 95, 132, & 150 L
  • Face Fabric 1000D polyester with PVC coating & 840D DWR ballistic nylon
  • Straps Removable backpack straps, top carry handles, 2 side handles
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Durable, time-tested design
  • Comfortable carry system


  • Zipper can be difficult to open and close
  • On the heavier side

Cotopaxi Allpa 50L


  • Weight 2 lb., 10 oz.
  • Volume Options 50 & 70 L
  • Face Fabric 840D ballistic nylon & TPU coated 1000D polyester
  • Straps Removable backpack straps, top carry handles, 2 side handles
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Stylish design with lots of fun color schemes
  • Durable materials
  • Fantastic organization


  • Backpack straps attachment design isn’t our favorite
  • No internal compression straps

Gregory Alpaca 90L


  • Weight 3 lbs., 9 oz.
  • Volume Options 45, 60, 90, & 120 L
  • Face Fabric 630D nylon & 900D polyester diamond ripstop with TPU coating
  • Straps Removable backpack straps, top carry handles, 2 side handles
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Durable, no-frills design
  • Expedition-oriented features


  • Backpack straps take some time to remove
  • No internal compression straps

Rab Expedition Kitbag 120L


  • Weight 3 lbs., 12 oz.
  • Volume Options 50, 80, & 120 L
  • Face Fabric 600D polyester with TPU film
  • Straps Removable backpack straps, top carry handles, 2 side handles
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Affordable
  • Comfortable carrying options
  • Functional adventure-ready design


  • Not as durable as other expedition duffels
  • Minimal extra zippered pockets
  • No internal compression straps

Mountain Hardwear Camp 4 95L


  • Weight 2 lbs., 9.5 oz.
  • Volume Options 45, 65, 95, & 135 L
  • Face Fabric 420D carbonate-coated ripstop nylon
  • Straps Removable backpack straps, 2 side handles, single 25 mm webbing shoulder strap
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Sleek, haul bag inspired design
  • Comfortable backpack straps
  • Lightweight
  • Effective dirty laundry system


  • Minimal lashing points
  • Few additional pockets
  • Lower durability materials

Sea to Summit Duffel Bag 90L


  • Weight 4 lbs., 8 oz.
  • Volume Options 45, 65, 90, & 130 L
  • Face Fabric 1000D nylon with waterproof tarpaulin laminate
  • Straps Removable backpack straps, 4 side handles
The Best Duffel Bags of 2023


  • Impenetrable fabric
  • Modular strap configurations


  • Minimal organizational features
  • Heavy

Duffel Bags Comparison Chart

Duffel Bag Price Weight Volume Options Face Fabric Straps/Handles
Patagonia Black Hole 70L $199 3 lbs., 2.8 oz. 40, 55, 70, & 100 L 900D polyester ripstop with TPU-film laminate 6
Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler 60L $129 2 lbs., 3 oz. 40, 60, & 90 L 1000D Helix Poly & 600D Poly TPU 6
Black Diamond StoneHauler 120L $230 3 lbs., 13 oz. 45, 60, 90, & 120 L 600D & 1500D SuperGrid ripstop & 1640D polyester 6
Peak Design Travel Duffel 35L $140 2 lbs. 35 & 65 L 100% recycled 600D nylon canvas & 900D waterproof base 5
Matador Freefly 30L $85 8.5 oz. 30 L 70D Robic nylon, with PU waterproofing & 50D nylon 5
The North Face Base Camp Voyager Roller $240 6 lbs., 13 oz. 40 & 94 L 840D recycled ballistic nylon with DWR finish 4
YETI Panga 75L $350 6 lbs., 1.6 oz. 50, 75, & 100 L EVA molded bottom & ThickSkin waterproof nylon shell 6
Osprey Transporter 95L $200 3 lbs., 6.4 oz. 40, 65, 95, & 120 L 900D & 600D TPU-coated DWR recycled polyester 6
REI Co-op Roadtripper 100L $65 1 lb., 6 oz. 40, 60, 100, & 140 L Recycled polyester 5
The North Face Base Camp Medium $149 3 lbs., 9.1 oz. 31, 50, 71, 95, 132, & 150 L 1000D polyester with PVC coating & 840D DWR ballistic nylon 6
Cotopaxi Allpa 50L $140 2 lb., 10 oz. 50 & 70 L 840D ballistic nylon & TPU coated 1000D polyester 6
Gregory Alpaca 90L $160 3 lbs., 9 oz. 45, 60, 90, & 120 L 630D nylon & 900D ripstop polyester with TPU coating 6
Rab Expedition Kitbag 120L $155 3 lbs., 12 oz. 50, 80, & 120 L 600D polyester with TPU film 6
Mountain Hardwear Camp 4 95L $160 2 lbs., 9.5 oz. 45, 65, 95, & 135 L 420D carbonate-coated ripstop nylon 5
Sea to Summit Duffel Bag 90L $200 4 lbs., 8 oz. 45, 65, 90, & 130 L 1000D nylon with waterproof tarpaulin laminate 6
Battling around with a load of duffels in tow to test during road trips with friends; (photo/Chris Carter)

Why You Should Trust Us

Author and Senior Editor Chris Carter tested duffel bags’ durability, weather resistance, and overall useability on remote climbing expeditions, international overland adventures, and long road trips around the country. Each model was put through the wringer over thousands of miles of real-world travel tests in a variety of different climates and environments. Rest assured — only the best ended up on this guide.

We know everyone’s travel plans differ, and no two trips are alike. We selected a broad array of duffel designs for each traveler’s budget, style, and adventure needs. Slung over our shoulders, strapped to roof racks on wild backroads, or thrown into the belly of planes, these bags were put through their paces and all performed with flying colors.

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Duffel Bag

Taking top expedition duffels on long trips through the African bush; (photo/Chris Carter)

What is a Duffel Bag?

The line between travel backpacks, standard suitcases, and duffel bags can often be blurred. So what are these rugged sacks, and what makes them special? The origin of the duffel bag is somewhat disputed, but most trace it to the actual town of Duffel in Belgium, where they employed “duffel cloth” to make thick, cylindrical bags with zippered or drawstring closures on top. The burly material was also used as a covering for ships.

Used widely by the military in WWI and WWII, the durable, flexible nature of these souped-up knapsacks made them perfect for chucking haphazardly into the back of transport vehicles or bunkers. They were more durable and voluminous than backpacks, and easier to carry than a solid crate. But they weren’t very comfortable to tote around.

News of these nifty packs seeped into the public, and the design evolved. Longer, wider bags with various sturdy straps for throwing over the shoulder or lashing to animals emerged. The likes of arctic explorers, mountaineers, and international travelers began seeing the value in these versatile wonders, and big-name brands picked up the scent.

Duffel bags now have loads of straps, lash points, and pockets that boost their useability and handling abilities; (photo/Honey McNaughton)

From fully waterproof models, to technical bags with more pockets and straps than you can count, duffels have come a long way from their humble roots. For weekend getaways to visit the parents or gear-intensive climbing trips, they now offer state-of-the-art storage for wherever the road takes you.

Categories of Duffel Bags

The type of duffel bag you decide to go with depends on your unique travel plans. If you need a general all-around workhorse, something like the simple REI Roadtripper or versatile Patagonia Black Hole would be a solid choice. If you’re looking for a sleek companion on international flights, The North Face Voyager Roller may be the move, whereas the specked-out Black Diamond StoneHauler is catered for dedicated expeditions in rough environments. Duffels can be expensive, so consider what you’ll be primarily using your duffels for before making your final decision.

Expedition Duffel Bags

Expedition duffel bags need to be durable enough to withstand the unpredictable conditions of long, bumpy adventures; (photo/Chris Carter)

The last thing you want to worry about on an expedition or long adventure is your precious cargo. Expedition duffels are the more burly, specialized bags of the bunch, and are often decorated with fancy technology and features for specific outdoor pursuits. They are designed to be light enough for fast missions while withstanding abuse from the elements, and must be easily carried, packed, and unloaded — all while protecting important technical gear.

Bags like the Rab Expedition Kitbag, Black Diamond StoneHauler, and Gregory Alpaca fit this bill. They prioritize durability, weather resistance, and useability, featuring elements like TPU-coated waterproof fabrics, and reinforced lashing points.

Expedition duffels will often be hauled to basecamp on pulk sleds, strapped to the backs of pack mules, or thrown on top of janky overland trucks as they bump along remote dirt tracks. They need to be malleable to fit these various modes of transportation, durable enough to fight abrasion, and fitted with attachment points that are rated to hold heavy loads.

Expedition duffels are often crammed full of clunky, spiky climbing and adventure gear and need to be strong enough to fight abrasion from both outside and inside the bag; (photo/Chris Carter)

The Black Diamond StoneHauler, for instance, is lined with thick tubular webbing loops that are each rated to 2kN, and sports a bomb-proof 1500-denier outer shell. This allows it to be easily affixed to anything and instills confidence that your only tent and cooking kit won’t slide off into a couloir whenever your mule stumbles.

You can expect to find thoughtful additions, like waterproof zippers and storm flaps, unique storage compartments, cushy backpack straps, and compression straps, on expedition duffels. The amount of fancy add-ons makes these bags a bit overkill for a simple weekend getaway, and their durability will often add some significant weight.

Travel/Casual Use Duffel Bags

Trotting around town with the stylish but functional Cotopaxi Allpa; (Photo/Honey McNaughton)

If you’re scoping out a bag for shorter trips, lugging around the gym, or flights home for Christmas, these are the duffels you want. While not as stalwart as their battle-ready cousins above, these often still boast excellent storage, weather resistance, and carrying capabilities. Travel and casual duffels focus on comfort and useability over rugged durability.

You probably won’t find many adventure-specific features of technical expedition duffels on these, such as DWR-treated fabrics, storm flaps, and stout daisy chains. This means they are generally lighter, easier to handle, and may be more stylish for use around town. We narrowed in on the sleek Peak Design Travel Duffel as our top pick for casual use.

Living out of the Cotopaxi Allpa 50L while traveling around Mexico; (photo/Chris Carter)

Many duffels on our list function as solid crossover pieces, and their versatile nature makes them good for casual trips, with enough gumption for demanding adventures. The Patagonia Black Hole and Cotopaxi Allpa fit this description. They’ll look great while tramping between gates in the airport, but boy will they perform when you need them to.

While some designs may be better suited for casual trips, most of the bags on this list would be fine in just about any scenario. You don’t need to be trekking to a far-off base camp to merit the use of Black Diamond’s StoneHauler on your travels.

Waterproof Duffel Bags

Waterproof duffel bags keep your gear safe and dry in torrential downpours or accidental spills in the river; (photo/Chris Carter)

Long paddling expeditions, snowy winter excursions, or a family fun day at the lake — these are the bags for the job. Though the selection is sparse, some brands have developed entirely waterproof duffels for trips where keeping your gear dry is paramount. Their higher weight, minimal features, and hefty price tag make them a pretty niche bag, so we wouldn’t recommend snagging one for everyday use.

It’s important to note that most duffel bags, including casual-use models, are already crafted with a high degree of water resistance. Some face fabrics may even be waterproof, but water will still be able to get through the unsealed seams or zippers. It takes a good deal of prolonged rain to breach the beefy TPU-coated fabric of Gregory’s Alpaca or Osprey’s Transporter. For most of what you’ll encounter on your travels, this will suffice.

But if you really plan on getting wet, models like YETI’s Panga will fend off a downpour, with technical Hyrdolok zippers, minimal stitching, and impenetrable fabric. Waterproof duffels are great for keeping sensitive gear or technology dry on long outdoor trips through wet climates, or anything involving extended time on a boat.

Waterproof duffels are great for long trips on the river or short hikes through rainstorms with camping gear you need to keep dry; (photo/Chris Carter)

Rolling Duffel Bags

Rolling duffels merge the convenience of a duffel, with the ease of standard wheeled suitcases, and are great for carrying heavy loads over smooth surfaces. These designs caught on quickly, and you will often see wheeled versions of popular models, like the wheeled Patagonia Black Hole or Osprey Transporter.

Rolling duffels are good choices for trips where you won’t be navigating a variety of different environments, as their designs are restricting in many travel scenarios. You’ll rarely see backpack or shoulder straps on rolling duffels, limiting how easy it is to carry them yourself.

The North Face Voyager Roller stood out as our favorite rolling duffel for a variety of different travel scenarios; (photo/Honey McNaughton)

If you’re touring around South America and will be shouldering your baggage onto busses, or hiking through small towns to your next hostel, it may be best to go with a traditional duffel. Trust us — trying to roll a wheeled bag down a rocky dirt road is less than optimal.

However, if you’ll be keeping to controlled environments with a lot of pavement and nice walkways, these can alleviate a lot of stress on your body. Many brands also offer rolling duffels that hover around 40 liters, making them suitable as carry-ons.

We found the North Face Voyager Roller to be one of our favorite rolling duffels for a diversity of environments and surfaces. Its sturdy wheels and chassis instill confidence over bumpy cobblestone or broken-up sidewalks, and the burly materials and lash points make it somewhat adventure-ready.

Volume Selection

The volume of the duffel bag you choose depends on the different demands and length of your trip; (photo/Honey McNaughton)

Duffel bag models are frequently available in a variety of volume options, usually on a spectrum of 40 to 120 liters. 40-liter duffels will often be carry-on compatible, which is perfect for weekend trips where you don’t want to check a bag. At the higher end, 100 or 120-liter bags are for seriously long trips or gear-intensive expeditions.

The volume you decide to go with will obviously depends on the length and intensity of the trip you plan to bring it on. A 90-liter model is probably overkill for weekend getaways, and will be uncomfortably floppy with a few changes of clothes and an overnight kit inside.

We’ve seen duffels with volumes of up to 150 liters (like the gigantic XXL North Face Base Camp Duffel), which are great for clunky outdoor gear on long trips like tents, ropes, crampons, or backpacks. It’s easy to bump the weight of these duffels above what is allowed for checked baggage on a plane, so pack with care. Black Diamond’s 120L StoneHauler has been one of our favorite hardworking large-volume duffels for serious missions with technical gear.

Osprey’s Transporter 95L (left) is a good travel-sized duffel for medium loads, while Rab’s Kitbag 120L (right) could haul an entire basecamp; (photo/Chris Carter)

Medium-sized duffels in the 50 to 70-liter range are our favorite versatile volume, as they work for long weekend adventures, or international trips that last for months. Patagonia’s 70L Black Hole and Osprey’s 65L Transporter are some of our top picks in this range. They swallow enough gear to travel comfortably, but aren’t overly bulky and unwieldy.

Smaller duffels can dip as low as 25 liters, and can be solid day packs or weekend carry-ons. We love the North Face Base Camp Voyager 40-liter rolling duffel as a carry-on for short flights, or the stylish Peak Design Travel Duffel 35-liter for spontaneous overnight trips.

Weight and Packed Size

Many duffels, like The North Face Base Camp, come with their own stuff sacks and pack down small; (photo/Chris Carter)

Most people don’t plan to haul duffel bags on their person for very long like they would a traditional backpack, so weight isn’t a huge concern for many travelers. Sure, you may have to carry your duffel like a backpack from the airport to your hotel across town, but you won’t be trekking up a mountain with it on your back.

You want your gear to be protected by thick, durable materials, with hefty zippers and straps. That said, most duffel bags maintain a relatively low weight and are often surprisingly packable. Many of the duffels on this list come with their own stuff sacks, and cram down to the size of a small throw pillow.

Matador’s Freefly 30L is the smallest and lightest duffel bag on our list, easily fitting in the palm of your hand; (photo/Chris Carter)

Nothing holds a candle to the packed size of Matador’s Freefly 30L duffle though, which fits in the palm of your hand when shoved into its tiny stuff sack, and weighs a scant 8.5 ounces. Duffels like this are great solutions for throwing into larger suitcases to be used on shorter missions during your trip, or as backup luggage.

While a duffel bag’s weight doesn’t matter as much as that of an ultralight backpack, it is still an important consideration when planning your trip. Rolling duffels, for instance, can have dry weights north of eight pounds (like the Patagonia Black Hole wheeled duffel), which is a significant chunk out of the 50-pound weight limit of checked baggage on most airlines.

Straps and Carrying Comfort

Duffel bags need to have a variety of handles and straps for hauling them comfortably from different angles during hectic mid-trip duffel shuffles; (photo/Honey McNaughton)

This is where duffel bag manufacturers truly flex their creative muscles. Simple side handles with a shoulder strap, removable backpack harness that stows into a pocket, or handles that transform into backpack straps and snap together with a magnet — this feature can get complicated. It is an admittedly difficult conundrum for these brands. How do they keep the bag streamlined and easy to throw around, while making it comfortable enough to carry long distances?

Versatility is key when handling duffel bags, and different situations require you to carry them in different ways. You may just need a small handle on the side to transport your bag into another room or pull it from the bed of a truck. A single shoulder strap while lugging it between airport gates may suffice, while it makes sense to use a full backpack harness when walking across town. A good duffel bag can be grabbed from any angle and carried with ease.

Carting your duffel across town? Those backpack straps better be comfortable; (photo/Honey McNaughton)

You’ll see a lot of variety in the strap designs of duffel bags. Most will have some way of either carrying the bag slung over your shoulder with a single padded strap, or as a traditional backpack with two shoulder straps (generally found on models with larger volumes). 

Our favorite layout for easy handling is two top carry handles, two haul handles on the top and bottom, and removable padded backpack straps. For us, this allows for maximum carrying comfort and quick organization during the duffle shuffle.

These bags get chucked around a lot, so the fewer loops and straps that could get snagged on things the better. For that reason, shoulder straps will usually be fully removable, or able to be tucked away in a pouch on the lid or side.

Peak Design’s 35L Travel Duffel allows you to configure its straps in a variety of different ways depending on how you want to carry it; (photo/Honey McNaughton)

The Sea to Summit Duffel features one of the more unique carrying designs we’ve seen. Cozy, contoured harness straps easily clip to the top and bottom of the pack, and have above-average padding for heavy loads. When you want to pick the bag up without wearing it on your back, magnets in the shoulder straps quickly snap together to form an effective carrying handle.

Peak Design’s Travel Duffel also has a good deal of modularity and allows you to configure its straps in different ways depending on how you want to carry it throughout your trip.

No matter how fancy the strap system is on a duffel, they will almost never be as comfortable as an actual backpacking backpack, so don’t plan on clocking serious miles with them. Though some will have hipbelts, without a backpack frame, beefy foam shoulder straps, or ventilation systems, they tend to wear you down pretty fast.

Materials and Weather Resistance

Duffels, particularly those catered for expedition use like The North Face Base Camp, need to have extremely durable shell fabrics to hold up to the wear and tear of tough adventures; (photo/Chris Carter)

If duffels need to be one thing — it’s durable. These bags often find themselves being tossed about, drug through the dirt, or strapped to the outside of trucks, and they need to keep expensive gear safe through it all.

The denier of a duffel’s material (often written as a number followed by “D”), is a good general way to determine the durability and weather resistance of a bag. Denier is a unit of measurement that indicates the thickness of the yarns that are used to construct a fabric. The number represents the actual amount of yarn within each thread. So the durable 900-denier polyester shell of Patagonia’s Black Hole contains 900 yarns within each of its threads, plus a TPU-film laminate for water resistance.

Most of the brands in our lineup employ some combination of tough ballistic nylon, polyester, or TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) laminate for their duffel’s face fabrics. TPU is a plastic-like film used to laminate and waterproof fabric — it is not a fabric itself. These materials will often be ripstop to help fend off large tears, and many duffels have reinforced areas that get particularly abused, like the bottom.

Duffels get thrown around a lot while loading and unloading, and need to have abrasion-resistant fabric to handle the heat; (photo/Chris Carter)

Vinyl or laminate finishes are common on outdoor duffels and will keep the bag’s contents dry in light to moderate rain, but water will eventually leak through zippers and seams that aren’t taped. Fully waterproof models obviously don’t have this weakness.

From hard-working expedition bags with face fabrics boasting 1000-denier or more, to ultralight casual duffels with flimsy 70-denier nylon shells, we cover a wide range of options on this list. While denier and fabric choice aren’t the only determining factors in a bag’s durability over long trips, it’s a good, quick way to compare different models and narrow in on the best pick for your travel needs.

Ease of Use and Packing

A variety of features contribute to a duffel bag’s ease of use while packing and unpacking your gear. Below we’ve outlined some extra features that boost a bag’s useability.

Main Compartment

The Osprey Transporter has a large U-shaped opening to access its voluminous main compartment; (photo/Chris Carter)

In case you haven’t caught it by now, our favorite lid design for duffels is definitely a large U-shaped opening. Nothing beats it for quickly accessing everything in the bag’s main compartment while maintaining structure and weather resistance. It is easier to add storm flaps to this design than it is on a single center zipper, as the lid flap naturally overlaps the zipper, protecting the zipper from moisture.

The Sea to Summit Duffle Bag has one of the larger, easier-to-open U-shaped lids we tried. We love being able to quickly see and rummage through piles of climbing and camping gear immediately after pulling it open.

Center zippers make it more difficult to pack things in an orderly fashion and access that gear when the bag is filled to the max. They do tend to be shorter than U-shaped zippers though, so can save some overall weight.

Some U-shaped openings hinge from the sides of the duffel, while others, like Osprey’s Transporter or Rab’s Expedition KitBag, hinge from the top. This means the lid is longer and thinner when opened, which isn’t our favorite design, particularly if there are mesh pockets on the lid. They tend to be harder to hold open, and feel a bit floppy while accessing the pockets.

Bags like Patagonia’s Black Hole feature our favorite U-shaped opening that hinges from the side; (photo/Honey McNaughton)

The main compartments of duffels will often have a couple of mesh zippered pockets inside or on the lid (like on Gregory’s Alpaca), or removable dividers to boost internal organization (like on Eagle Creek’s Cargo Hauler), but they are generally quite basic.

The fabric and design of a duffel help dictate how easy it is to pack with clothes and gear. Duffels that have stiffer sides and thicker fabrics are much easier to load up, as they stay firm even when empty, and don’t fold over on themselves while holding them open with one hand and packing with the other.

Our main complaint with our top pick, Patagonia’s Black Hole, lies in its flimsy fabric. Models like The North Face Base Camp Duffel or Black Diamond’s StoneHauler, on the other hand, boast solid structure with stiff materials and padding to hold the bag open. However, this can come at the cost of a higher weight.

Extra Internal and External Pockets

External pockets provide quick access to gear or documents you need to be able to easily grab; (photo/Chris Carter)

With your bulky gear and clothing items inhabiting the main compartment, you’ll want some smaller pockets for loose items like toiletries, passports, and electronics. Internal pockets help with organization, and external ones provide quick access to essentials while on the go.

We found that the vast majority of duffels have a couple of zippered mesh pockets on the inside of their lids. This isn’t our favorite design, as we prefer to have pockets in the main compartment itself, since heavy items in the lid make it unwieldy when opening and closing the bag. This does make it so that you can grab those items without having to shove other gear aside, but those pockets generally go unused by us.

Patagonia’s Black Hole features one of our favorite pocket designs, with the ability to access one of its extra pockets from both outside or inside the bag.

Many duffels will have one or two zippered compartments on either end of the bag, which are often big enough for larger items like rain jackets or hiking shoes. These are great for keeping dirty clothes separate from clean ones as the days go on, or for stashing gear you need to easily access.

Lashing Points

Lashing points are important elements of a duffel, as they allow you to easily attach your bag to various modes of transportation — like motorcycles; (photo/Honey McNaughton)

You may never have to tether your duffel to a muggy jeep bouncing down a dirt road, or a smelly yak teetering over a mountain pass — but you definitely want it to be secure if you do. Bags for light travel and casual use might never see these conditions, but expedition duffels will often be put to the test atop a variety of different modes of transportation. These can be some of the most important elements of a duffel bag.

Most bags designed for outdoor use feature some layout of daisy chains or nylon straps along the sides of the bag. Our favorite daisy chain design is a horizontal configuration that runs the length of the bag, allowing for a more even tie-down of the load. Gregory’s Alpaca, The North Face’s Base Camp, and Black Diamond’s StoneHauler sport this setup.

Sea to Summit’s Duffel Bag only has a couple of small lash points on each side, and Patagonia’s Black Hole has two daisy chains that run vertically up the side, limiting your tie-down options. These aren’t our favorite configurations, but still get the job done.

Lashing points need to be extremely strong in order to hold duffels securely to unstable vehicles; (photo/Chris Carter)

No matter the layout, lashing points need to be robust enough to hold serious weight while tied to unstable vehicles and animals. You don’t want your gear tumbling down a slope mid-adventure because the stitching popped out.

Black Diamond nudges the bar high with the StoneHauler. They put its tie-down loops through the same load tests as their carabiners and cams, and rated each one to 2kN. The daisy chains on Gregory’s Alpaca also inspire lots of confidence, and are great for strapping to pulk sleds or roof racks.

Waterproof duffels often forgo lashing points to reduce the amount of stitching on the bag, and casual-use duffels may leave them off, opting for a simpler, lighter design. If you plan on tying your bag down during your travels, make sure it’s ready for the job.

Internal and External Compression Straps

Black Diamond’s StoneHauler features some of our favorite internal compression straps for keeping awkward adventure gear in place while traveling around; (photo/Chris Carter)

These are some of our favorite features of duffels, and we bemoan the design of a bag if it doesn’t have them. Aside from rolling duffels, most models on this list don’t have a lot of internal structure to speak of. For that reason, loads that don’t entirely fill the bag jostle and shift around a good deal during travel and can make the duffel unwieldy and floppy — particularly when carrying it like a backpack.

Both internal and external compression straps help snug down the load, making it a tighter, easier-to-transport package. External compression straps are rarer, but can be found on bags like Rab’s Kitbag, or The North Face Base Camp.

Internal straps help keep things organized and compact while on the road. This means clothes stay folded, shoes stay together, and you won’t find a tossed salad of gear when you zip open your bag at the end of the day.  

Flying with Duffel Bags

Charging through the Chattanooga airport baggage claim loaded down with bulging duffels; (photo/Honey McNaughton)

Duffel bags can be great flying companions, and many brands offer 30 to 40-liter models that are carry-on compatible if you’re looking to dodge checked baggage fees. Patagonia’s Black Hole, for instance, comes in the popular 40-liter option that meets most airline and train carry-on requirements.

Bag dimensions of 22 x 14 x 9 inches are standard for carry-ons on many common airlines such as United, American, and Delta. Some airlines, like Delta, do not have weight limits for carry-ons to most destinations. Others, such as Frontier, put a cap at 35 pounds. Keep this in mind as you are loading up your bag. We found the 21” North Face Voyager wheeled duffel to be our go-to carry-on model for domestic and international flights alike.

Flying out of Nairobi, Kenya with a few of our favorite duffel bags crammed full of hiking and rock climbing gear; (photo/Chris Carter)

Duffels make great checked bags as well. Since they weigh less themselves, you can often fill them with more heavy gear than regular suitcases, and they are built to be thrown around and handled roughly. United, American, and Delta have weight limits of 50 pounds for checked bags, with common international airlines like Qatar, Turkish, and British Airways enforcing similar restrictions in the 51 to 55-pound range.

Airlines generally have checked bag size limits of around 35 x 30 x 17 inches, which is plenty big enough for most duffels you’ll throw in the belly of a plane. Rolling duffels obviously provide some of the greatest ease of transport while navigating airports on a long trip. If the entirety of your trip will accommodate a bag with wheels, we’d definitely recommend them. But be careful — these are heavier duffels and you won’t be able to pack quite as much before hitting 50 pounds.

Be sure to always check the baggage regulations of your airline before packing for your flight, as the above figures could change over time. Interested in how we pack our duffels, backpacks, and suitcases for various trips? Check out our tips and tricks for both domestic and international travel.

Larger duffel bags make great checked bags for bulky expedition gear; (photo/Chris Carter)


While there are some great budget options out there, you do get what you pay for with duffel bags. As the barrier between your valuable cargo and the unforgiving elements on an adventure, you want to make sure you can travel with confidence.

Expect to pay anywhere from $70 to $300 for a quality duffel bag. Additional features and bleeding-edge technology boost the value and useability of a duffel bag — along with its price tag.

Simple cheaper models like REI’s Roadtripper will get you a basic polyester tube with webbing, which may be just what you need for occasional weekend jaunts. Staring down the barrel of a full-on expedition up Denali? You’ll probably want to shell out a bit more cash.

Duffels can cost a pretty penny, but are important investments for keeping your baggage safe as it gets tossed around during your travels; (photo/Honey McNaughton)

No matter which duffel you go with, every bag on this list has proven to be dependable on far-flung overseas tours, and short overnight excursions alike. We feel confident recommending each of them for any journey you’ve penned down on your bucket list.


What is the best duffel bag?

After years of stuffing climbing, camping, and expedition gear into the Patagonia Black Hole and hauling it to far-off places, we feel that it is the best all-around duffel bag on the market right now. While different models may serve you better for more niche needs, the Black Hole is one of the more versatile bags we tested, and performs incredibly on both tough outdoor missions and casual trips. It features our favorite strap layout, main opening, and fabric choice, and is just fantastic to travel with.

The Patagonia Black Hole is our favorite duffel bag for both casual travel and long adventures; (photo/Honey McNaughton)
How is a duffel bag different from a regular suitcase?

Duffels are flexible, light, extremely durable pieces of luggage that offer greater versatility than traditional suitcases. They are often cylindrical tube-like bags made with tough ballistic nylon or polyester and are quite weather-resistant, with zippered or drawstring openings at the top. 

Suitcases, on the other hand, are usually rectangular rigid cases with a large hinged lid to access your possessions. They may not offer as much weather resistance, but will have more structure and often have wheels to help roll them long distances. 

Duffels are the better option for outdoor and expedition use, as they are much easier to transport through difficult terrain, or to lash onto various vehicles or animals.

Most duffels have comfortable carry options for walking around town or big airports; (photo/Honey McNaughton)
What are duffel bags used for?

Travelers use duffle bags for various reasons, and the type of trips you have on the docket will help dictate the duffle you decide to buy. Some use them for simple weekend travel, while others depend on them to protect sensitive gear in harsh landscapes on wild adventures. Regardless of where you intend to bring your duffel, you want it to be reliable and durable enough to keep your gear protected from the elements.

Duffel bags make great travel luggage because of their malleable, versatile nature, and ability to be easily strapped to different modes of transportation. This makes them perfect for trips that go through a wide variety of landscapes and environments.

Duffel bags have a multitude of different uses, and are valuable pieces of luggage for any type of journey; (photo/Chris Carter)
What are the different types of duffel bags?

We highlight a number of different categories of duffels in this guide, and each one is catered to different types of trips. All of the duffels we tested fall into the following designations: expedition duffel bags, travel/casual use duffel bags, waterproof duffel bags, and rolling duffel bags.

Many of the bags above fit into a couple of different categories. The Cotopaxi Allpa, for instance, could easily be used for both casual use and expeditions in harsh settings.

Can you use a duffel bag as a carry-on?

Many models of duffel bags come in carry-on sizes, and can be used to cut down on the cost of checked baggage. Most airlines enforce dimensions of 22 x 14 x 9 inches for carry-on bags. Usually, a duffel bag in the 30-40 liter range will fall within these restrictions.

The ultralight 30-liter Matador Freefly easily passes as a personal item or carry-on and fits perfectly under the seat in front of you on a plane; (photo/Emily Malone)
Can you carry a duffel bag like a backpack?

Most duffels with volumes of 50 liters or more will have either removable or stowable backpack straps to help with carrying your bag long distances. Not all backpack straps are created equal, though, and some are much more comfortable than others. The Osprey Transporter has the most cozy backpack system of any of the duffels we tried, and we had no problem carting it across town to a bus stop or standing in line for hours in the airport with it on our backs.

No matter how fancy the backpack straps are on a duffel bag, they will almost never be as comfortable to carry as backpacking backpacks. You shouldn’t plan on having to trek for long periods of time with your duffel, as it could wear you down fast.

As a backpack, slung across the shoulder, or hauled by a handle — duffel bags can be carried a multitude of different ways; (photo/Honey McNaughton)

The post The Best Duffel Bags of 2023 appeared first on GearJunkie.


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Adventure Travel With a Toddler: Basic Gear for a Fun, Active Getaway

Thu, 01 Jun 2023 17:57:15 +0000

(Photo/Katie Jedlicka Sieve)

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Don’t fret: Having a kid does not spell the end of carefree travel! These necessities will reduce fuss and maximize fun for everyone.

The post Adventure Travel With a Toddler: Basic Gear for a Fun, Active Getaway appeared first on GearJunkie.

(Photo/Katie Jedlicka Sieve)

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When my family road trips, we go all out. Bumming it on the beach or lazing around the Airbnb just isn’t our speed. Don’t get me wrong, I love a solid beach day, but maximizing our exploration is our top priority. To put it simply, the more miles we cover, the better.

A common fear is that kids spell the end of carefree travel. And in fairness, we’ve certainly changed some things. But patience, a willingness to try new things, and the right gear have kept us on the move!

This year, constant snow and bitter temps in Minnesota had us looking south. The jungles and coastlines of Costa Rica felt like the perfect spot for a new adventure, and we were excited for our toddler to join.

But from a gear perspective, road-tripping with a toddler felt a bit like a backpacking excursion. You want to have all the essential amenities but also cut your weight (and items!) as much as possible. The best pieces of gear will serve multiple purposes.

During our 10 days in Costa Rica, we explored five towns, traveled 300+ miles, and stopped at every beach possible. We brought a lot of gear with us. But the gear below proved absolutely essential to our trip. It helped us see as much of the country as our 4×4 rental (and kid!) could handle.

Essential Gear: Adventure Vacation With a Toddler

Backpack Child Carrier

(Photo/Katie Jedlicka Sieve)

If we could have only brought one piece of gear, it would be a backpack child carrier. Let’s face it — one of the most daunting realities about traveling with toddlers is that they are both very mobile and also want to be carried at the same time. Oh yeah, and they weigh about the same as a 20-pound kettlebell.

Using a backpack child carrier allows you to carry and contain your kiddo with ease. It also allows a great bird’s-eye view for them! For us, the best part about a backpack carrier is that it became a mobile crib. Our little guy would doze off and rest while we continued to explore.

We used The Osprey Poco during airport layover naps, jungle night walks, busing through cities, a coffee and chocolate tour, hiking to waterfalls, and much more.

The Poco carrier comes in a couple of different models, but we found the standard Poco worked best. Functions we appreciated included the built-in sunshade and the storage section within the base. The two grab handles at the top and the easy-to-access kickstand made picking up and setting down the carrier easy.

Don’t skip out on the extra accessories if you can manage it. For us, that meant the Poco Carrying Case. The Poco itself is a bit clunky when not in use, and this case allows you to carry the Poco more easily and check it on your flight!

Travel Tent

(Photo/Katie Jedlicka Sieve)

Our family took a 10-day road trip in California a couple of months prior to our Costa Rica trip. While the trip was a delight, we went through a pretty dramatic sleep regression. We don’t normally co-sleep, so it was really challenging for all three of us to be in the same room.

We even tried putting the travel crib in the bathroom and small closets, but our little guy wasn’t here for it. For this larger trip, we wanted to set us all up for success, so we brought a tent for the travel crib.

The Slumber Pod is a blackout tent that goes over your travel crib. Or, if you have older kids, they can use it just like a tent. The tent takes about 3 to 5 minutes to set up and is super flexible. Wherever the crib fits, you can put the tent over the crib. There is a main zipper where you have access into the tent, and two small pockets up top.

We had a fan in one pocket and a sound machine in the other pocket. We used the fan that came with the slumber pod but it requires to be plugged in, so I suggest buying a fan that is chargeable or is battery-operated.

Every night, we’d turn off the room lights, sing a short lullaby, and put our little man in his tent. About 30 seconds later, we’d turn the room lights back on, bust out the playing cards and crack a beer. It truly was a game-changer.

Food Containers

(Photo/Katie Jedlicka Sieve)

After several road trips and flights I’ve learned my lesson on food containers: Bring them!

We wasted way too many leftovers because the to-go box didn’t fit in the cooler or was dropped and spilled all over the floor. And a fed baby is a happy baby, am I right?

Having to-go containers allowed us to always have meals and snacks with us. This was essential when a hike or a drive took longer than expected.

The Kleen Kanteen Food Box set came in handy on day one, in the first hour of our trip. We had a 6 a.m. flight, so we grabbed some egg bites and pastries for the three of us right before we boarded. We thought that we’d eat right away once we got settled on the flight, but his nap schedule had other plans.

The egg bites and pastries fit nicely in the food boxes until we were ready for them a couple of hours later. And when it was time to dig in, they weren’t smooshed! Better yet, the food boxes are made of stainless steel so they were still a little warm!

Every single time we went out to eat, we had leftovers. It was awesome to have these durable (and leakproof!) containers with us to keep every last bite!

Water Bottles

(Photo/Katie Jedlicka Sieve)

As a dyed-in-the-wool gear junkie, there is one thing I have a lot of — water bottles. And it is no different for my toddler. For our trip, we actually brought two.

This might seem excessive but it was nice to have a bottle for milk and one for water. That way, we always had access to whichever beverage he wanted (fewer tantrums?).

There are a million different water bottle types, so how do you choose?! For us, we switched to a CamelBak Eddy+ for kids right after we weaned our kiddo off of nursing and bottles. With its well-known “Flip-Bite-Sip” function, it seemed like a natural option. We also received the recommendation from several other parents. We use this bottle for both milk and water, and it’s been great.

Truly, what I love about this is its 14-ounce size — super easy for our toddler to handle. And when those hands are tired, you can easily carabiner it onto a backpack. Also, it is dishwasher-safe, and it all comes apart, which makes cleaning a breeze.

Sun-Protective Clothes

(Photo/Katie Jedlicka Sieve)

Leaving Minnesota’s -20 winter for 90 degrees can be a bit of a shock. As Midwesterners, when we fly south during the winter, we are always extra cautious about the sun those first couple of days. So of course, it was important to us that we both have ample amounts of sunscreen (we love BabyBum Mineral Sunscreen) and a sun shirt. When you are out all day, it’s easy to forget to reapply sunscreen.

But as a new parent, I didn’t want to take any chances.

Patagonia’s Baby Capilene Silkweight UPF Hoodie kept our little guy covered up when the rays were high. The hoodie checks all of my boxes for a sun shirt: lightweight, dries quickly, and is UPF 40. When he refused to wear his hat, we were able to put his hood up, keeping his head protected for more time exploring.

At the beach, in the jungle, at dinner — your kiddo gets wet, sandy, dirty, and messy. Having a pair of quick-drying and easy-to-clean pair of shorts allows you to bring fewer clothes overall.

Baby baggies — did you know there was such a thing? I didn’t until now. Now, we are a full-on baggie family. Between the three of us, we had 10 (yes, 10!) pairs of baggie shorts with us on the trip.

They are lightweight, dry quickly, have pockets, and the list goes on. If you pair it with the right shirt, you can easily go from exploring to dinner in these bad boys. I could truly write a love letter to these iconic shorts.

Bonus baggies: The Baby Baggie Pants might have been the real star of the trip. Like the shorts, they are super light and dry quickly. When we were out in the sun for long periods of time and we couldn’t keep the sunscreen on, we’d put him in these, keeping those little legs protected.


(Photo/Katie Jedlicka Sieve)

I went back and forth about what type of shoes would work best, but once I decided that we needed a pair of close-toed shoes everything else became easy.

I never thought I’d be a Croc mom but I am here for it. And, surprise — we have a matching pair!

I love them because they are lightweight, easy to clean, keep his little toes covered, have great traction, and stay on their feet! High in the mountains of Monteverde, the temps dropped at night, and there were days where we even rocked the socks n’ crocks look.

Zippies and Blanket

(Photo/Katie Jedlicka Sieve)

Our child has been wearing merino wool since the day he arrived earthside! Merino Wool has temperature-regulating properties that help keep you warm when it’s cool and cool when it’s warm.

The iksplor Adventure Zippie became his official airport outfit (don’t lie, we all have one). We love that the Adventure Zippie has a two-way zipper — making those airplane diaper changes a lot easier. It’s also UPF 50 and moisture-wicking.

We also brought the Adventure Blanket! This merino wool blanket came in clutch. We used the blanket over the car seat while we were in the car for sun protection. We also used it in his crib, at the beach, and in the jungle when temps dropped.

The best part about iksplor Merino Wool? It’s machine washable.

Baby Chair

(Photo/Katie Jedlicka Sieve)

Why bring a baby chair? This may seem over-the-top, but we actually found it useful in many situations. For one, high chairs can be really hit-and-miss wherever you go — I’d argue even here in the States.

I have found that when Leo is sitting independently on his own, he focuses on eating a lot more (and so can I!). We used his chair at restaurants, hotel rooms, and picnics; we even used it at the beach.

How are these chairs not in REI yet? They are incredible. The Summer Pop ‘n Sit chair is a glorified baby camp chair. It’s a chair that comes with a cute little bag, a tray, and four straps to secure the chair when needed.

There is also a buckle on the chair to buckle your little one in to keep him from climbing out.

‘Snackle Box’

As parents, we know that snacks are king. And, while this isn’t specifically for babies, it makes the perfect “snackle-box.”

What is a “snackle-box,” you ask? It is typically a plastic fishing lure box filled with snacks for kids (peak Midwest!), but I couldn’t find a fishing lure box small enough for the trip, so we ended up using the largest Cotopaxi packing cubes.

(Photo/Katie Jedlicka Sieve)

It was perfect to fit dozens of snacks, foldable cups (we used Sea-to-Summit’s X Cups), a couple of sporks, and shelf-stable milk. The handle on the side is great for pulling it out from a cooler or a bag with ease.

On the flight or while we were waiting for dinner, the zipper would also keep busy little hands entertained.

Your Bags

(Photo/Katie Jedlicka Sieve)

Now that you have all of your clothes, accessories, snacks, and shoes (and the list goes on) all laid out, you need to figure out what kind of bag you want to bring. For me, I need my bags to check a couple of boxes: roller or backpack, durable enough for me to throw or drag, and brightly colored so I can always spot it.

I’ve been traveling with Patagonia’s black hole bags for almost a decade and I’ve never looked back. Again, another item I could write a love letter to. I had no idea how crucial they would be when it came to traveling with kids.

Out of the Black Hole family, we brought the 120L Duffel (note, this size was discontinued in 2018, but if you can find one on Worn Wear, snatch it up!), 100L roller bag, Waist Pack 5L, and a daypack. I suggest the Ultralight Black Hole Tote Pack 27L. Yes, we’re a Patagonia family, but REI, The North Face, Black Diamond, and Big Agnes all make extra-large (and small-size) duffels.

It says it in the name but it’s truly a black hole. We were able to fit the Slumber Pod, Chair, Travel Crib, beach toys, and other miscellaneous gear all in the 120L bag while all of our clothes and shoes fit in the 100L.

It is also my theory that because the Black Hole bags stand out with such bright colors, it’s why we’ve never lost a bag (knock on wood!).


(Photo/Katie Jedlicka Sieve)

I was really nervous about becoming a parent and what that might mean for my passion for travel. Many people choose to leave their little ones behind, and while there is a time and place for that, I’ve found real meaning in traveling together.

Armed with the right gear and a willing spirit, I now have a new reason to travel, to show my boy this great big world.

Van life with kids: mother and daughter in a converted campervanVan Life with kids

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(Photo/Jake Ferguson)

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How to Van Life With Kids: Tips and Gear for Family Life on the Road

Van life with kids isn’t easy, but it can be very rewarding. These are our first-hand experiences, tips, tricks, and gear recommendations. Read more…

The post Adventure Travel With a Toddler: Basic Gear for a Fun, Active Getaway appeared first on GearJunkie.


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The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023

Thu, 11 May 2023 21:56:01 +0000

Arc'teryx Beta AR Hardshell Jacket(Photo/Erika Courtney)

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Whether you’re getting good sticks in hero ice or traversing the snowfields of some foreign range, a good hardshell jacket will have your back. After…

The post The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023 appeared first on GearJunkie.

Arc'teryx Beta AR Hardshell Jacket(Photo/Erika Courtney)

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Passing into the realm of the up-there requires not only a mindset change, but also a good change of clothing. Waterproof, burly, and breathable; hardshell jackets provide it all for your next foray into mountaineering, backcountry skiing, alpine climbing, or just downright miserable weather. 

After a season spent above treeline, we winnowed our closet down to the most capable hardshell jackets on the market in 2023. Included are shells for every alpine mission, from lightweight options for smash-and-grab summit bids to flexible hardshells for ski-bound romps, to burly alpine armor that will see you through to the other side of any mountain squall.

During testing, we sought out high-mountain terrain that would sufficiently test the weatherproofing, durability, and livability of these jackets. We paid special mind to long-term performance over 24-hour periods, and our testing included input from alpine enthusiasts of every stripe, from current American Mountain Guides Association-certified guides to weekend warriors.

Below we’ve brought together the best hardshell jackets that made the grade during our travels. If you’re new to the world of hardshells, be sure to consult our comprehensive buyer’s guide and FAQ section for a deep dive into what makes a hardshell so hard, as well as our comparison chart to weigh jackets against one another.

The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023

Best Overall Hardshell Jacket

Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket


  • Material construction 40D/80D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Rugged
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <9
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming pockets
  • Weight 1 lb.
  • Best for General mountaineering, ski-touring, alpine rock
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Versatile feature set
  • Unique raised collar for weather protection
  • Built with Most Rugged GORE-TEX tech


  • Most Rugged version of GORE-TEX Pro has lower breathability
  • No two-way front zipper
Best Budget Hardshell Jacket

Rab Namche GORE-TEX Jacket


  • Material construction 75D 3L GORE-TEX
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (g/m²) 17,000
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming
  • Weight 15.3 oz.
  • Best for General mountaineering, alpine rock climbing
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Budget pricing
  • High-end waterproofing
  • Cozy fleece-lined collar


  • Breathability is lacking compared to higher-end membranes
  • Hood isn’t quite helmet-compatible
Runner-Up Hardshell Jacket

Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS Jacket


  • Material construction 30D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <6
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two napoleon chest pockets
  • Weight 1 lb.
  • Best for Extended expeditions, ice climbing
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Generous pit zips for venting
  • Long-lasting DWR finish
  • Burly but lightweight 30D fabric


  • Price
  • Typical crinkle from GORE-TEX Pro
Best Hardshell for Extreme Alpinism

Arc’teryx Alpha SV Jacket


  • Material construction 100D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Rugged
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <9
  • Fit Roomy
  • Pockets Two napoleon chest pockets
  • Weight 1 lb., 2 oz.
  • Best for Deep expeditions, mixed rock, and ice climbing
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Burly 100D outer face fabric paired with GORE’s Most Rugged tech
  • Excellent water-resistant zippers
  • Integrated RECCO reflector


  • Price
  • Breathability is on the lower end
Best Lightweight Hardshell Jacket

Patagonia Storm10 Jacket


  • Material construction 20D 3L H2No Performance Standard
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 20,000
  • Breathability rating (g/m²) Unavailable
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming, one chest pocket
  • Weight 8.3 oz.
  • Best for Dry climates, volcano skiing, alpine rock climbing
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Very lightweight for a 3-layer membrane jacket
  • Great packability with hang loop
  • Built-in RECCO reflector
  • Simple but effective hood adjustability


  • Thinner face fabric
  • Breathability can be overwhelmed by high-output activities
Best Hardshell Jacket for Ski Mountaineering

Ortovox 3L Ortler Jacket


  • Material construction Toray Dermizax NX
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 20,000
  • Breathability rating (g/m²) 40,000
  • Fit Active/trim
  • Pockets One napoleon chest pocket
  • Weight 14.7 oz.
  • Best for Ski-mountaineering, quick-paced (or tram-assisted) alpinism
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Lightweight and flexible shell
  • Soft merino wool inserts on interior collar
  • Impressive breathability
  • Integrated stretch in fabric


  • Fine-toothed zippers can be difficult to move
  • Limited number of exterior pockets
Best of the Rest

Norrøna Trollveggen GORE-TEX Pro Light Jacket


  • Material construction 40D/70D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <6
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two napoleon chest pockets
  • Weight 1 lb., 1 oz.
  • Best for Any and everything alpinism
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Protective drop hem and wrist collars
  • Patterned face fabric design for increased durability
  • Unique ‘X-open’ pit zip design
  • Articulated cut


  • Limited adjustability in hood
  • Price

Patagonia Dual Aspect Jacket


  • Material construction 30D 3L H2No Performance Standard
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 20,000
  • Breathability rating (g/m²) Unavailable
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets
  • Weight 1 lb., 1 oz.
  • Best for Alpine climbing, general mountaineering
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Zero PFC build
  • Four total front of chest pockets, with clean profile
  • Fit accommodates many body types


  • Thinner 30D face fabric
  • Less proven waterproof membrane

Helly Hansen Odin 9 World Infinity Shell


  • Material construction 3L LIFA Infinity Pro
  • Waterproof rating (mm) Unavailable
  • Breathability rating (g/m²) Unavailable
  • Fit Active/trim
  • Pockets Two handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket
  • Weight 1 lb., 2.6 oz.
  • Best for General mountaineering
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Large handwarmer pockets
  • Good helmet adjustability
  • RECCO reflector


  • More trim/limiting overall fit
  • Stiff fabric feel

Rab Latok Mountain GORE-TEX Pro Jacket


  • Material construction 40D/80D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <6
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket
  • Weight 1 lb., 1.8 oz.
  • Best for Ice climbing, mixed climbing
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Smart feature set execution
  • Helmet-compatible hood with impressive adjustability
  • Two-way front zipper


  • Front pockets share volume, which can get a bit snug

The North Face Summit Torre Egger FUTURELIGHT Jacket


  • Material construction 20D/70D 3L FUTURELIGHT
  • Waterproof rating (mm) Unavailable
  • Breathability rating (g/m²) 75,000
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket
  • Weight 1 lb., 3.8 oz.
  • Best for Quick-paced, done-in-a-day alpine missions
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Excellent breathability
  • Hybrid fabric mapping bolsters moisture venting
  • Soft suede inserts in hood


  • Overall waterproofing suffers a bit for the breathability
  • Heavier overall

Stio Objective Pro Jacket


  • Material construction 70D 3L GORE-TEX Pro
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <6
  • Fit Regular
  • Pockets Two handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets
  • Weight 1 lb., 5 oz.
  • Best for Ski-touring, resort skiing
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Feature-rich
  • Pass-through front chest pocket
  • Burly fabric denier


  • On the heavier end of the scales
  • Chest pockets share volume
  • Price

Mountain Hardwear Viv Jacket


  • Material construction 30D 3L GORE-TEX Pro
  • Waterproof rating (mm) 28,000
  • Breathability rating (RET) <6
  • Fit Roomy
  • Pockets Two handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets
  • Weight 1 lb., 2 oz.
  • Best for Ski-touring
The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023


  • Feature-rich design tailored to ski-mountaineering
  • Four total front of chest pockets, with additional two interior drop pockets, and single arm pocket
  • Hood adjustment cords routed internally


  • Roomy cut favors all-day insulation wearing, rather than layering flexibility

Hardshell Jacket Comparison Chart

Hardshell Jacket Material Construction Waterproofing/Breathability Fit Pockets Weight
Arc’teryx Beta AR 40D/80D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Rugged 28,000 mm / <9 RET Regular Two handwarming pockets 1 lb.
Rab Namche GORE-TEX 75D 3L GORE-TEX 28,000 mm / 17,000 g/m² Regular Two handwarming 15.3 oz.
Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS 30D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable 28,000 mm / <6 RET Regular Two napoleon chest pockets 1 lb.
Arc’teryx Alpha SV 100D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Rugged 28,000 mm / <6 RET Roomy Two napoleon chest pockets 1 lb., 2 oz.
Patagonia Storm10 20D 3L H2No Performance Standard 20,000 mm / Unavailable Regular Two handwarming, one chest pocket 8.3 oz.
Ortovox 3L Ortler Toray Dermizax NX 20,000 mm / 40,000 g/m² Active/trim One napoleon chest pocket 14.7 oz.
Norrøna Trollveggen GORE-TEX Pro Light 40D/70D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable 28,000 mm / <6 RET Regular Two napoleon chest pockets 1 lb., 1 oz.
Patagonia Dual Aspect 30D 3L H2No Performance Standard 20,000 mm / Unavailable Regular Two handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets 1 lb., 1 oz.
Helly Hansen Odin 9 World Infinity Shell 3L LIFA Infinity Pro Unavailable / Unavailable Active/trim Two handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket 1 lb., 2.6 oz.
Rab Latok Mountain GORE-TEX Pro 40D/80D 3L GORE-TEX Pro Most Breathable 28,000 mm / <6 RET Regular Two handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket 1 lb., 1.8 oz.
The North Face Summit Torre Egger FUTURELIGHT 20D/70D 3L FUTURELIGHT Unavailable / 75,000 g/m² Regular Two handwarming, one napoleon chest pocket 1 lb., 3.8 oz.
Stio Objective Pro 70D 3L GORE-TEX Pro 28,000 mm / <6 RET Regular Two handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets 1 lb., 5 oz.
Mountain Hardwear Viv 30D 3L GORE-TEX Pro 28,000 mm / <6 RET Roomy Two handwarming, two napoleon chest pockets 1 lb., 2 oz.
TNF Torre Egger
From the skin track to the summit, we tested hardshell jackets in a variety of conditions and routes in the Pacific Northwest; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Why You Should Trust Us

From the craggy tumbles of the Rockies to the snow-plastered granites of the Sierra, GearJunkie hosts a healthy number of alpine climbers, skiers, and mountaineers who know the sting of a bad turn in the weather — and how to guard against it. Our collective knowledge is brought together here to help guide your next hardshell jacket decision.

Senior Editor Nick Belcaster is the principal tester of this review, and resides beneath the sheer rise of the North Cascades of Washington State — the perfect test bed when seeking out both precipitous vertical relief and poor weather.

In addition, he has prepared and outfitted many alpine climbers setting out on expeditions in the grand ranges of the Karakoram, Alaska Range, and Andean Cordilleras — guiding their equipment choices to best prepare them for weeks spent under unkind elements.

He, along with a number of AMGA mountain guides, took to the mountains over a span of months to assess the worthiness of a spread of hardshell jackets, and we are confident that these are among the best available today.

Rab Latok Mountain
The dry tooling crag is the perfect test bed for hardshell jackets, where wet conditions often meet awkward thrutching on rock; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Hardshell Jacket

When it comes to hardshell jackets, the beauty in having a shell that is simply tough is its utility across a number of different activities outdoors. We’ve worn our hardshells in everything from in-bounds resort skiing to ice climbing to braving storm swells in a dinghy. 

The flip side of this versatility, of course, is general confusion when it comes to deciding which hardshell jacket is right for you. Below we’ve dug into the nitty gritty and backed it up with science to untangle just what makes a hardshell jacket hard.  

We should note here the close cousins of the hardshell jacket — the softshell (or wind shell) jacket, as well as rain jackets. Hardshell jackets exist at the storm-battered fringe of the spectrum, where ultimate performance gives way to packability and weight. They often opt to add rather than subtract features, and prioritize ability in the mountains over all else.

If you’re looking for more ski styling, take a look at our Best Ski Jackets gear guide. And if ultimate performance is trumped by packability and versatility on your next outing, our Best Rain Jackets guide should steer you in the right direction. 

Waterproofing, breathability, and durability are the three scales that every hardshell jacket looks to balance; (photo/Erika Courtney)


Let’s rip the bandage off quickly here — given enough time, pressure, and wear, nothing is truly waterproof. But given new and novel advances in textile technology, hardshell jacket manufacturers can get dang close enough. To better understand this dance, a little science is warranted. 

Waterproofness is a measure of the amount of water that a fabric can resist before it yields and allows it to pass through. Testing of waterproofness has been standardized, and waterproof fabrics will be subjected to these tests over 24 hours to ensure longstanding resistance. These tests will produce a number known as the hydrostatic head of the fabric, with greater figures relaying a stronger resistance to water over the long term.

While rain jackets sport waterproof ratings between 5,000 and 20,000 mm, hardshell jackets will generally maintain a bare minimum of 20,000 mm waterproofing, with specialist membranes nearing the 30,000 mm mark. It is important to note that waterproofness and breathability are two metrics pulling in opposite directions of one another, and that superior water resistance will require some concessions in the breathability department.

  • 5,000 mm: Where technical rain outerwear for outdoors adventures begins
  • 5,000-10,000 mm: Waterproof under light rain or snow and no pressure
  • 10,000-15,000 mm: Waterproof under many conditions, except under pressure
  • 15,000-20,000 mm: Waterproof under heavy rain and snow
  • >20,000 mm: Waterproof under heavy rain, snow, and pressure

When the rubber meets the road, the waterproofness of a hardshell jacket comes down to not only this rating, but also the interplay between fabric construction, DWR finishes, and design aspects such as a tight drawing hood or snug wrist cuffs.


Not every moment in your hardshell is going to be a static shiver bivy, and during the times you’re grinding out vert in your jacket, you’ll be sweating. Our bodies do this in order to cool ourselves down, but without built-in ventilation in our hardshell jacket, that moisture has nowhere to go — and overheating can occur.

In order to circumvent this, modern waterproof fabrics incorporate a certain amount of breathability into the weave, which can also be measured. These numbers can be stacked against each other to give an idea of relative breathability between different hardshells.

Ortovox Ortler Skins
The Toray Dermizax NX membrane of the Ortovox Ortler 3L was one of the most breathable in our testing; (photo/Erika Courtney)

MVTR and RET Testing

The Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate, or MVTR, has been the industry standard for some years when it comes to measuring the breathability of waterproof membranes. This rate can be measured through a number of different tests, but the most common metric used is given in g/m²/24 hours. Higher values on the MVTR test denote a better ability to pass moisture.

More budget-minded shells like the Rab Namche sport an MVTR rating of 17,000 g/m², which is a bit shy of the standard of 20,000 g/m² rating we like to see in jackets meant to be used during high-output activities. At the other end of the spectrum, specialized shells like The North Face Summit Torre Egger boast incredible values of 75,000 g/m².

The RET, or Resistance to Evaporation rating has been gaining steam in recent years, with the new GORE-TEX Pro membranes being notable adopters. This rating uses a simulated perspiration test, and values here are the inverse of the MVTR, with lower values showing a higher ability for moisture transfer. 

A jacket with a RET value of <6, such as the Mammut Nordwand Advanced HS Jacket, will really pump out perspiration and is rated as extremely breathable on the RET scale. Fabrics with a RET score of between 6 and 12 land in the highly breathable camp, and ratings of >12 are only moderately breathable. 

TNF Torre Egger_2
Air-permeable membranes like The North Face’s FUTURELIGHT rely on gaseous vapor transfer, versus diffusion, to move moisture out; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Waterproof Membranes

Waterproof membranes vary in their construction and claims, but all operate on a similar premise: keep rain from getting in, and keep perspiration moving out. Laminate membranes, like GORE-TEX, use an expanded film of specialty material known as polytetrafluoroethylene, or ePTFE, to accomplish this.

These ePTFE membranes have over 9 billion pores per square inch, each 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet, but 700 times larger than a water vapor molecule. This allows the membrane to resist water from the elements, but diffuse perspiration as it builds within the shell.

The other majority share of waterproof membranes are made using a very thin sheet of polyurethane, which is naturally hydrophilic and maintains breathability through diffusion. These membranes have historically been monolithic, meaning that they lack any pore structure, but new technologies are producing air-permeable membranes which pass air freely.

Arc'teryx Beta AR_4
(Photo/Erika Courtney)

GORE-TEX Pro 2.0 

The pinnacle of high-performance waterproofing since 2007, GORE-TEX Pro has been the gold standard that many reach for when undeniable weather protection is needed. Whereas traditional 3-layer GORE-TEX requires a thin polyurethane lining to protect its membrane, the Pro version lines itself with a Micro-Grid backer, and is made of several ePTFE membranes bonded together.

Since 2020, GORE-TEX Pro has been available in three different technology flavors, which not only allows for a better application while retaining high waterproofness, but provides for hybrid designs across a jacket to best apply certain attributes where they are needed.

  • Most Breathable: Better thought of as the ‘old’ Pro rolled forward, the Most Breathable variant utilizes lighter 30D face fabrics to bump up the membrane’s breathability to a RET score of <6 — and maintains the stellar 28,000 mm waterproof rating.
  • Most Rugged: Made to be abused, jackets built with the Most Rugged technology use face fabrics from 70D to 200D to really stand up to abrasion. The breathability is inhibited a bit at a RET of <9, but this is still solidly within the highly breathable rank.
  • Stretch: Able to stretch up to 12 to 20%, GORE-TEX Pro Stretch textiles can be used in areas of a jacket where mobility is key, such as between the shoulder blades or arms. The concession comes in terms of breathability, which comes in a RET value of <13.
There’s a reason most flagship hardshell jackets use GORE Pro — it simply works; (photo/Erika Courtney)

GORE-TEX 3-Layer

The classic recipe; 3-layer GORE-TEX has been a reliable construction in hardshell jackets for years, utilizing a laminate of protective face fabric, ePTFE membrane, and lining. All 3-layer GORE-TEX membranes boast the same 28,000 mm waterproof rating and breathability of 17,000 g/m².

Toray Dermizax NX

Dermizax NX is a polyurethane-based waterproof membrane that touts impressive breathability numbers — up to 40,000 g/m² — but perhaps more impressively hasn’t had to cut waterproofness in order to do so. At a rated 20,000 mm, this membrane balances the scales well.

Proprietary Membranes

Recent years have seen an influx of proprietary membranes brewed up specifically for manufacturers, allowing them to tweak and fine-tune parameters to suit their use. 

The North Face’s FUTURELIGHT membrane is among the new and exciting air-permeable membranes that have begun to take hold of the market. This version utilizes “nanospinning” of polyurethane in order to create a matrix of the material that is big enough to allow air to pass, but also sized to prevent rain from making its way in. 

Other notable proprietary membranes used in hardshell jackets today include Patagonia’s H2No Standard Performance, as well as Helly Hansen’s LIFA Infinity Pro.

GORE-TEX might be the big name, but it isn’t the only one. Proprietary waterproof membranes can boast impressive specs, and come in at lower prices; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Fabric Layers and Face Fabrics

No waterproof membrane exists in a vacuum, and most all will require some protection on either side in order to work as designed. While 2- and 2.5-layer designs are common in rain jackets, most any hardshell jacket worth its salt will be made with 3-layer construction. 

This construction will include a waterproof membrane, as well as an interior textile backer to protect from body oils, and a face fabric to turn away abrasion and host a DWR finish.

Face Fabrics 

Combined with a hearty waterproof membrane, face fabrics are what make hardshell jackets truly hard. Ice and rock can chew up weaker shells with ease, so most hardshell jackets will be made with a thicker denier face fabric to shore up their overall durability. The expedition-ready Arc’teryx Alpha SV Jacket was the burliest contender in our showdown, with an impressive 100D face fabric.

Many hardshell jackets will use a hybrid face fabric design to gain the best of both worlds, opting for a more burly denier in high-wear areas such as the shoulders and sleeves, and using a lighter weave elsewhere to cut weight. In our testing, we found that an 80D/40D split was the most commonly used.

It’s important to note that face fabrics also play a large role in both breathability and waterproofing. The thicker a face fabric is, the more difficult it is to expel moisture, which is why some jackets like The North Face Summit Torre Egger use a lighter face fabric under the arms to really keep moisture moving.

Many jackets make use of a burlier denier face fabric across the shoulders where pack straps will contact the shell; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Durable Water Repellent Finish (DWR)

Like the moat before the castle, a durable water-repellent finish is the first line of defense against rain ingress in a hardshell jacket. These hydrophobic applications are what cause the “duck’s back” look of a new rain jacket shedding water, and are important in protecting the waterproof membrane from being overwhelmed prematurely. 

DWR finishes also play an important role in maintaining the breathability of a hardshell. After extended use or pressure, water can push past the DWR and soak into the face fabric, creating a physical barrier that prevents perspiration from being expelled. Keeping your DWR finish fresh can help prevent this, as well as frequently cleaning your hardshell to rid it of body oils, sunscreens, and dirt.

While these finishes have been historically formulated with nasty perfluorochemicals, (also known as forever chemicals) some hardshell jacket manufacturers are leading the way toward a zero-PFC future. Currently, both the Patagonia Storm10 and Dual Aspect jackets are made without PFCs

Patagonia Dual Aspect_3
The DWR finish of the Patagonia Dual Aspect jacket uses on PFCs, but still held up admirably in our testing; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Fit and Construction

Many of the hardshell jackets in our review sport an “alpine” fit, meaning that they have a bit more space than your typical rain jacket to accommodate more active insulation. Some, like the Ortovox 3L Ortler Jacket, are cut a bit more trim with the high output of ski-mountaineering in mind. Others still are a bit roomier for the other side of the ski equation, when you’ll want to be wearing all the insulation you’ll need for the day at once.

When considering how to size your hardshell jacket, aim for a comfortable fit when wearing all of the layers you’ll wear while on the move — such as a baselayer, active insulation fleece or synthetic jacket, and potentially a softshell jacket. You’ll want to have enough length in the sleeves to be able to make overhead swings of an ice tool without lifting the hem too much.

Ample overhead reach is a big deal in hardshell jackets, where swinging ice tools or plugging gear can’t be inhibited; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Most alpinists will opt not to size their hardshell to fit over their large parkas, as these are typically deployed when temps are below freezing, and any precipitation you might encounter will be drier snow instead of a soaking rain.

Finally, components like a long drop hem (the portion of the hem that covers your backside), ample sleeve cuffs, and a helmet-compatible hood greatly up the protection that a hardshell jacket provides. We found the Norrøna Trollveggen Pro Light to have the best execution of these features.

Alpine-Specific Features

Two-Way Front Zips

A two-way front zipper can be a major upside for those who spend a lot of time in a climbing harness, as it allows for the belay loop to pass through the shell without the need of tucking in the jacket hem. This can also be employed to increase ventilation during tough climbs.

Rab Latok Mountain_3
Having a two-way zip means no more faffing to put on your shell at the belay. Just don and unzip to expose your belay loop; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Helmet-Compatible Hoods

Alpine climbing, mountaineering, and skiing all have their objective hazards, and you’ll want to wear a helmet to help mitigate those. A good hardshell jacket will accommodate for the extra space needed to wear one.

Climbing helmets are generally a bit lower profile than ski helmets, so ideally you should aim to try on your hardshell with your helmet to ensure there are no snug fit issues. Almost all hoods on hardshell jackets will include adjustable cords to fine-tune the fit.

Norrona Trollvegen Pro Light_6
A properly adjusted hood will track with your head as you look around. Remember that you’ll often be wearing a helmet beneath as well; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Pit Zips

Ventilation in a shell jacket can be essential to avoiding overwhelming the breathability, and the best way to crack open the windows on a hardshell is through the pit zips. These zippers run beneath the arms and can be opened during times of high exertion to vent off perspiration, all without exposing the climber to the elements.

While most zips in our review open with a two-way closure, the Norrøna Trollveggen Pro Light impressed us with its novel ‘X-open’ design that places the zipper pulls at either side of the zipper, as opposed to running together. This prevented the openings from catching the wind like sails.

Patagonia Dual Aspect_4
Mechanical ventilation through the pit zips can be essential to keeping moisture moving out of the jacket, certainly so during hard exertion; (photo/Erika Courtney)


Exterior pockets on hardshell jackets come in two designs: those made for hand warming, and those made for storage. Hand-warming pockets are less often employed on hardshell jackets, as the activities they are designed for often don’t leave much time for standing around. One notable exception is the Arc’teryx Beta AR, where a focus on versatility prompts their inclusion.

Exterior storage pockets, in our opinion, are much more important — and most often come in the form of ‘napoleon’ breast pockets. These pockets are accessed by reaching across the chest, and are placed above the fray of pack straps and harnesses for easy access.

Finally, consider the zippers of your hardshell jacket’s pockets. Almost all will feature some type of water-resistant zipper, although many will still employ storm flaps, which are folds of fabric that help resist water intrusion. 

Norrona Trollvegen Pro Light
Chest-accessed pockets, like these on the Norrøna Trollveggen Pro Light, are ideal for alpine use where harnesses may block lower pockets; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Weight, Comfort, and Packability

A good hardshell jacket likely won’t be a welterweight champ, but advances in textile tech mean that hardshells are getting lighter and more packable as time goes on. A good example is the Arc’teryx Alpha SV: When this jacket debuted in 1998 it weighed in at 1 pound, 8 ounces, and today has trimmed half a pound off the trail weight.

Today, most hardshell jackets hover just north of the 1-pound mark, with some specialized shells like the Patagonia Storm10 coming in as low as 8.3 ounces — though at a protection tradeoff. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the feature-rich Stio Objective Pro and The North Face Summit Torre Egger jackets, which were some of the heavier shells.

The comfort of your hardshell shouldn’t be downplayed — not every adventure is going to be full-value, after all — and spending time in your hardshell can be made more enjoyable by a few niceties. High on our list is a microfiber lining on the inside of the collar, as well as a soft-to-the-touch jersey backer on the interior of the jacket.

And since you’ll need to stuff your shell jacket away at times, be mindful of overall packability. Most hardshell jackets won’t have an integrated stuff sack, but will fold well enough into their own hoods. Thinner denier face fabrics will have the edge over jackets made with extra burly weaves.


What is the difference between hardshell and softshell jackets?

The difference between a hardshell and a softshell boils down to breathability and protection. Softshell jackets emphasize breathability, as well as being able to turn a stiff wind and help to retain body heat. Hardshell jackets are made to provide protection from the elements, and while they offer some breathability, they have a limit to how much they can handle.

Can you ski in a hardshell?

Absolutely! While ski-specific jackets are more finely tailored to the needs of skiers and snowboarders (generally a longer cut, with the potential inclusion of a powder skirt and wrist gaiters), a good hardshell jacket ticks all of the boxes needed for a day on the slopes or in the skin track.

The Ortovox 3L Ortler was our top pick as the best hardshell jacket for ski mountaineering; (photo/Erika Courtney)

It’s important to note that ski-focused hardshell jackets can be broken down even further in terms of the type of skiing you’re looking to do. If lift access and all-day laps are on the docket, a shell like the Stio Objective Pro Jacket will serve you well. And if you’re aiming to earn your turns, a more ski-mountaineering-styled shell like the Mountain Hardwear Viv or Ortovox 3L Ortler will do the trick.

Is anything better than GORE-TEX?

While GORE-TEX has been the de-facto ruler of the waterproof market since its invention, there are a number of different waterproof membranes of merit that emphasize different facets of the waterproof/breathable equation.

The robust waterproofing of an ePTFE membrane like GORE-TEX is undeniable, but the advent of air-permeable membranes that elevate breathability to previously unheard-of levels will be an attractive option for those who will be climbing or skiing without stopping.

What do you wear under a hardshell?

The beauty of a hardshell jacket is its interior volume for layered insulation. Under a hardshell, a  typical mountaineer or alpinist might wear something like this: A baselayer top or sun hoody, followed by a thin gridded fleece or synthetic fill active insulation piece. 

Because of the importance of keeping a waterproof membrane clean, we always attempt to wear long sleeves underneath our jackets, as body oils can clog the pores of a membrane.

Do hardshells keep you warm?

Hardshell jackets are not typically insulated, opting instead to allow climbers and skiers to add and subtract layers of insulation to fit their needs. But because a hardshell will limit the warmth-robbing effects of windchill, it will help retain the warmth you worked hard to create.

(Photo/Erika Courtney)
Are hardshell jackets windproof?

Due to their tough face fabrics, waterproof membranes, and full-coverage designs, hardshell jackets are certainly considered windproof. Some jackets, namely those that have air-permeable waterproof membranes, will pass slightly more wind than those made with monolithic membranes.

Should I size up for a hardshell jacket?

Hardshell jacket sizing typically takes into account that they are meant to be worn over active insulation, and will most often reflect the jacket size you most typically wear in outerwear. Sizing up a hardshell jacket can be an attractive option for those who require more protection, such as skiers, but for alpine climbers and mountaineers, this will often make for excess material.

Some manufacturers have earned a reputation for a specific type of fit, though we would warn against making broad assumptions when deciding on a hardshell based on these alone. Arc’teryx often produces jackets with a trimmer alpine fit, while jackets from Patagonia are a bit boxier. European brands such as Ortovox and Rab also tend to be a bit slimmer.

How long should a hardshell jacket last?

With proper upkeep and care, we’ve had hardshell jackets that have lasted 5-6 years before needing to be retired to light duty, and you can likely expect to get the same out of most modern jackets today. Keeping a jacket clean is a surprisingly large part of extending its longevity.

Because ePTFE membranes are degraded by oils, things like sweat and sunscreen can greatly limit their ability to do their job. You should do all you can to avoid introducing these contaminants into your hardshell jacket membrane, including wearing long-sleeve baselayers underneath your shell jackets.

You should also expect to refresh the DWR finish of your jacket multiple times over its lifespan, which will return its water resistance to near-new levels. On the hardshells we use consistently, we attempt to refresh the finish twice a year — once in the fall before ski season starts, and once before summer begins.

How do I keep my hardshell jacket clean?

Keeping a hardshell clean is an important part of maintaining its functionality — on two fronts. Body oils can clog membranes from the interior of a jacket, while a worn DWR finish can lead to premature wetting out and limit overall breathability.

In order to clean a hardshell, begin by washing the jacket in an outerwear-safe solution such as Nikwax Tech Wash.

Because applying a DWR finish to the interior of a hardshell would limit the membrane’s ability to pass moisture, we don’t recommend wash-in types of DWRs, but instead spray-on varieties such as Nikwax TX.Direct Spray On or GEAR AID DWR Spray. Liberally mist the exterior of the damp jacket fabric, paying extra attention to high-wear areas such as the wrist cuffs, shoulders, and back.

Finally, turn the jacket inside-out and zip it closed, which will keep the finish from rubbing off in your drier. Set your drier to low heat and tumble dry, which will set the finish.

How do I choose a hardshell jacket?

Choosing a hardshell jacket can be a daunting task — certainly so for outdoors folks who enjoy multiple disciplines and want a jacket that can cover them in most situations. We suggest considering the objectives that you’ll be spending the most time in. Will you be plodding up glaciers to access the summits of volcanos? Swinging tools at Hyalite? Flying into a remote gorge for a skiing objective? Each of these demands a certain type of hardshell, and while most will do some of everything, there are specialist jackets that will excel where others may be just serviceable.

The post The Best Hardshell Jackets of 2023 appeared first on GearJunkie.


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The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023

Wed, 10 May 2023 20:16:39 +0000

(photo/Nick Presniakov)

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From sunny beaches to high alpine trails, our experts evaluated the best men’s running shorts for fit, comfort, mobility, moisture-wicking, and more.

The post The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023 appeared first on GearJunkie.

(photo/Nick Presniakov)

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Thanks to advancements in fabric technology and design, today’s running shorts are better than ever. Overall, materials are lighter, more comfortable, and offer better mobility.

All running shorts should allow you to move freely — that’s a given. The best running shorts, however, should not only provide freedom of movement, but also keep moisture at a minimum to ward off chafing, and keep items like your phone, keys, and fuel secure without bouncing around.

After months of testing, even years in some cases, we’ve managed to narrow down the best of the best for whatever type of running you’re into. The shorts on this list are the ones we kept reaching for time and time again.

If you’re interested in broadening your knowledge about running shorts, check out our comprehensive buyer’s guide and FAQ sections at the end of this article. And be sure to look at our comparison chart when it’s decision time.

The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023

Best Overall Running Shorts

REI Co-Op Swiftland Running Shorts


  • Length 5″ and 7″
  • Shell 73% nylon, 27% spandex; Bluesign approved
  • Liner Brief (80% nylon, 20% spandex; Bluesign approved)
  • Pockets 1 rear zipper, 2 side drop-ins
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Extremely lightweight and airy
  • Secure, bounce-free main pocket
  • Next-to-nothing feeling


  • Small zippered pocket opening
Best Budget Running Shorts

Baleaf 5″ Running Athletic Shorts


  • Length 5″ and 7″
  • Shell 89.7% polyester, 10.3% spandex
  • Liner Brief (91.7% polyester, 8.3% spandex)
  • Pockets 1 rear zippered
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Well-priced
  • Stretchy


  • Baggy
Runner-up Best Running Shorts

Tracksmith Session Short


  • Length 5″
  • Shell 86% nylon, 14% elastane
  • Liner Brief (89% polyester, 11% spandex)
  • Pockets 1 rear zipper
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Unbelievably comfortable
  • Polygiene anti-odor, antimicrobial treated
  • Great for post-run outings


  • Somewhat heavyweight fabric compare to others tested
Best Pockets on Running Shorts

Black Diamond Sprint Shorts


  • Length 5″ and 7″
  • Shell 88% nylon, 12% elastane w/DWR
  • Liner Brief (100% polyester)
  • Pockets 2 rear zippered, 3 drop-in
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Well-designed pockets
  • Wind-resistant shell is great for mountain running
  • Comfortable waistbelt


  • Retains moisture more than most
Best Shorts for Trail Running

Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts


  • Length 5” and 7″
  • Shell 90% recycled polyester, 10% spandex
  • Liner Brief (100% Recycled polyester double knit)
  • Pockets One rear zipper, four envelope enclosure drop-in
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Newly added four-way stretch
  • Carrying capacity
  • Comfortable waistline


  • Expensive
  • Sizing is finicky
Best Half Tight Running Shorts

Nike Dri-FIT ADV AeroSwift


  • Length Above the knee
  • Shell 89% polyester, 11% spandex
  • Liner Brief (89% polyester, 11% spandex)
  • Pockets 1 rear zippered, 4 drop-in
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Built-in liner
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable


  • Ribbed material takes getting used to
Best Split Running Shorts

SOAR Race Shorts 5.0


  • Length 2.5”
  • Shell 60% Polyester, 40% Elastane
  • Liner Brief-style (78% Polyester, 22% Elastane)
  • Pockets Two minimal key pockets
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Outstanding mobility
  • Stylish
  • Durable


  • Extremely pricey
  • Small pockets are limiting
Best of the Rest

Saxx Hightail


  • Length 5″
  • Shell 100% polyester
  • Liner Compression mesh liner: (85% nylon, 15% elastane)
  • Pockets 1 rear drop-in
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Extremely supportive liner
  • Comfortable


  • Heavy
  • Can’t carry a phone

Ten Thousand Far Short


  • Length 5″
  • Shell 88% recycled polyester, 12% spandex
  • Liner Brief (90% recycled nylon, 10% elastane)
  • Pockets 1 rear zippered, 1 drop-in
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Breathable shell
  • Comfortable waistband


  • Expensive

HOKA Glide Short


  • Length 5″ and 7″
  • Shell 89% recycled polyester, 11% elastane
  • Liner Brief
  • Pockets 1 rear folded-over drop-in, 1 side zippered
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Extremely lightweight shell
  • Comfortable
  • Wicks moisture well


  • Odd designed pocket is tough to use
  • Can’t fit phone

Smartwool Merino Sport Lined 5″ Short


  • Length 5″ and 7″
  • Shell 86% recycled polyester, 14% elastane
  • Liner Brief (54% merino wool, 46% polyester)
  • Pockets 1 side zippered, 1 drop-in
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Extremely supportive liner
  • Wool liner wards off odor well


  • Heavy shell is not ideal for really hot days

On Lightweight Shorts


  • Length 5″
  • Shell Front fabric: 86% recycled polyamide, 14% elastane; Back mesh: 100% recycled polyester
  • Liner Brief (89% polyester, 11% elastane)
  • Pockets One rear drop-in
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Supportive brief liner
  • Great mobility
  • Dual fabric shell is protective in the front and breathable in the back


  • Only one pocket
  • Expensive

Vuori Course Run Shorts


  • Length 5”
  • Shell 50% Recycled Polyester, 42% Polyester, 8% Elastane
  • Liner Boxer Brief
  • Pockets One rear drop-in, one side leg drop-in on internal boxer brief
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Very comfortable
  • Can easily double as gym shorts


  • Pricey
  • The relaxed fit will feel baggy for thin runners

Janji AFO Middle Shorts


  • Length 3” and 5″
  • Shell 88% recycled polyester, 12% elastane
  • Liner Brief (94% polyester, 6% spandex)
  • Pockets One rear zipper, one internal; drop-in w/ bungee cord
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Extremely lightweight
  • Fast drying time
  • Bungee securely attaches keys
  • 14 colors to choose from


  • Some may find them too short

New Balance Accelerate 5-Inch Short


  • Length 5” and 7″
  • Shell 55% recycled polyester, 45% polyester
  • Liner Brief (Unknown)
  • Pockets Two drop-in hip, two side hand pockets
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • Great pricepoint
  • Great multi-use shorts for gym, hiking, etc.


  • Lack of stretch
  • No secure pocket for phone

Rab Talus Trail Shorts


  • Length 7″
  • Shell 86% polyamide, 14% elastane.
  • Liner Boxer brief (85% polyamide, 15% elastane)
  • Pockets one rear zipper, on an extra-large front drop-in, one tiny internal waist drop-in, and one side leg drop in pocket
The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023


  • High-performance material
  • Comfortable waistline


  • Expensive
  • Heavy items in pockets will bounce around

Running Shorts Comparison Chart

Shorts Price Lengths Shell Liner Pockets
REI Co-Op Swiftland Running Shorts $55 5″ and 7″ 73% nylon, 27% spandex; Bluesign approved Brief (80% nylon, 20% spandex; Bluesign approved) 1 rear zipper, 2 side drop-ins
Baleaf 5″ Running Athletic Shorts $22 5″ and 7″ 89.7% polyester, 10.3% spandex Brief (91.7% polyester, 8.3% spandex) 1 rear zippered
Tracksmith Session Shorts $68 5″ 86% nylon, 14% elastane Brief (89% polyester, 11% spandex) 1 rear zipper
Black Diamond Sprint Shorts $90 5″ and 7″ 88% nylon, 12% elastane w/DWR Brief (100% polyester) 2 rear zippered, 3 drop-in
Patagonia Strider Pro Shorts $85 5″ and 7″ 90% recycled polyester, 10% spandex Brief (100% recycled polyester double knit) 1 side zippered, 4 envelope enclosure drop-in
Nike Dri-FIT ADV AeroSwift $85 Above the knee 89% polyester, 11% spandex Brief (89% polyester, 11% spandex) 1 rear zippered, 4 drop-in
SOAR Race Short 5.0 $125 2.5″ 60% polyester, 40% elastane Brief-style (78% polyester, 22% elastane) 2 minimal key pockets
Saxx Hightail $68 5″ 100% polyester Compression mesh liner: (85% nylon, 15% elastane) 1 rear drop-in
Ten Thousand Far Short $78 5″ 88% recycled polyester, 12% spandex Brief (90% recycled nylon, 10% elastane) 1 rear zippered, 1 drop-in
HOKA Glide Short $64 5″ and 7″ 89% recycled polyester, 11% elastane Brief 1 rear folded-over drop-in, 1 side zippered
Smartwool Merino Sport Lined 5″ Short $65 5″ and 7″ 86% recycled polyester, 14% elastane Brief (54% merino wool, 46% polyester) 1 side zippered, 1 drop-in
On Lightweight Shorts $80 5″ Front fabric: 86% recycled polyamide, 14% elastane; Back mesh: 100% recycled polyester Brief (89% polyester, 11% elastane) 1 rear drop-in
Vuori Course Run Shorts $78 5″ 50% Recycled Polyester, 42% Polyester, 8% Elastane Boxer Brief 1 rear drop-in, 1 side leg drop-in on internal boxer brief
Janji AFO Middle Shorts $64 3” and 5″ 88% recycled polyester, 12% elastane Brief (94% polyester, 6% spandex) 1 rear zipper, 1 internal; drop-in w/ bungee cord
New Balance Accelerate 5-Inch Short $35 5” and 7″ 55% recycled polyester, 45% polyester Brief 2 drop-in hip, 2 side hand pockets
Rab Talus Trail Shorts $95 7″ 86% polyamide, 14% elastane Boxer brief (85% polyamide, 15% elastane) 1 rear zipper, on an extra-large front drop-in, 1 tiny internal waist drop-in, and 1 side leg drop-in pocket
We tested running shorts in a variety of environments; (photo/Eszter Horanyi)

Why You Should Trust Us

Cory Smith has been a runner since 1992. He’s a full-time running coach who has been reviewing running gear since 2014. In addition to running shorts, he covers road running shoes and GPS watches, and he writes training articles for GearJunkie.

To find the best running shorts, we start with hours of online research. We attend trade shows such as The Running Event and Outdoor Retailer for newly released shorts, such as the SAXX Hightail, and keep our eye out for up-and-coming brands like Ten Thousand.

For this test, our research resulted in over 20 pairs of running shorts tested. We then conducted a thorough field test to evaluate each short on fit, comfort, mobility, moisture-wicking, and carrying capacity. Testing locations included up and down the coast of California as well as trails in Mammoth Lakes, Moab, and Seattle.

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose Running Shorts

It can be hard to sort through what’s really important when finding a pair of running shorts. To help, here are the key things you need to know about running shorts.


Running shorts follow the same rules as every other technical sports apparel — moisture-wicking fabric is a must. The two most predominant are polyester and nylon blends.

I prefer shorts that have a blend of stretch fabrics such as spandex or elastane in them. This gives the shorts greater flexibility and mobility, ultimately limiting restriction.

Higher percentages of these flexible fabrics do have a downside — they tend to absorb and retain more moisture. Moisture-ridden fabric and poor fit are the top causes of chafing.

If chafing is an issue for you, pay attention to the fabric and look for a pair of shorts that has a slightly different makeup. Half tights and 2-in-1s are great options for between-the-leg chafing protection.

The REI Swiftland shorts are the perfect combination of nylon and spandex; (photo/Cory Smith)

Inseam Length

The inseam indicates how far down the leg the short sits. It measures the length from the crotch to the end of the shorts and usually comes in 3-inch, 5-inch, and 7-inch options.

Most of the shorts tested, with the exception of the 3-inch version, come in both a 5-inch and 7-inch option. The ideal inseam length is as much a matter of personal preference as whether you enjoy running road, track, or trail. However, the 5-inch option seems to be the most popular.

Short shorts, such as a 3-inch inseam, are often known as split shorts and tend to be the coolest and least restrictive. Longer shorts such as the 5-inch or 7-inch version are our go-to when traveling because of their all-purpose versatility, easily doubling as gym shorts, hiking shorts, or even swimming shorts.

For long, hot days, we recommend a short with a 3-inch inseam; (photo/Nick Presniakov)

Liners & Shells

Most running shorts have two layers: an outer shell and an inner liner. The inner liner’s primary focus is built-in support and is either a mesh brief or spandex-type compression tight, called a 2-in-1.

If you’re someone who struggles with between-the-legs chafing, we recommend looking at a 2-in-1 short such as the SAXX Hightail or a half tight like the Nike. Having a built-in quarter-length compression liner will protect your legs from rubbing together.

The outer shell is always made with some sort of moisture-wicking material such as polyester, nylon, or wool. Some are treated with DWR to help repel water. DWR-treated shorts great for wind protection, but they can absorb and hold moisture longer than non-DWR-treated shorts.

Most shorts these days will blend in a stretchy fabric such as spandex or elastane to give the shorts extra mobility. If you struggle with finding shorts that fit properly or experience shorts riding up, we recommend you look for shorts with spandex and/or elastane.

Shorts with a compression lining can help reduce chafing; (photo/Cory Smith)


If you want to carry items such as your phone, keys, or fuel during your run, you’ll want a pair of shorts with pockets. Look for shorts with pockets that are close to the waistline. The tension used to hold the shorts up serves as a great anchor point to prevent them from bouncing around as you run.

Shorts with a thicker waistline and/or 2-in-1s are better at holding items tightly against your waist. Pockets with zippers are ideal for storing keys, credit cards, and your phone.

How many pockets you need depends on what you want to carry. However, there is a tipping point where you’ll want to start using a vest or waist belt to hold your items.

It’s a good idea to invest in at least one pair of shorts with a large carry capacity like the Black Diamond Sprint. These are great for runs when you’re traveling and may need to carry more items than usual.

Pockets are great for small items like energy gels or a car key, but you should consider a running vest or backpack for larger items; (photo/Cory Smith)


What kind of shorts are best for running?

The best running shorts are made with a performance moisture-wicking fabric, such as polyester or nylon, have a built-in liner for support, and offer a secure place to store items like your phone, keys, or fuel. Some running shorts are blended with a stretchy fabric such as spandex or elastane to allow for unrestricted mobility when running.

Running shorts come in all different lengths from 2 to 7 inches, but 5 inches seems to be the most popular length.

Should running shorts be tight or loose?

It depends on the type of shorts. Half-tights, or compression shorts, are designed to fit skin-tight.

The close-to-the-skin fit makes them ideal for runners who struggle with chafing, keeping your quads, hamstrings, and glutes warm during cold and/or rainy runs. All other shorts should fall somewhere between tight and loose, but to what degree they fit is somewhat of a personal preference.

What are the best running shorts to prevent chafing?

Chafing is a really painful problem for a lot of runners that can be solved with the proper pair of running shorts. The uncomfortable skin irritation is caused by two surfaces excessively rubbing together and is more likely to happen when a fabric has been soaked with moisture.

If you’re struggling with chafing, we recommend trying a pair of shorts with a built-in compression liner such as a 2-in-1 like the SAXX Hightail. The longer liner can provide extra protection against friction.

If that doesn’t work, we suggest trying a pair of shorts with a different fabric makeup. The part wool liner of the Smartwool Merino Sport Lined 5″ Short can be a good option.

What do you wear under running shorts?

The large majority of running shorts are designed to be worn without underwear. They have a built-in mesh liner or compression tight that provides the support needed while running. If you find the built-in liner does not provide enough, you can wear a pair of brief underwear for added support.

The post The Best Running Shorts for Men of 2023 appeared first on GearJunkie.


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REI Co-op Wonderland Chair Review: A Comfortable and Attractive Take on a Classic

Thu, 04 May 2023 18:00:13 +0000

Kicking Back in the REI Co-op Wonderland Chair(Photo/Miya Tsudome)

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A sleek, modern design makes this camping chair a versatile pick for sitting around the campfire or having beers on the patio.

The post REI Co-op Wonderland Chair Review: A Comfortable and Attractive Take on a Classic appeared first on GearJunkie.

Kicking Back in the REI Co-op Wonderland Chair(Photo/Miya Tsudome)

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Let’s face it — brands design most camping chairs with functionality in mind, not aesthetics. When I think of a camping chair, the image that pops into my head is one of mesh and metal, with maybe a cupholder or two. Sound familiar? 

A camping chair’s aesthetics might not be important when you just need to throw it in a vehicle for setup at a campsite. But the REI Co-op Wonderland Chair is a welcome break from the norm. 

Over the past few weeks, I enjoyed sitting porch-side with this camping chair drinking evening cocktails just as much as I enjoyed taking it on car camping trips.

In short: Most of the time, my camp chairs sit gathering cobwebs in a shed until I need them. But the Wonderland chair ($100) can bridge the gap between the campground and the patio. It’s a well-designed chair you’ll actually want to integrate into your outdoor furniture, making it worth its higher price tag.

Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of the new Wonderland chair from REI.

REI Co-op Wonderland Chair


  • Weight 7 lbs., 13 oz.
  • Dimensions 21” x 24” x 35”
  • Cupholders One that swivels out under right armrest
  • Pockets None
  • Weight capacity 300 lbs.


  • Design-forward
  • Versatile
  • Comfortable, high seat


  • Bulky
  • Heavy
  • Expensive
Placing a Thermos into the Cupholder of the REI Co-op Wonderland Chair
The single swivel-out cupholder easily tucks away when not in use; (photo/Miya Tsudome)

The Wonderland is similar to the REI Outward Lawn Chair, which REI describes as “the chair from your childhood, but way more durable.” Unpacking the Wonderland chair, I felt the same way. Its wide seat and sturdy armrests reminded me of those beach chairs made with crisscrossed webbing that would imprint onto your bare legs and get threadbare and weather-beaten over time. The Wonderland is a much more attractive version, with its polyester ripstop seat in pastel colors and glazed wooden armrests. 

It’s clear that REI made this chair with high-quality materials. Its recycled seat fabric has a durable water-repellent finish, allowing it to stand up to the elements. Its coated aluminum frame keeps the total weight down. And the chair feels overall sturdy and well-constructed, even boasting a 300-pound weight capacity.

The Best Camping Chairs of 2023

We found and tested the best camping chairs for every use and budget. Top picks include REI, ALPS, Coleman, and more. Read more…

Although the seat has no extra padding, this chair remains very comfortable. The seat itself is wide with tightly stretched fabric, allowing for good weight distribution. And it doesn’t sag in the middle. Its 16-inch high back allows you to feel fully supported as you lean back and kick your feet up. 

Weighing in at 7 pounds 13 ounces, the Wonderland isn’t the lightest camp chair on the market and is arguably on the cumbersome side of the spectrum. You won’t want to throw it into a packed-to-the-gills car as an afterthought on your way to go camping. You’ll want to plan on having the space to bring it.

Carrying the REI Co-op Wonderland Chair Using the Shoulder Strap Next to a River
The shoulder strap on the REI Co-op Wonderland Chair makes quick transport a breeze; (photo/Miya Tsudome)

This chair collapses onto itself easily, with the assistance of a tensioned strap on the back that doubles as a shoulder strap for easy transport. You wouldn’t want to carry this chair over a long distance, though. The strap isn’t padded, and carrying it can be awkward. The Outward Lawn Chair is definitely easier to transport with its included backpack straps. And I was kind of bummed to see this feature removed in the new Wonderland chair.

I used this chair for over a few weeks, and it moved around from my porch to my backyard, getting compliments from any friends who came over and took a seat. It’s a stylish chair, and I loved that it could be just as at home in my backyard as it was at a campsite.

When sitting in the Wonderland at a campground, I appreciated the cupholder that swivels out from below the seat. And the lack of mesh made my rear end less cold in the winter evenings. But this is a consideration for the hotter months, where campers might prefer a mesh seat for breathability.

REI Co-op Wonderland Chair: Conclusion

REI Co-op Wonderland Chair By the Fire
(Photo/Miya Tsudome)

The new Wonderland Chair from REI Co-op is a slightly upgraded version of the Outward Lawn Chair. With a different collapsing and carrying method, as well as a new included cupholder, the Wonderland will appeal to those who want a versatile chair they can deploy quickly and easily on their next overnight.

This chair is great for folks who want to get the most bang for their buck, and have a camping chair for lounging on the patio with friends or sitting around a solo stove in the backyard without sacrificing style. This chair is heavy and not made to be carried long distances, and also comes with a high price tag. But its attractive design and comfort make it a great choice for the aesthetically minded.

The post REI Co-op Wonderland Chair Review: A Comfortable and Attractive Take on a Classic appeared first on GearJunkie.


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What Is ‘The World’s Toughest Canoe Race’ Like? Find Out at the Texas Water Safari

Wed, 03 May 2023 15:42:50 +0000

Gators, sunburn, and sleep deprivation, oh my! If you like canoeing and type II fun, the Texas Water Safari may be the right race for…

The post What Is ‘The World’s Toughest Canoe Race’ Like? Find Out at the Texas Water Safari appeared first on GearJunkie.


Every June, a few hundred slightly warped paddlers spread anti-chafing cream on their skin and tape tubes of ibuprofen to the inside walls of their canoes. They top off water bottles, slather on sunscreen, and shove down one last energy bar.

Then, just before 9 a.m., they slide their boats into a spring-fed lake in San Marcos, south of Austin, Texas, and prepare for the start of “The World’s Toughest Canoe Race.”

Colloquially known as the “Safari,” the race started back in 1962, when Texans Frank Brown and Bill “Big Willie” George, paddled their 14-foot fishing boat from San Marcos to Corpus Christi. It took them 20 days and 8 hours, and as the legend goes, they hunted and fished (eating squirrels and bass) along the way.

The next year, the two men invited the public to join them in their misery. Anyone who took them up on the offer would have to bring whatever they needed for the entire trip; no one could hand them supplies along the way. 

Things have changed since then.

Running the Modern Day ‘Texas Water Safari’

(Photo/Pam LeBlanc)

The race still follows the cool, clear San Marcos River as it flows into the Guadalupe River and heads toward the Gulf of Mexico, getting muddier as it goes. The race today ends shy of Corpus Christi, Texas, in the town of Seadrift. Though, paddlers still have to slog across the bay to reach the finish line. And depending on how Mother Nature is feeling, those last 10 miles can take a few hours — or an entire day.

Teams get handoffs from support crews at checkpoints along the way. Those support teams can hand the athletes water and ice as well as food (since 2012, when a racer died of hyponatremia, a low concentration of sodium in the blood).

Racers wear GPS trackers so race organizers and fans can track their progress, and they can carry cellphones for emergencies. They also bring flares, snake bite kits, water pumps, headlamps, and other necessities.

But it’s no leisurely paddle.

The race bakes participants in the hot sun, fries their brains with sleep deprivation, and spits them into rapids and saltwater chop. Paddlers haul their boats around dams and over floating mats of logs and brush (and the occasional dead farm animal). They slog through mud, encounter swarms of mosquitos, and pass the occasional alligator. The top finishers don’t stop — not to sleep, not to eat, not even to pee. At a certain point, hallucinations kick in.

(Photo/Pam LeBlanc)

In 2022, the race attracted 149 teams of between one and six paddlers each. Some paddled sleek, bullet-shaped racing craft; others used traditional aluminum canoes. Racers range from elite athletes to recreational paddlers out to test their mettle, and they come in all ages and skill levels.

One long-time competitor in his 80s always packs a bag of Swisher Sweets cigars to puff along the way. The six-man “Cowboys” team races every year with a rotating cast of paddlers. In 2019, an all-women’s team dubbed “the Night Witches” became the first all-female squad to finish in under 40 hours. They placed fourth overall.

I myself have started the race twice and finished once. In 2019, I teamed with two veteran female paddlers and finished in about 53 hours. The first 20 hours went well. Then things went south.

My appetite waned; my stomach churned. About 40 hours in, I began to hallucinate. In the dark, trees morphed into leering clowns and bushes became grinning cartoon characters. My butt hurt, my back hurt, and my mind hurt.

A paddler gets a massage after the Safari race; (photo/Pam LeBlanc)

When we finished, I staggered out of the water, swore I’d never do the race again, crawled onto a cot, and passed out. I didn’t feel normal for an entire month. (Sleep deprivation will do that to you.) But despite the unpleasantries, the sense of accomplishment was priceless, even if the rash on my rear end stuck around for two more weeks.

Last year, with some of the hottest and driest conditions on race day, I went back for more. It didn’t go well. I got sick (and mentally weak) and dropped out at a place appropriately called Cheapside, after 36 horrendous hours. That year, half the field did not finish.

The rest of my team went on without me and finished in a long and brutal 77 hours.

(Photo/Pam LeBlanc)

All you get for surviving what’s billed as “the World’s Toughest Canoe Race” is a 5-inch patch decorated with what looks like an alligator and a devil. You also walk away with a fierce sunburn, cracked lips, blisters as big as pecans, and rashes in places humans should never get rashes.

But trust me when I tell you nothing feels as good as making it to the final buoy in Seadrift and slapping your hands on the wooden marker that signifies the Texas Water Safari finish.

Race Day: How to Register

This year, the Texas Water Safari is celebrating its 60th year. The race starts at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 10, 2023. Paddlers must finish the 260 miles within 100 hours for their finish to officially count. Other basic rules include you must register for one category — novice, standard, unlimited men/women (up to six paddlers), tandem, solo, masters, and more — and your team must have a captain (18 years or older) to follow along with support, and to track location. 

The deadline to register for the race is May 19. The entry fee is $200 per paddler through May 4, or $250 through May 19. If canoeing in hot weather and grueling conditions sounds like your jam, consider joining the Safari!

Team BendRacing at the Expedition Ozark Adventure Race; (photo/Adventure Racing World Series)

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The Gear That Won the 400-Mile ‘Expedition Ozark’ Adventure Race

Adventure racing is about a lot of things. But one of the least understood is the role that efficiency and effective gear plays into a team’s success. Read more…

One mountain biker took a chainsaw to the problem(Photo/Justin Brandenburg)

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Meet the Mountain Biker Who Single-Handedly Cleared 950 Trees to Ride His Favorite Trail

After a windstorm obliterated his favorite trail, one mountain biker took a chainsaw to the problem, clearing 950 trees just so he could ride. Read more…

The post What Is ‘The World’s Toughest Canoe Race’ Like? Find Out at the Texas Water Safari appeared first on GearJunkie.


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Free Gear Friday: Win an AC60+B80 Power Station from BLUETTI!

Fri, 21 Apr 2023 14:08:51 +0000

BLUETTI's AC60 sitting next to a tent and camp chair, charging a tablet(Photo/BLUETTI)

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This week, one lucky winner will receive an AC60+B80 Power Station from BLUETTI.

The post Free Gear Friday: Win an AC60+B80 Power Station from BLUETTI! appeared first on GearJunkie.

BLUETTI's AC60 sitting next to a tent and camp chair, charging a tablet(Photo/BLUETTI)

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This week, one lucky winner will receive an AC60+B80 Power Station from BLUETTI.

More on the Prize

Made to power you through even your toughest outdoor environments, the AC60 is dustproof and weather-resistant and claims to supply 600 W of power with its 403Wh LFP battery.

BLUETTI is including the B80 battery in this giveaway as well, giving you access to power for even longer. It should charge devices and small appliances with its USB-C, USB-A, and car cigarette lighter ports. Charge up the device in 1.2 hours through an AC outlet or via solar in 3.5 hours, according to the brand.

More on the Brand

BLUETTI provides a wide range of portable power stations and solar options for remote work, travel, camping, and more. The brand blogs frequently about portable power and solar energy, and it aims to find new ways to take power everywhere.

two people charging their stuff out of their suburu on a BLUETTI power station

Be sure to check back every Friday for a new giveaway.
Want the giveaway in your inbox? Sign up here.

The post Free Gear Friday: Win an AC60+B80 Power Station from BLUETTI! appeared first on GearJunkie.


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The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023

Tue, 18 Apr 2023 16:39:42 +0000

A Hiker Holds The SPOT X Messenger While Navigating in Snow(Photo/Nick Belcaster)

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Failure isn’t an option when it comes to choosing a satellite messenger. When you absolutely need to get the word out, here are the best…

The post The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023 appeared first on GearJunkie.

A Hiker Holds The SPOT X Messenger While Navigating in Snow(Photo/Nick Belcaster)

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Satellite messengers started with the need for reliable emergency contact, but have expanded beyond emergency needs into full-blown two-way communication devices. While every satellite messenger remains focused on the original function, some have evolved to include peer-to-peer communications and additional features, whether GPS tracking or weather reports. 

In our search for the best satellite messengers we covered it all, but placed a focus on the keyword in a satellite messenger: messenger. With our extensive background testing gear in real-life situations, we put all devices through the paces over several months in differing situations — testing it all from typing ability to durability while getting dirty in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. 

To better understand the ins and outs of satellite messengers, visit our buyer’s guide, FAQ, and detailed comparison chart. Or, check out some of the key categories that help you understand how a satellite messenger best fits your needs:

The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023

Best Overall Satellite Messenger

Garmin inReach Messenger


  • Battery life 28 days
  • Message composition On-device options/in-app
  • Weight 4 oz.
  • Water resistance IPX7
  • Satellite system Iridium
  • Subscription plan $11.95 /month for annual ‘Safety’ plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023


  • Compact size and weight
  • In-depth functionality
  • Extended battery life with reverse USB-C charging


  • Small screen
  • Cost
Best Budget Satellite Messenger

ZOLEO Satellite Messenger


  • Battery life 200 hours
  • Message composition In-app composition
  • Weight 5.3 oz.
  • Water resistance IP68
  • Satellite system Iridium
  • Subscription plan $20 /month for ‘Basic’ plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023


  • Combination of on-device and in-app functions
  • Ease-of-use
  • Stout Iridium satellite network reception


  • Limited on-device functionality
Best Feature-Rich Messenger

Garmin inReach Mini 2


  • Battery life 14 days
  • Message composition On-device options/in-app
  • Weight 3.5 oz.
  • Water resistance IPX7
  • Satellite system Iridium
  • Subscription plan $11.95 /month for annual ‘Safety’ plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023


  • Compact size
  • Improved screen over predecessor
  • In-device navigation abilities


  • Cost
  • No cellular or WiFi coverage
Best On-Device Communicator



  • Battery life 240 hours in 10-minute tracking mode
  • Message composition On-device composition
  • Weight 7 oz.
  • Water resistance IP67
  • Satellite system Globalstar
  • Subscription plan $11.95 /month for annual ‘Basic’ plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023


  • Familiar QWERTY on-screen message composition
  • Ability to compose messages on or off the device
  • In-device navigation capable


  • Bulky size
  • Globalstar network isn’t the most robust
Best GPS Device Messenger

Garmin GPSMAP 66i


  • Battery life 200 hours
  • Message composition On-device options/in-app
  • Weight 8.1 oz.
  • Water resistance MIL-STD-810
  • Satellite system Iridium
  • Subscription plan $11.95 /month for annual ‘Safety’ plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023


  • Communicates with other inReach devices
  • Predictive text
  • Compatible with Garmin Explore app


  • Larger overall size
  • Price
Best of the Rest



  • Battery life 7 days to 156 days (dependent on tracking)
  • Message composition Pre-set messages only
  • Weight 5 oz.
  • Water resistance IPX8
  • Satellite system Globalstar
  • Subscription plan $11.95 /month for annual ‘Basic’ plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023


  • Simple to operate
  • Minimal size
  • Inexpensive


  • Lack of functionality
  • No two-way messaging
  • Not rechargeable

ACR Bivy Stick


  • Battery life 120 hours
  • Message composition In-app composition
  • Weight 3.3 oz.
  • Water resistance IPX7
  • Satellite system Iridium
  • Subscription plan $14.99 /month for annual ‘Basic’ plan
The Best Satellite Messengers of 2023


  • Lightweight, easily stowable
  • Ample app features
  • USB-C charging


  • Limited battery life
  • No on-device messaging ability

Satellite Messenger Comparison Chart

Satellite Messenger Battery Life Message Composition Weight Satellite System Subscription Plan*
Garmin inReach Messenger 28 days On-device options/in-app 4 oz. Iridium $11.95 /month
ZOLEO Satellite Messenger 200 hours In-app composition 5.3 oz. Iridium $20 /month
Garmin inReach Mini 2 14 days On-device options/in-app 3.5 oz. Iridium $11.95 /month
SPOT X 240 hours On-device composition 7 oz. Globalstar $11.95 /month
Garmin GPSMAP 66i 200 hours On-device options/in-app 8.1 oz. Iridium $11.95 /month
SPOT Gen4 7 to 156 days Pre-set messages only 5 oz. Globalstar $11.95 /month
ACR Bivy Stick 120 hours In-app composition 3.3 oz. Iridium $14.99 /month
*Subscription plan amount given for annual ‘Basic’ or ‘Safety’ plans
Satellite Messengers Round Up
(Photo/Tim Newcomb)

Why You Should Trust Us

We’d be lying if we said we’ve never gotten ourselves lost. But thankfully, the crew at GearJunkie is a savvy bunch, and our trials and tribulations have led us to be big proponents of carrying along a satellite messaging device when headed out into the backcountry. Here, we’ve compiled our collective knowledge around the little life-savers and called out the best of the best sold today.

All devices detailed in our selection were tested over multiple months, by multiple gear experts and in varying conditions throughout the Pacific Northwest, and the American Southwest. Whether hiking, biking, climbing, ski-touring, or simply putting the devices through their paces, the satellite messengers underwent a mixture of experiences to test them in real-life use cases. 

While checking out the satellite messengers in the field, we assessed durability, connectivity, ease of use, functionality, and battery life. Beyond our team’s experience, we also considered the most popular and bestselling devices on the market, as well as a broad range of price points and features. And rest assured, as new devices hit the market, we’ll continue to put them to the test to see if they have what it takes when it matters.

From the mountains of the Pacific Northwest to the deserts of the American Southwest, we sought out the remote in order to test these sat messengers; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Satellite Messenger 

Every satellite messenger features a mixture of different functions and designs. Users may find some fit their expected adventures better than others, so it isn’t always a one-size-fits-all approach to selecting the best satellite messenger. 

Before you dive into a satellite messenger, be careful to go over features and functionality to see what you think you’ll need for how you expect to use the device. You also should keep in mind that the cost of ownership of a satellite messenger is more than the initial purchase price. While you can get a device for as little as $150 and spend up to $400, each one requires a subscription service to allow it to connect to satellites for communication, even emergency communication. 

Once you’ve narrowed down your top satellite messenger selections, we suggest looking over the company’s subscription plans to see what’s included in the differing options. Features you may find essential may come at a steeper per month price than you want to pay. 

Garmin GPSMAP 66i Mapping While Ski Touring
With a wide variety of devices available, keying in on exactly what you want to do with a satellite messenger will help you decide which one is right for you; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Emergency Support and Messaging

Know that a satellite messenger’s main goal is to provide emergency support when needed — every messenger comes with an on-device SOS button, but they also can help keep you connected to friends and family in non-emergency situations when cellular coverage is not possible. 

You likely won’t use your satellite messenger as you would a smartphone—and if you don’t expect to, you can select something such as the ZOLEO or SPOT Gen4—but understanding the capabilities of your device can help with expectations. For example, messages sent via satellite may well take up to 20 minutes to send, even in ideal situations with the best on-device communicators the Garmin inReach Mini 2 and SPOT X.

Differing Styles

There are three main styles of satellite messenger, although overlap does exist. The most basic offers a simple SOS function and pre-set messages, all sent from the device without tethering to a phone, such as the SPOT Gen4. These devices are best thought of as a ‘set it and forget it’ option, and you’ll be limited to sending messages that you’ve pre-written at home.

The next type offers these same functions, but then includes an app — think ZOLEO and Bivy Stick — that connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone for additional messaging and functionality. This is a great step up in terms of functionality in our opinion, and being able to craft custom messages has often gotten us out of a jam when outdoors, like changing itineraries or rendezvous points.

The third style includes the aforementioned features, but then also offers on-device functionality, from message composition to weather forecasting, as seen in the Garmin inReach Messenger, Garmin inReach Mini 2, and SPOT X. These messengers are best for folks who want it all, or want the ability to leave their phone at home. Because they operate independently of a separate device, these messengers also have the most built-in safety of the bunch.

SPOT Satellite Messenger Devices Side By Side
The SPOT Gen4 is just about the most basic style of satellite messenger, while the SPOT X offers on-device and app-assisted messaging; (photo/Tim Newcomb)

Satellite Messenger Networks

First, it’s important to make a distinction between the two types of satellite systems that a satellite messenger will depend on. Global Navigation Satellite Systems, or GNSS, are satellite networks that provide location and speed information to devices like handheld GPS units. The most well-known of these is the GPS system which is managed by the U.S. government, though other international systems exist.

Satellite messaging systems, like Iridium and Globalstar, provide communications information between the transmitter and receiver, and each service features Low Earth Orbit satellites covering much of the Earth. In fact, the polar orbit of Iridium satellites allows it to cover even the poles, while Globalstar has points on Earth it doesn’t reach. 

Iridium has more satellites than Globalstar, but Globalstar sends them higher to provide additional coverage. Another key difference is Globalstar relays with Earth-based transmission stations, which can cause a greater delay in messaging than the satellite-to-satellite relays from Iridium. No matter the device you choose, check the coverage areas of their satellite provider to ensure it covers your planned adventures. 

When you send a message, your device will queue it up for the next time that is it in contact with the Iridium or Globalstar network. While these systems offer broad coverage, it may take a few minutes for a satellite to pass overhead and into view of the satellite messenger. Finding a clearing or promontory can greatly improve your reception.

Zoleo Sat Messenger Beside Cactus
The ZOLEO Satellite Communicator uses colored LEDs to relay its current satellite connection status; (Photo/Nick Belcaster)

​​Emergency Coordination

For obvious reasons, we didn’t test the response time of emergency responders. But every satellite messenger comes with an SOS button that summons emergency help. Each company contracts with a service provider to coordinate a response, and while we don’t have data from every one, we do know that those buttons do get pushed a good bit: Garmin recently fielded its 10,000th inReach SOS call.

Garmin recently purchased GEOS, now owning one of the leading emergency operations. ZOLEO contracts with GEOS. ACR’s Bivy uses Global Rescue and SPOT contracts with FocusPoint International. All of these services are on the other end when you trigger an emergency call.

What Happens When You Trigger an SOS?

When you make the call to trigger an SOS, you’ll need to uncover and depress the SOS button to summon help. This will send a message to the emergency service provider that you have contracted with through your subscription. It’s important to know that without a current subscription, SOS service does not work.

On Garmin devices, these SOS messages are given a higher priority in the Iridium satellite system to ensure that they get to where they need to go. No matter the service, the functionality is similar, with the company working with local search and rescue teams to coordinate a response to your SOS call. 

Some devices, like the Garmin inReach Messenger, SPOT X, and ZOLEO Satellite Messenger, allow you to send custom SOS messages to the emergency response service. This can be incredibly helpful when coordinating a rescue, and often an emergency coordinator will put you in contact with the local Search and Rescue (SAR) to better assist you. Response times can vary from a few hours to a few days, depending entirely on terrain, weather, and resources.

Garmin inReach Mini 2 in Joshua Tree
No need to call the calvary — having the ability to send custom messages greatly simplifies letting others know your status; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Messaging, Weather Updates, and Tracking

Thankfully, the majority of us will never need to hit that SOS button, instead relying on our satellite messengers to communicate with others, seek out weather updates, and track ourselves on excursions. Most all devices offer two-way messaging, with the exception of the SPOT Gen4, meaning you’ll be able to both create, and receive messages from abroad.

A 160-character limit is typical of most SMS and email messages sent from satellite messengers, with slight variation from provider to provider. These messages can also be appended with your GPS location, giving those on the outside some peace of mind knowing where you’re at.

Types of Messages

Messages fall into one of two categories: Preset, Predefined, or Check-In messages, and Custom messages. Messages in the Preset category are those that are arranged before setting out on our trip, and typically relay messages such as “I’m Okay,” “I’m Starting My Trip Here,” or “I Made it To Camp.” These messages are very often unlimited and don’t count against your subscription allotments.

Custom messages are those that are created on-the-fly, and can either be produced on-device or through an accompanying app. These messages are not limited to who they can be sent to, but they will count against your subscription if you have a messaging limit. Don’t fear if you go over, however, all providers will spot you extra messages, at a typical 25-50 cent rate per message.

With a phone, the ACR Bivy Stick can type and send custom messages, but without one, you’ll be stuck with your preset messages; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Weather Forecasts

Certain satellite messengers, like the Garmin and ZOLEO devices, also utilize their satellite connections to deliver weather forecasts directly to your messenger. These forecasts will display the high/low temperature, conditions, wind speed and direction, and precipitation chance of either the location you are currently in, or a location of your choosing.

Garmin devices also offer an extended forecasting option (at $1.00 /per), which bumps out the forecast window from four to eight days, and offers a finer interval of forecast reporting. There is also the option to request a marine forecast, which includes information on wave height, currents, and visibility.


Tracking your progress can be a handy tool for both yourself, as well as those following along at home. This tracking is most often broken down into different intervals, allowing you to adjust the frequency at which a location is recorded. SPOT devices provide tracking at all levels of subscription, whereas Garmin offers it unlimited at the mid-tier subscription rate, and ZOLEO offers it as a ‘Location Share+’ add-on for $6 /month extra.

When it comes to the pay-to-track crowd, we will note that the Bivy Stick is a particularly poor deal when it comes to tracking: A monthly basic plan allows 20 credits, which are shared between messages and tracking and can quickly be chewed up at one credit per 30 minutes at the five-minute tracking interval. You can par down your tracking interval to once every hour, but functionally we find this to be too coarse for accurate tracking.

A Hiker Navigates to a Location in Joshua Tree National Park Using the Garmin GPSMAP 66i Satellite Messenger
Being able to track and share your location to a phone number, email, or even another inReach device makes backcountry rendezvous a breeze; (photo/Nick Belcaster)


We can’t go too far without needing an app for that these days, and it’s the same in the world of satellite messengers. A few of the key devices tested, such as the ZOLEO and Bivy, require you to connect via Bluetooth to your smartphone to use the app for custom messaging, and most of the functionality (really, anything other than the SOS or “Okay” message.) 

Garmin, while allowing for on-device messaging on both the inReach Messenger and inReach Mini 2, has a strong app that makes messaging much simpler than on the device. We’ll note that even some Garmin smartwatches integrate with the devices for easy wrist-triggered SOS messages.

The SPOT X doesn’t rely as much on an app, but it is there for additional functions. And it works just swell. The SPOT Gen4 is the only device we tested that doesn’t tie into an app for its in-field functionality. 

The Functionality You Need

What you need out of a satellite messenger depends on the adventures you’ll go on. Are you a one-day or weekend trip adventurer who is generally in cellular coverage, but wants access to the SOS function for those emergency situations when cellular coverage might not be available? If so, going basic may be enough. 

Are you planning multi-day trips out of cellular coverage and want to not only have emergency functions, but also messaging capabilities? That will require a device that can handle your plans. Understand what type of adventurer you are and select a messenger—and service plan—to fit those needs. 

Zoleo Satellite Communicator Ski Touring
The ZOLEO Satellite Communicator lands at about the middle of the spectrum when it comes to functionality, and serves most adventurers most of the time; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Satellite Messenger Subscription Plans

Beyond your one-time purchase price, you’ll also need to select a subscription service to render the device useful. Typically offered as monthly plans, you can select how many messages you can use, how much tracking you can do, and so forth. Carefully look through service plan options before you buy so you don’t get stuck with a device you don’t want to pay to stay active. 

Garmin inReach Plans

The Garmin plans offer great flexibility in pricing (as low as $15 and as high as $65 per month), which also impacts what you get. The plans are broken up into two tiers: Consumer and Professional, as well as two different types of payment structures: Freedom Plans and Annual Contracts.

The most basic monthly consumer plans allow for 10 text messages, tracking intervals of every 10 minutes and an activation fee of $30 with overage charges for additional text messages, weather services, and location requests. The $65 monthly plan offers tracking every two minutes and unlimited tracking points, text messages, location requests, and more. 


ZOLEO ranges from $20 to $35 to $50 per month and steps from 25 messages to 250 to unlimited along the plan choices. You can add $6 per month for location shares and get unlimited check-in messages. Overages for each message is $.50 for the first two plans. ZOLEO has a $20 activation fee. 

SPOT Plans

The SPOT X plans range from $12 to $40 per month with six different plans. Expect to get anywhere from 20 custom messages to hundreds or even unlimited messages. The SPOT Gen4 features two plans, either $12 or $15 per month, depending on if you sign up for a year or go month-to-month. The nearly identical plans both come with unlimited check-in or help messages and basic tracking. SPOT has a $30 activation fee. 

ACR Plans

The Bivy Stick has four plans—all available at a discount for a yearly contract or more expensive for a month-to-month contract—ranging from $15 per month to $65. The basic plan includes 20 credits, which can be used as a message or tracking, with overages of $.75 per credit. Each step up includes additional credits and services until unlimited credits with group tracking. Bivy has no activation fee, instead differentiating the monthly price based on contract length. 

Garmin Messenger Beside Climbing Gear
The Garmin inReach Messenger sports an impressive 28-day battery life when sending a message every 10 minutes, and can reverse charge other electronics; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Size, Weight, and Batteries

While most satellite messengers are compact, some do come lighter and smaller than others (here’s looking at you, inReach Mini 2 and Bivy Stick). And that may be great in certain situations. If you’re lugging tons of equipment with you, a few ounces or an inch or two in size may not matter and you can embrace the SPOT X, but if you want something you can carry in your hand while you run or clip to a small pack while you bike, for example, these specifications will hold extra importance. 

Another specification to watch is battery life, especially if you plan on long adventures or already have a set routine for charging devices (will micro-USB or USB-C require you to bring an extra cord?) while on an adventure. Most satellite messengers aim to provide extended battery life for long trips into the backcountry, but it’s important to remember that this battery life can be limited by the number of messages sent, tracking intervals, and active screen time.

Almost all sat messengers today, with the exception of the SPOT Gen4, sport an integrated rechargeable battery that can be juiced up in the field from a solar panel or power bank. Some, like the Garmin inReach Messenger, even offer reverse USB-C charging that can perk up your other electronics if needed.

Garmin GPSMAP 66i Recharging From Solar Panel
While most satellite messengers sport a long battery life, be mindful of having a backup power source to keep them juiced up when it counts; (photo/Nick Belcaster)


New brands need to start somewhere but decide if you’re willing to start with them. The likes of Garmin and SPOT have led the satellite messenger categories for years, so have built-in dependability in terms of quality of product. But that doesn’t mean that ACR or ZOLEO aren’t there yet. All the messengers we tested, except for SPOT-branded devices, use the trusted Iridium satellite system for reliable coverage, so we don’t expect issues there. 

Then there’s the durability of the device itself. Each device has undergone testing to earn an international IP number. Both the Garmin devices nor the Bivy Stick weren’t tested against dust and earned a 7 for water (an IPX7 rating represents this), which allows for water immersion protection up to three feet for 30 minutes. 

The SPOT X earned an IP67, which offers complete dust protection with the same level of water protection. 

The SPOT Gen4 and ZOLEO devices are rated at IP68, complete dust protection with water immersion protection for long periods of time under pressure, the most durable of the devices tested. 

Understand how you plan to use your satellite messenger and then choose a device that fits your personal needs. 

Garmin Messenger on Splitboard
The IPX7 rating of the Garmin inReach Messenger means that it’s protected from ingress of dirt, water, or blowing snow; (photo/Nick Belcaster)


What is a Satellite Messenger? 

A satellite messenger, which requires a subscription service to operate, connects to a satellite system to send and receive messages. This process is different than the near-instantaneous response of a cellular or WiFi network. The device uses this satellite capability to keep you connected to others when cellular coverage is not available.

Satellite Messengers Line Up
(Photo/Tim Newcomb)
Should I Get a Satellite Messenger?

If you plan to adventure beyond cellular coverage, you may want to consider having an active subscription to a satellite messenger. The only reliable way to call for emergency services or let loved ones know you’re in a safe place is by relying on satellite messenger coverage.

Does Garmin Make the Best Satellite Messenger?

It is hard to argue that Garmin doesn’t make the best satellite messengers, whether the inReach Messenger or the inReach Mini 2, but that doesn’t mean Garmin is the only manufacturer of quality satellite messengers.

We can recommend Garmin products based on our independent testing, but were also impressed with a mixture of additional satellite messengers from a variety of companies.

Is On-Device Messaging Needed for a Satellite Messenger?

In short, potentially. You want to ensure that you have the SOS option on your satellite messenger — a standard feature in the industry — and the ability to send an “I’m okay” message when needed. 

How much additional functionality you want to have on your device is up to you. Relying on tethering to your smartphone via Bluetooth requires that your phone doesn’t lose connectivity to your device and your phone stays charged and accessible. The more on-device message composition functionality, the less you need to rely on your smartphone and the device’s app to stay connected.

SPOT X Sending Message Beside Lake
Being able to write a custom message adds a great deal of flexibility to your communications; (photo/Nick Belcaster)
How Quickly Does a Satellite Messenger Send a Message?

Be patient when it comes to satellite messages. It may take just a few minutes to send a message, especially with a clear sky and no tree coverage. But getting a connection to a satellite may be tough in some locations, and even the positioning of satellites or heavy cloud cover can alter the timeline of your message. 

Keep in mind, there’s no guarantee you can get a signal to a satellite, so some cases may require a high level of patience or willingness to move in order to connect to the satellite.