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Patagonia Black Hole MLC Bag Review: An Organized, Carry-On-Size Wonder

Patagonia Black Hole MLC Bag Review(Photo/Rebecca Parsons)
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The newest edition to Patagonia’s line of packs and luggage, the MLC Bag is a burly, soft-sided 45L convertible backpack suitcase with enough room and compartments for all kinds of travel.

Regardless of where I’m going or the duration of my travels, I try to always pack everything into a carry-on bag. Paying for checked bags is not my jam, and if you have everything with you, you can avoid waiting in baggage claim or items potentially getting lost in transit. Patagonia’s Black Hole line of bags and duffels has long been a go-to option for adventurers for years. But the newest in the Black Hole collection is the MLC Pack.

In short: The MLC is designed to keep you organized while on the move. This isn’t your standard, one-compartment duffel — it includes a variety of different internal compartments for storing your laptop and other essentials, and at 45 L, it meets most carry-on requirements. With three different carrying configurations, it’s also versatile enough for many types of travel.

Patagonia Black Hole MLC Pack Review

Multiple Ways to Travel

The shoulder strap and back handle configuration on the MLC.
The shoulder strap and back handle configuration on the MLC; (photo/Rebecca Parsons)

The MLC Bag (which stands for Maximum Legal Carry-on) is designed to allow you to travel any way you like. Three carrying configurations allow you to carry the bag as a backpack, shoulder bag, or duffel, or you can stow all the straps and simply carry the bag by the center handle.

My Take: Pros and Cons

I have always loved Patagonia due to its commitment to the planet and the fact that they make functional, durable, and well-made products. So, I fully expected to like this bag. But, it turned out that there were things that I both liked and disliked about this pack.

The fact that it converts from a suitcase to a backpack is my favorite feature, as hauling a heavy duffel bag around can be a challenge. The option to easily convert over to a backpack makes long walks through the airport or to bus stations a lot more comfortable, especially with the padded back panel and shoulder strap.

Packing up some gear into the Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L Travel Pack.
Packing up some gear into the Patagonia MLC; (photo/Rebecca Parsons)

I found the backpack style to be the most comfortable way to travel, but if you need to take your bag on and off frequently, the briefcase style is probably the move. I never found myself carrying the bag by the center handle, but I did appreciate the handle for hoisting the bag onto counters or into truck beds.

Something that I l have mixed feelings about are the multitude of compartments the suitcase has. I think dividing things up is great for staying organized, but it restricts the amount you can pack. That means this pack is a great option for a hybrid of work and adventure travel due to the padded laptop case, organizers, and additional room for gear.

But if you’re doing a gear-heavy outdoor trip, one of Patagonia’s traditional Black Hole duffels, where you can dump everything into one big compartment, may be a better bet— you’re able to fit a lot more.

The Nuts & Bolts

patagonia mlc inside organizer

Fair Trade Certified sewn, the  MLC 45L Pack uses recycled materials with a recycled TPU laminate. Patagonia designed the bag based on the maximum carry-on size of most airlines, making it free of wheels or handles that could snag or get in the way in transit.

The bag features multiple storage options, including a large main compartment with two interior organization pockets as well as a drop-in pocket for smaller items (see above). Additionally, the bag includes a dedicated space that works with most laptops (up to 19 inches) and has space for cords and other essentials. Designed specifically for airline travel, the laptop carrier zips open and lies flat, so you don’t have to worry about taking your laptop out of your bag, which saves a lot of time in TSA.

To make travel more comfortable, the MLC Pack includes a padded, stowable hip belt that takes the weight off the shoulders while in backpack mode. Many duffel bags incorporate a sternum strap of some kind but usually neglect a hip belt, so this feature is one that caught our attention. It also doubles as the shoulder strap when you transfer the bag to briefcase mode — two uses!

Should you prefer rolling through the airport, the bag has a wide webbing loop on the back panel that works to attach to rolling luggage. Or, simply use it as a carry handle/grab point. Patagonia thought of a whole lot of features here to make this bag airline travel-friendly while also retaining useful components for other types of travel.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this is a solid bag and a great addition to the Black Hole duffel collection. It’s well-made and durable enough to withstand rugged conditions. It’s comfortable to carry, with multiple carry options, and has plenty of compartments for easy organization.

If you’re a fan of the traditional Black Hole duffels but have been wanting more organization (or a backpack version), definitely check out the MLC.

This is a perfect pack for work or school travel and commuting due to the laptop compartment, internal storage spaces, and extra room for stashing clothes and/or gear. Next time I plan a work trip, I know which pack I’ll be reaching for.

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