The Best Thing I Bought This Year Is My ‘Secret Second Suitcase’

My Patagonia travel pack on its way to Heathrow. Photo: Louis Cheslaw

If you’ve read any of our Strategist editor hauls, you’ll know that our writers and editors buy a lot of stuff, and even though we think carefully about each thing that goes into our carts, there are still standouts. To close out the year, we’ve asked our staffers to write about the best thing they bought in the past 12 months. Today, associate editor Louis Cheslaw on the deceptively roomy Patagonia travel pack that he now can’t live without.

With my family living in London and my girlfriend’s in California, we fly a fair bit. And because I loathe checking luggage, I’m forever trying to squeeze as much as I can into my carry-on allowance. That’s always meant wearing two coats to fly and stuffing various totes and backpacks to the brim, only to disassemble them when I need to pull out my passport. But this year everything became so much easier as soon as I purchased a 26-liter travel pack from Patagonia, one of the smallest pieces of luggage in the brand’s Black Hole series that so many Strategist writers and editors also use for their own travel.

Editor’s note: Patagonia says that as a result of “production and shipping delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” this bag is temporarily out of stock. You can join the waitlist to be notified as soon as it’s available again.

The first thing to know is that when it comes to volume, 26 liters is as large as a bag can be while still qualifying as the “personal item” you can bring on board with your main carry-on suitcase and slide under the seat in front of you. (The MLC in the full product name actually stands for “maximum legal carry-on.”) Within that capacity, I can easily fit two pairs of shoes as well as a week’s worth of underwear, socks, and thin shirts, relieving a ton of pressure on my suitcase — TravelPro’s Platinum Elite Softside Spinner, if you’re interested. Unlike the totes that came before it, my Patagonia bag is now such a useful part of my packing process that I’ve taken to calling it my “secret second suitcase”; I still feel like I’m cheating the system whenever I get it into the cabin. And just like a suitcase, the bag lies flat on the floor when you pack it with a deep and structured interior.

And that’s just focusing on the main storage section. This bag has three added zip pockets on the outside, all critically useful in their own way. There’s a large padded laptop pocket on the back panel; a small zip pocket at the front for quick access to passports, charging cables, and keys; and — my favorite — a larger zip pocket just behind it that can fit a book and plenty of magazines.

According to my research, the MLC series has the most carrying options of the entire Black Hole line. There’s a cushioned sling strap that can go across your chest, two padded backpack straps — which are what I use the most — and handles on the top and side if you’d rather carry it like a duffel. There’s an outer sleeve that allows the bag to slip down over the handles of any suitcase, freeing me up to commute to the airport with a spare hand available at all times and without carrying any weight on my body.

Taking into account that the bag is also coated in Patagonia’s light, water-repellent Black Hole material — and comes with their lifetime warranty — I feel it’s likely that the best thing I bought this year might also end up being the most useful product in my life for years to come.

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The Best Thing I Bought This Year Is My ‘Secret Suitcase’