The Patagonia MLC is my go-to bag for travel. It’s been all over the world with me.
I’ve been a fan of Patagonia for a while now – since about 1984 if I had to think back. Since then I’ve had about a million fleece jackets and shirts and I’ve destroyed more baggies shorts on the river than I care to imagine. I’ve found what I think are some real gems in the Patagonia line-up – gear they’ve made for years that stands the test of time both from a design and a use standpoint. I think their iconic Snap-T fleece shirt is one of those items. I think the Patagonia MLC is another.
Here’s my video review of the Patagonia MLC – jump down if you want the old-fashioned experience of actually reading something,
I bought my first Patagonia MLC (Maximum Legal Carry-On) in the late 90’s? I had it for a while and sold it. I bought another one in about 2005 and sold it about ten years later. I bought the updated Headway 45L version about a year ago, then the Black Hole MLC at the end of the summer. I then actually bought back the one from 2005 (a friend had it) and now my son uses it. The Patagonia MLC is just that good. It’s really the do-everything bag.
(Patagonia offers two different versions of this bag now – the Headway MLC in a ballistic nylon, and the Black Hole MLC in a ripstop, trucker tarp style. I show both in the video above, but the photos here are only of the Black Hole MLC. I’ve fond I use it a little more, although I appreciate the subtlety of the Headway version, which lacks the bold branding on the exterior of the bag.)
Technical stuff? The Patagonia MLC It’s 22.75″ x 6.75″ x 18″. It’ll fit a 17″ laptop. It has a ton of pockets. If you get the Black Hole version the interior is bright orange, if you get the Headway version, the interior is a more subtle gray. The interior pockets differ slightly on the two versions of the bags, but not in any meaningful way.
The zippers on the version I have from 2005 are huge – probably overkill. The zippers on the current version are much smaller, but seem to so the job. In fact they seem more in line with the design of the bag than a larger zipper would. The bag in these photos is blue and orange, although sometimes it definitely looks black.
The shoulder strap works well and the backpack straps are comfortable. I’ve always loved being able to stow or hide the backpack straps when they’re not being used. While users give up a little comfort for the convenience – dedicated straps and a more complex back pad might be more comfortable over the long run – this isn’t necessarily a dedicated backpack. it’s designed to get you the airport, on the plane, and out again as quick as possible without having to check anything.
The backpack straps on this version of the Patagonia MLC are a departure from earlier models. They’re a little more… curvy? I’m sure the technical word marketers and sales people will use is “ergonomic” and maybe they are – I can’t really say I find the curve to be all that useful. What I do find useful is the side-release buckles that attach the shoulder straps to the bottom of the bag. These plastic side release buckles are a vast improvement over the older, metal style clips that I always found to be finicky.
The backpack straps can, like all the earlier MLC designs, be stowed in the back panel when they’re not needed. I find this is one of the most useful features of the bag. I love having the straps when I need them, but I hate it when they’re in the way when I don’t need them. If i’m just carrying it from my house to my truck and then into a hotel I’ll just use the (detachable as well) shoulder strap or even opt to leave that off and just use the top handle.
At 45 liters, not the largest bag. I’ve noticed the amount of days I can comfortably pack for with just this bag really varies with two things; the weather, and the level of dirtbag I’m willing to adopt for the week. If it’s summer and I’m going bumming around and no place where flip-flops are frowned upon (my preferred travel style) then I’m all set. I could live out of this thing. If I’m doing more of business casual (argh!) where I have meetings and meals beyond roadside burritos, then I can comfortably get three days of clothes in it. Winter, with a jacket/fleece requirement hits me pretty hard when using this bag. It’s tough to pack heavy clothes, warm jackets, and winter running gear all at once in this bag. Maybe I should stop running?
It’s got a pocket on the rear that opens to form a pass through so users can slip it over the handle of a rolling bag as well. If you’ve got the shoulder strap removed, and the backpack straps stowed and slip this thing on a wheelie bag, there’s nothing to hang off and trip you up. It’s pretty slick.
There’s some office-style pockets in the top flap/pocket of the bag, but I rarely use them. I think this bag is better suited to actual luggage than kind of an every day carry bag. Still, they’re there if you need them. There’s a padded laptop compartment in the rear of the bag as well.
All in all this is just about my favorite bag to use. I have tons of bags – drybags, backpacks, totes, daypacks, etc… but I use this one most for travel. I’ve had similar bags from other manufacturers, but I usually sell them quick and come back to the Patagonia MLC.
- Bomber construction
- Largely water resistant
- Simple, time-tested design
- Useful size
- Meets Carry-on requirements
- Comfortable to carry in all configurations
- Straps hide away when not in use
- Padded laptop compartment
- Small for long trips unless you pack very light
- Not a great backpack, just an OK one
- The blue color is really hard to photograph!