There are two ways to rig up the carry handle. You can connect it to the narrow ends of the bag, which makes accessing the storage compartment easier, or in an X shape across the wider sides of the bag for increased stability while carrying. There aren’t any buckles, carabiners, or D-rings for the handle. Instead, there are nylon fabric loops, with vaguely fish-hook-shaped plastic pieces on the ends of the handle that slip into the loops. It’s something I’ve never seen before. The backpack straps use the same hook-and-loop system when they’re not stowed behind the padded panel.
They work much better than I thought they would. I never had one slip loose, yet it wasn’t difficult to secure or remove the plastic hooks. The only buckles on the bag are four compression straps that you fasten after everything is zipped up so that you can cinch down the bag into its most compact form. There are fixed grab handles on all four sides of the duffel too.
On the downside, there’s no shoulder strap as on the Red Oxx. Given the choice between the two, I’d much rather have the backpack straps, but sometimes it’s convenient to just throw a bag on my shoulder for a moment to free up my hands. But I get it. Too many straps would clutter up the bag.
The hook-and-loop system works securely, but it’s not the quickest way to add and remove straps. At the airport baggage drop counter, I feel like I’m in a rush to get them all loose so I can stow the handle without holding up the whole line. In contrast, with bags that use carabiners or buckles it takes about as much time to remove them as it does to read this sentence.
A Material World
The material just feels really nice too. It’s supple yet tough. The mesh under the lid, where two zippered interior pockets reside, is soft enough to make underwear out of. The pockets—one small, one large—are handy and join a single exterior pocket for any little items you want to keep separated from the main interior storage compartment.
The bottom and sides of the duffel are made of 1,680-denier recycled nylon. That’s thick, tough stuff to resist wear and tear from being picked up, put down, and slid around. The rest of the exterior is water-resistant, though not waterproof. (Remember, there are still zippers.) But I carried both bags through damp, drizzly Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and the skies splashed both bags repeatedly without a drop soaking through.
Most luggage is black or navy blue. It’s classic, but boring, boring, boring. The Big Haul is available in all-black, for traditionalists, but it also comes in a few eye-catching colorways that pair a main color with a well-chosen secondary color on zipper pulls and strap loops. There’s Mountain Moss, which is more of a mustard color than any moss I’ve ever seen; Twilight Purple, which is accented with electric pink; and my favorite, the teal Stone Blue that’s accented with dull orange. Only Patagonia’s Black Hole duffel bags offer such a Skittles-like choice of colors.
I’ve come to expect a lot from REI Co-Op gear over the past few years. Even so, I was surprised at how well the Big Haul hit the mark. There are a few quibbles here and there with the lack of a shoulder strap and the time it takes to use the hook-and-loop attachments, but the Big Haul will serve you well on both urban treks and outdoors adventurers.