Duluth Trading Company Fire Hose Field Bag Review

duluth-firehosebagAs many of you know from my reviews, I have been on the quest for the perfect gear bag for years now. I have used the Citywalker bag, the Victorinox Horizontal Tote, Ellington Europa Field Bag and even a prototype ballistic nylon bag from Infusion Threads (which I still own and will never sell). I have owned far more than I have ever reviewed, and while most bags had some great things to recommend them, there were always too many compromises to stop my search.

My search, at least for now, has ended.

I was doing my weekly search on the Internet for “field bag”, because I love the form factor. What I have been looking for is a combination of materials, organization and size for a reasonable price. This time I came across a stub at Make Online that showed a photo of the bag I have been looking for my whole life. It was on their Steampunk Gift Guide for 2008, so I wasn’t sure whether the bag would still be available. I clicked in the link, for a company called Duluth Trading Company, and was faced with what was surely the Holy Grail of compact gear bags.

Measuring 7″ wide, 5-1/2″ deep (more if stuffed) by 10-3/4” high, this bag was typical in size for a field bag save for one detail…depth. Most bags this size are 2-4 inches deep, which can hold a bunch of stuff, but that extra inch and a half intrigued me. What intrigued me more was the action shot one reviewer put of a Dell Mini 9 in the back pocket of this thing, as though it were made to fit. The reviews were all very positive, so I decided to take the plunge. I ordered the bag, and four days later it arrived at my doorstep, wrapped in a plastic bag sealed inside a plastic shipping bag with the Duluth Trading Co. logo on it.

As soon as I opened the bag, I knew I had a keeper. The whole bag exudes rugged class. It is made of treated cotton canvas, ostensibly the same material used for old-time fire hoses. This company carries a large assortment of items made of the same material. It comes in one color and one color only, an antler colored fabric with deep brown leather accents.

bag front

bag rear

As you can see, this bag stands up on its own when filled with gear. This is a very nice feature, as many field bags flop over onto one side or the other.

The leather is placed to reinforce vital areas, like zipper stops. It would have been nice if the bottom had been made of leather, but it should hold up well enough. The strap is attached via a metal ring attached to the bag with a thick leather loop, the strap itself has an antique-style brass clasp attached to a 1 ½” wide strap made of the same “fire hose” material that the bag itself is made of. There is an adjustable shoulder pad made of rubberized fabric on the bottom to maximize shoulder grip, and that nice brown leather on top.

strap

OK, enough about the outside of the bag. Let’s examine its innards!

I’m not sure what the front of the bag is supposed to be, and it really doesn’t matter. I’ll assume the front side of the bag is the one with the Duluth Trading Co logo embroidered onto it. This side contains a zip pocket that is about 3/5 the height of the bag. This is a catchall pocket, useful for items like spare batteries, an LED flashlight, medication, earbuds, USB sticks, memory cards or other such sized items. It can hold far more than I have in there. The rear is made of a smooth nylon material, the front is unlined.

catchall pocket

Behind this pocket is flat open pocket that is about an inch deep. I keep a small notebook in here. It should fit an 8.9” netbook with standard battery. There is no padding, but it is lined with nylon and has gusseted sides.

book pocket

The center compartment is about 3” wide, with two hanging pockets. The left pocket is quite deep, the right pocket about half as deep. The left pocket is the perfect size for a pocket digital camera with room to spare. I keep a pocket monocular in the other pocket, it’s a perfect fit. Since the pocket is not padded, I cut a 3” wide strip of thick mousepad and stuffed it into the bottom of this compartment, and in the open area I have my Kestrel weather meter, Garmin Colorado 400T GPSr and Sony SX-41 flash camcorder. There is room for more stuff in this pocket, I just don’t have anything else to put here! The hanging pockets are attached to a flat pocket for documents.

main compartment

main empty

At the top of the bag is a handle wrapped in leather and attached very strongly to the bag. I don’t see this handle falling apart with heavy use.

The organizer pocket has a bunch of compartments for putting items. The back wall has two flat pockets , one taller than the other for easier access. My travel documents go here. In front of this is a flat zipped pocket, perfect for a passport, but with plenty of width for additional items. Sewn to the front of this are two pen pockets, an open flat pocket (which my Motorola Droid slides into) and a wider pen pocket on the other side. On the other wall is a single flat pocket, where my Sony Reader Pocket resides, though it is large enough for the larger Sony reader to reside. I don’t know if it will hold the Kindle, having never seen one in person, but it might. The Kindle would fit in the rear “book pocket”, though. This organizer compartment also has gusseted sides.

organizer pocket

organizer empty

The rear of the bag has an open flat pocket with a leather strap that buttons to the top of it. I have my iPod Touch in here. This pocket is unlined.

rear pocket

This bag can hold more than any other field bag I have ever used. I can stuff it to 6” deep, which is quite impressive. The bag wears well, riding comfortably on the shoulder. As you can see, it holds an impressive amount of gear, and even with all of that stuff, it still feels comfortable. As you would expect from a bag made from fire hose fabric, it is at least water resistant, allowing water to bead off of it…at least in my bathroom sink trial.

bag with gear

I can see hanging on to this bag for years to come. I am tempted to get a second one as a spare in case this one ever comes to a bad end, possibly due to a nuclear explosion. Who knows when a company will discontinue a product? At $64.50, it’s neither horribly expensive nor very cheap, but it is solidly built, of great material, has a fantastic classic look to it and organizes a lot of gear handily. For now, my search for the perfect gear bag is over. It’s going to be very tough to beat this beautiful bag. If you like gear bags, you cannot go wrong with this one. Get it!!!

 

Product Information

Price:$64.50
Manufacturer:Duluth Trading Company
Pros:
  • Solid construction
  • Gorgeous appearance
  • Excellent organization
  • Tremendous amounts of space for gear
  • Leather trim and handle
  • Metal double zippers
  • Antique finishing
  • Stands on its own with gear in it
  • Reasonably priced, considering what’s on the market these days
  • Does not scream “It’s a European shoulder bag (it was a gift)” if you’re a man
  • Hanging pockets
Cons:
  • No padding anywhere (but old mouse pads can be strategically used)
  • Bottom could use leather sheathing
Posted in: Gear, Reviews

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • 1hen2ducks December 21, 2009, 6:47 pm

    I’ve been buying from Duluth Trading for years, both clothing and gear and they are superior in product, quality, and service.
    Everything arrives on time and is usually much better that one would expect at reasonable prices.
    Their stuff lasts for years.

  • Mark December 21, 2009, 6:52 pm

    I am probably going to order their fire hose driving cap. I love that style of hat, and I like the material this bag is made of. I took the monocular out and put an 8X32 Oberwerk waterproof roof prism binocular in the center compartment and it fits perfectly!

  • kryptik December 21, 2009, 7:57 pm

    I just ordered mine based on your review. I also ordered the Ellington Europa in brown a couple years ago after reading about it here, and have loved it. I generally switch between it and my Maxpedition Jumbo Versipack, so I’m looking forward to a third for the rotation…

  • Mark December 21, 2009, 9:15 pm

    I love this bag so much that I called up Duluth Traders yesterday and told them just how much I love this thing. They were surprised, they usually only get calls when there are complaints. This is literally the best gear bag I have ever seen for the size. I want this to be my only gear bag when I go storm chasing next summer, so I just ordered a Canon S90 to take instead of my dSLR, which will only take up too much room and get in the way. The S90 should fit perfectly in the hanging pocket in the middle compartment. I’ll sell off my Acer 1410 laptop to pay for it. That’s the way it works…buy a gadget, sell a gadget.

    I lent my mom the Victorinox bag for a trip she took this fall, and she loved it so much that when I got this bag, I gave her the Vic bag. It’s a great bag, but I’ll never need it again. The only other gear bag that I am going to hold on to is the Citywalker pack.

    I hope you like the bag!

  • Mark Adkins December 21, 2009, 11:31 pm

    I have a new addition to my Christmas Wish List!

  • Nielsen Kellerman December 23, 2009, 9:23 pm

    Love the review Mark. I have always enjoyed getting the illustrated Duluth catalogs and their ‘fire hose’ products are great. Looks like you are ready for anything/everything.

    Good to see you found a great pack to carry around all your gear and your Kestrel 4000. Feel free to give the Kestrel the sink test also, it will hold up just fine.

    Happy holidays,
    Chad Kaufman
    Web Designer/Developer – Nielsen Kellerman

  • Mark December 24, 2009, 9:37 am

    Chad, I’ve had my Kestrel since 2003, and it is rock-solid. Wouldn’t chase storms without it! After my first time out, I had an unusual need to know what the dewpoint depression was at any given moment. The Kestrel 4000’s customizable User screens allow me to have the information I need right there. I didn’t bring it last year…that was a mistake. We got on a storm and chased it for 9 hours from Sturgis, SD to just south of Valentine, NE…towards the end we were standing in INFLOW winds we estimated at about 60-70 mph. If I had brought the 4000 with me, there would have been no doubt. That was a beast of a storm, the likes of which few have ever seen. Fortunately, it was out over the Sand Hills in Cherry County, where there aren’t very many people. We got very lucky to find a road there where we did where we could sit and watch this thing come at us slowly. It was a right-mover from hell, and it was heading nearly due south towards us at perhaps 10 mph. The updraft base looked like a striated cereal bowl with a ragged shelf around an intense blue-green hail core and nearly constant lightning…and an inflow tail screaming in from the east ON THE GROUND. There was a secondary inflow tail above that one. It was crazy, but delightful. This bag (and the Canon S90 I just picked up) would have made getting even better shots of this storm possible. For a video of this storm, go to

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXyxDrEbcYE

    Mark

  • Nielsen Kellerman December 28, 2009, 1:10 pm

    That video is incredible Mark. The S90 with the huge screen would definitely made the shooting easier. Keep an eye out for our Kestrels with Bluetooth coming in the new year. http://www.nkhome.com/ww/bluetooth.html

    We are also currently working on providing some real-time display capabilities to our current Kestrel software. We will certainly keep you informed and watch your latest vids on Youtube.

    Happy New Year,
    Chad
    Nielsen Kellerman | http://www.nkhome.com

  • Mark December 28, 2009, 1:53 pm

    Bluetooth! Cool! I will definitely keep an eye open for this! Do you guys have a booth at the 2010 Storm Chaser Convention in Denver?

  • Kev - LG January 8, 2010, 10:56 am

    Lovely bag – is that their official press shot for it? Seems a little bit messy!

  • Robert January 15, 2010, 11:04 am

    Since I have a full size laptop, this bag is just a bit too small for my travel needs, especially air travel.

    However, because of the review, I did visit Duluth’s site and found an interesting bag that received fantastic reviews. The bag is called The Fully Evolved Briefcase (order #37002). I received the bag 2 days ago and started using it immediately for work. So far so good, and I have this bad boy really packed. I couldn’t easily get my cords bag in it so that was a disappointment.

    I am taking a flight this weekend so I will have an opportunity to fully test this bag for what I want – to carry all of my electronic gear onto a flight without stumbling, fumbling, bumbling through the airport, security, and the plane!

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