The North Face Rolling Thunder Luggage Review

North Face Rolling Thunder Luggage ReviewI’ve been pulling The North Face Rolling Thunder luggage around with me for a while. My Rolling Thunder and I have logged well over 100,000 miles together in the air, along with quite a few road trips as well. I thought it was time to share a luggage review to help others understand if it is a good bag for them. So here we go!

The North Face Rolling Thunder Luggage Review

The North Face Rolling Thunder 30The North Face Rolling Thunder line of luggage are two-wheeled duffel bags that are made with laminated nylon. Although I own a few different sizes, the Rolling Thunder bag that I use most is the 30″ version. It is big enough to fit about a weeks worth of clothes for a single person, or a long weekend for a couple. The 22″ bag is good for a carry on, the 19″ bag is a bit small, and the 36″ bag is simply too big.

The Rolling Thunder is considered a wheeled duffel bag. It has a ridged frame along the back and bottom that provides excellent structure. I have carried many a bottle of wine in the bag and have yet to loose one. That being said, I still recommend traveling with a Jet Bag for some peace of mind.

For the sake of my review I’m going to discuss three core aspects of the rolling thunder: durability, ease of use, and value.


I give the Rolling Thunder line very high marks for durability. The zippers on the bag are beefy, to say the least. The bag material is a tough laminated nylon that is both water resistant and strong. When compared to the standard luggage material you would find on a Samsonite or Tumi bag it is probably twice as think. It is also highly water resistant, allowing you to pull the bag through the rain without worrying about your clothes getting wet.

The wheels on the bag are recessed into the base a bit and encased in hard plastic. They move smoothly and can be pulled against stairs or a curb without worry of damage to the bag. Over the six years I’ve traveled with a Rolling Thunder bag I never had an issue with a squeaky wheel. Those four-wheeled glider bags can’t even come close.

Finally, from a durability standpoint, one of the most impressive aspects about the bag is the aluminum handle. In the larger bags it is a single piece of aluminum that is very strong. It can easily accommodate your extra luggage riding on it on top of your bag. In fact, I’ve even picked a fully loaded bag up by a fully extended handle before and it didn’t bend at all. This would likely render the handle of most other bags useless.

This is a very durable bag. Many people unfamiliar with the bag worry that baggage handlers will destroy the bag because it is a wheeled duffle type. That is certainly not the case. Although it may get a few scuffs along the way, they just add character.

Ease of Use

Likely the second most important aspect of a new piece of luggage is how easy it is to use. The North Face has come a long way in this regard as they have made changes to their Rolling Thunder line of luggage. These bags started out as simple work-horse bags that had nothing but a main compartment. They have added quite a few extra compartments that help keep you organized.

The generously sized main compartment has two mesh pockets that are great for stashing away socks and underwear. On the reverse side of the top flap there are two long outside compartments. These compartments are great for storing easy access items like travel documents or computer chargers.

Above the main compartment is a medium sized compartment that expands into the main one. This section is really designed to store anything you would like to keep separate from the rest of your clothing. I find that my running shoes and dirty laundry gravitate towards that section. Finally, there is a small pocket on top that is excellent for passports, phone chargers, keys, and anything else you’d like to keep handy.

I like to combine my Rolling Thunder duffle with a set of packing cubes. It is a great way to keep everything organized and easy to find.

From an ease of use stand point one of my favorite features are the outside handles on the bag. In total there are five–0ne on each side, one on the bottom, and two on the top. Having two handles on the top (one is a dedicated handle the other is the pull handle retracted into the bag) is super helpful when lugging the Rolling Thunder up or down a set of stairs.

The only aspect of the bag that I dislike is how much the handle protrudes into the main compartment. Because the handle is solid aluminum there are two rails that are about an inch high in the main compartment. As you pack you’ll want to put shoes or other flat items in first, or pack small items between the rails, so you don’t have rail sized wrinkles in your clothes.

This, I believe, is an acceptable trade-off given how strong the handle of the bag is.


The North Face Rolling Thunder bags are not the cheapest luggage on the market. The 30″ bag retails for around $290 and the 22″ bag is just slightly less at $250. From a value perspective their durability, or longevity, is really what counts. Before purchasing a Rolling Thunder bag I was a serial buyer of the Samsonite and Victorinox bags that you can quite often pick up for about $100. After dealing with countless broken zippers and bent handles I went searching for a bag that could take some abuse.

Had I kept buying the less expensive bags I would have probably gone through 6 of them in the time that I used my Rolling Thunder. That math is simple.

On the opposite side of the spectrum bags from Tumi or TravelPro can set you back more than twice what a North Face bag will cost you. When you purchase one of those bags it’s more for the status symbol than the durability. Yes, they are made well. But they are not made to be rugged like the Rolling Thunder.

In short, the Rolling Thunder bags deliver excellent value.

The Bottom Line

Never-Stop-ExploringThese bags are great. If you want a bag that is simple, rugged, and looks a little different then The North Face Rolling Thunder will fit the bill. More importantly, these bags are sold by outdoor retailers like REI that will stand behind the products they sell 100%. If you give it a try and it’s not for you, there isn’t much to lose. I’m a big fan of that.

Quite often when I see another traveler pulling one of these bags and I’ve got mine in tow I give them a little nod. They acknowledge with a smile like we just shared a story from our travels.

If you’ve pulled a Rolling Thunder bag before I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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