The North Face’s flagship line of rolling luggage gets a makeover for the Autumn/Winter season, 2014. We were lucky enough to get our first look at the new Rolling Thunder range while on the Webtogs buying trip in December 2013, and a host of updates and additions to the workhorse luggage bags means that there’s no shortage of points to discuss.
I am writing today having just returned from the Webtogs buying trip to The North Face HQ, in the glamorous VF Corp. offices, Slough. All jokes aside though, it is actually a rather snazzy facility, built by Timberland at the height of their pre-recession decadence, and I felt like a kid in a candy shop upon entering the showrooms, with every new item of TNF kit for Autumn/Winter 2014 arrayed before me. The North Face Autumn Winter selection for 2014 was a mixed bag overall, featuring some new additions; some good, some of questionable judgement (A padded Thermoball shirt being the pick of said crop); and some updates to existing products. I’m going to focus on one of the latter today, namely, the latest incarnation of The North Face Rolling Thunder range of wheeled duffel bags.
Features of the new Rolling Thunder Range
The first thing you’ll notice when you look at the new Rolling Thunder bags, is that they’ve got loads more pockets, flaps and zips than past incarnations. This marks a departure from the spartan simplicity of the current Rolling Thunder bags, which essentially feature a single, large main compartment and just two additional pockets, one external and one internal mesh. The new Rolling Thunder bags retain the large, wide-entry main compartment that is characteristic of the duffel-bag style, but complement it with an array of additional pockets. Here’s the full list of pockets on the new Rolling Thunder 30″ (size L) and 36″ (size XL) – the 19″ (size S) and 22″ (size M) versions omit only number 4 on the list:
1. Main compartment, accessed via top-flap entry (as on current Rolling Thunder). Designed to hold the bulk of your travel kit.
2. Internal mesh pocket on the underside of the main compartment lid. Split by a central divider for organisation.
3. Top zipped ‘stash’ pocket for quick access items.
4. Top zipped wet/dirty clothing pocket, with full-width zip for easy loading and unloading. Designed to keep clean and soiled items separate.
5. Two front pockets in the top of the main compartment lid. Side zipped entry. Designed for organisation.
In addition to all these extra storage options, the Rolling Thunder 30” (L) and 36” (XL) feature two sturdy looking compression straps on both sides of the main compartment lid. This should enable the user to compress the bag right down according to the amount of kit they’re carrying, hopefully avoiding that annoying feeling of possessions rattling around inside a half-full bag. You’d expect the new Rolling Thunders to have put on a few pounds with all their new pockets, zips and straps, which would be a serious negative given that the current Rolling Thunder luggage bags are amongst the heaviest in their class. Thankfully though, The North Face seem to have taken heed of the new trend of lightweight rolling luggage, and managed to reduce the weight of bags across the range by up to 25%. The new Rolling Thunder 36” (size XL) for instance, weighs in at 4660g, compared to the 5275g weight of the current generation Rolling Thunder size L. With that, you also get an increase in capacity from 120-litres (current Rolling Thunder L) to a whopping 155-litres (new Rolling Thunder 36″), as well as an increase in functionality.
If you’re getting confused by my comparison of the old size L to the new size XL, it’s because The North Face have reconfigured the layout of the Rolling Thunder range to incorporate 4 bag sizes as opposed to the current 3, ranging from size Small to size XL. The new XL is the closest to the current Large in terms of size and features, whereas the new Large (80l) is closest to the current size Medium (75l). Here’s a list of the new Rolling Thunder luggage bags, their capacities and their weights to hopefully clarify all: Rolling Thunder 19” (size S) – 33 litres, 2940g Rolling Thunder 22” (size M) – 40 litres, 3330g Rolling Thunder 30” (size L) – 80 litres, 4480g Rolling Thunder 36” (size XL) – 155 litres, 4660g.
The cavernous interior of the 155-litre capacity Rolling Thunder 36″ (XL). The plastic back panel features perforated windows, reducing weight yet maintaining structural rigidity.
The current Rolling Thunder, Size M (75l), with traditional duffel bag styling, compared with the new Rolling Thunder 30″ (80l) showing sleeker design, more pockets and redesigned compression straps.
The new The North Face Rolling Thunder range is still constructed primarily from the excellent TNF Base Camp fabric: a 1000-denier polyester weave, coated with a rugged TPE laminate. This means it retains good abrasion and tear-resistance, as well as water repellency. Even tougher 1680-denier nylon is used in high-wear areas, with plastic bumpers being used on the base, back and corners, where ground contact is most common. In the product literature The North Face refer to Rolling Thunder luggage as being ‘bombproof’, despite being lighter, sleeker and more user-friendly. Also retained are coated fabric ‘daisy chains’, sewn-on, looped straps for lashing or clipping on gear externally.
Keith gets to grips with the new Rolling Thunder 30″.
The new Rolling Thunder 36” (XL), like the current Rolling Thunder L, does not have an extendable, aluminium luggage handle like the smaller bags in the range. This is because, at 155-litres, it’s tall enough to cope without one, and benefits from the weight-saving value of omitting this feature. The North Face designers have however reconfigured the fabric pull-handles on the top of the bag, angling them in such a way as to make the bag much easier to pull over longer distances. As anyone who has hauled the current generation of Rolling Thunder size L over any distance will tell you, it is a slightly an unwieldy beast, somewhat prone to the dreaded luggage ‘wobble’, and to running over your own feet. Another job well done then, at face value at least, though it remains to be seen how it will perform in practice when fully loaded. On the smaller Rolling Thunder models (S to L), we find similar telescopic aluminium handles to those seen on current Rolling Thunders. This is not a problem however, as they work just fine. The wheels on all new Rolling Thunder models too, remain visibly unchanged, and still allow for smooth, stable rolling.
The new Rolling Thunder range will be available in two colours in Autumn/Winter 14, those being TNF Black, and Zink Grey/TNF Red. The latter of the two looks particularly good, with the bright red detailing and logo clashing strikingly with the grey base camp fabric of the upper, and black nylon lower.
To round up my thoughts on the Fall 14 Rolling Thunder luggage range, I’m impressed. I like the increased array of storage options, I like the weight reductions, and I like the way the new bags look; far sleeker and more modern than their predecessors in the current range. It’s a shame we’ve got to wait almost a year until we can get our hands on some!