It’s summer adventure season and you’re going to need a bag to carry your gear. We took a close look at two backpacks that are ready for surf, sand, and waves — or just about any water activity you have in mind. The Patagonia Black Hole 25L is a tried and true all-around performer, while Da Kine’s Cyclone II Dry Pack offers some surf-specific features we loved.
Patagonia Black Hole 25L
For the past few seasons, the Patagonia Black Hole 25L (get it for $129 from Backcountry) has been one of our favorites. Surfing, mountain bike trips, camping — you name it, and the Black Hole has come along for the ride.
Patagonia builds the bag from polyester ripstop, a lightweight and durable fabric that comes in several colors including red, silver, white, and aqua blue. A layer of weatherproof TPU laminate and a water repellent (DWR) seals the ripstop. This treatment gives the fabric a slight shine while also making the Black Hole extremely durable. Though Patagonia does not advertise the Black Hole as waterproof, we’ve used it in moderate rain and our gear stayed dry. Call it “water-resistant.” It’s also proved resistant to tearing and the assorted abrasions that go with our various adventures.
A bag is only as good as its pockets, and here the Black Hole is well designed. The Black Hole opens from the top, which makes it especially easy to stuff it full of gear. When packed for surfing, the main compartment easily holds a 4/3mm wetsuit, towel, and our post-surf hoodie. A small zipper pocket up top holds small, easy-to-lose items such as wax, earplugs, fin key, sunglasses, and other essentials. A flat pocket on the outside of the bag, meanwhile, offers a solid stash for a spare leash or wallet and keys. We like the two mesh compartments on either side of the Black Hole, too, that will hold a good-sized water bottle — we find a Hydroflask fits well — and snacks.
In keeping with its do-it-all vibe, the Black Hole also includes a pass-through for a hydration bladder. If you need to bring along a laptop, the Black Hole has a padded sleeve and additional pocket for stashing electronic gear such as cords and chargers.
Patagonia also makes a 32L Black Hole and a new 26L in their lightweight Black Hole series. We’ve found the top-loading 25L to hit the sweet spot in terms of packing and capacity. After over a year of constant use, our Black Hole 25L is still going strong and looks likely to last for many more seasons of adventures.
Da Kine Cyclone II Dry Pack 36L
While we love the Black Hole as an all-around pack, we were intrigued by the fully waterproof design of Da Kine’s new Cyclone II Dry Pack (buy it now for $150 at Amazon). Da Kine started as a leash company on Maui’s North Shore, and their surf roots show in the Cyclone, which is made specifically for surf trips.
The black Cordura fabric is sturdy and the pack features a welded construction. The Cyclone II uses a roll top/dry bag–style closure. When closed, the Cyclone is airtight and includes a purge valve on the front panel to compress it. Da Kine says the Cyclone will float if you allow it to inflate. Unfortunately we did not have any amazing boat trips to Cloudbreak or Indonesia on the calendar during our test, but we can confirm after holding it under the shower, that the Cyclone II is watertight when closed. The fabric also rinses clean, which keeps the beach grunge under control.
At 36 liters, the Cyclone II is spacious. It easily fit a 4/3mm wetsuit, towel, and extra clothing with room to spare; we used it to carry a bulky camera water-housing and fins, in addition to our usual gear. The roll top makes the Cyclone II especially easy to pack: Open it up and dump in your stuff.
The Cyclone II includes an unpadded laptop sleeve, which we ended up using for smaller clothing items that might otherwise be hard to find in the bag’s main compartment. It also features two external pockets with PU-coated zippers. We used these for sunscreen, wax, fin key, sunglasses, car keys, and wallet. Between the two pockets we were able to stash all of our extras.
We liked the vertical zippers on the pockets, which make it easy to open while wearing the pack. A small side-pocket designed to fit a cell phone also worked well, while the mesh pocket kept our water bottle close at hand.
Carrying waterlogged wetsuits can be a slog even after the best sessions. The wide, breathable shoulder straps on the Cyclone II make the bag easy to carry even when stuffed full. If you have a Da Kine board bag like this one, the Cyclone II is designed to attach to that, which allows a hands-free carrying option.
If you’re looking for an all-around go-to backpack, we’d recommend the Patagonia Black Hole 25L. It’s roomy and durable — you can’t go wrong. If your plans require a truly waterproof bag, you can’t beat the Da Kine Cyclone II. It’s quickly becoming our new favorite surf bag.