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Field Tested: Big Agnes Big Joe Bags

As a writer, I try not to make broad assumptions or stereotypes about anything, but today I’m going to make an exception. Most overlanders are bag junkies. I’d reckon there are very few of us that don’t perk up at the sight of a cool new backpack or duffel, and the mere mention of purpose-built storage pockets and organized dividers basically makes us drool. Naturally, the ExPo staff ends up writing about a fair amount of these bags, and to tell you the truth, writing about the same old formula has started to wear on us. I mean can we just assume everything has YKK zippers at this point? Fortunately, Big Agnes threw something a little different our way at Outdoor Retailer. It’s called the Big Joe, and we decided to load two of them up and ship them off to Australia for a torture test crossing the continent.

The Big Joe is positioned as a water-resistant, rugged, carry-all bag for any adventure, and although it has some unique features, it stays true to the original duffel concept with an open interior layout. The three sizes boast 45, 80, or 110 liters of space, which gives you plenty of room for packing anything from big equipment like recovery ropes and firewood to smaller stuff like clothes and camp gear. Unfortunately, this layout is a double-edged sword, because smaller things manage to sink to the bottom where they become lost in a sea of gear, so you’ll want to use organizers like Eagle Creek packing cubes to keep those items straight.

To help alleviate this organization issue, the bag does contain two small interior zipper pockets made from a breathable mesh. These are perfect for headlamps, chargers, toiletries, and can even accommodate some bow shackles if this is your recovery kit. A single zipper seals both pouches on the inside of the bag, and the front pocket can be accessed from the outside via an external zipper.

Loading and unloading the Joe is a breeze thanks to an enormous top-loading design, but zipping and unzipping it can be frustrating. Like most water-resistant zippers, the YKK TPU laminated units on the Big Joe tend to stick when you pull them, which is annoying when combined with the bag’s pliable construction. This issue is exacerbated when the bag isn’t fully loaded, and after a few weeks of daily use one of the main pull tabs broke off.

Even so, I have to admit that the zippers did their job admirably when the air crew at LAX managed to leave my bag out in the rain during transit. They, along with the 100-percent waterproof fusion welded seams and 410D high tenacity fabric, kept my gear dry despite how soaked my bag was when it finally rolled down the ramp at the baggage claim an hour later.

And I do mean rolled. The outside of the bag has an almost rubbery feel to it, which prevents it from sliding or moving easily across any surface. So when going down the metal “slide” into the baggage claim, the Joe simply tumbled end over end blending my gear. This high traction material also made it difficult to slide the two bags into a vehicle side by side or load them into overhead bins on a flight.

Despite these disadvantages though, this grip can also work to the bag’s advantage. When positioned in the back of our Land Cruiser driving across Australia, the Big Agnes remained planted even during hard corners and big bumps.

The 410D high-tenacity fabric was also extremely tough, backing up their claims that it is “super durable with a high puncture and abrasion resistance.” During our two-month test, this bag was rolled, tossed, dragged, and dropped across two countries, but the structure is no worse for wear. The only exception was the branding, which began to peel and fall off after extended use. This made no difference in the function of course, but it’s still something to consider.

When it comes to carrying these duffels, Big Agnes opted for the overkill approach. They included four padded grab handles, two adjustable padded straps, and numerous webbing loops, allowing you to tote it around in about any form or fashion you desire. The straps are easy to move, and the addition of velcro padding to keep them together was a nice touch.

Overall, the Big Joe bags are a fresh take on the duffel with some serious durability and water resistance, but their pliable design and high traction exterior caused us some grief during the test. If you’re looking for a new travel bag to take on planes then this probably isn’t the best choice, but if you want a durable open-design duffel to load with all the random gear for your next camp outing, then you could do a whole lot worse than the Big Joe.

To learn more about these bags, check them out on their website here. 

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Managing Editor.

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