Review: Millican’s Miles the Duffle 40LGear
The giant sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum, the Sierra redwood, or, as John Muir, the Scottish conservationist who had a hand in creating America’s national parks called it, Big Tree, appears nowhere else in the world. It is only in California’s Sierra Nevada, in 68 scattered groves, where these trees, standing up to 2,000 metres, occur. Outside the Yosemite Museum is a section of a tree that fell in Mariposa Grove in 1919. It measures almost three metres across.
I’d driven east from San Francisco on Interstate 580 and then on California State Route 120. The routes, as straight as the early road builders could muster through their theodolite, went for almost a hundred miles. And then, signalled only by a yellow triangle road sign with a bending arrow, very little straight road for another hundred miles. I’d reached the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range carved by glaciers 100 million years ago, that stretches 640 kilometres through California and into Nevada. It was the barrier that slowed the expansion of the west.
I drove through the town of Mariposa, a genuine Gold Rush frontier town, and a place where the courthouse has stood since 1854 and hotel is the town’s best bar, and on to the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort. The place is a brilliantly quirky lodging with a handful of cabins set back in the woods, and the June Bug Cafe is the best place to eat in Yosemite Valley.
From the back of the car, I picked up my only bag and checked in. I’d thrown the bag in the hold (although it will fit into the overhead locker) from Heathrow and it had come out bruised but not broken. Tar or grease had scarred the ‘gorse-yellow’ bag, but nothing had punctured its ‘Bionic canvas’ skin. It looked worn, well used, the bag I used to see turning around the airport carousel that showed a life of adventure. From Heathrow to San Francisco, from the city to the mountains, this was the only bag I’d needed.
I slung my bag onto the second bed and partially unpacked. I needed to change for a meeting, charge my laptop and camera, grab my notebook and podcasting equipment. I also pulled out a Pliny The Elder, a cult beer from Russian River I’d just made a three-hour detour to buy, and cracked it open. It had been a long drive.
As a travel writer who will tally 32 flights this year, I barely seem to unpack. And the more I travel, the more I can organise my gear. Over the years I’ve discovered, for me, the perfect water bottle (Hydroflask 21oz), the ideal coffee mug (Stanley’s Mountain Vacuum Switchback Mug) and an Aeropress, of course. I know which clothes will last me (merino or Polygiene-treated), I know which equipment, which notebooks, which chargers to take, but I’ve not yet until now, found the right bag. I know what I need for a three-day trip or a week. I’ve brought with me this bag for all of those.
Millican’s Miles the Duffle Bag 40L is, well, a duffle bag at its core. It seems to align with those ‘throw-it-all-in packs’, pop it on your back and move. But that would be to do it a disservice. Like all Millican bags, it’s a combination of simple-looking designs, with as few seams as possible, and some smart features.
As I mentioned, it’s pretty ‘adventuresome’ looking now after a fair few trips to far-flung locations. It’s been through aeroplane holds in America and lobbed into the back of a pick-up in Jordan, on a boat in Ghana and a leaky bothy in Scotland, and there’s no hint of a dent in the Bionic Canvas, a 57% recycled polyester that according to Millican, is 30% stronger than regular canvas. It’s also significantly lighter. This bag empty weighs 1.150kg. There’s also a waterproof backing, that while not making the bag 100% waterproof, does exceptionally well against leaky bothies. There are two grab handles: on the top and the side, plus removable rucksack straps that can be very easily hidden when checking it in and then simply attached again with a buckle.
Also against the back is a laptop sleeve is accessed from the outside, and easily swallowed my MacBook Air. I also really like another pocket that is mostly hidden from view and has a keychain inside. I found it useful when going through airport security so I could load my watch, belt and phone into it.
There is a curious closing that requires a flap to fold at the top and then a buckle attached to the handle. I’m still not 100% sure the purpose of it is, but it feels very secure. The outer is kept simple, but inside there are internal pockets and compression straps. I love the lack of straps, the simplicity and the cleanliness of the bag’s design.
After a deep sleep, I headed to Merced Grove, one of the least visited groves in Yosemite National Park. There are only two dozen mature giant sequoias here, and when I arrive, it is quiet. In late April, there were still patches of snow sheltered among the undergrowth. I wondered at the trees around me as threw my Miles the Duffle on my back. For the short 1.5-mile walk to the grove of giant trees, I loaded it only with what I needed: camera, podcast recording equipment, jacket, water, food etc. Lightened of its load, it became a simple backpack and a comfortable one. It’s not a daypack, but if it’s the only bag I needed, it works perfectly well as one for short walks and around the city. I walked down to the grove staring at the woodland around me. “Bigger than these?” I wondered, and then, as I turned a corner, I saw the trees ahead of me: gigantic, ancient, overwhelming. For the second time in Yosemite National Park, tears filled my eyes.
It left me awed by the beauty, but terrified and angry of the destruction we wring on this earth. As I write, wildfires are sweeping across the state. It was Yosemite National Park and Mariposa Big Tree Grove, the trees around me, that inspired new Americans to protect beautiful places. After an hour among these giants, I threw everything back into my bag, swing it on, and set off back to the Yosemite Bug, changed.