Best North Face Backpacks – Buyer’s Guide 2019

With all the backpack options on the market, selecting the right one can feel a bit overwhelming. With wide differentiations in capacity, construction materials, colors, and pocket styles, there are quite literally hundreds of combinations to choose from. Make the wrong selection, and you could be miles from civilization with a screaming back. Make the right selection, and you’ve got a piece of equipment that will last you for years and years.

Fortunately, selecting the best North Face backpack doesn’t have to be a chore. We’ve taken a thoughtful dive into the world of North Face backpacks and narrowed the list down to the top seven models. But first, let’s take a look at just what it takes to be the cream of the crop.

Now that we’ve gone over the main components that determine a backpack’s overall quality, it’s time to get down to the real reason that we are all here: the 7 Best North Face Backpack’s for Men, presented in no particular order:

The North Face Recon Backpack

MATERIAL: POLYESTER

CAPACITY: 31L

WEIGHT: 2 Lbs 6.1 Oz (1080 G)

The RECON by The North Face represents the brands signature all-around backpack, offering the perfect blend of storage space and durability. At 31 liters capacity the Recon pack is large enough to handle multi-day trips around the world without being too big to be accepted as a carryon. It is also remarkably light considering its storage space, meaning that this pack would also work well for the day to day student or young professional who has just a bit more to carry.

The storage space in the RECON pack is split between multiple internal compartments, which cuts down on the main storage space considerably. For the student or professional, this feature adds a level of storage customization that is nearly unmatched by its competitors. For long distance hikers and global travelers, the compartmentalized nature can be somewhat limiting in terms of storing larger items such as sleeping bags, tents, and larger jackets.

The RECON pack is covered with straps and buckles. This could be convenient for the eccentric traveler who needs quick access to strippable accessories like ball caps, coffee cups, and rain gear, but can be a bit excessive for the average user. Also, no matter how you pack this thing, it doesn’t seem to stand up straight, which would be beneficial for users of all types.

Pros
  • Good capacity to weight ratio
  • Lots of compartments
  • Durable
Cons
  • Can’t stand up on its own
  • Internal compartments are fixed / non-adjustable

The North Face Jester Laptop Backpack

MATERIAL: POLYESTER

CAPACITY: 28L

WEIGHT: 1 Lb 12.9 Oz (820 G)

The North Face’s JESTER backpack received a bit of a facelift in 2018, with updates to shoulder strap design as well as added padding to the back panel. These are welcome improvements to a backpack that was already the go-to model for students and commuters. The JESTER has always been known for its padded laptop pocket and quick-grab bungee system, not to mention its relatively light construction and simple design. The beefed up shoulder straps add comfort to a pack that has no hip belt, making it more comfortable to carry everything you need for that next meeting or study group.

The lack of a hip belt and frame make this pack a less-than-ideal choice for the extended adventure, but as far as traveling to and from work or school, it simply cannot be beat. While the manufacturer has included a specially designed pocket for your Camelback or water filter, there is no port for the drinking hose that would come with such a thing, which is another reason the JESTER isn’t right for distance travel. It is however one of the more affordable packs on the market for its size, so if you need something to get you from here to there, the JESTER might be the right option for you.

Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Affordable
  • Quick-grab bungee system
Cons
  • No hip straps (don’t overdo it on weight!)
  • No H2O tube port

The North Face Vault Backpack

MATERIAL: POLYESTER

CAPACITY: 28L

WEIGHT: 1 Lb 15.39 Oz (890 G)

At 26 liters, the North Face VAULT backpack is smaller than the JESTER model but has the same features that are often looked for in a good commuter pack. A padded laptop sleeve and a quick-grab bungee system make this an ideal option for those traveling to and from school or work without all the extra weight. The pocket design is significantly simplified here, with one main pocket providing the bulk of storage and a smaller front pocket offering specially contoured pockets for smaller electronics like tablets and iPads. The best feature here is the removable hip belt, which gives the VAULT backpack the capability of transforming from an everyday commuter into a multiday adventurer at the drop of a hat.

Still, there is a limit to how much weight the VAULT backpack can hold without causing significant discomfort in the shoulder area. Even with the newly redesigned shoulder straps, this backpack simply isn’t designed for the long haul, so to speak. The quick-pull bungee system is as always a welcome feature, but seems limited on how far it can be drawn, and therefore, what kinds of gear it can handle.  But for the commuters out there who are looking for a pack than can organize their day to day needs without all the complication of an over-engineered series of pockets and features. The VAULT is beautiful in its simplicity, and designed for just that.

Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Simple & easy design
  • Removable hip belt
Cons
  • Not ideally suited for multi-day travel
  • Limited reach on quick-reach bungee system

The North Face Borealis Backpack

MATERIAL: POLYESTER

CAPACITY: 28L

WEIGHT: 2 Lbs 11 Oz (1220 G)

The BOREALIS backpack represents a small step up from the other The North Face backpacks we have reviewed, both in size and functionality. With a capacity of 28 liters, the BOREALIS is more than capable of handling all the day to day items. For instance, it would have no problem fitting a laptop, a work binder, and a couple of notebooks while still leaving room for your after-work running shoes. There are more pockets here than either the JESTER or VAULT, making it slightly more customizable than its competitors. Both the shoulder and hip straps seem to be more heavily padded than other models, making the BOREALIS a more comfortable option for high-weight or long-distance adventuring.

As per usual, the Borealis backpack is not capable of standing up on its own, which is a problem for students and hikers alike. At 3+ pounds this backpack is a bit heavier than its brethren, meaning that the ultralight-minded individual might wat to steer clear.

Pros
  • More space
  • Padded shoulder & hip straps
  • Removable hip belt
Cons
  • Can’t stand up on its own
  • Heavier than other packs

The North Face Jester (Unisex)

MATERIAL: POLYESTER

CAPACITY: 28L

WEIGHT: 1 Lb 12.9 Oz (820 G)

With slightly more room than previous models, the full-size JESTER offers more space for your sleeping bag, tent, or raingear, meaning that it can take you even further. The JESTER has been refitted this year with supped up back padding and shoulder straps, making more comfortable than ever before. The North Face also decided to update the quick-grab drawstring along the front. This is a welcome improvement as it finally seems big enough to handle larger pieces of gear like sleeping bags. They also added some reflective strips along the exterior of the pack, a handy feature for those short winter days when the sun clocks out early.

Considering the lack of a hip belt and the relatively thin shoulder straps, this pack maxes out between 15 and 20 pounds of storage, so unless you’re an ultra-lighter it’s not the best option for overnighters. It’s also strange that the laptop sleeve, while well padded, offers no kind of water protection, so watch out for leaky water bottles.

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Updated back & shoulder pads
Cons
  • Laptop sleeve isn’t water resistant
  • Side pockets are a bit small

The North Face Wise Guy Backpack

MATERIAL: POLYESTER

CAPACITY: 27L

WEIGHT: 1 Lb 3 Oz (539 G)

The North Face’s WISE GUY backpack is a great option for middle or high school students, with padded laptop sleeve and enough room for a water bottle and a few textbooks. The stash pocket up front can handle the pens, pencils, and other incidentals associated with student life. It’s also a very light pack at ~1 pound, and comes in more color styles than any other The North Face backpack.

Those strengths however are also its drawbacks. There is not enough space for a full complement of textbooks, so it’s too small for college or business applications. The back and shoulder padding is somewhat limited so I wouldn’t recommend this one for anything more than day to day. For young students, however, this pack is the one you want.

Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Very affordable
  • Simplistic design
Cons
  • Limited storage space
  • Less back & shoulder padding than other models

The North Face Surge II Laptop Backpack

MATERIAL: POLYESTER

CAPACITY: 31L

WEIGHT: 3 Lbs 2.8 Oz (1440 G)

Here’s the coolest thing about the SURGE II backpack from The North Face: it’s got a stowable padded hip belt. Unlike the rest of The North Face backpacks, this one can handle some serious weight. The secure padded laptop sleeve is present here, in addition to multiple zipper pockets for optimization of storage. Back padding is nothing short of lush, making this one of the most comfortable commuter packs out there.

Yet again, The North Face demonstrates their lack of understanding on how to make a decent water bottle pocket on the outside. It’s a thin mesh side pocket that is too short and flimsy to hold a full water bottle in place. Also, the top handle is way too thin to hold comfortably.

Pros
  • Stowable hip pads
  • Lots of space
  • Very comfortable
Cons
  • No water bottle pocket
  • Thin top handle makes for uncomfortable lifting

What Makes a Great Backpack?

When selecting any piece of outdoor equipment, one must take into consideration both how well the equipment performs its job and how much you have to pay for the functionality. With backpacks, however, there is an additional consideration of how well it fits your body and how comfortable it is to wear. Because no matter how many cool little pockets you can get to stash your gear, it doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t feel good on your back.

north face backpack

Here’s the thing about the modern adventure: it doesn’t stop at the trailhead. Adventures these days sometimes include books, laptops, and other items that need a little more tender loving care than traditional camping equipment. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the different features available to you. Here are a few of the things that you need to consider when selecting your backpack:

Material

Most backpacks nowadays are constructed from thinly woven synthetic material that is designed to be highly durable and very lightweight.

Treated nylon fiber is amongst the most common, and is a good option for most purposes. It is not usually necessary to get a pack that is made from material that is 100% waterproof (nor is it common) because of the prevalence of lightweight waterproof pack covers that often come with the backpack or can be purchased separately.

man with a backpack under the snow

However, making sure that your backpack is water resistant is very important to guard against sudden drizzle or unexpected spillage.

 

As a rule of thumb, your backpack should be able to handle to repel a cup of water if poured directly on the material. That way, your gear won’t get wet while you’re getting your raingear out.

Size  (Capacity)

backpack size

Backpacks come in a number of different sizes, everything from laptop slip covers to ultra-huge trek monsters. In the outdoor industry backpack capacity is measured by the liter. While the average day pack will be somewhere around 20L, it is possible to find long distance packs that are closer to 100L, though there are very few circumstances when you would actually need a pack of that size.

Here’s the thing: the size of backpack you are looking for will depend almost entirely on how much you need to put in it. Headed out for a day hike? A 20 liter pack will be more than adequate. Spending a week trekking through the Wind River Range? You might want something closer to 60 liters. Traveling abroad on vacation? Consider getting something larger than you need so you can fill it with treasures and souvenirs.

 

Remember: the bigger your pack, and the more loaded it is, the less likely it will be accepted as carryon luggage, so pay attention to your airline requirements and measure you pack before you go. The backpacks we are going to look at today are considered commuter packs, meaning that they will most likely be well suited for airline travel.

Frame

When it comes to backpack frames, there are basically three different kinds to look at.

That is how backpacks with differnet frame types looks

Frameless packs form the wide majority and include day packs, school bags, laptop cases, and other relatively small sized bags that are not large enough to warrant a supporting frame. External Frame backpacks were the old standard for backpackers and travelers, as they featured an external frame, usually of a lightweight aluminum or an alloy, upon which all the weight of the pack is secured. External frames allowed the user to carry greater amounts or weight spread out across more body surface area, instead of focusing all the weight on the shoulders like frameless packs. Internal Frame packs operate off the same idea, but have hidden the frames inside the pack where it cannot be seen. Internal frame packs are far more common in today’s backpacking community as they tend to be more sleek & versatile than their external frame predecessors.

Hip Belt / Shoulder Straps

Examples of best variants of hip belt and shoulder straps.

Contemporary backpacks are designed to distribute the weight as evenly as possible between your shoulders and your hips. When the balance and fit are correct, backpacks can feel like nothing at all, helping you go farther and faster. The first thing you want to look at is the width and padding of the shoulder straps. The wider and cushier they are, the less pain they will cause when hanging on your shoulders for extended periods of time.

Next, see if the bag has a hip belt, and look for the same features. The presence of a hip belt means that the backpack is designed to handle more weight than other packs, as that extra weight can be distributed to the hips for a more balanced carry.

 

Generally speaking, the wider and thicker the hip belt, the more weight you will be able to carry.

Pockets & Storage

Example of modern backpack with great amount of storage and pockets

Unlike the backpacks of yesteryear, contemporary backpacks come equipped with all sorts of additional compartments and storage spaces. There is however a big difference in these features from one model to another, so consider your needs when selecting the best North Face backpack for you. Some of the models we are going to take a look at are limited to one main pocket and one laptop sleeve. While this is adequate for light commuting, it might be a bit limiting for college students and travelers. Fortunately, higher end models have been designed with many pockets as well as specialized storage areas for things like your phone and car keys.

NorthFace BackpacksPRICEMATERIALCAPACITYWEIGHTBEST USES
The North Face Recon98$Polyester /Nylon Oxford/Nylon31 L2 Lbs 6.1 Oz (1080 G)Travel, school, commuting
The North Face Jester130$Polyester28 L1 Lb 12.9 Oz (820 G)Travel, office, school,  commuting
The North Face Vault55$Polyester28 L1 Lb 15.39 Oz (890 G)Travel, school, commuting
The North Face Borealis89$Polyester /Nylon Oxford/Nylon28 L2 Lbs 11 Oz (1220 G)Office, travel, commuting
The North Face Jester (Unisex)109$Polyester28 L1 Lb 12.9 Oz (820 G)School, office
The North Face Wise Guy Backpack84$Polyester27 L1 Lb 3 Oz (539 G)School
The North Face Surge Laptop Backpack124$Nylon31 L3 Lbs 2.8 Oz (1440 G)Office, School, Commuting

Conclusion

Overall, The North Face has got a pretty good selection of commuter backpacks on their hands. Some are certainly designed more for young students than outdoor adventuring, and some can handle the switch from commuter to adventurer no problem. By weighing your needs against the different features available on these packs, it is possible to make the best decision in terms of which of the 7 best North Face backpacks is the right one for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q: Are The North Face Backpacks Waterproof?

A: While some 100% waterproof backpacks are available, they tend to be more expensive and utilized for specialty watersport activities like kayaking and boating. The materials required to construct a waterproof pack are significantly heavier than those normally used for backpacks, not to mention more expensive.

Fortunately, the average hiker does not actually need a waterproof backpack, as most modern packs come equipped with a removable waterproof pack cover. These pack covers are lightweight and stuff down to small size so they don’t take up much room. They can also be easily treated with readily available acrylic, urethane, or silicone spray coating, meaning the waterproofing can be renewed every season or more depending on use.

  • Q: What is the difference between Men’s & Women’s Model Backpacks?

A: The principal difference between Men’s and Women’s backpacks is the size of the frame. Because women on average have narrower skeletal dimensions than men, their pack frames are designed to accommodate so that the user can get the best, most comfortable fit available.  By and large, there are no differences in terms of features or performance that differ between men’s & women’s models.

  • Q: Are these backpacks suitable for day hikes?

A: The suitability of a particular pack for day hiking is mostly dependent upon what you want to bring! For instance, if you are planning a mountaintop picnic complete with wine and cheese, then a 20 liter pack might do the trick, once you factor in rain gear, extra layers, and water. The mayo clinic recommends between three and four liters of water a day, and that’s without the added intensity of hiking. Do you have enough room in your pack for the amount of water you are going to need?

When in doubt, bring more water than you need. Coordinate with your hiking partners to determine the overall capacity that your adventure will require, and then you can share a pack (though nothing beats the comfort of a personally fitted pack!). Remember: it never hurts to have some AquaTabs on hand as a backup. They’re both inexpensive and lightweight, the perfect way to make sure that the water you’re drinking is clean.

  • Q:  How many compartments do I need?

A: Multiple pockets and hidden compartments are one of the coolest things about modern backpacks. While backpacks of yore took advantage of a single large storage space with one or two side pockets, contemporary packs have been designed to include special dedicated pockets for everything from your water bladder to your cell phone.

Accessibility is important for the avid outdoorsman. What use is a digital camera if you can’t get it in time to snap the perfect wildlife picture? How much time will you lose rummaging through your seemingly endless pack looking for that piece of gear you need? Today, pockets are just about everywhere, like in hip belts and shoulder straps. Cell phone pockets feature headphone jacks and quick-reach accessibility. Some backpacks feature insulated pockets that are designed to keep your lunch cold for longer.

Here’s the thing about pockets and compartments: can you ever really have too many of them? Knowing exactly where to locate the things inside your pack can save a tremendous amount of time in the long run, something that is incredibly important to both the businessman and the cross country hiker.

James Milner James Milner
What’s the difference
between a sleeping bag and a camping blanket?
While sleeping bags were designed to encapsulate a person fully, usually sacrificing space for heat, camping blankets simply ditched the zipper. They’re usually square or rectangular in shape, making it possible to wrap them around you in dozens of different ways, just like you do with the covers at home. In general camping blankets are less constricting than sleeping bags and for that reason have become popular for outdoor enthusiasts of all different types.Viktor S.

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