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Take a look around, and it seems like everyone has a North Face backpack. Everyone except you, that is. For some, trends pale in comparison to traditions, but let’s face it: How many people do you know who actually like those not-so-sporty, generic packs? Sure, they get the job done decently enough, but when you live out of your pack, there’s nothing like a quality backpack from The North Face to do the job well and with style.

Whether you’re a traveling professional, a full-time student, or an avid hiker, you need a backpack that’ll keep your gear safe and secure without breaking down after a few months of hard use. While The North Face originally created packs for outdoor enthusiasts, a massive number of its bags end on the backs of urban dwellers. Whether you need a pack for an afternoon on a local trail or a bag for your daily commute, we’ll help you figure out which North Face backpack is best for you.

Best Overall

Few North Face backpacks offer the versatility of the well-loved Borealis. A natural evolution of the OG bag, this pack sports all the standard features you would expect from a TNF pack plus plenty of much-appreciated extras. Add to that a massive color palette, and it’s hard not to love this pack

This 28-liter pack features a standup design, an updated version of the original Borealis’ iconic external bungee storage system across the front and sides, and TNF’s FlexVent suspension system with its padded, ventilated back panel, and free-moving, padded shoulder straps plus a seemingly self-adjusting sternum strap. The Borealis incorporates plenty of storage and organizational options, and notably, it also includes dual bottom compression/gear attachment straps, a suspended laptop sleeve, and multiple fleece-lined storage pockets.

While the Borealis receives a full-body water-resistant finish, both the bottom panel and the external water bottle pouches perform particularly well in this department, a handy feature if you frequently set your bag down in wet or damp locations. Also, located above the laptop sleeve is a hydration reservoir hook, although the Borealis lacks a hydration hose port, an oddity to say the least.

The Borealis does have a couple of noteworthy drawbacks. First, we would like to see the laptop compartment include the tablet and file sleeves found on some of The North Face’s larger packs. Second, while the removable hip belt does stabilize the bag, it does little to reduce the load on the wearer’s shoulders. Admittedly, both shortcomings are a bit nitpicky, but it does pay to know what you’ll get before you checkout.

Product Specs
  • Capacity: 28 liters
  • Type: Urban
  • Suspension: FlexVent
  • External gear attachment: Bungee storage system
  • Dedicated laptop storage: Yes
  • Hydration reservoir compatible: Yes
PROS

Standup design

Suspended laptop sleeve; plenty of fleece-lined storage pockets

Water bottle pouches and bottom panel use highly water-resistant build materials

Sternum straps seems to self-adjust to the proper position

CONS

Minimalist laptop compartment lacks tablet and file sleeves

Hip belt stabilizes pack but isn’t designed to be load-bearing

Lacks dedicated hydration hose port

Best Budget

If you need a budget-friendly North Face backpack, the Jester is the only way to go. It packs in every TNF standard feature plus a few extras, but does so without breaking the bank.

In many ways, the Jester is a cost-conscious version of the Borealis, complete with the padded, ventilated FlexVent system and external bungee cord storage system (but only on the front). The Jester sports dual external water bottle pockets, dual carry handles, and dual compartments. The admin compartment takes a “low drag” approach to organizational pockets and pouches, covering all the basics but little else. The “slick” main compartment contains nothing but a padded, suspended laptop sleeve — a major bonus.

Compared to other TNF backpacks, this affordable pack lacks stiffness which gives it a less robust feel, but also makes it very lightweight and comfortable to wear. Despite using lower-cost build materials, such as SBS zippers, the Jester never suffers from construction quality issues.

While this TNF backpack is inexpensive, its low-cost design lacks a little in the organization and ease of access departments compared to its more expensive siblings. For example, the top panel can get in the way when withdrawing a laptop from the sleeve. While the Jester does employ a standup design, it doesn’t always like to stand up on its own, although proper weight and object distribution in the main compartment should diminish this issue.

Product Specs
  • Capacity: 28 liters
  • Type: Urban
  • Suspension: Padded
  • External gear attachment: Bungee storage system
  • Dedicated laptop storage: Yes
  • Hydration reservoir compatible: No
PROS

Affordable

Very comfortable, lightweight

Good build quality (despite not feeling quite as robust as other TNF packs)

Suspended laptop sleeve

CONS

Simple layout lacks some organizational options, cuts down on ease of access

Doesn’t always stand up on its own

Water bottle pouches eat up internal space when used

Editor’s Choice

While the Borealis is the undisputed champion among North Face backpacks, the Recon is a dark horse that we love just a little bit more. The Recon features most of the other pack’s standout features, including its standup design, but its unique characteristics ensure that it stands out on its own merits.

This 30-liter pack includes all the standard features you might expect on a TNF backpack plus most of the Borealis’ features, although it boasts two extra liters of storage space than the best-seller. Both packs feature a standup design, the FlexVent suspension system, the same basic layout, and almost identical organizational features. The fleece-lined sleeves, bottom compression straps, water bottle pouches, highly water-resistant construction, and padded laptop sleeve also match the Borealis.

Visually, however, the Recon stands out thanks to its external mesh stretch pocket, dual daisy chains, and side compression straps, all handy features which we think make for a nicer aesthetic as well. This pack’s lower half is slightly narrower and more compressed than the Borealis, giving the Recon a sleeker feel despite the extra cargo space. Also, the women’s Recon has the same cargo capacity as the men’s pack, something the Borealis series cannot say.

In terms of drawbacks, the Recon suffers from many of the same issues as its famous brother, including the minimalist laptop compartment, non-load-bearing hip belt, and missing hydration hose port. Like with the Borealis, these may be little things in the grand scheme of things, but they are worth noting. Unfortunately, the Recon also has a non-suspended laptop sleeve which could be a bigger hiccup for some.

Product Specs
  • Capacity: 30 liters
  • Type: Urban
  • Suspension: FlexVent
  • External gear attachment: Mesh pocket, daisy chains
  • Dedicated laptop storage: Yes
  • Hydration reservoir compatible: Yes
PROS

Standup design

More streamlined, slightly larger than the Borealis

Plenty of fleece-lined storage pockets

Water bottle pouches and bottom panel use highly water-resistant build materials

CONS

Same drawbacks as the Borealis

Laptop sleeve isn’t suspended

Minimalists, rejoice! The Route Rocket 16 is here to serve. While originally designed as a rock climbing daypack, this little bag excels in the backcountry and around town without weighing you down with unnecessary extras.

The Route Rocket 16 features a streamlined design with a tapered build and minimal external pockets and straps. It includes most standard TNF backpack features, but it does lack a slick main compartment, water bottle pouches, and a bright interior lining. That said, it does include a padded back panel, breathable shoulder straps, a removable hip belt, and a few handy external gear attachment points, including dual daisy chains.

At 16 liters and 1.2 pounds, the Route Rocket 16 is both compact and lightweight. Since it technically is an outdoor pack, it sports both a water-resistant and a carbon-based abrasion-resistant finish to effectively counter environmental threats. The backpack’s design and build make it both tough and comfortable.

As an EDC pack, this small North Face backpack does suffer in a couple of areas. Mostly, it lacks organizational features almost entirely, even in the small admin pouch, and due to its intended use case, it lacks dedicated electronics storage entirely. Its other main drawback is that it does not come in a female-specific version. None of these downsides are dealbreakers for minimalists, but they are worth noting.

Product Specs
  • Capacity: 16 liters
  • Type: Climbing
  • Suspension: Padded
  • External gear attachment: Daisy chains
  • Dedicated laptop storage: No
  • Hydration reservoir compatible: Yes
PROS

Comfortable

Very lightweight

Very tough construction

Water- and abrasion-resistant

CONS

Limited organization

Lacks dedicated electronics storage

No women’s version

Best for Students

Students looking for a North Face backpack should look no further than the Surge. Whether you’re rocking the halls at your local high school, college, or tech school, this pack can handle it all. In addition to all the standard features you can expect from The North Face, this bag has quite a few extra features worthy of your hard-earned cash.

The 31-liter Surge features a standup design and more nooks and crannies than you can shake a finger at, yet each compartment, pouch, and pocket is ideally positioned for quick, easy access while seated. The spacious main compartment, comfy yet sturdy grab handle, and FlexVent suspension system are perfect for handling heavy loads of books, and both the sternum strap and removable hip belt help stabilize those loads. Dual external water bottle pouches encourage hydration, but the laptop compartment really steals the show.

The Surge boasted a padded, fleece-lined laptop compartment that can take all comers. The gusseted compartment features a suspended laptop sleeve as well as two extra sleeves for a tablet, file folders, or both. The North Face didn’t forget the ladies either, as the women’s version has the same features and cargo capacity as the men’s pack.

All these extras have the adverse effect of boosting the Surge’s weight to a porky 2.75 pounds. Unfortunately, the bag’s shoulder straps seem to lack a little of the extra padding necessary to maximize its weight and potential payload. Finally, the U-shaped zipper pulls only appear on the main and laptop compartments, making access to smaller items slightly more annoying.

Product Specs
  • Capacity: 31 liters
  • Type: Urban
  • Suspension: FlexVent
  • External gear attachment: Daisy chains
  • Dedicated laptop storage: Yes
  • Hydration reservoir compatible: No
PROS

Standup design

Suspended laptop sleeve

Lots of storage and organization space, including fleece-lined electronics storage

Gusseted laptop compartment has space for laptop, tablet, and file folders

CONS

Shoulder strap padding is a bit lacking

U-shaped zipper pulls only on main and laptop compartments

A bit heavy

Best for Travel

The North Face makes plenty of travel-ready backpacks, but the Kaban 2.0 tops them all. It sports all the TNF backpack essentials, but with features like a luggage handle passthrough and a slightly more weather-resistant construction, this bag is ready for just about anything in the air or on the ground.

As highlighted, this 27-liter pack sports a luggage handle passthrough for easy airport navigation as well as low-profile top and side carry handles for grab-and-go functionality. Externally, the Kaban 2.0 sports two hidden slit pockets and two hidden carabiner loops for quick stowage of and access to travel essentials. The pack also includes a deep admin pouch with lots of organization options, a top access main compartment, and padded laptop compartment. The laptop compartment is divided and gusseted so it can handle a laptop, tablet, and/or file folders or magazines, and the entire bag features multiple electronic-friendly fleece-lined storage pockets.

In addition to its sleek standup design, the Kaban 2.0’s toughness and weather resistance are noteworthy. The North Face makes durable backpacks, but this bag’s TPU laminate front and ballistic nylon bottom panel enhance its ability to resist wear, tear, and weather. Unlike its brothers, this urban pack also features drain holes in the water bottle pouches (a nice if superfluous feature), and the laptop compartment boasts a highly weather-resistant zipper.

Of course, the new Kaban isn’t perfect. The main compartment lid does not unzip very far, making access to sunken gear a bit challenging at times. The laptop sleeve isn’t suspended, and the bag itself is a little hefty, weighing in at 2.8 pounds. These drawbacks are not dealbreakers, but it pays dividends to understand them before spending your next paycheck.

Product Specs
  • Capacity: 27 liters
  • Type: Urban
  • Suspension: Padded, ventilated
  • External gear attachment: Dual carabiner loops
  • Dedicated laptop storage: Yes
  • Hydration reservoir compatible: No
PROS

Streamlined standup design

Tough, weather-resistant design

Lots of storage and organization space, including fleece-lined electronics storage

Gusseted laptop compartment has space for laptop, tablet, and file folders

CONS

Main compartment doesn’t open very far

Laptop sleeve isn’t suspended

A bit heavy

Things to consider before buying a North Face backpack

Types

Many people who are familiar with The North Face know that the company started life as an outdoor gear supplier, and over the years, it has stayed true to its roots. That said, the 1990s launched a trend that turned The North Face into a premier outfitter for both the Grand Canyon and the steel canyons of New York. As such, the company classifies its backpacks into urban and outdoor categories. Most urban packs are designed with students, commuters, and techies in mind, while outdoor bags are built with hikers and mountain climbers in mind. That said, these backpacks can straddle those distinctions as needed thanks to TNF’s solid build quality.

Standard features

Just as you’d expect to find a bowtie on a Chevrolet, North Face backpacks usually come with the same standard features, regardless of use case. As a result, these packs tend to have many of the same strengths (and weaknesses). So, what can you expect to find on a TNF backpack? While features may vary for one pack type to the next, standard elements usually include a top-access design, “slick” main compartment, light-colored interior linings, padded shoulder straps, dual water bottle pouches, recycled bag materials, and non-PFC durable water repellent finish. For urban TNF backpacks, a padded laptop sleeve is another standard feature you can expect.

Key features

Backpack manufacturers offer all kinds of bells and whistles (literally!) with its packs, so make sure you know which elements are essential and which fall into the “nice to have” category instead. For our many, we see cargo capacity, weight-distribution features (padded shoulder straps, hip belt, etc.), organizational options (pockets, pouches, electronics sleeves, etc.), and external gear attachment points (daisy chains) to be the most valuable in an EDC/around town backpack. If you tote a computer often, track down a pack that offers a suspended laptop sleeve for some extra protection against bumps and bruises.

Pricing

Generally, The North Face packs usually run somewhere in the $90 to $110 range. That said, EDC backpacks can drop as low as $60 or shoot up to $400 for technical outdoor bags.

FAQs about North Face backpacks

Q: How good are North Face backpacks?

A: The North Face has a reputation for producing quality products, and its backpacks are no different. Plenty of TNF packs have endured years of heavy use without breaking a sweat. Whenever you purchase a TNF pack, you will pay for the name, but the quality that goes with it usually will justify the price.

Q: How much protection do North Face backpacks offer your belongings?

A: As backpacks go, The North Face’s packs do a good job of providing protection for your gear. In addition to water-resistant finishes, TNF’s bags usually include fleece-lined phone and tablet sleeves, as well as padded laptop sleeves. Some laptop sleeves are even suspended for extra protection, although don’t bother trying to predict which packs will have it.

Q: Are North Face backpacks good for your back?

A: That depends on what you mean. The North Face backpacks equipped with the FlexVent suspension system are certified by the American Chiropractic Association, which basically means the system is designed to anatomically match your back and shoulders. Of course, a heavily loaded pack won’t do your body much good over long periods of time no matter how good the ergonomics.

Q: Do all North Face backpacks include a lifetime warranty?

A: All North Face backpacks come with a limited lifetime guarantee. This means that if the bag fails due to a manufacturing defect, it’s covered so long as it isn’t a “renewed” pack. Unfortunately, packs are only warranted to the original owner. For more details, visit the company’s warranty page.

Q: What North Face backpack has the most room?

A: The L/XL version of the Griffin 75 offers a whopping 74 liters of cargo capacity, while the S/M “only” offers 69 liters. Of course, most city dwellers will need or use such a pack, so take a look at the Router which has 40 liters of space inside. The women’s Surge is the largest women’s backpack, coming in at 31 liters.

Final thoughts

You asked us which North Face backpack is the best, and we are compelled to nominate the world-famous Borealis. More than any other pack, the Borealis defines The North Face, and with good reason. Its combination of build quality and organization with comfort and versatility are impossible to beat, although a few packs put up a stiff fight. In the end, though, the classic wins as it should.

Methodology

Evaluating a single product type from a single manufacturer is a bit more daunting than it sounds, especially when many of them sport the same add-ons. Nevertheless, I suffered and bled for you, dear reader. I picked apart every detail to see which North Face packs were most worthy of your money. To ease my travails, I paid attention to both standard and not-so-standard features, as well as each bag’s intended use case to see how each one came together in its own unique way. To simplify things, I focused on “urban” bags, backpacks designed for EDC carry, travel, school, or work.

Objective evaluations were also a challenge. In 2021, The North Face conducted a product line refresh, so I looked long and hard to find relevant reviews, a significant test in its own right. In the end, though, I did prevail. Special thanks goes out to Desy Cheng, the GearLab staff,  Moorlander EDC, and Traveling Salseros (more than once). I also appreciate Company Man, Logically Answered, and Slidebean for their breakdowns of The North Face’s history and cultural influence.

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