The best North Face backpacks to tackle any task

Whether you’re navigating twisting trails or urban terrain, make sure you’ve got the right North Face pack for the job.

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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

North Face Borealis

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Best Budget

North Face Jester

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Editor’s Choice

North Face Recon

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Best Minimalist

North Face Route Rocket 16

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Best for Students

North Face Surge

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Best for Travel

North Face Kaban 2.0

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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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Brian Smyth

Contributing Writer

Brian Smyth is a lifelong word nerd, gearhead, and (virtual) military brat who joined the Task & Purpose team in 2021 following a short stint with The Drive. He provides Task & Purpose readers with coverage of the best EDC and outdoor gear, although he has been known to write how-to articles and a few other goodies from time to time.