5 Best North Face Backpacks for Hiking, Wandering, and Adventuring

The North Face brand has been well-known for many years as an excellent producer of outerwear and outdoor products. Their backpacks are no exception, and North Face offers several incredible models to choose from. In this article, I’ll walk you through which ones are, in my opinion, the best North Face backpack options, as well as what each one has to offer. 

All About North Face Backpacks

You’ve decided that you want a North Face Backpack, but where do you go from here? If you hope to choose a backpack that will keep up with you on your adventures into the wilderness, then you’ll need to make a list of what matters most to you first. Keep in mind questions like:

  • Which North Face backpack is waterproof?
  • Which North Face backpack has the most pockets?
  • Which North Face backpack is the smallest? Which is the largest?
  • Which one is easiest to carry?
  • What features do I need most in my backpack? 

In this section, I’ll present you with (and answer) some questions that’ll get you thinking about North Face backpacks to help you find out which one suits you best. Of course, I’ve already picked out my five favorite models for you as a starting point, but even if you don’t like any of those, I hope these questions will guide you as you continue to search for the perfect outdoor backpack.  

What Is the Most Popular North Face Backpack?

Out of the backpacks we’ll look at in this guide, the Jester is the most popular model. However, as the name suggests, the Jester is a jack of all trades. It’s a great all purpose-backpack, so it appeals to many, and it’s the ideal size and weight (in my opinion) for carrying through nature with little discomfort. However, it may not suit more specific niches and preferences. 

Are North Face Backpacks Good for Hiking?

If North Face backpacks weren’t suitable for hiking, I definitely wouldn’t be writing a guide on the best ones for adventuring! North Face backpacks are designed to be lightweight, durable, easy to carry, and surprisingly large on the inside. 

Are all North Face backpacks water-resistant? According to the North Face themselves, most of their bags are water-resistant, but only a select few are fully waterproof. If you don’t plan to use some other rain cover during your outdoor adventures, make sure to keep an eye out for this. 

If you need a waterproof backpack, you may be wondering which North Face backpack is waterproof out of all the models they offer. None of the ones I’ve included on this list are certified “waterproof” since I find it just as easy to use a rain cover or poncho to cover up my backpack when I go out in the rain. 

Do North Face Backpacks Have a Lifetime Warranty?

All North face products — not just their backpacks — have a lifetime manufacturer’s warranty, which puts my mind at ease as a customer. If you happen to receive a defective bag, they’ll replace or fix it free of charge. However, keep in mind that, as with any large company, dealing with North Face customer service may be a chore. 

How to Choose the Best North Face Backpack

North Face backpacks have several claims to fame, not the least of which is the prestige that comes with the North Face symbol and name. However, the features they offer are something to consider, as well, and they should play a significant role in your selection process. While most North Face backpacks aren’t designed for long walks or days spent away from home, they make excellent hiking, backpacking, and lightweight day-trip bags.

Some of the outstanding features that you’ll see on this list that can help you narrow down your choices include:

  • Comfortable shoulder straps 
  • Lots of pockets, including mesh water bottle sleeves
  • Whistles
  • Reflective panels
  • Breathable, lightweight polyester
  • Elastic bungees
  • Waist and sternum straps for extra support

Why do North Face backpacks have whistles? Ostensibly, it’s to assist in finding help if you ever find yourself in danger, regardless of whether that’s deep in the woods or in the heart of the city. In the outdoors, a whistle may also be useful for signaling or scaring away predators. 

The backpacks I’ve included on this list vary considerably in the features they offer, especially when it comes to the number of pockets and the backpack’s total size. These two variables are some of the most important as you choose the perfect pack for your adventures

Advantages of North Face Backpacks

Some of the other things that North Face backpacks are known for are their many colors and designs and their proprietary “Flex Vent” suspension systems. You can expect to see the Flex Vent technology on every North Face backpack model, regardless of size and price. The system is designed to make sure there’s always air moving between you and your backpack, which means less sweaty backs during long hikes and hot days. 

And finally, while extra colors and designs don’t improve the backpack’s function, it’s always a nice bonus to be able to express yourself through your precious belongings. Not only does this offer you a great way to unleash your creativity, but it shows that you take pride in your connection with nature and the outdoors, too. 

The Best North Face Backpack

Finally, we’ve made it to the meat of the article: the part where I’ll talk about the best North Face backpack for you. Keep in mind that, while I’m giving you my informed opinion based on what will suit the majority of people, if you need a specific feature or plan a niche use for your backpack, my top picks may not be your top picks. 

If you don’t have time to read the full description of each backpack, take a look at the table below — it’ll give you a brief look at the most important features of each one. 

BackpackSizeBest Uses
Jester28LGreat for all-around use — the ideal size and weight
Borealis28LReinforced for outdoor hiking and day trips
Surge31LBest for multi-day excursions
Recon30LMulti-purpose large bag especially suited to women
Vault26LSmall bag ideal for short outings

Jack of All: Jester

Like I mentioned earlier in this guide, the Jester is one of the most popular models of North Face backpacks. If you’re looking for a general-purpose bag that’s a great mix of function, form, and price, then this is an excellent choice. 

The Jester is a 28L backpack, so it hits an excellent midpoint between small and large packs. It comes in the most colors and patterns of any bag I picked for this list, too. More than any of the other backpacks on this list, its size and weight just feel “right” to me, and I find that it’s the easiest model for me to carry.

Pros:

  • Has enough space and pockets for most applications without being too bulky
  • It comes with a whistle and bungee cords
  • A great mix of price, color, and function

Cons:

  • No waist strap — comes with a sternum strap only, which may make it less comfortable for extended hikes
  • If the zippers extended lower, the pockets would be easier to access

I think the Jester would be best for someone who doesn’t really know what they’ll use their backpack for yet, or alternatively, someone who plans to pass their bag on to a child or sibling later on. Since the Jester works so well as a school bookbag, it makes an excellent hand-me-down or multi-purpose rucksack. 

Best for Hiking and Backpacking: Borealis 

If you’re an avid adventurer who’s looking for a backpack that can keep up, then without a doubt, the first one you should look at is the Borealis. The Borealis is another of the North Face’s most popular packs and with good reason. While it’s not the largest pack on this list, it’s close, and it’s slightly more specialized than the Jester for outdoor use. 

Firstly, the backpack is constructed with ballistic nylon in addition to the usual polyester, which means it can stand up to sharp branches, drops, and other outdoor hazards. While it’s the same size as the Jester at 28L, it feels bigger because of the extra pockets. 

Notably, the Borealis has a waist strap in addition to a sternum strap. Your back will thank you for this after a long day adventuring, especially if you really weigh down your backpack with gear. 

Pros:

  • Reinforced for outdoor use; can stand up to more abuse than other models
  • Extra waist support for better posture and less fatigue
  • More pockets mean more gear

Cons:

  • Mesh side pockets tend to wear out quickly
  • Heavy even when empty

I feel that the Borealis’ appeal lies in how it’s the best north face backpack for hiking, as well as the best north face backpack for backpacking. However, keep in mind that it’s still on the medium side, so it’s not exactly meant for long treks or days spent in the woods. This smaller size makes it appropriate for multi-use applications, such as for school or travel.

Best for Outdoors Influencers: Surge

Speaking of travel, the North Face Surge deserves some love as a great all-around adventure backpack. Were you wondering which North Face backpack has the most pockets? You have your answer in the Surge — it has a compartment for just about everything. 

The Surge is the ultimate North Face backpack from a functional standpoint. It doesn’t come with any bungees included, which did disappoint me slightly, but it’s easy enough to string your own elastics or ropes through the included slots if you want the extra storage space.

Part of the reason why this bag is my best choice for travel is that it has several extra compartments. This includes a sleeve designed for laptops, as well as several other protected slots. While I don’t carry a laptop, I find that the protected pockets are excellent for holding any gear that is fragile or breakable, as it’ll isolate it from the rest of your things.

However, it’s not as reinforced as the Borealis we looked at above, and that extra space comes at a high cost, too — the Surge is the most expensive rucksack on this list. 

Pros:

  • 31L of space means lots of room to pack whatever you might need
  • Tons of pockets and compartments to keep things organized
  • It comes with a whistle, but no elastics

Cons:

  • Uncomfortable to carry when packed full

I think this backpack is excellent for those who need a travel bag that can handle all of their things and then some. If you like to spend a night in the wilderness when you go hiking, for example, this bag should be able to carry a hammock, some cooking supplies, water, and anything else you’d need to spend a night safely outdoors with room to spare. However, if you like to travel light (like me) and stay local, it might be a bit much.  

Best for Women: Recon

While the Recon is a North Face backpack that comes in versions for both men and women — as many of their packs do — I want to highlight how good the Recon is for female adventurers. Like the Jester, it comes in a wide range of colors to suit anyone. While the available color range is great for expressing yourself and identifying which is yours in crowded places, keep in mind bright patterns can also make your gear easier to spot in the muted colors of the wilderness. This can be both a boon and a hindrance, depending on how you connect with nature. 

The Recon is also unique in how it’s designed to sit on a woman’s body. It has a curved backplate, and it sits up near your shoulders instead of near the small of your back. This is great for all purposes, regardless of whether you take it hiking, camping, schooling, or otherwise. 

Pros:

  • The best option for women hikers
  • Sits comfortably on the body
  • Lots of pockets for easy organization

Cons:

  • It doesn’t stand on its own, so it can roll over into dirt or mud easily (you can remedy this by hanging it from a branch or hook)
  • Heavy even when empty

The men reading this should take a minute to research the Recon, too — it’s not just an excellent backpack for women! While it’s a bit too similar to the Borealis to really stand out, in my opinion, it’s still worth taking a look at.

Best Lightweight: Vault

If you need a small, lightweight rucksack for day trips, quick picnics, or even short walks, the Vault might be what you’ve been looking for. It isn’t minuscule by any means, but the Vault is small enough to feel very comfortable on your back, regardless of activity. 

While it doesn’t come with elastics and it has fewer pockets, it can still hold an impressive amount of supplies. Furthermore, it’s a great budget pick, too — the Vault will set you back the least of any backpack on this list. 

Pros: 

  • Inexpensive (for a North Face backpack, of course)
  • Lightweight and easy to carry
  • Ideal for hot conditions, steep trails, or more extreme outdoor activities

Cons:

  • It may be too small for long-term excursions
  • No waist strap

Don’t discount the Vault because of its smaller size and price tag. If you can get away with carrying less with you, you might really appreciate having a smaller, lighter backpack. I found that it was the most comfortable of all five because of its size, but it could still hold everything I needed if I was traveling light or only spending the day out.

Conclusion

In the end, I’m not sure if I could pick a single best backpack out of those provided on this list. After all, each of them is good for a different type of person. However, I do feel that the Borealis and the Jester stand out above the rest most of all. 

The Jester is great because you can’t go wrong with it. Not only is the ideal size for spending a day out in nature, but you can also use it for everything from travel to adventuring to attending school, making it the best general-purpose North Face backpack. 

The Borealis, on the other hand, is also multi-use, but it doubles down on the traits that make it excellent for adventuring. It’s indisputably the best north face backpack for outdoor activities, but I’ll sometimes choose the Jester if I need something a bit lighter. 

Regardless of which rucksack you pick, any of these will be an excellent choice. In the end, what matters is that you have a bag that will serve you well on your adventures and bring you that much closer to nature.

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