When it comes to backpacks, not many can survive the it-goes-with-anything philosophy test that, say, a clean pair of white sneakers can. And in a practical sense, not many can execute the built-for-all-occasions promise like the Always Pan. But a backpack that’s equal parts stylish and utilitarian? That’s old-school reliable — a solid starter bag that you can take just about anywhere, wear with anything and depend on for safekeeping your haul of precious goods.
Enter the Recon, a backpack from The North Face that’s attractive, practical and built for the long haul. It's basic enough to fit in at school or the gym, but tough enough to handle commuting or a long hike — and at $99, it’s practically a steal. Here’s what to expect with this hardwearing, multipurpose piece.
The North Face Recon Backpack
- Version: 2021
- Price: $99
- Colors: 7
- Capacity: 30 liters
- Weight: 2.9 lbs
What I like about this North Face backpack:
It offers plenty of storage.
Hands down, the best thing about the Recon is its plethora of storage options. This 30l backpack has three large zippered compartments, one exterior stretchy mesh pocket and two side slots for water bottles. When I crammed mine full of goodies, the Recon offered plenty of room to shove miscellaneous things into, without making a chaotic mess.
Its soft-padded laptop compartment, located closest to the bag’s back, has a smooth interior liner that protects a single side of your laptop from scratches, and a velcro strap that can be used to hold keys, a charger and/or loose cables. The middle compartment is deep and wide—spacious enough to stuff a piece of outerwear in it for rainy days, or an abundance of textbooks for class. The smallest zippered pocket has a soft fabric sleeve made for a tablet, little pockets for notebooks and pens, and just enough added space for some snacks and extra books.
Although no compartment is entirely crushproof, this bag’s ripstop nylon is tough enough to ward away the elements and handle the snag of a branch. The zippers also carry large, U-shaped pulls that make grabbing anything from your bag a cinch — a tiny detail I adore on this piece.
The Recon is comfortable to wear.
The Recon’s straps are padded, thin and smartly curved. The top of those straps have a rounded shape fits naturally around the shoulders, while the soft panel of the laptop compartment flexes and curves with your back. Even the tough top handle on this bag is comfortable to grab. The North Face also claims the Recon backpack is certified by the American Chiropractic Association due to its proprietary FlexVent suspension system, which makes practically everything on this bag slightly stretchy, and great at balancing weight when it’s full.
You can secure practically anything in this backpack.
At first glance, this thing may seem strapped up like Voldo from Soul Calibur. But those pulleys, straps and strips are all helpful to tighten any pocket this bag has to offer. Both sides of its water bottle slots can be cinched shut to secure a bottle, or left open for storing items like keys or headphones. The shoulder straps come with a chest buckle to offer extra support and a bottom buckle near the waist — though, to hide my beer belly, I never used it. It also has a daisy-chain located near the exterior mesh pocket, which is useful for hikes and snapping things to it with a carabiner.
The Recon also features a stand-up design, which means propping this bag upright next to your desk or at a coffee shop is made easy, especially with its tough, rubberized bottom that makes swiping that dirt off all the more easier.
What I dislike about this backpack:
There's no laptop "sleeve."
Although the Recon has a dedicated laptop compartment, it doesn’t offer a sleeve — or, at least the model I tested doesn’t. (The bag has been updated a few times between 2019 and now.) When scouring online at past reviews, I found that the Recon used to have a protected sleeve that fit laptops up to 15 inches, but it was a tight fit that required some forceful pushing to make it work. It seems that the North Face ditched the sleeve in favor of a huge pocket for your machine.
This isn’t a bad thing, but only one part of that laptop pocket has a soft lining and the other side is a rough sort of nylon. Keep in mind that if you’re going to be shoving a laptop in here and you prefer to keep things scratch-free, the pocket’s big space won’t stop it from bouncing around. (But this could mean your laptop inside a protective case will fit.)
Why The North Face Recon is our top pick:
If you’re looking for a versatile backpack that can be used for short hikes, weekends in town, school and commuting to work, the North Face Recon is a stellar choice. It has plenty of storage, offers protection against elements and snags, comes in a variety of stylish colors and boasts a lifetime limited warranty — enough bells and whistles to more than warrant its surprisingly affordable price of $99.