The North Face Banchee 65 is durable, packed full of features, sports a robust suspension, and is one of the lighter models in our review. This impressive combination results in a pack that works well for both traditional backpacking and traveling. Our testers love this model's overall design, especially the pocket set-up. The two large zippered pockets on the back are very useful, and it's stretchy beaver tail pocket is perfect for oddly shaped items like camp sandals or a Frisbee. The zippered hip belt pockets are easy to unzip while walking and ideal for stashing a few bars. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Banchee's useful features. Still, it manages to weigh less than the average backpack. The Banchee's suspension is surprisingly supportive considering its lightweight construction. It handles heavier loads better than many packs in our review and certainly better than most options in its weight range. We asked this pack to prove itself on 10+ day mountaineering traverse in the North Cascades with more than 50 lbs of weight. It performed better than expected.
The North Face Banchee 65 Review
Cons: Compression straps are just okay when using the pack half-full, external lid pocket isn't as easy to search through as models
Manufacturer: The North Face
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Banchee sports rock-solid suspension, comfortable padding, and one of our favorite pack designs.
The Banchee offers above average comfort and excellent ergonomics. We love the shoulder straps, which contour nicely and work for a wide variety of body types. The straps are moderately wide, use supportive foam where you need it, and use cozier, softer foam where you don't. We enjoyed this attention to detail on long days.
The exterior fabric is also pleasant. Both the shoulder straps and back panel feel nice, even against bare skin. They rate above average among the packs in our review. Overall the Banchee 65 is surprisingly comfortable, particularly considering it's weight.
At 4.3 punds, the Banchee 65 is in the middle of the pack for weight. It's a little lighter than a number of our award winners like the Arc'teryx Bora AR 63 (5 pounds), the Osprey Atmos 65 AG (4 lbs 6 ounces), Gregory Baltoro 65 (4 lbs 14 oz), or the Osprey Xenith (5 lbs 2 oz). It isn't nearly as light as the Osprey Exos ( 2 lbs 10oz) or the REI Flash 66, but it is significantly more durable and is better at handling large loads.
The 3 lbs 14 oz, Gregory Paragon 68 is one of the Banchee's most direct competitors. The Paragon is slightly more supportive and handles heavier loads marginally better, but we like most of the features on the Banchee better.
For a pack that sits on the lighter end of the spectrum, the Banchee 65 offers a surprisingly burly suspension. This is one aspect of its design that nearly all of our testers commented on immediately. We tested this pack on several trips that totaled over three weeks of constant use, including a long mountaineer traverse through Washington's North Cascades. We left the parking lot with around 45 to 50 lbs of gear, and the Banchee 65's performance exceeded our expectations.
The Banchee's suspension performed better than average. But for loads exceeding 50 lbs, the Banchee 65 isn't as comfortable as the Arc'teryx Bora AR 63, Osprey Aether AG 60, or the Gregory Baltoro 65. Bottom line — this pack rocks on trips when your pack weight is around 45 pounds or less.
Features and Ease of Use
The Banchee 65 is very easy to pack and use. In fact, it is one of the easiest packs to organize that we've reviewed.
The Banchee features eight total pockets, which is 2 or 3 above average. But it's not just the number of pockets that matters. We also took into account their location, design, and ease of access. These factors affect their usability. For example, we love the dual vertical zippered pockets, using them regularly. Even when the pack is full, these dual pockets are super easy to access. The large beaver tail pocket below the dual pockets is particularly useful for oddly shaped and hard to pack items like camp flip flops, fuel bottles, or a tripod.
The Banchee's lid pocket is large, and its long zipper helps you find items quickly, but it could use improvements. Smaller stuff drifts towards the rear of the pocket. We liked the lids on the Gregory Baltoro and Arc'teryx Bora better because their zippers are on top and are easier to search through. It has a zippered pocket within the lid that is perfect for items you don't want to lose — like your wallet, keys, or cell phone.
The large, dual zippered hip belt pockets are also among our testers' favorites. They easily fit most point-and-shoot cameras, most cell phones, a few bars, sunscreen, or other items that you would want easily accessible. Unlike many backpacking packs, the ice axe attachment system is robust. It doesn't leave your axe swinging wildly while trotting down the trail.
The Banchee 65 is available in two sizes — a S/M and an L/XL. It also offers a host of adjustments to help dial in the fit for a wide range of users. While it is only available in two sizes, it offers around 5 inches of vertical height adjustment via the shoulder strap position. This not only lets you dial in the yoke to your specified height, but it also makes the Banchee 65 a great option for growing teens.
You adjust the pack's torso length by pulling off a large Velcro patch in the back panel and adjusting the shoulder strap height. This system is similar to the one Osprey uses on their Aether packs. While Velcro doesn't sound very secure, we have never experienced a problem with a pack using this design, and we've spent hundreds of days with them strapped to our backs.
While many packs include torso adjustments, the Banchee's adjustable hip pads are a less common feature. They allow you to position padding over the boniest part of your hips. Our review team really like this feature.
This is an exceptionally versatile pack and an excellent option for backpacking, trekking, travel, or general mountaineering. Keep in mind that it isn't cut out for technical mountaineering or multi-day backcountry ski tours. It strikes an excellent balance of weight, pockets, ease of use, comfort, and durability. It especially appeals to users that love pockets but don't want the usually associated weight penalty.
It's also one of the best models for traveling, along with the Thule Versant. It works best for trips where a traditional suitcase or duffel bag is less convenient or completely impractical. Deciding between these two models for travel is a close call. The Versant has better access with a huge U-shaped zipper. But for us, the Banchee's sweet pocket design and superior organization win out, and we gave it our Top Pick for Travel award.
At $240, Banchee 65 is an excellent value and is $50 to $125 less than most other models in our review. While the Banchee is less expensive and lighter weight than average, it has an above average number of features and offers above-average support.
Perfect for traveling or traditional backpacking, this is a surprisingly light and versatile backpacking pack that is supportive enough for heavier loads but light enough that you don't mind bringing it on an overnight trip. It's packed full of our favorite features and is one of the highest ranked packs in the review.
— Ian Nicholson