The North Face Chimera 18 - Women's Review
Cons: Opens unconventionally, meant for more specific use, not rainproof
Manufacturer: The North Face
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The North Face Chimera 18 is a bag designed for fit security and on-trail contents access. Constructed of 70D ripstop nylon and closed-cell foam, it weighs just 17.25 ounces. It comes in a single size (made for 17-20" torsos and 24-35" natural waists) and also as a slightly larger, 24L version.
Despite its minimalistic appearance, the Chimera is surprisingly comfortable. It has no internal frame, keeping it flexible to move with your body. The FlashDry back panel consists of a simple foam "net" covered with mesh that provides cushion and ventilation for your back, and the shoulder straps are a similar construction. Its unique adjustment and cinching system (discussed below) allow you to achieve a very snug, secure fit. Because the adjustments are all connected to one another, they are better able to move with your body. We went on several trail runs with this bag fully loaded with 3L of water, extra layers, food, first aid kit, etc., and could barely tell it was there!
The waist belt is a narrow band of webbing, so if you're searching for something weight-bearing, this isn't it. It also lacks any padding and the adjustment of this integrated strap system is something that takes a little finagling with and getting used to. However, once we found the perfect fit, this pack is an absolute joy to wear for faster-paced outings.
The Chimera is cleverly designed to be best used for continual motion missions. It features four pockets on the shoulder straps for sunglasses, chapsticks, energy gels, granola bars, etc., side pockets that you can actually get into while you're wearing it, trekking pole attachments, an external hydration sleeve (with drainage holes in the bottom!), and a large exterior stretchy stuff pocket. Two zippered compartments divide your belongings in a unique way - rather than both zipping open from the top like most daypacks, they open from opposing sides. The smaller pocket is vertically oriented behind your left shoulder while the large, main compartment opens with a dual zipper behind your right shoulder. This makes it easier to swing your back off one shoulder and dig into the corresponding pocket than a traditional bag with top-oriented pockets.
While this arrangement is extremely useful when you're actually on the trail, its a bit different to get used to and can be slightly less ideal for more casual use. If the bag is sitting at your feet when you want to get into the main compartment, you'll quickly discover that the zipper is surprisingly short and your view of the inside is quite limited. The smaller zippered compartment is larger than you'd expect, but is shaped in such a way that you can fit a tall, thin water bottle inside, also making it easier to lose your belongings in the unseeable depths. But if you know where everything is and you want to be able to get it on the move, this bag is very well set up for that.
At 17.25 ounces, the Chimera 18 is surprisingly light for how many features and how much comfort it offers. For cutting weight without losing a ton of versatility, this pack strikes a pretty excellent balance. Other bags we tested that are lighter than this one tend to cut out important features like back padding, shoulder padding, zippers, and pockets. Not so with the Chimera.
Of course, it does lack a few things to be so light. Padding is thinner - though still very effective - and it completely lacks an internal frame. The webbing waist belt also sheds a few ounces from a thicker, padded option. It's also made of rather thin material with fewer reinforcements than some of the bigger, thicker, beefier models we tested. With that being said, we're impressed by how much this bag still has to offer in features, comfort, and the range of motion it allows.
Ease of Use
Though this bag comes in just one size, it's shockingly adjustable. It's definitely not a "one size fits all" though, with a 17-20" torso length and 24-35" natural waist size, but it will fit a lot of wearers. The shoulder straps are actually attached in line with the waist belt, so they all tighten and loosen together. It still has all the same straps in all the regular places, but they're secretly attached inside the body of the bag. This really helps the Chimera be quite adjustable to the wide array of human body shapes. The pack is also very easy to cinch down tight to your back - and it's easy to do it on the go too, rather than taking the whole thing off to wrench down on traditional side cinches. A string with a loop on the end dangles over your shoulder and two more knotted ends are located just above where the hip belt attaches. By pulling all of these down tight, this bag is SO easy to make immobile on your back even after you've already picked up and headed down the trail.
While all the exterior pockets are straightforward to use, the zippered ones are a bit less fun to play with. They have quite narrow openings that make packing large objects more challenging and stop you from seeing what's inside your bag. We were able to squeeze a 13" laptop in its case into the main compartment, but fitting it through the narrow zipper was rather tight. And while we love being able to dig around inside without stopping to remove the whole pack, you will have to loosen and tighten the entire Dyno Cinch harness system every time. For its intended use as a bag for constant motion though, it's well-designed to make it easier to never have to set down your pack to find anything inside it.
Made of 70D IronLite ripstop nylon, the TNF Chimera doesn't exactly ooze durability. It's actually so thin-feeling and almost papery-sounding that we were initially quite worried about its longevity. It also has numerous mesh pockets all over the outside of the bag. However, we are pleased to report that we actually had no issues scraping this bag over granite boulders, past desert brambles, or putting pens in pockets at weird angles.
We have some lingering worries about the string cinch system that tightens down this bag, as all too often we've watched the little plastic toggle grippers give up maintaining a tight hold over time. During our several month testing period though, we ran and fastpacked all over western Nevada and the Sierras and they never once loosened when we didn't want them to. We also didn't find any reviews online of other owners of this bag complaining about this worry of ours - or anything else about the durability of the Chimera! So despite not having the most impressive look, this bag is actually much more durable than we'd expected.
The Chimera is on the low end of average cost among models we reviewed. If you're really into trail runs, fastpacking, and never stopping while you hike all day, we think this bag is a great value for a comfortable, secure, and easy-to-access daypack. However, if you're looking for the one bag to rule them all, we think this one is a bit too specific to be a good daily commuter bag and too small and shoulder-centric to carry bigger daypacking loads.
The North Face Chimera is a bag specifically designed to be best used by those who want a secure-fitting pack that you'll literally never have to put down. It's our Top Pick for Speed Missions, with all features pointing toward on-the-go women, and can even make a great step up from a traditional hydration vest if you're looking to take more without sacrificing load security.
— Maggie Brandenburg