The North Face Chimera 24 Review
Cons: uncomfortable for heavy loads, tricky to adjust
Manufacturer: The North Face
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The North Face Chimera 24 has features like front stretch pockets, shoulder straps that wrap around your torso, and an integrated load lifting system that make it seem like a running vest. However, the large main compartment helps it compete with more traditional daypacks. While it doesn't perform as well as a dedicated running vest or dedicated daypack, it strikes a decent balance between the two.
Coming in around the middle of many of the packs we tested, The North Face Chimera 24 is a serviceable daypack with some neat features. However, it lacks in key aspects like versatility and comfort.
The shoulder straps on the Chimera attach to the main compartment in 2 places near your waist and are integrated with the hip belt, meaning that as you cinch any part of the suspension, the rest of it adjusts simultaneously. The load lifter cord pulls the main compartment into the shoulder straps, but also tightens down the external stuff pockets.
We found that it took a while to get used to this integrated fit system, but once we did, it worked alright. While running, light loads remained stable, and weight was distributed across our shoulders and the sides of our torsos. With a moderately heavy load, or one particularly heavy object (e.g., a large hydration reservoir), it is difficult to put any weight on the hips. We found ourselves with sore shoulders after a long day in which we had to carry gear for travel across snowfields.
The back panel is perforated but doesn't ventilate nearly as well as packs with suspended mesh back panels. We found it to be slightly more ventilating than other, similar foam back panels. The entire pack dries very quickly, which is nice for wet days and preventing cold back syndrome after breaks on the trail.
After scrambling and doing calisthenics with this pack, we found that it hugs the back, and the lack of any real compression straps means that you'll need to pack carefully to achieve a stable load. All the compression comes from cinching down the elastic running through the outer stuff pockets, and when bending side to side, heavier objects shift around in the main compartment.
Weight to Volume Ratio
With a weight to volume ratio of 0.98 oz/L, The North Face Chimera 24 is on the lighter side for its volume, but pales in comparison to featherweight packs that can get down to around 0.5 oz/L. The pack body is comprised of thin, 70D Nylon, and while our measured volume may seem slightly low, it doesn't include the massive amount of space provided by the open, stretch pockets on the side, front, and back.
We were able to stuff multiple layers, gloves, hats, bars, and electronics in all the various stuff pockets on this pack. We probably ended up storing more on the outside of this pack than the inside, which made it easy to grab gear quickly compared to zipper-heavy packs.
The Chimera excels for long-distance running and fast-and-light trips in the mountains. While the reflective material on the back stretch pocket makes for a huge reflector, it doesn't have niceties like a blinker patch or helmet carrier. The side entry to the main compartment, while nice for accessing gear on the trail with the pack slung over one shoulder, makes stuffing a laptop difficult.
While we wouldn't recommend this pack for commuting or travel, it does well across a spectrum of fast activities in the mountains. The vest-style suspension and integrated cinch system for the outer stuff pockets works great for long runs with just the essentials. Most light and small daypacks also work for running, but they tend not to be quite as convenient as The North Face Chimera 24.
Ease of Use
The Chimera excels in ease of use. The stretchy stuff pockets on the back and side of the pack all share the same upper elastic cinch cord, which can be cinched down on either side of the pack or by pulling on the load lifter at the right shoulder. This brings the load closer to your back (although it doesn't quite work for heavy loads) while simultaneously closing up the stuff pockets.
Because the hip belt is somewhat unnecessary on this pack (other than for keeping the pack stable while scrambling), we found it very easy to swing the bag off one shoulder, get to the stuff pockets, and put the bag back on. Doing this made exchanging layers or getting to our water filter for a fill-up a quick process. Few other packs in this review can match the Chimera's ease of access.
The shoulder strap stretch pockets are similar to others that are designed to store small items, like bars or sunglasses, but this pack really convinced us that you can't have too many stretch pockets on shoulder straps. We liked storing bars in the larger of the two pockets, then stuffing the resulting trash in the smaller, lower pockets, both of which close up nicely.
The only significant ease of use issue we ran into while testing the Chimera is its flimsy pole/axe carrying system. We frequently find ourselves wanting to carry hiking poles or a light glacier axe while traveling in the mountains, but the lightweight upper attachment that wraps around pole shafts or an axe handle didn't stay tight during bouncy running, jumping, and scrambling in the alpine. For a single very light pole, or a very short axe, the carrier might work alright, but we much preferred the security of axe/pole carriers with burly, secure attachment points.
The Chimera uses relatively thin fabric and a lot of mesh to save weight. As a result, it likely won't be as resistant to puncture or abrasion as a more burly pack that uses thicker or double-walled material. It lacks the double-walled construction of some other lightweight packs, which we appreciate when we start to crash through brush or rub against rocks on a climb.
In our rain testing, the Chimera performed surprisingly well. Even after our field testing, the DWR finish on the fabric shed rain well, and the main compartment was only slightly wet from water getting in through the zipper. While a rain cover likely wouldn't work on this soft-framed pack, internal pack liners would work well to keep gear dry. However, you likely wouldn't need to worry about rain getting in during a light shower.
Similar to other water-resistant daypacks, the water-resistant fabrics on The North Face Chimera 24 dry fast and don't soak up much water. We really like this feature for getting through short rainstorms.
Unless you think the running-specific features of this pack are worth it, the similarly ultralight REI Co-op Flash 22 is a much better deal than The North Face Chimera 24. For the price, you're getting some innovative features, and a design found on few other packs on the market.
As its name implies, the Chimera is a blend of running-styled vests and more typical hiking daypacks. The ease with which you can access gear and adjust the pack will keep you moving with few distractions, as long as you can keep your load light.
— Dan Scott