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The North Face Phantom 38 Review

Hard to beat for a sleek, lightweight, and relatively affordable alpine pack.
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $170 List
Pros:  Minimalist suspension provides a comfortable carry, durable, lid is easy to remove, sleek
Cons:  Low weight-to-volume ratio, relatively small capacity
Manufacturer:   The North Face
By Jane Jackson ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Aug 12, 2019
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70
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 16
  • Weight-to-Volume Ratio - 35% 4
  • Comfort to Carry - 25% 9
  • Features - 20% 8
  • Adaptability - 10% 8
  • Durability - 10% 9

Our Verdict

The North Face Phantom 38 is lightweight, versatile, and durable, making it the ultimate alpine pack. With a surprisingly large carrying capacity for its claimed volume of only 38 liters, the Phantom carried all the gear we needed for most missions. We used the Phantom day in and day out over the course of a two-month trip to Europe, and it was simple and extremely comfortable in a wide range of situations. Though it lacks the standard features of most ultralight packs on the market, the Phantom has everything you need for light and fast trips into the mountains. A few outside carry options and a removable lid make it versatile but not bulky.

These features and more make the Phantom 38 our Top Pick for Alpine Climbing and Mountaineering. The Strive 50 is another favorite for lightweight climbing missions but is larger and less streamlined than the sleek Phantom 38.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $170 List$270 List$260 List$145 List$104.96 at Backcountry
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Pros Minimalist suspension provides a comfortable carry, durable, lid is easy to remove, sleekDurable, comfortable, well-designed pockets, carries light and heavy loads wellLightweight, carries light and medium loads well, adaptable, perfect feature set, more durable than mostSimple design, inexpensive, durableVery light, large volume, versatile compression system
Cons Low weight-to-volume ratio, relatively small capacityLarge capacity makes it less versatileA little small for a bear canisterFoam pad falls out easily, shoulder straps lack supportNo frame, poor comfort for medium loads
Bottom Line Hard to beat for a sleek, lightweight, and relatively affordable alpine pack.This pack wowed us with its perfect set of features, comfortable design, and carrying capacity.Delivers a perfect set of features, plenty of pockets, comfortable straps, and carries well.A lightweight, simplified version of our favorite pack from this same company, making a durable, well-designed option.For the ultimate lightweight pack, this pack steals the show with its entirely frameless design and streamlined set of features.
Rating Categories The North Face Phantom 38 Gossamer Gear Mariposa Gossamer Gear Gorilla Ultralight Adventure Equipme... Granite Gear Virga 2
Weight To Volume Ratio (35%)
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8
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10
Comfort To Carry (25%)
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9
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10
10
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6
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5
Features (20%)
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8
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8
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7
Adaptability (10%)
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6
Durability (10%)
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8
Specs The North Face... Gossamer Gear... Gossamer Gear... Ultralight... Granite Gear Virga 2
Total Weight (ounces) 35.8 oz 30.5 oz 31.5 oz 24 oz 18.5 oz
Stripped Weight (ounces) 28.6 oz 30.5 oz 27.5 oz 23 oz 18.5 oz
Claimed Volume (liters) 38 L 60 L 40 L 54 L 50-58 L
Measured Main Pack Volume (liters) 34 L 48 L 38 L 45 L 41 L
Measured Volume Total (minus hip belt and shoulder strap pockets)(liters) 42 L 64 L 53 L 53 L 49 L
Measured Volume Stripped (minus hip belt, shoulder pockets, and removable lids)(ounces) 34 L 59 L 48 L 53 L 49 L
Average Weight-to-Volume Ratio (grams/Liter) 23.9 g/L 14 g/L 13.5 g/L 12.8 g/L 10 g/L
Carrying Comfort 15 pounds Great Great Great Great Good
Carrying Comfort 30 pounds Good Great Great Poor Poor
Frame Type Removable PE frame sheet Foam pad/ removable stay Foam pad/removable stay Removable foam pad None (foam pad)
Fabric 210D High-tenacity nylon 70 & 100 denier Robic nylon 70 & 100 denier robic nylon 210 Robic nylon, 400d Robic Bottom Panel Cordura
Main Pack Pockets 0 4 3 3 3
Hip Belt Pockets 1 2 2 Two none
Single Hip Belt Pocket Capacity 1 cliff bar 4 4 cliff bars 2 cliff bars N/a
Shoulder Strap Pockets No no No No None
Whistle on Sternum Strap Yes No Yes No None
Internal Hydration Sleeve Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Bag Sizes/Torso Lengths Available S/M, L/XL S,m,l S,m,l S,M,L,XL Long, short, regular
Mix and Match Hip Belt Sizes No S, m, l S, m, l S, M, L, XL No
Can Easily Strip Off Frame and Hip Belt Yes Good Good No No
BearVault BV500 Compatibility No Good Ok Ok Ok
Lid (aka Brain) Yes No Yes No No

Our Analysis and Test Results

With high scores in our weight-to-volume comparisons, comfort, and adaptability metrics, The North Face Phantom 38 proves itself as a versatile mountain pack.

Performance Comparison


We carried the Phantom all over Southern France. Though its design is simple  the pack is comfortable and can carry heavy loads.
We carried the Phantom all over Southern France. Though its design is simple, the pack is comfortable and can carry heavy loads.

Weight-to-Volume Ratio


The North Face Phantom 38 has one of the lowest scores in this metric due to its relatively low volume and its relatively heavy weight. Though listed as a 38-liter pack, the Phantom has a measured volume of 42 liters. The eight-liter lid can be removed, making the pack's stripped volume 34 liters.

OGL Measured Volume Bottom Line:
Total Volume = 42 L
Main Bag = 34 L
Pockets = na L
Lid = 8 L


This pack weighs 35.8 ounces total, and 28.6 ounces stripped. This is comparable to the Hyperlite Southwest, but the Hyperlite has a much larger capacity. The Phantom's performance in this metric leaves a lot to be desired; however, the pack remains a favorite pick for the mountains, where features, comfort, and durability are equally as important.

The Phantom combines comfort and volume with a fairly low overall weight and a sleek profile  making it great for adventures in the mountains.
The Phantom combines comfort and volume with a fairly low overall weight and a sleek profile, making it great for adventures in the mountains.

Weight Bottom Line:
Total Weight with all modular components = 2 lb 3.7oz
Pack striped of components = 1 lb 12.5oz
Lid = 7.2oz

Load Carrying Comfort


For what looks like a simple pack, the Phantom 38 provides an impressive level of comfort, despite its slimmed-down appearance and basic feature set. The shoulder straps are fairly thin, both width-wise and padding-wise, but they provide enough support to endure heavy loads. The waist belt is the key to the Phantom's high scores in this metric; the belt is also fairly minimal, but it is shaped in a way that contours to the hips and provides support without any additional bulk.


Other packs, like the Mountainsmith Scream, provide padding and support in the waist belt but also add bulk and extra weight. The Phantom's hip belt is comfortable but sleek. In comparison to The North Face Hydra 38, the Phantom is much sleeker and more comfortable in terms of both the hip belt and the frame.

Features


For those looking for a simple pack for overnight missions into the mountains, the Phantom 38 has everything needed for a lightweight trip. Though it is small and lightweight, the pack manages heavy loads with ease, making it a good option for these kinds of outings.


Its feature set is designed with alpine climbing in mind. The pack has ice axe loops that are easy to use and adjust, reinforced ski loops, and a removable lid. The side straps, also used for an A-frame ski set up, are highly adjustable and allow for the pack to compress down if interior space is not in use.

Shown here is the removable 8L lid that easily unclips from the main body of the pack. We loved this simple feature.
Shown here is the removable 8L lid that easily unclips from the main body of the pack. We loved this simple feature.

The major downside to the pack is the roll-top closure. Without the lid, the roll-top closure is meant to seal the inside of the pack from the elements. We found the buckle and strap are placed in such a way that it wasn't able to compress the top enough to create a tight seal. This is a small issue, but in comparison to other packs, like the ULA CDT, it was a bit of a disappointment.

Shown here is the roll-top/drawstring closure that secures the Phantom. The red strap that reaches over the top of the pack was a bit long  making it impractical at times.
Shown here is the roll-top/drawstring closure that secures the Phantom. The red strap that reaches over the top of the pack was a bit long, making it impractical at times.

Adaptability


The major features that make the Phantom 38 a highly adaptable pack are its large removable lid and its removable hip belt. Both of these features, when integrated into the pack, are designed well enough to be useful. But, they are also designed to be easy to remove, and the pack still performs well without them.


This is important because in some cases, removable features can complicate a pack and detract from the overall effectiveness of the design. In the case of the Phantom, though, the pack works great with and without the lid and the hip belt. The North Face Hydra 38, for comparison, is not at all designed to be modified and thus receives a lower score in this rating metric.

From a full pack  shown above  to a slimmed down day pack  the Phantom is incredibly adaptable.
From a full pack, shown above, to a slimmed down day pack, the Phantom is incredibly adaptable.

Durability


Made from 210-denier high-tenacity nylon and 840-denier IronLite nylon, the Phantom 38 is a seriously durable pack. We carried climbing gear and camping equipment in this pack for three straight months and saw no signs of wear. The Phantom held up to the wear and tear that comes with scrambling in the mountains and approaching climbs.


We were pleasantly surprised with this pack's ability to combine durability with a fairly lightweight design and a comfortable frame. Compared to both the L.I.M. Strive and The North Face Hydra, the Phantom is a more comfortable and durable pack.

The materials used in the construction of this pack are made to last. We dragged the Phantom over rocks and off-trail through trees without tearing or damaging the pack at all during three months of testing.
The materials used in the construction of this pack are made to last. We dragged the Phantom over rocks and off-trail through trees without tearing or damaging the pack at all during three months of testing.

Best Application


As our Top Pick winner for Alpine Climbing and Mountaineering, the Phantom 38 is, you guessed it, ideal in the mountains! This durable, comfortable pack fits close to the body, making it maneuverable and easy to wear in climbing and scrambling terrain. The waist belt is supportive and comfortable, which are features that are key for heavy loads required for alpine missions. Though its volume is relatively small, the Phantom can easily carry overnight gear, a rope, and personal climbing gear. The removable lid allows for even more flexibility. If you are looking for a versatile, sleek pack that can accompany you on mountain missions this summer, the Phantom is our go-to.

Value


Sold online for $170, the Phantom 38 is a reasonably priced option compared to the other highly specific, technical packs in this review. Though it is not made of the lightest, most high-tech materials or made for eight-week thru-hikes, the Phantom is simple, sleek, and perfect for the mountains. Many of its competitors in this review would become shredded after a few days scrambling in the alpine and cannot carry skis or ice axes, whereas the Phantom is designed for these types of outings.

The Phantom is one of the more affordable packs in this review.
The Phantom is one of the more affordable packs in this review.

Conclusion


The North Face Phantom 38 is the pack we take on trips above treeline. Its simple design has the right combination of features to keep us organized, and the waist belt and shoulder straps are ergonomic and padded enough to withstand carrying heavy loads for long periods of time. With its removable lid and adjustable side straps, the Phantom can be used for overnight missions, or as a day pack if need be. The hip belt and sleek profile made us feel comfortable scrambling with this pack on, which is key for quick trips into the alpine. The durable nylon holds up to three months of continual use, without as much as a significant scratch. We are incredibly impressed with the performance of this award winner and its reasonable price tag is the icing on the cake - and yet another reason to make the Phantom an award winner.


Jane Jackson