Hands-on Gear Review

The North Face Borealis Review

Best Buy Award
Price:  $89 List | $66.71 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Great organization pockets, versatile as a laptop carrier or daypack, lots of storage room
Cons:  Not very stylish, bulky
Bottom line:  Large and versatile, with tons of features and pockets for organization of all of your various accessories.
Editors' Rating:   
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  • 5
Volume (L):  28 L
Dimensions:  19.75 x 13.5 x 8.5 in.
Weight:  2 lb.
Manufacturer:   The North Face

Our Verdict

The North Face Borealis comes highly recommended from our testers and took home our Best Buy Award. Even though it wasn't the least expensive option and it is about three liters smaller than the related The North Face Recon, we thought it was slightly more versatile and somewhat more comfortable than the Recon (mostly because of its sleek size and external attachment capabilities). Compared to many others in the review, it scored above average in most of the testing categories, although we have to say that we weren't huge fans of its style; but be your own judge. Overall, this is an excellent laptop backpack fit for any situation and best of all, it won't break the bank. See the women's North Face Borealis.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Laptop Backpacks of 2018


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Katherine Elliott

Last Updated:
Tuesday
November 29, 2016

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The North Face Borealis is a multi-purpose machine. We believe that for the value and the functionality, this is the best laptop backpack in the review for the price, taking home our Best Buy Award. With a highly resilient, abrasion resistant fabric, this bag handles everything from sidewalk falls to ranking among the highest in our shower test for water resistance. Best of all, it won our Best Bang for the Buck award. Many functions surround the two large compartments that made this laptop backpack highly resourceful. One is the reliable bungee strap on the front of the pack that can comfortably hold anything from an extra jacket to a spare water bottle to a bike helmet, for those who prefer a self-powered means of commuting. It is just as easy to remove the item as it is to install.

Performance Comparison


The Borealis has everything you need in a laptop backpack and the best part is it's an affordable option  retailing at $89.
The Borealis has everything you need in a laptop backpack and the best part is it's an affordable option, retailing at $89.

Laptop Protection


This contender was amongst the highest rated backpacks we tested for laptop protection. It has a separate laptop compartment accessed by an over-the-top zipper. We liked that it had a separate top zippered laptop compartment that was fleece lined and could also fit up to a 15" laptop with ease. This won't be a good fit for those who like to travel with a larger size laptop, as it is recommended for 15" or smaller. Our 15" MacBook Pro was stuffed in the sleeve pretty snug. It offers a tight fit, so even if you have a smaller version (we also tested the pack with an 11" Chromebook), it doesn't tend to slip around.


The smaller padded fleece lined pocket in the second compartment fit our iPad mini perfectly. It was also was fleece lined, making it a very homey place to keep and store your electronics. There is excellent padding everywhere, except the sides near the zippers. Keep in mind that if for some reason your bag made contact with the ground, there would be a chance for your laptop to come free from the unsecured compartment and hit the zipper. That being said, we loved how the backplate padding stretched way down below the bottom of the laptop pockets, so there is no chance your laptop hitting the ground.

The fleece lined laptop sleeve is a tight fit for an older 15" Macbook but it offers decent protection. We feel it is lacking a closure strap of some kind to keep smaller electronic from moving around.
The fleece lined laptop sleeve is a tight fit for an older 15" Macbook but it offers decent protection. We feel it is lacking a closure strap of some kind to keep smaller electronic from moving around.

The Osprey Flapjack scores a 9 out of 10 in this metric, with the Borealis and Recon trailing closely behind, each scoring an 8 out of 10. If laptop protection is your number one goal in choosing a laptop pack, consider the contenders mentioned above.

Comfort


This is one of the more comfortable bags we've tested. That said, it's not as comy as the, Editors' Choice winner, the Osprey Flapjack.


What holds it back a little is the large and flat backplate. This is not as comfy as more contoured competitors like the Patagonia Black Hole 25. That said, it does have a sternum strap and hip belt for helping distribute the load. This is something many competitors lack.

Here you can see the two very different back panels of our award winners. Left is the Flapjack with a sturdy yet flexible back panel that offers support while maintaining its comfort and right the Borealis that has a stiffer flat back panel that is almost equally as comfortable.
Here you can see the two very different back panels of our award winners. Left is the Flapjack with a sturdy yet flexible back panel that offers support while maintaining its comfort and right the Borealis that has a stiffer flat back panel that is almost equally as comfortable.

Storage


This laptop pack has a ton of storage room, and at 28 liters, is one of the largest packs that we tested. The simple design and organization of the pack's pockets accommodated for plenty of space. We loved how many compartments and individual pockets it has, giving the user so many options for organization without being too tall or bulky, like the Granite Gear Rift 2.


This Borealis features two main compartments, one being specifically for accommodating a 15" laptop. If you like, you can easily convert it to a hydration bladder holder, if that better suits your daily routine. However, since we tested these as laptop backpacks, we used the laptop holding feature much more than the hydration feature, but it was nice to know it would be possible to do so if need be.

The smaller secondary compartment was a great space for keeping the clutter to a minimum and also held our 11" Chromebook with ease and protection.
The smaller secondary compartment was a great space for keeping the clutter to a minimum and also held our 11" Chromebook with ease and protection.

Ease of Use


With its large size, tons of pockets, and comfortable fit, this is a very versatile laptop pack, with a price to match. We loved how it is designed specifically as a laptop carrier, but can hold and do so much more.


However, if we had to pick between this pack and one of the more outdoorsy models for a hiking day trip or to use as a general outdoor pack, we would undoubtedly choose the Patagonia Black Hole 25 or the Timbuk2 Rogue. There is an adjustable bungee on the front of the pack that allows for easy storage of any extras. On chilly days, you might find yourself with an extra layer, and this feature will keep it in place. It was even great for holding bike helmets when we chose that method of commuting around town when we needed a place to easily store a bulky helmet.

All the extra attachments of the Borealis make this a highly versatile laptop backpack.
All the extra attachments of the Borealis make this a highly versatile laptop backpack.

Style


We don't give much weight to this metric. That said, this is an area we felt the bag was lacking. It doesn't have a classic style like the Patagonia Arbor nor a more modern and streamlined look like the Osprey Flapjack. It's just kinda normal like the Dakine Explorer. However, most of its colors are mellow without sharp accents, making it look less intense than the colors of some of the other packs.


We rated the Burton Tinder as our Top Pick for Style, as it scored a 10 out of 10 and is what we consider to be the most stylish bag that we tested.

Just give anyone this look if they try to make fun of your semi outdated look of The North Face Borealis.
Just give anyone this look if they try to make fun of your semi outdated look of The North Face Borealis.

Water Resistance


We were surprised by above-average water resistance. After our shower test to simulate getting caught in a downpour, no drips go inside. The DWR treatment seems to be doing it's job.


Our biggest complaint was that not all of the zippers have cover flaps to protect them from a heavy rain, especially in the case of the smaller compartment. This smaller compartment would most likely be used for keeping your phone or other water permeable objects. Ultimately, this was a great pack that handled the elements.

The Borealis  like its cousin the Recon  has a durable water resistant coating applied and made this packs very water resistant in our shower test. The water just beads and falls right off and the paper within remained dry.
The Borealis, like its cousin the Recon, has a durable water resistant coating applied and made this packs very water resistant in our shower test. The water just beads and falls right off and the paper within remained dry.

Best Applications


This pack can do a little of everything to hikes, bike commuting and organizing your daily work. It also works well for travel.

The Borealis comes equipped with an array of different sized laptop sleeves for your eclectic mix of electronics.
The Borealis comes equipped with an array of different sized laptop sleeves for your eclectic mix of electronics.

Value


We chose to award Borealis our Best Buy Award for presenting excellent value for a low price. At $89, it is one of the most affordable packs in our review; although not the most affordable, we believe it presents an excellent value for the functionality.
Katherine Elliott

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: November 29, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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  • 5
 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
 (0.0)
Rating Distribution
1 Total Ratings
5 star: 0%  (0)
4 star: 100%  (1)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)


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