Hands-on Gear Review

The North Face Borealis Review

Best Buy Award
Price:  $89 List | $61.99 at MooseJaw
Compare prices at 4 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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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 takes our Best Buy Award. With a resilient, abrasion resistant fabric, this bag handles everything from sidewalk falls to terrible weather. It features two large compartments, perfect for packing away binders, folders, groceries, and more. Also, it has several organizational pockets that allow for ample storage opportunities. Our testers love 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. It is just as easy to remove the item as it is to install. As a result of these great features and its all-day comfort, it's great to wear to school, work, out on a hike, or just around town.

There are both female and male-specific designs and colors. Check out the women's North Face Borealis.

While this isn't the least expensive backpack, it certainly has the best value. A closely ranked competitor, the North Face Recon is a little larger offering 31L of storage in comparison to 28L. While this provides more room, the Borealis is by far more comfortable and has more external features. As a result, we think its a more versatile. Overall, this high-value competitor that is great for pretty much any function. Enjoy it in all its glory!

2018 Product Updates
The North Face refreshed the Borealis for 2018. Keep reading to learn about the changes.



RELATED REVIEW: The Best Laptop Backpacks of 2018


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Katherine Elliott

Last Updated:
Tuesday
July 17, 2018

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Updated Borealis


The North Face has updated the suspension on the Borealis for 2018, as well as the bungee system used for external storage. The bag is available in a host of new shades and patterns and still retails for the same Best Buy award-worthy price of $89, which we love. Check out the updated version in the first photo below, followed by its predecessor.

  • Suspension Overhaul — The FlexVent suspension has been upgraded to feature a flexible yoke and injection-molded shoulder straps, which The North Face hopes will provide an even more comfortable experience for the wearer.
  • Front Bungee Updates — The front bungees now have extra attachments at the top for added security of your belongings.

We haven't tested the latest incarnation of this pack yet, but we expect it to perform similarly (if not better!) than the previous version. The review from here on only speaks to our experience with last year's version of the Borealis.

Hands-On Review of the Borealis


The North Face Borealis is a multi-purpose machine. For the value and the functionality, it is the best laptop backpack in the review for the price.

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 features great laptop protection. It has a separate laptop compartment accessed by an over-the-top zipper. We like that it is fleece lined and can 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 won't slip around.


The smaller padded fleece lined pocket in the second compartment fits our iPad mini perfectly. It is also fleece lined, making it a very homey place to keep and store all electronics. While there is excellent padding everywhere, the sides near the zippers could use a little extra cushioning. This additional cushioning would provide more protection from blows close to the zipper. Also, this laptop is not secured by anything to keep it from sliding out, except its tight compartment. As a result, adding this feature in, or even a padded enclosure, would make it a better product. That said, we love how the backplate padding stretches way down below the bottom of the laptop pockets, so there is no chance your laptop hitting the ground. Overall, it provides great protection for your 15-inch laptop.

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.

Comfort


This is one of the more comfortable bags we tested. The straps are thick and comfortable, meant for all-day wear. They are set far enough apart that they don't pinch or constrict under the arm or around the neck. In addition, there is ample padding in the back area that provides extra protection. Unfortunately, the back padding is a little too thick, with one cushioned-square that some of our users mentioned that it dug in when fully loaded.


While this is still a comfortable backpack, it's not as comfy as more contoured competitors like the Patagonia Black Hole 25. It could be made better by decreasing the bulky, less breathable cushioning and making it a little more streamlined. That said, it does have a sternum strap and hip belt for helping distribute the load. This is something many competitors in this category 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 tested. The simple design and organization of the pack's pockets accommodate plenty of space. We love how many compartments and individual pockets it features, giving the user so many options for a better organization without being too tall or bulky.


This Borealis features two main compartments, one being specifically for accommodating a 15" laptop. These compartments can easily fit end-of-day groceries, textbooks, binders, folders, and more. In addition, there are easy-access pockets that are designed for an iPhone and other gadgets you might need to access quickly. If you like, you can easily convert the laptop compartment into a hydration bladder holder, if that better suits your daily routine. That said, you can't have a laptop and bladder in there at the same time. We also like the external water bottle holders that fit a Nalgene perfectly! Overall, it's a well organized and versatile laptop backpack.

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 a comfortable fit, this is a very versatile laptop pack, with a price to match. We love how it is designed specifically as a laptop carrier, but can hold and do so much more. It features a zippered design that unzips half the length of the backpack, providing easy access to the contents inside. The zipper tabs are large and easy to pull on, even with a set of gloves. In addition, we appreciate the many adjustment options, in addition to its adjustable hip strap.


A fun feature is an adjustable bungee on the front of the pack that allows for easy storage of many extras. On chilly days, you might find yourself with an extra layer, and this feature keeps it in place. It is even great for holding bike helmets when you need a place to store one. Overall, it does well in this category for its versatility.

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


While this is a functional backpack, it's not very stylish. It looks like a normal school bag. That said, it has many fun colors and accents, so it offers a little variety in its look.


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 are surprised by above-average water resistance. The fabric is treated with a DWR coating, doing a decent job with our shower tests. After our test, we didn't see any water get inside of this pack.


Our biggest complaint is 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 is most likely be used for keeping your phone or other water permeable objects. It would do better if there was a little more protection here. Ultimately, this was a great pack that handles the elements well.

The Borealis  like its cousin the Recon  has a durable water resistant coating which made this pack 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 which made this pack 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. It scores high across the metrics and is quite durable all-around.

Conclusion


The North Face Borealis is a versatile laptop backpack that offers laptop protection in a mobile package. It wins our Best Buy award for its lower retail price and great performance across most metrics.

Katherine Elliott

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: July 17, 2018
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (4.0)
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