The North Face Kaban Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Kaban is one of the most durable laptop options out there. Its top-loading construction makes it easy to get in and out of the bag. It provides functional storage that isn't over the top, with a separate laptop compartment accommodating a 15-inch laptop. It's perfect for everyday use to get to and from your favorite geek-out spot.
The Kaban offers an average level of protection in the form of its own self-contained pocket. The back of the pack has one big zippered pocket that is narrow in profile, perfect for a laptop up to 15 inches. The narrow profile prevents devices, including our 11-inch MacBook Air, from sliding around, keeping it in protective stasis.
Unfortunately, this pack does not offer a whole lot of cushioning under the laptop compartment or on the sides. The back panel is a pretty thin slice of foam, and if you drop this backpack to the side, it's possible a computer might see some damage. We'd love to see an integrated suspension system with some padding along the sides for better protection. That said, we carried this on a trip where it banged around in the back of a car for over a week. During this time, our laptop was kept safe. While it's not an ideal design, it still provides sufficient protection, especially when the backpack is loaded up.
This backpack offers a sufficient amount of comfort for all-day wear, but it's not our favorite. The pack is plush and cushioned, offering a nice fit, but unfortunately, it isn't super breathable. On a hike in Hawaii, while hiking to test this comfort element, we were sweating with little to no airflow. While it's not quite breathable, the material feels super soft against the skin and offers nice feeling there when it is not too hot.
For fit, the torso on the male's version is a bit longer and better for a regular to tall fit. There is a women's specific fit available as well. The straps are sewn right into the bag. They feature a thinner continuous foam layer that isn't particularly special but fit nicely on the shoulders. They don't constrict or pinch. The straps are adjustable, and so is the included sternum strap. While it distributes weight well, it'd be better balanced if it had a hip belt.
While this backpack is said to store 26L of stuff, we felt like there was so much more room than just that. From the back to the front, it has an independent laptop compartment, a huge top-loading storage compartment, a large organizational compartment, and a smaller storage compartment accessed at the side of the bag.
The large storage compartment was sufficient to pack away shoes, a lunch, and more for a day out to work.
The organizational compartment has a plethora of zip-up pockets perfect for electronics, pencils, papers, and books. The smaller compartment at the front is also a good place for a charger and could fit a smaller tablet. This compartment isn't the most protective so we wouldn't recommend storing any fragile items there.
Unfortunately, it does not have any small quick access compartments on the outside, but we found the top of the middle organizational compartment sufficient to get to items like keys and a wallet quickly. It also comes with two water bottle holders that didn't work that well when full.
Ease of Use
We love how easy it is to access everything in this pack. Getting to your laptop is simple because it's in its own zippered compartment. Therefore you don't have to rifle through your stuff to get to it. The larger storage compartment opens from the top and offers a wide access point, making it easy to see and grab things quickly. Even though this doesn't zip all the way down the side, it's relatively simple to get to things.
The organizational compartment is thoughtfully made. The top part of it has pockets to place keys, a cell phone, or item that you might grab quickly. You can zip the entire pocket down the length of the pack to better access your things, including what might store in the mesh and zippered pockets inside.
The only issue we found was unzipping the storage compartment. Sometimes, it would get stuck, forcing us to hold the fabric to open it up. Also, you can't use the water bottle holders easily when the entire pack is loaded, which we didn't appreciate. The bottle would commonly pop out of the pocket when the pack was full.
Another cool feature is the "ejector handle" in the laptop compartment. You pull this up and the harness integrated into the pocket pulls up the laptop for easy access. Though this is a cool feature, we rarely used it.
The exterior fabric is the same ultra-durable material used on The North Face's haul bags that are designed to drag up cliffs. While this material is waterproof, water still gets into zippers and seams, causing leakage in super wet weather and during our shower tests.
While hiking in Kauai during a rainstorm, most of our stuff stayed dry except all the items along the zipper seam. During our shower tests, we saw the same trend, with the bag not being 100% watertight. The main compartment had a pool of water with the laptop compartment seeing water in the bottom. While it will stand up in light rain, it's not a waterproof pack and is simply water-resistant.
We like the continuous and sleek design of this pack. After all, it's the style that caught our eye and interest in the first place. It comes with many different color and pattern options. We like the grey, but sadly it does stain easily.
The price tag on this pack is a bit high. It offers great performance for its function and isn't the most expensive out there. We'd say it's of pretty good value. Also, the super durable fabric seems like it will last for many years to come.
The North Face Kaban stands out for its ultra-durable protection with an independent computer pocket. It's super easy to use and offers ample storage. It lacks versatility because it doesn't distribute weight as well as other options, nor is it the most breathable. However, it's a great backpack for going to and from school or work, and we also like its style!
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