Hands-on Gear Review

The North Face Recon Review

If you are looking for an all-around pack to bring with you to work, on trips, and on short hikes, then this is an excellent selection.
By: Katherine Elliott ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jul 19, 2018
Price:  $99 List  |  $98.95 at Backcountry
Pros:  Comfortable, versatile, excellent water protection, great storage capacity and organization
Cons:  Style is dated, could be more protective for a 15-inch laptop
Manufacturer:   The North Face
75
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 13
  • Laptop Protection - 25% 7
  • Comfort - 20% 7
  • Storage - 15% 8
  • Ease of Use - 15% 9
  • Water resistance - 15% 8
  • Style - 10% 6
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Our Verdict

The North Face Recon is an excellent laptop backpack that is both comfortable and accommodating (of an active, busy lifestyle). It has two large compartments for storing everything that could be needed for a day out in the city. It's also able to hold a jacket in one of the large compartments when you're ready to hit the trails. It is very similar in that regard to the The North Face Borealis. This pack will serve you well while day hiking in the woods or mountains and features a large external pocket to hold extra clothes, as well as two outer water bottle pockets (and the laptop sleeve can also serve as a hydration bladder). For those who live in wet climates, we recommend this pack, as it scored high in the shower test. There is a women's model with different colors, women's specific back panel, and shoulder straps.

2018 Updates to the Recon
The North Face's Recon pack has been updated this summer. Check out the details below.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

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2018 Updated Recon


The North Face has refreshed their backpack line this year, and the Recon did not escape unscathed. It received a redesign to the compartments and pockets, suspension, and materials, but still retails for the same $99 price tag. See the newest Recon below on the left, followed by the version we reviewed on the right.


A short summary of the updates:
  • New Fabric — The new Recon is comprised of a combo of 600D polyester toile, 500D nylon oxford slub, 420D nylon, 210D Cordura nylon ripstop, and polyester jacquard camo.
  • Updated Compartments — While we didn't get any specifics, TNF states they've re-engineered the pockets and compartments.
  • Suspension Revamped — The pack still uses FlexVent suspension, but now features a flexible yoke. The yoke is the part of the pack where the shoulder straps come together, and on the new Recon, TNF has engineered the straps so that they are thinner at the top and utilize a small strap which allows for more flexibility. You can see this in the photo below:


These are exciting updates, but since we haven't put the new Recon to the test, the following review still refers to the previous version.

Hands-On Review of the Recon


The Recon was among the highest rated laptop backpacks we tested but scored just a little lower in a few of the significant tested ratings. In fact, it almost tied with the Editors' Choice winner the Osprey Flapjack in a few of the six categories we used to evaluate these backpacks: storage, ease of use, and water resistance. Our testers also thought it was one of the most comfortable packs to wear, both while walking or riding a bike. If you need a contender that can also be used out in the woods, this contender is an excellent choice, with water bladder compatibility and plenty of extra external pockets for clothing.

Even with the dated look of the North Face backpacks  the Recon was still a strong competitor in the lineup.
Even with the dated look of the North Face backpacks, the Recon was still a strong competitor in the lineup.

Laptop Protection


The Recon scored very well in laptop protection just like its cousin The North Face Borealis, which is the second highest score we awarded, with an 8 out of a possible 10. Still, there is much room for improvement. What we did like was that it had two pockets, a bigger one in the main compartment that holds a 15-inch laptop, and a smaller one which can hold either a tablet or an 11" Chromebook. We also loved how the laptop pockets are suspended mid-back, and the padding in the back plate stretches about three inches below the bottom of the laptop pocket to the bottom of the bag, a feature we found critical in ensuring the laptop doesn't take a hit when the bag is put on the ground. Both sleeves for your laptops are a bit snug, which made it difficult to get out in a pinch.

The laptop sleeve  although well-padded and fleece lined  was a tight fit for our 15" Macbook and made it difficult at times to get out in a hurry.
The laptop sleeve, although well-padded and fleece lined, was a tight fit for our 15" Macbook and made it difficult at times to get out in a hurry.

The negatives that we would improve are that there are no securing straps for the laptop pockets; instead, this pack leaves the laptop free to shift around. Even though it is a snug fit for our 15" Macbook, it just felt a little too unprotected from movement.

Comfort


This laptop pack tied with its cousin the The North Face Borealis, for being an extremely comfortable pack when compared to other contenders in the review. We thought it featured some of the most comfortable shoulder straps, though the unique shoulder strap connection of the Osprey Flapjack still outshone both North Face packs. While the pack does come with both a waist strap and sternum strap, we have to emphasize that they are merely straps, not a full hip belt, as would come on a larger pack. This is why the comfort of the shoulder straps is so important, especially when carrying heavier loads. In the end, the waist and sternum straps help to stabilize the pack, especially while riding a bike but do not add to the comfort.

Bike commuting was a breeze  with the highly adjustable sternum and hip belt of the Recon.
Bike commuting was a breeze, with the highly adjustable sternum and hip belt of the Recon.

Storage


The Recon has two large compartments. One is for a laptop, which also has tons of room for other things like books or a spare change of clothes, and a smaller one that also has a padded fleece lined pocket for a smaller tablet or electronic device. We tended to use the smaller pocket for our 11" Chromebook. It also includes an internal organizer for pens and loose items to help you stay organized. On the outside of the pack, there is a small zippered pocket that can hold things like modest electronics or a phone.

The Recon also has two water bottle holders on the sides and a clip access front pouch for larger items. This feature was great for our headphones, seeing as the case was large and had to be left out of a couple of smaller packs. Some of the smaller backs didn't allow for such space taking luxuries with all of our other gear. The Recon included a great mix of storage and well thought out organizational ability.

The front buckled pouch was a great place for larger items  like our headphones and case that didn't fit in a fully loaded pack.
The front buckled pouch was a great place for larger items, like our headphones and case that didn't fit in a fully loaded pack.

Ease of Use


The features that made the Recon a good choice for storage also made it a versatile pack. The large internal compartments are shaped perfectly for books, binders, or documents, but are also big enough and have the ability to expand. With this expansion, the wearer can stuff other things, such as groceries, inside. Its comfy fit and the multiple external pockets also made it a great option for outdoor use such as hiking or climbing.

With all the storage options in the smaller compartment  we were able to load this giant pack with all sorts of extra goodies.
With all the storage options in the smaller compartment, we were able to load this giant pack with all sorts of extra goodies.

Style


Style is an individual opinion, but our panel of experts all agreed that the Recon was among the least stylish bag of the bunch we tested. It does come in over ten different color schemes so it's probable that you can find one to your liking. This pack reminded us of the schoolbag we all craved when we were in elementary school, a time when North Face jackets were the must-have pinnacle of outdoor style. Style evolves, and we think it might be time this pack adopted a new look.

The Recon has one of the largest carrying capacities tested (31L).
The Recon has one of the largest carrying capacities tested (31L).

Water Resistance


The Recon was one of the top performers when it came to water resistance. Like the majority of the bags tested, the Recon has a durable water resistant (DWR) coating applied, which caused water to bead up and fall off almost immediately after contact. This, of course, is just a coating and will need to be reapplied with time and use. The main compartment zippers, which are potential leak points, have well-designed flaps that serve as water-protective covers.

The Recon has a durable water resistant (DWR) coating applied that sheds the water off immediately upon contact.
The Recon has a durable water resistant (DWR) coating applied that sheds the water off immediately upon contact.

Best Applications


The Recon will truly shine for users who need to carry all sorts of different things during their commute or for those who also like the fact that it is a versatile day hiking pack. However, its look makes it more appropriate for students than serious professionals. It would also make a great travel pack and is also a good option for wet weather commuters.

Value


The MSRP is $99, putting it squarely in the middle of the price range for laptop backpacks we tested. Considering that it scored pretty high throughout our testing, we think this is an excellent value.

Conclusion


The North Face Recon didn't win any awards but is a great pack and comes highly recommended for the avid laptop user. If you are looking for a pack that has plenty of storage, is versatile for both work and the trails, and is also decently water resistant, this is a great option for you.

The highly adjustable sternum and hip belt of the Recon made it a good choice for walking  bike commuting  and day hiking.
The highly adjustable sternum and hip belt of the Recon made it a good choice for walking, bike commuting, and day hiking.

Katherine Elliott

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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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