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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
The North Face Recon
Credit: The North Face
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Price:  $99 List | $98.95 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
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
By Katherine Elliott ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jul 19, 2018
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
  • Laptop Protection - 25% 7.0
  • Comfort - 20% 7.0
  • Storage - 15% 8.0
  • Ease of Use - 15% 9.0
  • Water resistance - 15% 8.0
  • Style - 10% 6.0

Our Verdict

The North Face has updated the Recon pack since our test period.

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 you might need 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.

Our Analysis and Test Results

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. It scored highly in 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.

The North Face Recon laptop backpack - even with the dated look of the north face backpacks, the recon was...
Even with the dated look of the North Face backpacks, the Recon was still a strong competitor in the lineup.
Credit: Bligh Gillies

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 suspend mid-back, and the padding in the backplate 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 sets on the ground. Both sleeves for your laptops are a bit snug, which made it difficult to get out in a pinch.

The North Face Recon laptop backpack - the laptop sleeve, although well-padded and fleece lined, was a...
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.
Credit: Bligh Gillies

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.


This laptop pack tied with its cousin, The North Face Borealis, for being an extremely comfortable pack when compared to other contenders in the review. We think it features some of the most comfortable shoulder straps. 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 detail makes the comfort of the shoulder straps especially 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.

The North Face Recon laptop backpack - bike commuting was a breeze, with the highly adjustable sternum and...
Bike commuting was a breeze, with the highly adjustable sternum and hip belt of the Recon.
Credit: Bligh Gillies


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 didn't fit in a couple of the smaller packs. Some of the smaller bags 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 North Face Recon laptop backpack - the front buckled pouch was a great place for larger items, like our...
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.
Credit: Bligh Gillies

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.

The North Face Recon laptop backpack - with all the storage options in the smaller compartment, we were...
With all the storage options in the smaller compartment, we were able to load this giant pack with all sorts of extra goodies.
Credit: Bligh Gillies


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 North Face Recon laptop backpack - the recon has one of the largest carrying capacities tested (31l).
The Recon has one of the largest carrying capacities tested (31L).
Credit: Bligh gillies

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 detail, 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 North Face Recon laptop backpack - the recon has a durable water resistant (dwr) coating applied that...
The Recon has a durable water resistant (DWR) coating applied that sheds the water off immediately upon contact.
Credit: Kat Elliott

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.


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.


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 North Face Recon laptop backpack - the highly adjustable sternum and hip belt of the recon made it a...
The highly adjustable sternum and hip belt of the Recon made it a good choice for walking, bike commuting, and day hiking.
Credit: Bligh Gillies

Katherine Elliott
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