The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

The North Face Base Camp Messenger Review

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Price:  $114 List
Pros:  Great laptop protection, secret travel pocket, luggage handle sleeve
Cons:  Not very waterproof, not as stylish as other bags, shoulder strap is neither comfortable nor easily adjustable
Manufacturer:   The North Face
By Jeremy Bauman ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 3, 2015
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64
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 20% 6
  • Organizing - 20% 7
  • Laptop Protection - 15% 8
  • Style - 15% 6
  • Water resistance - 15% 5
  • Features - 15% 6

The Skinny

The North Face Base Camp Messenger packs a punch and has several features that make it a great choice for travel. While it wasn't our favorite all-around messenger bag, it provides a good mix of features that make it a worthy purchase. The shoulder strap was the second least comfortable one that we tested and the lack of easy adjustability makes it poorly suited to frequent bike commuting. If you ride your bike with a bag often, consider the Top Pick Chrome Buran as an excellent alternative. We loved the size of this bag and the laptop compartment is quite protective. This bag comes in a medium size at 20 liters.

For a bird eye view of all the messenger bags we tested, be sure to check out our complete messenger bag review.


Our Analysis and Test Results

The North Face Base Camp Messenger has some great external pockets for quick access. It didn't score as highly overall as most of the other bags in the review, but our reviewers still enjoyed using this bag. It is relatively simple and a few great features. The biggest downside is that the shoulder strap is difficult to adjust and is not very comfortable.

Performance Comparison


Blend into underwater environments with the aquatic toned camo pattern. The vertical black sections on the flap are reflective. Also notice how the body of the bag protrudes out from the flap. This is not ideal if it rains and negates the bags water resistant material.
Blend into underwater environments with the aquatic toned camo pattern. The vertical black sections on the flap are reflective. Also notice how the body of the bag protrudes out from the flap. This is not ideal if it rains and negates the bags water resistant material.

Comfort


While The North Face Base Camp Messenger was more comfortable than bags without padded shoulder straps like the Manhattan Portage NY, the shoulder padding on its shoulder strap is pretty minimal and less substantial than other similar bags. Overall, we found it to be one of the least comfortable shoulder straps of any of any tested. One nice feature is that the completely removable t-strap can be used across the chest or like a hip belt.

To get an idea of comfort  we sometimes wore the bags while working as seen here. Also notice the beautiful cup of coffee. Our tests concluded that you'll enjoy this bag even more if you wear it while drinking a glorious pour over.
To get an idea of comfort, we sometimes wore the bags while working as seen here. Also notice the beautiful cup of coffee. Our tests concluded that you'll enjoy this bag even more if you wear it while drinking a glorious pour over.

The material used for the luggage sleeve on the back of the pack is slightly longer than the material to which it is sewn. One tester complained that this fabric tended to bunch and was a little uncomfortable. Other testers didn't seem to notice or mind. Another "comfort" related issue is that the front flap clips are relatively difficult to unclip as they are overlapped by the stiff edge of the front flap. This made entry into the bag slightly more difficult than others. However, if you travel in crowded areas frequently, you may appreciate this as a security related feature.

Storage & Organization


This bag is pretty simple; there aren't too many pockets to get in the way. If you're looking for a lot of pockets, this might not be the bag for you, but if you want something that's bare bones and simple so that you aren't constantly forgetting which pocket you put your keys or pen in, this bag fits the bill wonderfully. Conversely, the Timbuk2 Command Messenger had more pockets than we knew what to do with.

There is one large pocket on the flap that is protected by a water resistant zipper. This would be big enough for a normal sized book. On the underside of the flap there are two nylon loops designed to accommodate a standard U-lock. On the back of the pack, concealed beneath the luggage handle sleeve, is a secret zipped pocket. If you travel frequently, this is a great place to stash money and other things you'd like to keep hidden. Just inside the body of the bag is a very large zipped pocket with a key clip. This a good place to keep over-ear headphones and power supplies. Just inside the main compartment, resides an assortment of small organizational pockets including two Velcro secured vertical pockets (barely big enough for an iPhone 6), an open pocket (big enough for keys and a wallet), three pen/pencil holders, one really skinny vertical pocket, and two slots for loyalty cards.

Top Left: slide adjustment and minimal padding on the shoulder strap. TR: secret pocket and luggage sleeve. BL: flap clips obscured by the very rigid edge of the flap. BR: flap pocket.
Top Left: slide adjustment and minimal padding on the shoulder strap. TR: secret pocket and luggage sleeve. BL: flap clips obscured by the very rigid edge of the flap. BR: flap pocket.

The main compartment is 20 liters in size and has a one-liter water bottle sleeve on the right side. Neoprene tablet and computer sleeves finish off the organization features of this bag. The straps for the flap fold completely under the bottom, allowing bulky items like jackets or blueprint tubes to be easily secured. Also, they compress the bag tightly when it is lightly loaded.

At 20 liters in size  this bag is large enough for the daily needs of most. Use the neoprene ipad sleeve to keep your tablet safe and scratch free.
At 20 liters in size, this bag is large enough for the daily needs of most. Use the neoprene ipad sleeve to keep your tablet safe and scratch free.

Laptop Protection


The North Face Base Camp Messenger is slightly less protective than the Osprey Flapjack Courier but more protective than the Timbuk2 Classic. Along the back of the laptop compartment, a thin piece of foam protects your 15 inch macbook from your back. Like the design found in many of the other laptop compartments we analyzed, the computer sleeve in this one floats slightly above the bottom of the bag. This protects your laptop when the bag is set down forcefully. There is also a cylindrical piece of closed cell foam running along the base of the compartment. The tablet and laptop sleeves themselves are constructed with neoprene providing a little protection from the contents of the bag.

Laptop sleeve  iPad pouch  and internal storage enough for our things. It would be nice if the Base Camp Messenger also had a dedicated place to store a power supply.
Laptop sleeve, iPad pouch, and internal storage enough for our things. It would be nice if the Base Camp Messenger also had a dedicated place to store a power supply.

Style


We didn't find the color that we tested particularly stylish. But during the writing of this review, The North Face added 9 other color options to their website. The material is pretty stiff and doesn't feel as nice as other bags we tested. It has a plastic feel that we did't prefer. The North Face brand is well known and the prominent logo on the front flap of the bag and shoulder strap add intentionality to the bold colors and design of this bag.

This bag is a great size for biking. If the shoulder adjustment was easier to use  this would be a much better bag. It works much better for walking than biking.
This bag is a great size for biking. If the shoulder adjustment was easier to use, this would be a much better bag. It works much better for walking than biking.

Water Resistance


This bag scored a 5/10 after the waterfall test. Though the material seemed like it would be waterproof, we were a bit disappointed. The test strips placed in the bottom of the bag, flap pocket, and laptop compartment were all damp. Our suspicion is that water entered under the flap. For short bouts of rain, this bag will probably do just fine. It fared much better than the Manhattan Portage due to the burlier fabric. The corner "wings" under the flap fold in a little bit, but not as much as most other bags.
This bag can be seen in the frigid waterfall as one of our reviewers tests the bag's water resistance. Water entered under the flap despite the bags water resistant materials.
This bag can be seen in the frigid waterfall as one of our reviewers tests the bag's water resistance. Water entered under the flap despite the bags water resistant materials.

Features


Overall the bag works better for walking around than it does for biking. One reason for this is the lack of quick adjustability on the shoulder strap. When switching between riding a bike and walking, we typically like to carry the bag higher and lower respectively. In order to adjust the length of this strap, the bag will have to be taken off and the strap lengthened or shortened with both hands. This "set it and forget it" style of strap works well for casual use and for walking only.
The luggage handle sleeve on The North Face Base Camp Messenger was a welcome addition while traveling.
One feature that added a point for versatility is the addition of a back panel sleeve that lets you slip the bag over the handle of your rolling carry-on luggage. If you travel frequently, this would be an excellent feature. The discrete pocket is another great feature for travel.

With a  secret pocket and luggage handle sleeve  the Base Camp is a great bag for travel.
With a secret pocket and luggage handle sleeve, the Base Camp is a great bag for travel.

The fabric used on the body of the bag is a 300 denier phthalate-free TPE laminate. This will likely be less durable than other bags that we tested that are made with 1000 denier fabrics. Made with 840 denier ballistics nylon, the bottom is much more durable. We didn't notice any wear during our testing. Like the other bags we tested, there is a place on the bottom of this bag for a bike light. However, this one was a bit small and more difficult to use than others.

Best Applications


The size and features make this a great bag for daily use. The secret pocket and luggage handle sleeve make it a great carry-on bag. We found it to work far better for walking than for biking.

Value


At a retail price of $114, The North Face Base Camp Messenger is a bit more expensive than our Best Buy award winner: the Timbuk2 Classic. However, the Base Camp has more travel-specific features that you might find make the difference.

Conclusion


This bag works great for just about everything but didn't work as well for biking as others. If you use shoulder bags to travel, you'll like the travel features on this bag. That said, we would recommend you check out the Timbuk2 Command, which has much better travel-specific features, but is also more expensive. For daily use, you'll appreciate the generous laptop protection that The North Face Base Camp Messenger offers. Overall, this is a great bag that will work for most people quite well and we wouldn't hesitate to own one. We just found other bags to have slightly better features.

The outer material of this bag is pretty stiff. One nice thing about this is that the bag can stand upright.
The outer material of this bag is pretty stiff. One nice thing about this is that the bag can stand upright.

Other Versions


The North Face Recon
  • Cost - $100
  • Editors' Choice Award Winner laptop backpack!
  • Super comfortable
  • Great storage abilities


Jeremy Bauman