≪ Go to our review of Travel Backpacks
Hands-on Gear Review
The North Face Overhaul 40 Review
Cons: Small hip belt, not best for long distances with heavy loads
Bottom line: The Overhaul is an excellent, versatile, and intuitive travel backpack with well balanced features.
The North Face Overhaul is a top-notch travel backpack. It balances all of our favorite features, earning its spot as our Editor's Choice travel backpack. It looks a lot like a backpack students would carry around campus, and it does very well in that application. However, it has several features woven seamlessly into the bag, making it versatile without adding complication. This award winner has enough compartments to keep clean separate from dirty, fragile separate from squishable. It is easy to pack and unpack, and remains comfortable when heavy and overstuffed. This is an excellent companion for your next trip, especially if you plan to carry a laptop, hiking shoes, snacks, a notebook, clothing, and a few more items for the adventure of your choice.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Travel Backpacks and Carry-On Alternatives
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Overhaul is an intuitive and hyper functional travel backpack. Boasting a well-balanced performance across all of our review metrics, this was our obvious overall winner.
This award winner is a very comfortable travel pack. It looks like the backpack you had for school, but it can comfortably carry as much as 25-30 pounds of books, gear, luggage, whatever you might be traveling with. We were skeptical when we first saw the minimal waist belt, but in our tests, we found that it does surprisingly well for how tiny it is. When cinched down around your waist, the padding engages just enough to take some weight. That said, it is not the best bag for carrying heavy loads for extended periods of time. For a truly-comfortable-for-long-distances-travel-backpack, check out the Osprey Farpoint 55.
This pack's back panel is firm and well padded, with load lifter straps on the shoulders that we were particularly fond of. The hip belt is minimal and not very well padded, but the fit and placement is good enough that it combines well with the load lifters on the shoulder straps to center the weight of the pack. Overall, the suspension system provided good load transfer, helping to bring the weight closer to our body centers without straining our shoulders. It's excellent design resulted in excellent comfort, especially for the size of this pack.
The shape of the backpack also tapers at the bottom, similar to some technical climbing packs. This design improves the balance of the bag and helps it move with you.
This award winner really stood out in this review for its excellent features. No matter what activity we decided to take up with this pack, we found it easy to use and quite intuitive.
It has a well padded and easy to access laptop compartment, which is great for taking your laptop out at the office or for screening at airport security. We also really liked that there was a space below the laptop sleeve to tuck our charging cords securely out of the way--very thoughtfully designed.
In the front of the pack, there is a pocket with an assortment of office supply storage compartments, which are also useful for keeping travel items such as toiletries handy and organized, or small items you might take hiking, like a headlamp or chapstick. The closest rival for thoughtful features was the Patagonia Headway MLC, but the Overhaul won overall because of its outstanding backpack comfort.
There is a separate shoe pouch, which is very useful for carrying dirty shoes, workout clothes, or for stashing stinky rock shoes and chalky chalk bags away from other office supplies for the day.
The water bottle holders on the outside of the pack expand easily to hold a liter water bottle; some packs in this review had water bottle holders which were too small or tight to fit a liter sized bottle, which is a standard size many outdoor enthusiasts regularly carry, so this is a pretty important feature.
The pack also has a zipper which expands its' volume. This is an excellent feature, allowing you to have a bigger pack when you want it, but also be able to close the pack back down to a "normal" backpack size. It is important to note, however, that when you expand the pack and stuff it full, it is no longer technically carry on size.
There are sturdy handles on the top and one side of the pack, which make the pack easy to load into the trunk of a car, extract from the airplane's overhead bin, or otherwise move and stash this bag wherever your travels might take you. We also found that the handles were easier to locate than those of other packs. This is in part due to the size of the handles, and also because the design of the pack is sleek, smooth, and boxy enough to make them easy to find.
Packing & Accessibility
The main compartment is panel loading; it opens wide to pack your business clothing and other items you want to stay folded or organized. The shape and design of that main pocket also remains useful for school or office use, unlike the Minaal Carry On 2.0. The Minaal's main compartment is well suited to packing clothing, shoes, and socks, but not for sliding any folders or documents because the siding is too floppy and the angle is curved. This made the Overhaul much more versatile than the Minaal.
The accessory pouch also opens wide and is big and cavernous to carry a hooded sweatshirt or other items, thus contributing to the total amount of luggage you can cram into this pack.
The separate zippered pouch in the bottom of the pack is excelllent for keeping workout clothes, rock climbing gear for your trip to the rock gym after work, etc. Note, however, that this takes up volume in the main compartment. We found that even when we maxed out that bottom compartment, we were still able to fit a lot into the main compartment. The pocket tapers just enough to allow you to pack flat things and clothing easily around the protruding pouch.
This travel pack is made of relatively durable materials, though not the toughest in this review. This is not designed as a rugged outdoor backpack, though it will stand up to a lot of outdoor use, and is just as tough as a lot of climbing packs we've owned. For a much more durable pack that crosses over to more rigorous outdoor use, check out the Mountain Hardwear Splitter.
The quality of the manufacturing and attention to detail, however, make it a long-lasting pack. It has strong zippers and a design that minimizes strain on seams and zippers. The pack handled overstuffing better than most in this review.
The suspension system stows into the back panel, so this will not be the best pack to check in at the airport, but it will survive a few trips through the conveyor belts and baggage carousels of the airport.
Weight & Capacity
The Overhaul holds an astonishing amount of gear in what looks like a regular school backpack. We were stunned by the amount of gear we could fit into this bag, and how easy it was to pack. The Osprey Porter 46 and the Patagonia Headway MLC are similar in size to the Overhaul, and also seemed to absorb a surprising amount of gear while remaining carry on size.
The expansion zipper on the Overhaul makes it even easier to overstuff this backpack, but remember that this makes it larger than legal carry on size. We did have to expand this backpack to fit all of the gear in our "test load," but we were able to get everything inside this pack.
This pack is one of the most versatile in this review. It is stylish, and looks like a backpack that we would take to school/university, or to the office. But it works easily for international business travel, and looks professional enough for it as well.
The pack is also durable enough for outdoor use, such as hiking; however, it is not as specifically designed for rock climbing or backpacking use--it is more of an urban backpack.
The Overhaul is a moderately priced travel backpack. For the versatility and quality of workmanship, this backpack is a great value at $159.
This award winner is a travel pack that does it all! Pack your laptop for the work day, gym clothes for your afternoon workout, entertainment devices like tablet, and there's still room for other odds and ends. Plus, it is comfortable to carry with anything you can cram into it. And so long as you didn't unzip the expansion panel, it will still be legal carry on size, and an easy-to-manage size and shape to get in and out of the airplane's overhead bin.
— Lyra Pierotti
You Might Also Like
The Best Travel Backpacks and Carry-On AlternativesThe right pack makes for more comfort and less stress when traveling. To help you find the perfect model, we selected...
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 17, 2016
Where's the Best Price?
*You help support OutdoorGearLab's product testing and reviews by purchasing from our retail partners.
Table of Contents
Other Gear by The North Face