- Buyer's Guide
The North Face Banchee Review
On any backpacking trip I’ve been on there’s always at least one North Face bag in the group. They are affordable, approachable and generally fit better than most other backpacking bags. With a closet full of bags, I can confidently reach for a North Face backpack knowing that it will work well for whatever type of backpacking trip I’m going on.
So when the North Face updated their gender specific Banchee Line of backpacks ahead of this years backpacking season, both my fiance and I took notice.
On paper, the updated Banchee line builds on The North Face’s reputation by offering even better fit and more versatility in a surprisingly light bag. Curious to explore these updates, I got my hands on a 65L Banchee and my fiance a 50L. Throughout the course of this summer we’ve used these bags on trips throughout the US from weekend treks to week long endeavors. As the season comes to a close, we’ve grown to love the extremely well dialed in fit and uber comfortable suspension system of The North Face’s Banchee line.
Who it Suits
The Banchee line is great for both new and experienced backpackers. For new backpackers this is a perfect bag because it affords the ability to adjust the fit of the frame to fit a wide range of body sizes. This is thanks to the new “Dyno Lite” adjustment system which allows the torso length of the bag to be adjusted while being worn.
For experienced backpackers these bags have the capacity to carry everything one would take outside, including odd shaped items like fishing poles or raft paddles. With the larger sized packs, we’ve got plans to use these bags for winter camping because they can easily accommodate the bulkier gear.
Who it Doesn’t
The Banchee line isn’t suited for backpackers who really have a dialed in kit or those more towards the ultralight side of things. The Banchee has a lot of adjustment points, straps and pocketing which someone who knows exactly what they want will find annoying.
After a couple of months with our Banchee’s and a couple of hundred miles with them on our backs, these bags have become our go to carry for a number of reasons.
First off, the fit. The designers at The North Face have built a very interesting adjustment system into the Banchee Line via three components. The first is the “Dyno Lite” adjustment system which allows the torso length of the bag to be adjusted up to 5 inches while wearing the pack. No more fiddling with the fit with the bag on the ground only to find that it’s no longer comfortable once actually being worn.
Not only does this system provide a very honed in fit, but it also allows for the bag to be adjusted depending on the load being carried. This makes sense that a bag should carry differently at the beginning of a weeklong trek than at the end.
The second component is a pair of load lifters that ties the Dyno Lite system to the shoulder straps. Thanks to the way in which the cord is arranged, these load lifters automatically adjust the tension to keep the bag wearing high and tight as the load changes. It’s a very responsive bag that we’ve found remains comfortable even after 10+ hours on the trail.
The third component of the Banchee’s adjustment system are adjustable hip belts. A thick swatch of velcro can be torn away (with the bag not being worn) to shorten or lengthen the width of the hip belts. We’ve found that this doesn’t need to be adjusted, but does help to really get a well fitting bag.
While this adjustment system allows us to really dial in the fit of the backpack, there’s also another point to note when considering why these bags wear so well. The North Face makes the Banchee Line in a ton of different sizes off the shelf. In addition to both male and female specific bags, the bag itself comes in two torso sizes and a variety of different volumes. For us, 65L and 50L gave us plenty of room to carry anything and everything we wanted with the correct torso sizes.
Ergonomics aside, what’s the bag actually like on our back? Simply put, airy. Thanks to a trampoline, concave back panel our backs rarely got sweaty even while hiking through the hot afternoon. Not only is there ample airflow to our backs, but you can even see daylight through these bags. That’s a lot of separation to ensure a breeze.
Pocketing wise, the Banchee’s are bursting with pockets. Starting at the top there’s a brain with a top and bottom zipper. Our maps and snacks are usually stored in these pockets, though the bottom pocket can be awkward to get to without stuff falling out.
The majority of the volume of these bags are taken up by a large compartment which can be accessed from the top and bottom of the bag. The front of this compartment has a sleeve that is great for stashing a jacket or raincoat. Moving along the sides of the bag there are expandable areas for water bottles that easily swallow large Nalgene bottles. Anyone who has hiked with these bottles knows that this isn’t an easy task.
Finally, along the hipbelt there’s generously sized pockets to hold a phone, cliff bar, headlamp and other small items. While the pocketing is impressive, we have actually lost items in this bag because there’s almost too many compartments.
While there’s a lot going on with these bags, the team at The North Face has managed to keep them still quite light. The 65L tips the scales at just over 3 lbs (1.4 Kg). It’s not ultralight, but it can also carry 65L very comfortably
Finally, another aspect we’ve grown to appreciate about the Banchee’s is just how durable they are. In addition to holding up to the Great Outdoors, they have also held up exceptionally well to the less than great airlines. We’ve checked these bags multiple times.
While they pop out at the baggage carousel at the other end scuffed, everything on them has held up perfectly. While we primarily use them for backpacking trips, these bags would work great as a travel backpack.
The Not so Good
While the Banchee doesn’t have any glaring flaws, it does suffer from trying to do everything. This comes out in two ways.
First is with the adjustable suspension system. While being able to adjust the suspension and fit of the bag is great, we’ve found that after the first month of using these bags we hardly have adjusted them since. What this means is that we’re carrying around a lot of unnecessary parts on this backpack that add weight and don’t really serve a purpose anymore.
The second point involves the pocketing of the Banchees. Along with all the pockets come a plethora of straps. There are so many straps that we have to take a minute when breaking camp in the morning to tuck all the straps away.
Neither of these flaws are deal breakers for us, but they become niggles after using the Banchee’s for a couple of months.
It’s also worth noting that while the Banchee’s are constructed with durable nylon, it’s far from waterproof. We still always pack everything inside a plastic garbage bag inside of the bag to ensure everything stays dry.
Finally, one long term question we’ve got with these bags is their durability. While we’ve been using them for nearly a year with nothing breaking or wearing out, there’s a lot of moving pieces and hardware within the suspension of the Banchees. Again nothing has actually broken, but there are many more possible failure points than other bags on the market. Something to keep in mind.
I’ll make sure to update this post if something does deteriorate or fail. But so far so good!
After a summer of using the Banchee’s we plan to keep hiking with them on our backs into the fall and through the winter. Yes, the Banchee line aren’t the lightest bags in the world nor the most simple, but their superior fit and generous storage space make them very easy to use.
Besides working great for us, we’ve found that having the Banchee’s on hand is great for hiking with friends who don’t have their own backpack. The “Dyno Lite” adjustment system easily adapts the great fit of these bags to a friends back which gets out into the woods with more people. Afterall, that’s what these bags are supposed to facilitate right?