Review: The North Face Banchee 50 Backpack

Backpack
The North Face Banchee 50
$230, 50L/3,051 c.i., 3 lbs. 1 oz. (S/M)
Sizes: men’s S/M and L/XL, women’s XS/S and M/L
backcountry.com

In the competitive arena of backpacking packs, there’s an increasingly crowded field of ultralight models, as well as an array of choices in heavier, more tricked-out packs built for moderate to stout loads. Then there’s an interesting niche of packs that are, you could say, “almost ultralight.” Like the Banchee 50, which edges just over the unofficial ceiling weight for ultralight packs—three pounds—by the equivalent of the weight of a sip of water. Having reviewed and really liked the previous generation of the Banchee 65, I took the updated-for-2019 Banchee 50—loaded with more weight than I’d care to stuff into an ultralight pack—out for a five-day hike into Yellowstone, and discovered a solid and versatile backpack with only minor shortcomings.

I carried this pack with over 40 pounds in it at times on a five-day, 56-mile, September backpacking trip in the Bechler Canyon area of Yellowstone National Park. It was an atypically heavy load for my backpacking trips, due to me bringing more photography equipment than usual, sandals for river crossings, and a tent for myself that was a bit larger than many solo shelters. But those circumstances made the trip a good test for the Banchee 50.


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The North Face Banchee 50 suspension.
The North Face Banchee 50 suspension.

For 2019, The North Face introduced its new Dyno Lite suspension system in the updated Banchee 50 and Banchee 65, which come in men’s and women’s models.

In the Banchee 50 and 65, the Dyno Lite suspension has two unique features:

  1. An on-the-fly torso adjustment, which allows you to pull a strap or a tab beside the strap at the bottom right-hand corner of the pack to make micro adjustments to the pack’s torso fit, within about a three-inch range.
  2. A single-cord, self-equalizing load-lifter strap, that absorbs some of the natural motion of your torso when walking, thus helping to reduce the rhythmic pack shifting that can exert a cumulative fatiguing effect on your shoulders.

Simply put, the on-the-fly adjustment works well—and it’s convenient to be able to adjust the torso fit while wearing the loaded pack on the trail, when you most notice the fit. The strap adjustment shortens the torso length and locks the fit into place, and the pull tab releases the suspension to its maximum length—so you can quickly reset the fit with the pack on if you’ve made it too short. Both the strap and the pull tab sit within easy reach while wearing the pack, and differ enough to distinguish them by touch, without having to see them.

The North Face Banchee 50.
The North Face Banchee 50 front.

That on-the-fly adjustability let me dial in a good fit, roughly within the middle of the fit range in the men’s S/M, for my nearly 18-inch torso.

[Note: The North Face’s new-for-2019 men’s and women’s Griffin 65 ($300) and Griffin 75 ($320) sport TNF’s new and more elaborate DynoCarry suspension, which features a pivoting hipbelt in addition to the on-the-fly torso adjustment and self-equalizing load lifters found in the Banchee series packs.]

The Banchee 50’s wire perimeter frame with a cross stay, made of strong but lightweight T6 aluminum, flexes very little, lending the pack solid rigidity and impressive weight capacity for a three-pound sack. Its carrying capacity seemed to be around 40 pounds—with more than that, the shoulder straps started tugging uncomfortably against my shoulders, but with slightly less than 40 pounds, the weight sat more comfortably on my hips. Of course, any pack’s weight-carrying capacity differs between individual backpackers.

The trampoline-style back panel, consisting of breathable, quick-drying FlashDry fabric, let air circulate through the gap between the pack and my back, while moisture never built up under the breathable, perforated-foam shoulder straps and hipbelt.

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The North Face Banchee 50 front pocket.
The North Face Banchee 50 front pocket.

Having reviewed the previous generation of TNF’s Banchee 65, I wondered whether the new Banchee 50 would have the capacity for a five-day hike. That was not a problem (and not just because I had a compact, ultralight sleeping bag and air mattress). With its spacious main compartment, a large, top-loading mouth for access, and especially the two large, zippered front pockets greatly augmenting the pack’s capacity, the Banchee 50 had space to spare for all the gear I brought plus five days’ of food. In fact, it seemed more spacious than other 50-liter packs I’ve reviewed.

Organization is excellent—especially for a pack weighing just north of three pounds—with eight external pockets and a ninth zippered pocket under the lid. Besides the aforementioned two large front pockets, there’s a deep, front stuff pocket spacious enough for a wet rainfly, with its volume controlled by the side compression straps. The zippered hipbelt pockets are big enough for a large smartphone and a bar or two each. Two stretch-mesh side pockets swallow much more than a liter bottle, and are angled to make it easy to retrieve and replace a bottle with the pack on. The lid pocket is also large for a 50-liter pack.

 

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The North Face Banchee 50 hipbelt.
The North Face Banchee 50 hipbelt.

It has nice little features like a whistle buckle on sternum strap and tool attachments. The Banchee appears about as durable as many competitors, with fabric common in many packs: 70-denier nylon in the body and tougher, 210-denier nylon in the bottom.

I don’t typically use a sleeping-bag compartment zipper, because dividing the main compartment prevents you from using its space to maximum efficiency, and this one is almost hidden behind the bottom compression straps—which I also rarely use because I won’t attach anything to the bottom of the pack that would prevent it from standing up, and there’s rarely a need to compress the bottom. So I consider these features superfluous weight; but they are also not uncommon in this category of backpack, and do get used by some backpackers. (The Banchee’s sleeping bag compartment flap can be detached and tucked out of the way, but not removed.)

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The North Face Banchee 50

Comfort/Support
Fit
Access
Features
Weight-to-Performance
Value

The Verdict

Sporting numerous features and a bit more space and weight-carrying capacity than many competitors at this size, while weighing barely over three pounds, The North Face Banchee 50 and Banchee 65 are outstanding, comfortable, and versatile, quiver-of-one packs for backpackers who may variously carry loads ranging from lightweight to moderate weight.

4.3

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BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase the men’s or women’s The North Face Banchee 50 or Banchee 65 at backcountry.com or Moosejaw.com, or The North Face men’s or women’s Griffin 65 or Griffin 75 at backcountry.com or Moosejaw.com.

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See “Gear Review: The 10 Best Backpacking Packs” and “The Best Ultralight Backpacks,” my review of another excellent pack at the similar weight as the Banchee 50, the Granite Gear Blaze 60, my “Top 5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpacking Pack,” and all of my reviews of backpacks and backpacking gear.

Tell me what you think.

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Want to make your pack lighter and all of your backpacking trips more enjoyable? See my story “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” If you don’t have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read part of that story for free, or click here to download that full story without having a paid membership.

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.

—Michael Lanza

 

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13 thoughts on “Review: The North Face Banchee 50 Backpack”

  1. Hi Michael, I’m curious how you would compare this pack to the Gregory Zulu and the Osprey Stratos in terms of comfort, load bearing, and capacity? These three packs seem to fill the space of a relatively lightweight, full featured, ventilated pack. It looks like you rated the Zulu higher overall than the Banchee…do you find that to be the better pack, weight difference aside? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hey Chris,

      Good question and you are correct in seeing those three packs as similarly lightweight, well-featured, and ventilated. I think the Banchee and Zulu both offer better comfort than the Stratos, which is priced so well in part because it doesn’t have the design elements of higher-end Osprey packs. And the Banchee and Zulu have very similar frames and harnesses, so while I think the Banchee has a slight edge there, I honestly think they’re so close that you could pick either, based on features like organization, and be happy with your choice.

      Hope that’s helpful. Good luck and I hope you’ll consider purchasing through one of the affiliate links in this review to support my work.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  2. Michael, great review! I am in the process of buying these packs for my wife and I who are new to backpacking. One question for you: if we are planning mainly 2-3 night trips with non-ultralight gear, would each of us getting 50L packs suit us well? My guess reading your review is the answer is yes, but I am worried that maybe I should get the 65L instead. Would this be way overkill? As far as gear we would plan to have: REI Half dome 2 Plus tent, REI mummy bags, self-inflating pads, Soto Amicus stove + 8oz canister, 3 days worth of food, change of clothes, miscellaneous multi-tools/headlamps/etc. Would love your opinion on the size aspect!

    Reply
    • Hi Preston, I have carried a variety of 50-liter packs on trips longer than four days. While my gear is generally very light and compact, I also sometimes carry extra stuff that I’m testing, or more of the group share of gear depending on who I’m with. So yes, I think you’re both fine with 50L packs for trips up to four days. You’d want the 65L possibly for longer trips or when you’re carrying more than a standard, basic gear kit for one person. Good luck.

      Reply
        • Michael, I got my hands on a pack today and have a really dumb question: With this dynofit, is the ONLY adjustment the torso strap and load equalizer strap on the pack? Or is that just for fine tuning once you adjust the torso length elsewhere? (Wasnt sure if this pack has a traditional velcro pad on the back for adjusting torso length).

          Finally, as far as the Torso strap hanging at the bottom on the right side, how does this thing work? I have tried pulling it a bit, but it looks pretty lengthened already and I dont want to break something! Where’s the other tab to use to lengthen the torso back out??? It’s probably right in front of me…

          Reply
          • Hi Preston,

            Perhaps you’ve already tried reaching out to The North Face for support or where you bought the pack, but I’ll try to help. As I wrote in the review above, the strap and tab on the bottom right side allows you to make micro adjustments to the pack’s torso fit, within about a three-inch range; the strap and tab adjust it in opposite directions. I think you’ll find it on closer inspection.

          • Hi Michael, thanks for taking the time to reply. If you can believe it, I did reach out to TNF and they couldn’t help me. No video demonstration or product guide available. Kinda of strange, to be honest. I did see you mention both the strap and the tab on the right side. When I was lookin at it previously I definitely saw the strap (I believe it said TORSO), but could not see the tab. I will have to continue messing with it. Thanks

          • Hi Preston,

            I’m also surprised TNF doesn’t have an owners manual at the website (or none I could find). But I’m glad you asked this question because it prompted me to add a photo of the Dyno Lite strap and tab adjustment system to the above review; see the photo gallery right above The Verdict header in the review. That may help clear this up for you. The strap and loop tab pull the shoulder straps harness in opposite directions.

          • You are so awesome, thanks for doing that! That looped tab is the only thing I thought was it, but I didn’t want to pull and mess something up! Appreciate you taking the time to help me out. Can’t wait to try out the pack! Love your blog and some of your other content – I have subscribed. Cheers.

  3. I agree this one took me by surprise when I bought it last year. Incredible weight/convenience ratio. There’s definitely a need for this “almost UL” pack, especially one as comfortable as this! Really kind of a “sleeper” pick for backpacking pack despite being from TNF. Only things I wish for were a “longer neck” on the main compartment so the floating lid (and I’m so glad it’s a true floating lid), could expand a little higher up.

    Reply
    • Hey JT,

      Thanks for the comment, you’re right about the niche the Banchee falls into on the cusp between an ultralight pack and one that’s capable of carrying heavier loads. It makes it a good quiver-of-one backpack. Enjoy it.

      Reply