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
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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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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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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
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.
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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.
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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.