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Gear Review: The North Face Banchee 65 Backpack

The North Face Banchee 65

The North Face Banchee 65

Backpack
The North Face Banchee 65
$239, 65L/3,967 c.i., 3 lbs. 12 oz. (L/XL)
Sizes: men’s S/M (fits torsos 16-19 inches) and L/XL (fits torsos 18-21 inches), women’s XS/S (fits torsos 14-17 inches) and M/L (fits torsos 16-19 inches)
moosejaw.com

On the second afternoon of a tough, three-day backpacking trip with my 10-year-old daughter in the Grand Canyon, I had to load up with 17 pounds of water for the final 24 hours of our trip—bumping my pack weight up over 50 pounds for the uphill grind to Horseshoe Mesa. I wondered how comfortably a sub-four-pound backpack could carry that load. But even with 50 pounds inside, the Banchee 65 floated on my back.

Long, hard descents also speak volumes about a pack’s comfort. I started the trip with about 40 pounds in the Banchee 65 for the hike down the rugged New Hance Trail—dropping a rocky 5,000 feet in five miles. By the time we reached our campsite by the Colorado River, my legs felt worked, but not my shoulders, neck, or back. The pack’s secret weapon is a lightweight, aluminum perimeter rod with a plastic framesheet, and a horizontal rod connecting the two sides of the frame about halfway down it—like adding a middle pillar supporting a roof beam. The result is a frame that’s absolutely rigid on the vertical axis, but flexes slightly on the horizontal axis, to move with your torso. The flexible hipbelt has enough rigidity that it didn’t fold under a 50-pound load. Even with all that water sitting at the top of the pack hiking up to Horseshoe Mesa, or taking numerous big steps down off ledges on the New Hance Trail, the pack did not shift side to side or feel top-heavy.

 

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The North Face Banchee 65

The North Face Banchee 65

Comfort is enhanced by a mesh trampoline back pad that lets air circulate over your back—I hardly broke a sweat even humping uphill on warm afternoons—and breathable, perforated-foam shoulder straps and hipbelt. The Banchee 65 has a huge fit range: Besides coming in two sizes for men and women, the hipbelt is adjustable by seven inches and the torso length by five inches. (The buckle for adjusting the hipbelt sits behind a flap inside the each hipbelt pocket, slightly difficult to grab for people with thick fingers.)

This top-loader excels for organization and capacity. Besides that extra water, I fit all of the gear and food for two people for three days—even without having to take advantage of the extendable storm collar. Twin zippered, 16-inch-long front pockets keep a rain shell, snacks, and other necessities easily accessible, and sit on the outside of a stuff-it pocket that can swallow a wet rainfly. The floating lid’s pocket has a zippered, mesh inside pocket for valuables like car key, phone, and camera memory cards. And there are two deep, stretch-mesh side pockets that I can reach into while wearing the pack, and two zippered hipbelt pockets that hold three energy bars each. TNF even nailed some impressive details, like reinforced fabric at the bottom corners of the frame, where stitching can blow out.

 

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Two small gripes: I consider a sleeping-bag compartment zipper and inside flap superfluous weight; I never use them, because dividing the main compartment prevents you from using its space to maximum efficiency. (The Banchee’s sleeping bag compartment flap can be detached and tucked out of the way, but not removed.) Plus, the pack’s bottom straps are better positioned for compressing the pack bottom (rarely needed) than attaching a foam pad to the outside of the pack (used more often).

Because the Banchee 65 handles as big a load as packs that are a half-pound or more heavier, and yet compresses very well, it pulls double duty, functioning like both a weekend and a weeklong pack: With this pack, you don’t need a 50L sack in your quiver. All in all, this is a terrific all-around pack that’s like getting two backpacks for the price of one.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to buy a men’s or women’s Banchee 65 at moosejaw.com or rei.com.

 

Tell me what you think.

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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 categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza

 

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by USA Today and others. I invite you to sign up for my FREE email newsletter by entering your email address in the box in the left sidebar, at the bottom of this story, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.

9 Comments

  1. Murali Chinnakonda

    Hi Michael,

    I bought the 2018 version of this pack based on various reviews including yours. Thanks! While I like the backpack, I find that the hip belt is abrasive – in the sense that after the hike, my hips have the imprint of the belt and my hips are pretty sore to the point of bruising. None of the other backpacks have done this. So, I am curious if you noticed that compared to other backpacks and what can be done to alleviate it? I like the bag and want to use it – but not if bruises my hips. I had 38 lbs.

    Reply
    • MichaelALanza

      Hi Murali,

      Good choice for a backpack, the Banchee 65 is excellent. While it’s hard for me to diagnose your problem without seeing how the hipbelt fits on you, I can only figure that it is a fit problem, unless there’s a defect with the pack, which seems unlikely.

      Have you tried adjusting the fit of the hipbelt? Besides making sure you have the pack size that fits you (it comes in two sizes for both men and women), the hipbelt is adjustable by seven inches and the torso length by five inches. The buckle for adjusting the hipbelt sits behind a flap inside each hipbelt pocket (slightly difficult to grab for people with thick fingers). The padding of the hipbelt should wrap around far enough to rest comfortably on your hipbones, and you should be able to tighten the belt enough so that the hipbelt doesn’t shift around and rub on your hips.

      You might want to show its fit on you to someone who knows how to fit a backpack, whether an expert in an outdoor-gear store or someone you know.

      Let me know if the fit appears to be the source of your problem. Thanks for writing about it.

      Reply
  2. Marcos

    Accurate review except it fails to mention a key feature: this backpack can fit a BV500 bear canister horizontally in the zippered sleeping bag compartment. It’s tight, but it fits with the divider flap disconnected. And it’s great to be able to access my bear can anytime without unpacking everything. Of course, it’s best to carry that weight mid-pack, but this is much better than having to carry the bear can horizontally or way up top. It would be helpful if all reviews addressed this issue.

    Reply
    • MichaelALanza

      Hi Marcos, good observation and a good suggestion for pack reviews. I personally also use the BV500 bear canister and prefer to load it (or any bear canister) horizontally in a backpack. But I do load it mid-pack, for better weight distribution, rather than in the bottom of the pack. When I’m on the trail during the day, I keep food for the day more accessible in my pack, rather than in the canister, because I’ll always have my pack with me; and if the rest of my food doesn’t fill the canister, I’ll put other items that I don’t need during the day inside the canister with my other food, such as extra clothing or my stove and cook kit.

      Reply
      • Marcos

        Oops! Please edit my remarks to correct my error which should read: …but this is much better than having to carry the bear can vertically or way up top.
        Thanks.

        Reply
  3. Hiker 101

    How do you size the different banshee packs. Im looking at the banshee 65 but it comes in s/m and l/xl how so i know which is right for me? Cant find any info about this. Thanks

    Reply
    • michaellanza

      You’re right, I also couldn’t find info at The North Face website on sizing their packs. So I clicked on live chat (under Help in the menu at the bottom of the home page) and got an answer within a few minutes. I’ve updated the above review with the torso range for each men’s and women’s size of the Banchee 65. Thanks for pointing this out.

      Reply
  4. Emily S

    Hi! I’ve been searching for a 60-70L pack to take with me as luggage on a trip to New Zealand and then use while in South East Asia for two months. The pack I choose needs to be sturdy enough to make it through baggage, etc. How is the material on this pack? Do you think it would be sturdy enough to withstand all the travel? Thanks for your help!

    Reply
    • michaellanza

      I’d say mostly yes. The stretch-mesh side pockets may be the most vulnerable material on the pack’s exterior. I have flown using a backpack as luggage many times and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pack damaged on a flight. I always buckle the hipbelt backwards around the front of the pack, buckle and snug down the sternum and shoulder straps, and snug down all compression straps and tug the slack of any straps away so they’re not dangling loose, where they could catch on anything. But my preference–and what I usually do when flying with gear–is to pack all of my gear (with my pack empty and compressed) inside a big, durable duffel, where the pack and all gear is protected. I’ve used a large The North Face Base Camp Duffel for years (http://www.thenorthface.com/catalog/sc-gear/base-camp-duffel-medium.html).

      Reply

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