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)
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.
[Note: See my review of the newest version of the Banchee, the 2019 Banchee 50.]
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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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.
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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.