Review: The North Face Chimera 18 Daypack

The North Face Chimera 18
$99, 18L/1,098 c.i., 1 lb. 1 oz.
One size each in men’s and women’s models

For many dayhikes, the best daypack is one that’s light, carries only what you need without superfluous capacity, and remains mostly unnoticeable on your back. I carried The North Face’s new and interesting Chimera 18 on several hikes, including a 21-mile, 10,500-vertical-foot, rim-to-rim dayhike across the Grand Canyon, and came away very impressed by its comfort with more weight than expected for a 17-ounce pack, plus its stability and surprising versatility for a range of hikers.

I also tested it on late-summer and fall dayhikes of several miles and more than 2,000 vertical feet in Zion and Glacier national parks and Idaho’s Boise Foothills—and once with only water and a long-sleeve shirt inside on a 14-mile trail run in the Boise Foothills, when it proved more stable for running than most daypacks (albeit with very little weight inside; I don’t see it as primarily a running pack).

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The North Face Chimera 18 back and harness.
The North Face Chimera 18 back and harness.

Most uniquely, TNF’s DynoCinch System—also featured on some larger, new packs from The North Face—consists of cords over one shoulder and below both elbows that you can pull on-the-fly to compress the pack without taking it off. Besides minimizing shifting and bounce, it makes the pack more stable and pulls its weight closer to your back—improving carrying comfort, even with more weight inside than you’d expect to stuff into a pack weighing a mere 17 ounces.

The simple harness consists only of shoulder straps and a thin webbing belt; and with only a foam back panel flexible enough to fold in half, the Chimera lacks the rigidity and structure seen in daypacks designed for carrying 12 to 15 pounds or more. Still, the pack rides higher on the torso than many daypacks, hugging your upper back, a close fit enhanced when you tighten up the DynoCinch System to pull the contents inward; and the wide shoulder straps disperse weight. I was surprised to find the Chimera reasonably comfortable even with more than 15 pounds inside—very atypical of ultralight daypacks. The perforated, mesh-covered FlashDry back panel offers good breathability and dries fast, too.

I had close to 20 pounds in it at the outset of my Grand Canyon rim-to-rim hike—including water, food, layers, and a DSLR with two zoom lenses—and never felt like it was severely overloaded or pulling on my shoulders, the way some packs feel when stuffed beyond their comfortable capacity. Still, I’d recommend it for up to 15 pounds, and that you experiment with how it feels with more weight inside. On most hikes with it, I kept the weight under 15 pounds.

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The Chimera’s fairly unique organization offers quick, convenient access to the two zippered compartments and abundant space in exterior stuff-it pockets—a design with the added benefit of reducing the pack’s weight and profile while keeping it close to your back. More similar to a clamshell-style opening than a top-loading pack, it has a two-way zipper arcing from the top-middle of the pack down one side that accesses the main compartment, which has plenty of space for all the stuff most hikers would need even on very long days in the mountains. (If you like to use a daypack as a plane carry-on, I found that a 15-inch laptop easily slides inside this compartment.)

A smaller compartment/pocket, accessed by a one-way zipper arcing from the top down the pack’s other side, functions like a traditional lid pocket, with space for smaller items like sunglasses and light gloves. But unlike a traditional lid pocket, which rides higher and can seem like a floppy, ill-matched accessory atop the partly filled main compartment of a top-loading pack, this pocket’s weight and bulk ride beside the main compartment, entirely unobtrusively.

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With only minor contortions, I could reach into the two stretchy side pockets—each large enough for a liter bottle—while wearing the pack. The stretchy front stash pocket easily swallows a shell or insulation layer plus smaller items. The DynoCinch compression squeezes the mouths of those three zipperless pockets to prevent anything from inadvertently falling out.

Borrowing from running vests, each shoulder strap features two stretch-mesh pockets for gels, bars, a phone, or small, flexible water bottles. The hydration sleeve’s location between the back panel and the main compartment enables refilling a bladder without having to open the main compartment or remove any contents from it.

The Chimera 18 has all the capacity I needed for food, water, layers, camera gear, and incidentals even on 12-hour dayhikes. But there’s also a larger version, the Chimera 24, for hikers who need greater capacity.

Other daypack models that feature the DynoCinch System include the men’s and women’s Chimera 24 ($110) and the men’s and women’s Hydra 38 ($170) and Hydra 26 ($150).

The North Face Chimera 18


The Verdict

For hikers who prefer a light load and low-profile daypack, but occasionally go a bit heavier, on long or short dayhikes, The North Face Chimera 18’s smart, ultralight design make it ideal for all but the heaviest loads and one of the most versatile daypacks out there.



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See my “Gear Review: The 8 Best Hiking Daypacks” and all of my reviews of daypacks I like, plus my “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack” (which includes daypacks) and all of my reviews of hiking gear.

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


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4 thoughts on “Review: The North Face Chimera 18 Daypack”

  1. Really enjoy your articles! I’ve read through quite a few and can tell you’re unbiased and use your gear hard in real world applications. I was curious, can you easily attach trekking poles or an ice axe to the Chimera? Seems like a perfect new daypack, but as I do a lot of scrambles in Colorado, I need to be able to store my poles to free up my hands. I think I see a lashing point, but it’s not mentioned in your review or at TNF’s website.

    • Hi Tanner, thanks for asking a good question. Sorry I didn’t mention the tool attachment in the review; it’s such a common accessory that some reviewers and even some brands won’t always point it out.

      You are correct, you can see the adjustable cord-lock attachment on the upper pack (behind the user’s left shoulder) and the fixed loop on the same side near the bottom. These would hold an axe or poles collapsed. I would just point out that the pack would need to have enough contents inside it to give the pack some rigidity for carrying anything, especially an axe, because the pack itself is so light and flexible.

      Good luck.

    • Hello! Thank you for this detailed review. Just wondering, white size hydration pack were you able to fit into this backpack? I have not been able to find capacity information anywhere!

      Thank you

      • Hi Roxana,

        Good question, and I assume you mean what size hydration bladder (correct me if you’re asking something else). Like many daypacks, the Chimera 18 will fit a three-liter bladder, and like many daypacks, a full three-liter bladder will bulge into and slightly lessen some of the cargo space in the pack’s compartments until the water volume goes down. But as I mentioned in the review, the hydration sleeve’s location between the back panel and the main compartment, which enables refilling a bladder without having to open the main compartment or remove any contents from it.