Last Updated: October 2, 2020

The North Face Backpacks: Borealis vs Jester

North Face make top-notch gear as we already saw that with their Back to Berkeley boot and  their toasty and waterproof jackets. But their backpacks are very worthy of your hard-earned money too.

With the Borealis and the Jester backpacks you have two feature-filled daily backpacks that are very hard to choose between. Don't you hate it when manufactuters do that :> But never fear, I've got your back (no pun intended). 

Whether you are looking to save a few pennies, or need a pack that will keep your gear super secure, this comparison will help you decide.

Specifications Of Both Backpacks Side-By-Side

Before we go into detail about anything, we will first take a look at the main design features of these backpacks. You can see their sizes, materials, weights and other useful information in the table below:

Borealis Front
Jester Front


19.75” x 13.5” x 8.5”

19.75” x 13.25” x 7.5”


2.12 lbs

2 lbs


28 liters

26 liters

 Laptop Sleeve Dimensions

12” x 13”

12” x 14”


210D Cordura® nylon mini-ripstop, 420D nylon, 600D polyester print, 1680D Ballistic s nylon

600D polyester, 450D x 300D heather polyester, 600D geo emboss polyester, 1200D polyester

As you can see, in terms of their dimensions and weights, these backpacks are very similar. The Jester is slightly smaller and therefore slightly lighter, but both are made of very high quality materials. I would say that the Borealis has a slight upper hand in terms of the materials though, because of the ripstop fabric. This type of fabric is used in most high quality backpacks (and other gear), and is really known for its superb durability.

So, superficially, Borealis is the obvious choice if you are looking for a bigger backpack. On the other hand, someone in need of a smaller backpack will naturally opt for the Jester. But, I would not advise you to decide on anything just now; we have yet to scratch beneath the surface!

So, let’s do that. First we will take a look at all the features that these two awesome backpacks share. Then we will go into even more detail and see where exactly they differ.

NOTE: If neither of this is large enough for your needs. Both the Surge and the Recon (comparison here) are bigger backpacks and you could obviously fit more things in them.

In addition to all that, I have to say that I think that both of these backpacks are kind of perfect for school, and Jester in particular. Yes they are both daypacks, and yes they are both versatile – you could choose to get them for travel purposes or hiking purposes as well. I just think that the size of the Jester and all of the organizational features make it great for carrying books and other school stuff with you.

Advantages Of The North Face Borealis

The North Face Borealis is the larger and the more expensive backpack, so it makes sense that it has more features. In this part of the review we will see what those features are.

Removable Waist Belt

Waist Belt

The Borealis includes a removable waist belt. The belt allows you to wrap it around your stomach and buckle it, which helps distribute the load of the backpack more evenly across your torso.

However, this belt is so thin that it will undoubtedly cut into your tummy if you are a heavier person. And it looks nowhere near as comfortable as the belt of the Osprey Levity. Granted, that backpack is intended for a different purpose, but we’re comparing comfort here, not purpose. So let’s just say that it’s a good thing the waist belt on the Borealis is removable.

Tablet Sleeve In The Front Compartment

Borealis Tablet Sleeve

This is another feature that is lacking on the Jester. As you can see in the photo, the Borealis comes equipped with not only a dedicated phone compartment, but also a dedicated tablet compartment. So if you tend to carry your tablet around a lot, you will definitely benefit from this feature.

In addition to that, the front compartment is also equipped with a few smaller zippered pockets and elastic webbing for all your cords and chargers. These multiple little pockets allow for excellent organization, but they don’t leave much space in the rest of the compartment for anything else.

External Fleece Lined Pocket

External Pocket

The Borealis backpack has a smaller pocket that is at the very front, which is lined with fleece and it’s very easily accessible. It is meant for storage of any smaller items that would want to have handy.

If you like to keep your phone or your sunglasses separate from your other gear, then you will love this feature.

Side Compression Straps

These are always a handy feature to have. For one thing, when you have compression straps that go over the zipper of the main compartment, thieves will have a much harder time trying to unzip your backpack without you noticing.

On the other hand, they help with securing the load of the backpack, particularly if you over-stuff it. And when you combine their functionality with the functionality of the waist belt (I never said it wasn’t functional, just that it looked uncomfortable!), you can fill this bad boy to the brim and not even feel it on your shoulders.

Common Features These Backpacks

The features below are found on both the Borealis and the Jester backpack. If you are more interested in their respective differences, you will have to scroll a bit further. :>

Padded Back Panel And FlexVent Suspension System

Both of the backpacks boast North Face’s superb FlexVent suspension system. This system includes shoulder straps that are customly molded, for ultimate carrying comfort.

In addition to that, there is also a mesh, padded back panel, which allows for not only excellent ventilation, but also great support. And the back panel also has a spine channel, which only reinforces the amount of support.

So, in terms of the carrying comfort of the backpacks, both of these are fairly equal. Naturally, the Borealis might be slightly less comfortably simply because it is bigger and will be heavier when you fill it. But, that is not really a design feature; just a normal thing to expect from a bigger backpack.

Padded Laptop Sleeve

Laptop Sleeve

Both backpacks feature a padded laptop sleeve in their main compartments. And, both claim that the sleeves can perfectly fit laptops that are up to 15”.

Now, I was a bit surprised by this, because the actual dimensions of the sleeve are quite smaller, as we saw in the table above. But, as you can see in the photo here, the sleeve can’t be closed off, and it’s not meant to fully cover the laptop. So a 15.6” laptop should fit perfectly inside both sleeves.

On the one hand, this is a convenient feature, because your laptop will be more easily accessible. On the other hand, if you drop your backpack while it’s open, it’s more likely that the laptop will slide out the sleeve. But that almost never happens (except to me) so you should be fine.

Sternum Strap With Whistle Buckle

Whistle Buckle

Both the Jester and the Borealis come equipped with a sternum strap that has a whistle buckle. This is very useful feature, particularly for people who have slimmer shoulder frame.

If you often struggle with one of the straps sliding off your shoulder, then you should definitely try out a backpack with a sternum strap. It’s mind-blowing.

And the whistle buckle is pretty cool actually. As you can see, the buckle of the sternum strap is actually the whistle. So if you notice that someone is trying to rob you, just bend your head a bit and bow into the buckle. That should scare them right off!

Storage Features

The front elastic bungee cord system is another shared feature. This is something similar to what we saw earlier on the Osprey Quasar. When you need extra storage space you can quickly shove something behind the bungee cord and then just tighten it.

However, I do have to note that the bungee system on the Jester doesn’t seem too trustworthy. There are very few cords and it just looks like it couldn’t keep a jacket in place. On the other hand the Borealis has a few more cords, and its bungee system looks much sturdier.

And one more thing; I think this feature also gives a sporty vibe to these two backpacks. Like you are on the go and you need to quickly stash your jacket away and you remember, oh cool I got those bungee thingies on the front for that. That is why I will also say that these two bags would make good backpacks for hiking, in addition to already being really good daypacks.

One more storage feature that both backpacks have in common are the two side water bottle pockets. The pockets are made of mesh on both backpacks. However, as you can see in the photos, the pockets on the Jester are much smaller than the ones on the Borealis. But that is something to expect, since it is the smaller backpack.

Two Large Storage Compartments

Both of the backpacks have a main compartment (obviously), and a secondary, front storage compartment. Additionally, there are also a few penholders, some smaller pocket and a dedicated phone pocket in both of the backpack’s front compartments. But, there are a few things that the Borealis has and the Jester doesn’t, but we’ll get to those later.

Other Common Features

There are a few more features that both these North Face backpacks share, but that don’t really require in-depth explanations. I will just list those below for you:

  • Padded carry handle
  • 360-degree reflective bike-light loop
  • Webbing on shoulder straps
  • Lifetime warranty (repair of manufacturing defects is free, otherwise there will be a fee for repair)
  • A ton of color variety
  • Endorsed by American Chiropractic Association

And those are all the common features of these two backpacks. Now, it's time to take a look at their differences. Or in other words, it is time to check out all features that the Borealis has but the Jester doesn't. So keep reading, it's about to get really interesting. :>

Which North Face Backpack Should You Get?

So, the Borealis would be the obvious choice, right?

Well, the truth is both backpacks have their advantages. Yes, the Borealis has more features and even includes separate phone, tablet and laptop sleeves, but it also has its downsides. For one thing, it is more expensive, so if you are on a budget definitely go for the Jester.

You can get a last season’s color for less than $50, which is really cheap (for a North Face backpack). And if you are looking for a simple, lightweight backpack the Jester will be perfectly fine for you.

The North Face Jester Backpack, Sedona Sage, One Size
  • The FlexVent suspension system boasts compression molded shoulder straps and a padded air-mesh back panel with a spine channel for maximum support and ventilationTwo mesh water bottle pockets
  • Floating padded laptop sleeve in main compartment protects laptop from bumps and fallsComfortable, padded top haul handle
  • Secondary compartment has internal organization with a secure zippered pocket, Velcro pocket and pen pocketsSternum strap with whistle buckle
  • Front elastic bungee for external storageLaptop sleeve 12 x 14 inches
  • Reflective bike-light loop, reflective water bottle tabs and reflective shoulder strap webbing create 360 degrees of reflectivity

On the other hand, if you like to have a ton of cool features on your backpack then go for the Borealis. You will love all of its different organizational features, and you will always stay comfortable when carrying it. It is slightly more expensive in general, but the exact price varies depending on the color you choose. So, a this season black Borealis could set you back more than $100, but the one below isn’t really that much more expensive than the Jester.

Bottom line; get the backpack that you like the most. I’m here to just share my opinion, but I have no way of knowing which one will suit your specific needs best. So chose the one that is a better fit for you, and head over to Amazon. You can get them for half of their retail price there!

However, if you would like to see a few more options first, then continue to the part 2 of our giant comparison of the North Face Surge, Recon, Jester and Borealis backpacks!

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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