Last Updated: September 10, 2021

North Face Backpacks: Recon vs Borealis


North Face Recon

  • Dimensions: 19.2 x 9.5 x 14"
  • Weight: 2.7 lbs
  • Volume: 30 liters
  • Laptop Sleeve Dimensions: 11.5" X 17.75"
  • Fabrics: 600D Polyester Toile, 500D Nylon Oxford Slub, 420D Nylon, 210D Cordura® Nylon Ripstop, Polyester Jacquard Camo
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North Face Borealis

  • Dimensions: 19.7 x 8.7 x 13.6"
  • Weight: 2.6 lbs
  • Volume: 28 liters
  • Laptop Sleeve Dimensions: 13.25" X 17.75"
  • Fabrics: 600D Polyester Toile, 500D Nylon Oxford Slub, 420D Nylon, 210D Cordura® Nylon Ripstop, Polyester Jacquard Camo
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The North Face Borealis and Recon are both great day packs, but there are a number of key differences.

So, to help you make a quick and easy decision, let’s take a look at what is different between these packs. Starting with a quick overview, then diving a little deeper into the most important differences between the two.

Main Differences Between The Recon & Borealis

As you can see from the specs, there is not a huge difference between these packs on paper.

In fact, the main differences between the Recon and Borealis are the internal size, weight and a few minor features. The Borealis is 30L compared to 28L in the Recon, which also means it’s a little thicker and a touch heavier.

The main feature difference is the bungee cords on the back of Borealis vs the net pocket. Of course, the pocket is easier to throw things in, say a thin sweater or something small. The bungee is good for large things you can’t fit in your pack, say a helmet or big sweater. At least, that is what I do with them.

So, when making a decision about these two packs it will come down to:

  1. How much space you need (or if you want to save space for underseat carry on)
  2. Whether any of the main feature differences are a big deal for you (some of them only really affect the looks)
North Face Recon
North Face Borealis

Shared Features of The Borealis And Recon Backpacks

Multi Functional Front Compartment

Recon Front Compartment

Recon Front Compartment


north face borealis front pocket

North Face Borealis Front Pocket


They both have a padded tablet sleeve, as well as a handy smartphone pocket just below it. So, it really is a multi-media pocket where you can store and grab all your electronics and cables, chargers or even notepad, pen and sunglasses.

Many of the important ones are also fleece-lined, which although maybe a little overkill (and adds a little weight) helps protect sensitive things like screens and glasses. So, if you are like me and forget your sunglasses case a lot, it’s nice to know you can just throw them in the small pocket and know they won’t get scratched!

There is also a spot to hang your keys, so they don’t get lost or fall out. Something none of us want to happen.

Padded Laptop Sleeve

Recon Laptop Sleeve

Both the Borealis and Recon are “technically” only suitable for 15 inch laptops. But, it all depends on the laptop. I saw one guy in a video say he was able to squeeze his 17 incher in. which, given the length of the packs is about 19 inches, is not surprising.

The problem is, that if you force a larger laptop in, the top corners tend to poke into the rounder top part of the backpack – which makes it harder to open/close the zip and can wear out the pack (and maybe damage your laptop. So, you can risk it, but just be aware, it is not ideal.

If you really want a comfortable fit for you 17 inch pack I would advise you to check out the Swiss Gear 1900. It is way more suited to larger laptops.

FlexVent Suspension System Backpanel

Recon Backpanel

North Face Recon Back


THE NORTH FACE Borealis Commuter Laptop Backpack, Asphalt Grey/Sulphur Spring Green, One Size

North Face Borealis Straps


Sternum Strap

Sternum Strap


Removable Waist Belt

Removable Waist Belt


North Face has put their latest tech on the back of these packs as well. It is the FlexVent Suspension system. It is pretty comfortable for a pack like this, but personally I would not like to hike all day in it. The padding is a little stiff, and the hip belt is really only for short-term use.

Of course, the purpose of these packs is more travel/school, and they are suited for this. The hip belt, for those who hate them, is even removable. But, I find them handy for taking a load off my shoulders when the pack gets heavy.

There is also a sternum strap to help better align the shoulder straps (never used one? give it a try) and it has an emergency whistle which is handy if you get lost or attacked (god fobid it ever happen).

Side Stretch Pockets

borealis side pockets

If you are one to carry around a big water bottle or coffee mug, then the side stretch pockets are great. Both have large ones on either side.

You can also use them to throw things in for quick reach. I often get lazy and use such pockets for my phone or keys when I am in a rush. Usually they are deep and tight enough to never lose what I put in there. But, for valuable items like that, it is not ideal :>

External Front Pocket

Front Zippered Pocket

The last little handy pocket North Face have added to these packs is one on the back/top. It is relatively small, and not the easiest to access. But, if you have something small you want to stash away and have safe – then this is the spot for it. Again, keys or other small items are ideal for this one. And they are easy to get out, once you get home and need to quickly get in the house (or open the car).

Women Specific Models

We all know men and women are built a little differently, so it is nice to see manufacturers finally acknowledging that with their designs. Osprey also has a lot of female backpack designs, as do Deuter, and in this case both Borealis and Recon have women-specific designs.

Other Common Features

Also less important, but still worthy features include:

  • Padded upper carry handle
  • 360-degree reflective bike light loop
  • Shoulder strap webbing
  • Side compression straps
  • Lots of color variety
  • Lifetime warranty (covers any manufacturing defects)
North Face Recon
North Face Borealis