Last Updated: September 23, 2021

North Face Backpacks: Surge vs. Recon


North Face Surge

  • Dimensions: 19.75" x 13.75" x 8.5"
  • Weight: 3.4 lbs
  • Volume: 33 liters
  • Laptop Sleeve Dimensions: 10.5” x 13.25”
  • Fabrics: 500D Cordura® nylon matte ripstop, 420D nylon, 1680D Ballistic s nylon
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North Face Recon

  • Dimensions: 19.25" x 14" x 9.5"
  • Weight: 2.11 lbs
  • Volume: 31 liters
  • Laptop Sleeve Dimensions: 12.25” x 13"
  • Fabrics: 210D Cordura® nylon mini-ripstop, 420D nylon, 600D polyester print, 1680D Ballistic s nylon
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The North Face Surge and Recon are very similar day packs, so not knowing which one is perfect for you – is understandable. At first, I struggled too.

But, in this post, I am going to show you all the details, as well as a quick comparison to help you decide quickly and easily.

So, if you want help making a purchasing decision, Surge or Recon…then just keep reading!

Basic Specifications Of The Backpacks

Before we get into any detail, we will first check out some basic information about these two backpacks. We already know that they are larger than North Faces Borealis and the Jester, which means that they could also be used for different purposes.

Even though all four backpacks are actually daypacks, it is always beneficial that they are also multi-functional. Therefore, the Surge with its TSA-friendly opening is also a great option for a carry-on travel backpack. But let’s start slow and see what the basic dimensions and capacities of these two North Face backpacks are. You can refer to the comparison table above.

So as you can see from these measurements, Surge is actually the smaller backpack – size-wise. But capacity-wise, it is the backpack with the bigger capacity, which means that you can actually pack more stuff into it. And it has more compartments than the Recon, but more on that later.

You should also keep in mind that Surge is the heavier of the two and the heaviest of all four backpacks. Arguably that is because it has the most features out of all the backpacks, so let’s dive straight into those details.

Just like in part 1 of this humongous review, we will first check out the common features that these two backpacks share. After that, we will examine their differences, or rather the advantages one of them has over the other. In the first part that was the Borealis and here it is the Surge. If that is the part that interests you the most, feel free to jump to it with the quick navigation above. :>

North Face Surge
North Face Recon

Advantages Of The Surge Backpack

TSA Friendly Compartment And Opening

Surge TSA

This is the main reason why I think the Surge would make a great traveling companion. The TSA-friendly design of the opening of the backpack would make your life much easier – if you often have to go through TSA checkpoints.

The laptop sleeve of the Surge is located in a compartment at its very back, which can be opened flat. This helps with TSA inspections and means that you don’t have to unpack your entire backpack when going through a checkpoint. Just unzip this compartment, lay it flat, and pick it up when you’re done. A breeze!

External Vertical Zip Pocket

Surge Vertical Pockets

So there are two large vertical zippers on the front panel, but they both open up the same pocket. And it is large enough for storing a lighter jacket or a hoodie.

However, I’m not really crazy about this feature, because I think it is kind of redundant. There are so many different compartments and pockets on the Surge, and what on Earth are you going to want to keep in this tight pocket? And keep in mind that whatever you do put there is going to push into the front compartment of the backpack.

But, I’m sure plenty of you could find a way to utilize it, so I’m calling it an advantage. After all, it just means that you can put more of your things in this backpack, and that has to be a plus.

North Face Surge
North Face Recon

Advantages Of The Recon Backpack

Front Stretch Pocket

Recon Stretch Pocket

Where the Surge has two vertical zippered pockets on the front, the Recon has one big stretch pocket. It is great that on both of the backpacks this space on the very front can be utilized. And I think that both storage options have their own advantages.

This type of pocket is very suitable for storing larger items, such as a jacket or a hoodie. This is quite similar to the bungee cords on the first two North Face backpacks, but I think this is even more useful. With bungee cords, you’re always scared in the back of your mind that your jacket might fall off and that you won’t notice it. Well, you won’t have such worries with a big stretchy pocket!

Additionally, this pocket is very useful if we think of this backpack as a carry-on bag. It’s very large, so you could keep a lot of things in it that you will need handy at the airport, but also on the actual flight.

North Face Surge
North Face Recon

Shared Features of The Surge And Recon Backpacks

Since there are a lot of design features that these two backpacks share, it is only fair to talk about them first. So, let’s check out what those features are, and then we will move on to the things that are unique to each backpack.

Multi-Functional Front Compartment

North Face Surge Front Compartment

Both of the backpacks have a lot of useful pockets and features in the front compartment. Just like the Borealis, they both have a padded tablet sleeve, in addition to a dedicated smartphone pocket.

And there is more. A pocket made of elastic webbing is something you will also find in both of these North Face backpacks, and it’s perfectly convenient for storing all your cables and chargers.

There is also a larger zippered pocket and several smaller ones, as well as a couple of penholders. So, in terms of organization, both the Surge and the Recon have a lot to offer and will not let you down.

Out of the four, the Jester backpack is the weakest in this respect and you can read more about that in part 1 of this review.

Padded Laptop Sleeve

Recon Laptop Sleeve

If you are one of those people that barely ever leave their house without their laptop, then both of these backpacks will be perfectly fine for you. Because both the Surge and the Recon feature a padded 15” laptop sleeve. However, there is a difference in the location of the sleeve.

In the Recon, the laptop compartment is located inside the main compartment. But in the Surge backpack, the laptop sleeve is separate from both the front and the main compartment. It is in the very back, and this is because Surge also features a TSA-friendly opening, and we will talk more about that later.

On the other hand, if you own a 17” laptop, I’m sorry to disappoint you. If that is the case, I would advise you to check out the Swiss Gear 1900.  It is somewhat surprising that out of all 4 North Face backpacks, none can actually fit a larger laptop in the dedicated sleeve.

FlexVent Suspension System Backpanel

Recon Backpanel

In terms of comfort, every one of these North Face backpacks has the same excellent design as the backpanel. It is padded and mesh, which means that it’s not only comfortable but also allows for great airflow.

So if you want to say goodbye to sweaty backs and painful shoulders, get yourself a North Face backpack.

The shoulder straps are also padded, and they are custom-molded. Obviously, they are also adjustable, which means that anyone can make them fit their own body perfectly.

And the back panel also features a spine channel, which is just one of the reasons why all of these backpacks are endorsed by the American Chiropractic Organization.

Side Stretch Pockets

This is another common feature of backpacks. And not just of these two, but of all four. The side pockets are made of stretch mesh, but they are not see-through. Even though these are designed to hold water bottles, you can safely store anything you would like in them.

Sternum Strap

Sternum Strap

If you know what a sternum strap is, then you can appreciate the design quality of both backpacks. If not, I’m here to help.

A sternum strap is a little buckle that goes over your chest and allows you to secure both shoulder straps together. This helps distribute the load of the backpack more evenly, and also ensures that the straps won’t slip off your shoulders.

Additionally, the buckle of the sternum strap here is also an emergency whistle, which you can see if you look really closely at the picture. So if you find yourself in an emergency either backpack will help you get out of it.

External Front Pocket

Front Zippered Pcoket

Both backpacks feature a smaller zippered pocket on the upper front panel. Additionally, this pocket is lined with fleece and is the perfect size for the safekeeping of your phone or sunglasses.

We also saw this feature on the Borealis backpack. However, the Jester and the Borealis also included bungee cord quick-stash pocket on the front panel, which is something neither the Surge nor the Recon has. But they do have other convenient storage options in this area, and we will get to those in a minute.

Removable Waist Belt

Waist Belt

This is a very useful design feature that we also saw on the Borealis but not on the Jester backpack. A waist belt is something that you are meant to buckle over your stomach and that will help ensure that the load of the backpack is evenly distributed among your entire torso.

This means that the backpack will feel lighter and more comfortable because your shoulders won’t be the ones carrying all the weight. However, my only concern is that this belt appears to be very thin, which could feel uncomfortable if you have a bigger stomach. But it’s removable, so if you don’t like it or if it bothers you in any way, you can just take it off.

Other Common Features

There are a few more design features that the Surge and Recon share. But even though these features are noteworthy, they don’t really require in-depth explanations, so I will just list them below.

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

And now we move on to the fun part. In the rest of the review, we will check out those features that are unique to each backpack. We will start off with the Surge and then continue with the Recon.

North Face Surge
North Face Recon

Which North Face Backpack Do You Choose?

We saw that these two backpacks are actually quite similar, so you honestly can’t go wrong with either one. If I had to pick one, I would pick the Recon, because of its lighter weight and its front elastic pocket. And I really like the fact that its laptop sleeve is in the main compartment. But there is a very good reason why Surge’s laptop sleeve is in another area.

That is because the Surge is a TSA-friendly backpack. If that is something that is important for you, then there is no doubt that you should buy it. This feature makes it an excellent travel companion, in addition to it already being an awesome daypack. So what are you waiting for? Head straight over to Amazon and order it the right way!

However, if you are on the prowl for something lighter and smaller, and possibly something more suitable for school, then go back to part 1 of this review. You can check out the Borealis and the Jester there, which would be a much better option for you if that is the case. Or you can check out these anti-theft backpacks – they are perfect for school and everyday commute!

North Face Surge
North Face Recon