North Face Recon vs Borealis: Which is The Better Backpack?

While they’re not as large as hiking backpacks, daypacks are still extremely useful when it comes to short journeys.

Whether you need something for everyday trips to school, less-demanding hiking adventures, or for a tour of a foreign city, a well-made daypack will allow you to carry everything you may need for a day away from home. Most of these will have enough room for clothes, snacks, and drinks, but also for electronic devices – such as your tablet or laptop.

And when it comes to manufacturers of daypacks (and backpacks in general), one of the most well-known names in the game is the North Face. Named after the coldest side of a mountain, this company is a favorite of millions of outdoor enthusiasts everywhere around the world. All of their products are made from premium materials and come equipped with innovative features whose job is to make your life easier.

Two of the company’s most popular daypacks are Recon and Borealis. With both of these products being true to TNF’s quality reputation and having similar construction, design, and features, it can be quite challenging for a newcomer to decide between the two.

Related: Best North Face Backpacks

Starting with a quick overview, we’ll be taking a closer look at the North Face Recon and Borealis while trying to determine the essential differences and similarities. The ultimate goal is to assist you in choosing the right model for your needs – keep reading and find out which one of these backpacks is a better option for you:

North Face Recon vs Borealis: A Quick Overview

North Face Recon

One of TNF’s finest offerings, the Recon backpack was designed to assist you in keeping all of your gear organized, whether you’re navigating a college campus or traversing rough terrain in the great outdoors.

Recon is a 30-liter daypack with a number of convenient features. With special sleeves for one’s electronics, several handy pockets, and an impressive suspension system, it’s one of the most versatile products of its type on the market.


  • Dimensions of 21″ x 15″ x 9″
  • Total weight of 2lbs 7.7oz
  • Volume (carrying capacity) of 30L
  • Constructed from Cordura nylon ripstop, 500D nylon, and 600D polyester
  • Accompanied by a lifetime warranty from the North Face

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North Face Borealis

The design of this classy but practical daypack is all about allowing its users to quickly pack all of their essentials and get out into the world. It’s a stylish 28-liter model and one of the company’s bestsellers – and for a good reason.

Just like the Recon model, Borealis comes equipped with a number of compartments, one of which you can use for your 15″ laptop. The FlexVent suspension system found on the Recon is here too, and there’s also a flexible bungee system for additional storage space.


  • Dimensions of 19.5″ x 14.5” x 8″
  • Total weight of 2lbs 8.9oz
  • Volume (carrying capacity) of 28L
  • Constructed from Cordura nylon ripstop, 500D nylon, and 600D polyester
  • Accompanied by a lifetime warranty from the North Face

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North Face Recon vs Borealis: The Comparison

Construction and Materials

The first category in which we’ll compare these backpacks is construction & materials. However, as you can see from the specifications, both Borealis and Recon are pretty much on the same page in terms of quality. They look and feel almost identical due to the fact that North Face uses the same materials for both models.

Both the Recon and the Borealis backpack use a mixture of Cordura Ripstop nylon, 500D Oxford Slub nylon, and 600D Polyester Toile fabrics. An important thing to mention here is that the company uses extra fabrics for different colors, so materials can vary to a degree depending on which color you decide to go with.

With both daypacks sporting the same back panels and shoulder straps, Recon and Borealis feel almost the same when worn. The differences are subtle to non-existent, so it’s pretty safe to say that neither model edges the other one out when it comes to comfort.

Size and Carrying Capacity

One of the most obvious differences between these backpacks is their carrying capacity and overall size.

As listed above, Recon is a little bit bigger than Borealis, with the carrying capacity of 30 liters for both men’s and women’s variants. Men’s version of Borealis has a carrying capacity of 28L, while the women’s variant sports a carrying capacity of 27L.

To most people, the difference of only a couple of liters in carrying capacity will seem insignificant. However, the bigger primary compartment of the North Face Recon has its advantages – it’s perfect for folks who often need additional room for items such as books or extra clothes. Most of this additional room is located in the depth and height of the Recon’s primary compartment.

When it comes to size, we found that the official dimensions for these popular daypacks aren’t correct. According to the North Face, the dimensions for their Borealis and Recon models are as follows:

  • Borealis: 19.75” x 13.25” x 9.75”
  • Recon: 19.25” x 13” x 7”

According to these measurements, it would seem like the Borealis is actually larger than the Recon. In reality, however, Recon is the larger model both in capacity and size – here are the correct measurements:

  • Borealis: 19.5” x 14.5” x 8”
  • Recon: 21” x 15” x 9”

Exterior Carry Differences

As far as we’re concerned, the biggest differences between these backpacks are on the outside. Both the North Face Borealis and Recon have special carry features on their exteriors, and these should be taken into account if you can’t decide which model to go with.

As we already mentioned, the frontal part of Borealis comes with a special bungee system. Used for attaching heavier items to the daypack, this system consists of flexible tie-out loops. Here are a couple of examples of how you can take advantage of this feature:

  • It allows you to attach and carry heavy or bulky items, such as blankets or towels
  • You can use it to secure extra-tall items, such as yoga mats or sleeping bags
  • The flexible bungee system can be of great assistance when you have to quickly tie down a sweater or a jacket

These are just some of the examples – it’s a very convenient feature and one you can use in a million different ways. It’s something that turns Borealis into a solid choice for folks looking for a versatile daypack for outdoor or travel activities where they can’t really avoid carrying bulky items.

The North Face Recon, on the other hand, replaces this bungee system with a simple stash pocket. Even though this exterior compartment is somewhat extendable due to its side compression straps, it certainly isn’t as large as we’d like it to be. Measuring 9.5” in height, the pocket is way too small for items such as your bike helmet or trail running shoes.

However, Recon’s front stash pocket does its job pretty well when it comes to smaller items – it will fit a small notebook, a bike lock, or a light sweatshirt. In other words, it can be quite useful on busy days when you have no time to mess with zippered pockets and just want to quickly put something away.

Daisy chains are another difference – they’re featured on the front of Recon’s stash pocket. While the men’s variant of the North Face Borealis does come with similar daisy chains (this time on the side of the backpack), the women’s version does not. Both the Borealis and Recon come with lash tabs on their bottom parts.

Color options should also be mentioned. While this certainly isn’t as important as all other features we’re analyzing here, some people really care about the looks of their backpacks.

As it turns out, the Borealis seems to be the one designed with both casual and outdoor use in mind, since it’s available in over 20 colors. The North Face Recon, on the other hand, can be purchased in only 8 different colors and patterns – it’s a typical outdoor backpack.

Interior Carry Similarities

Despite having a couple of noticeable differences on the outside, the Recon and the Borealis have interiors that are quite similar. For both of these backpacks, the North Face decided to use the same laptop sleeves, organizer panels, and interior compartments.

In other words, there’s isn’t much difference in terms of storage – both of these models are essentially the same products with different outer shells.

To get a better understanding of what we’re talking about, join us in taking a quick overview of the main carry features of these two daypacks.

  • First of all, both the Borealis and the Recon come with the same fleece-lined front storage pockets. You can use these to store some of your smaller electronics – such as your smartphone or earphones.
  • The front organizer compartments on both models are almost identical. As expected, these compartments come with a number of organizers for objects like chargers, pens, and cables. There are also stash and zip pockets for larger items.
  • Furthermore, the laptop sleeves on both daypacks are nearly identical. Both are “technically” suitable only for laptops that are no larger than 15 inches, but hear us out – it all depends on your particular model of a laptop.

With both Recon and Borealis being taller than 19 inches, it is possible to fit some 17” laptops in them. However, this comes with a certain problem – squeezing in a larger laptop means that its top corners will poke into the bag’s upper part, making it incredibly hard to close the zipper and wear the backpack comfortably.

It can be done, but you’re better off buying a larger backpack if you want to carry your 17” or 19” laptop in it.

  • Finally, both the Recon and Borealis feature the same exact shoulder straps, back panels, padded top handles, and stretch side pockets for water bottles.

North Face Recon or Borealis: The Verdict

So, which one of these well-made, versatile backpacks is a better choice for your needs?

If you need a larger model for clothes, binders, books, and other similar items, the North Face Recon is obviously a better choice. With a carrying capacity of 30 liters, this bag is just the right size – it’s not too bulky or too small for a daily backpack. Its frontal quick-stash pocket is especially convenient when you’re in a hurry and need to quickly put away your sweatshirt or a bike lock.

The North Face Borealis, on the other hand, is a better option if you need an external bungee system that will assist you in hauling items like light jackets or blankets. Once you get used to it, this convenient feature will actually give you a lot more storage space by freeing up the bag’s main compartment.

One more thing: if you have decided to get a NF pack, but are not sure how to care for it, I’ve written a guide on washing a North Face backpack.


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