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Review: The North Face’s Access Pack is a backpack design that fizzles

TechCrunch TechCrunch 11/05/2016 Stefan Etienne

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t doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes backpack designs get creative. Typically, backpacks are boring, with little variation in their shape, their materials — even their colors. But every once in a while someone tries to shake things up and out comes something worth taking a look at. Today’s contender in that space is The North Face, with a gadget-focused backpack.

Price as Reviewed: $235 at North Face

Basics

  • Volume of 22 liters
  • Capacity of 1343 inches
  • Dry weight of four pounds
  • Exterior made of 500D nylon/polyester heather emboss
  • Interior made of 500D nylon
  • Laptop compartment up to 15″
  • YKK water-resistant zippers
  • Compression molded straps
  • Comes in black or grey

Experience

But does the design appeal to me? It falls short: it looks like a Hungry Hungry Hippo when it’s open.
The Access Pack is supposed to be the dream backpack for gadget specialists, like myself. Every zipper, pouch and pulley is designed to make organizing gear, cables and adapters easier. But does the design appeal to me? It falls short: it looks like a Hungry Hungry Hippo when it’s open.

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The most unusual feature of The North Face’s design on the Access Pack is the pulley system. The first is within the main zipper compartment, where you’d house a tablet or a very small ultrabook. A small handle extends to the bottom of the pack, so that when you pull it back, your device of interest is pulled towards you. The second is a more durable version meant for a laptop up to 15″, with two supplementary “ejector tabs” for things like phones or portable battery packs.

Of course, this makes me ask: why not just take the device out of the bag, like a person normally would?

Of course, this makes me ask: why not just take the device out of the bag, like a person normally would?

Or better yet, the way humans have been taking things out of satchels and bags for probably hundreds of years. Why would I ever waste (more) time to do this? It takes both hands to provide a net force strong enough to remove hardware from the bag, whereas I could just unzip the pouch with one hand and remove the laptop/tablet/etc. with the same hand, or the other.

The Access Pack isn’t a complete waste of money, however — gadgets are truly safe and sound in it.

The Access Pack isn’t a complete waste of money, however — gadgets are truly safe and sound in it. It might make you look like a turtle when it’s on your back, can’t stand upright for its life, and will create a sweat patch on your back that is very uncomfortable. But, it does succeed at one thing: opening the door for more drastic backpack designs, especially within the mass market.

It’s a space that has been relatively untouched and boring for quite some time, with only a few cool entries by high fashion brands, like the Paris-based Cote et Ciel or Adidas’ Y-3 division.

If a clothing and accessories company like The North Face is willing to make an oddly-shaped backpack for the everyday individual and sell it for a sticker price where you’d expect higher-end materials, then surely someone else is gutsy enough to try something fresh and new — and that doesn’t make me look like a turtle.

Bottom Line

You might not catch me walking around in Manhattan or Brooklyn with the Access Pack on my back, but you might see it somewhere.

You might not catch me walking around in Manhattan or Brooklyn with the Access Pack on my back, but you might see it somewhere.

There’s definitely a market that exists for large backpacks designed for carrying expensive technology. However, style points are not easy to come across with the Access Pack, and its dry weight is quite frankly too heavy.

But if you don’t care about any of that, and just want a backpack that can carry all your technology from point A to B in a way that’s safe, while also throwing in a pulley and a few ejector tabs, then be my guest — the Access Pack wouldn’t mind.

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