The North Face Banchee 35 litre pack is an all-round pack – that’s suitable for summer wild camps as much as it is for winter walking. With a capacity of 35 litres, it’s also useful if you need to carry extra kit on a day walks such as camera kit or if you’re the nominated family Sherpa.
The pack is constructed from tough ripstop that’s been abused up and down Snowdonia, including the relentless Rhinogydd, over the last few months and shows no wear. I reckon the pack’s likely to last for years. It’s also strikingly stiff, as it has a sturdy internal aluminium frame, and tends to fall over if you don’t prop it against a post or wall. The frame adds weight, but also helps distributes the weight well. It also makes the main compartment feel smaller than it is, possibly as there’s not a lot of give and the neck opening is rather narrow. Colourwise the review pack was a rather nice Nautical Blue with grey, which manages to find the happy middle ground between gaudy and drab (unlike my choice of top!) It’s also available in the more gaudy Flashlight Green (see our review of the TNF Angstrom 20 – soon).
The front pocket, which is well suited to storing your waterproofs, swallows a Paramo jacket as well as waterproof leggings and a lightweight windproof top with ease which then frees up valuable space in the main pack. The front pocket features a series of zipped pockets which can be used for storing your map and compass, wallet or other items. The lid pocket is also both useful and spacious – boasting a handy inner valuables pocket which zips your valuables securely away. I’ve used this for carrying extra lenses, and other odds and sods as it is quite generous for a lid pocket.
There are also a couple more pockets in the waist strap, but they’re not as spacious as they first appear as the adjustable waist strap itself takes up a bit more room than expected. Likewise, the back of the pack is adjustable, with the OptiFit™ harness system making the pack adjustable to various back lengths. This makes the pack more comfortable, but slightly adds to the overall weight.
At 1270g this is hardly ultra lightweight in the usual sense but lies somewhere in the middle ground. It is however seriously light for a framed pack, and if that’s important to you then the slight extra weight can easily be justified. This may suit the majority who don’t want a heavy weight pack, but neither do they want to go full minimalist.
We managed to fit all our overnight kit into the Banshee comfortably, including a tripod in the side pocket and a Canon DSLR in the lid pocket! There are your usual mesh side pockets, which are cavernous, comfortably stretching to take 2 litres of water, a wet tent or even a tripod. Without the tripod, a three day trip was not an issue as we did the Rhinogydd Traverse – but that was using lightweight and low-bulk kit, including a PHD Minimus bag which is one of the least bulky sleeping bags you can buy for the UK summer. If your kit isn’t top spec then you’d struggle to get out for more than a night.
If anything, this may be a bit on the large side for summer day walks unless you carry a load of kit, which with a bulky DSLR, four lenses and a tripod is definitely the category I’ve been falling into recently. It’s also ideally suited for those quick summer overnighters, as well as swallowing your winter kit comfortably. The pack is heavier than we’d normally choose for ultralight backpacking, but the internal frame somewhat makes up for this in making the load much more comfortable to carry.
This is a top of the range pack, with the quality and price to match. You can get much lighter packs with similar volume, but they’re minimal and not as comfortable as they could be. If you really want a Spartan pack that weighs next to nothing, then this probably isn’t the pack for you. If you want a fully featured pack with an internal frame, decent support and a comfortable carry then you can’t go far wrong with this pack.