The North Face Recon backpack is a staple in The North Face’s backpack lineup. While the design has changed over the years, The North Face has been producing this backpack for decades. It’s obviously popular, so how does it perform? My mom bought me a Recon in 2003 when I was I high school, and I’m still using it 20 years later. How’s it doing? Keep reading to find out!

The North Face Recon backpack from circa 2003
My 20 year old The North Face Recon backpack, still going strong

The year is 2003. I’m in my senior year of high school, 50 Cent’s “In da Club” is America’s top hit, I have long hair, and I’m driving a Ford Taurus. I need a new backpack, but my mom suggests I should get one that will last into college too. After whatever basic research was available to me in 2003, I suggested my mom shell out the money for a The North Face Recon backpack – it sounded durable and The North Face was becoming cool, so win win. We went to Sports Authority (defunct as of 2016) and bought the backpack.

It served me well through my senior year of high school. It held the heavy weight of text books for AP calculus, history, chemistry, etc. After that year of use, it was going strong and so I took it to college with me. And ya know what? That backpack lasted me 4 years of undergrad and 2 years of grad school, lugging textbooks for long walks across campus. This backpack can hold and lug heavy textbooks NO PROBLEM. If you’re buying the Recon for educational purposes, you’re good to go!

After college and grad school, I still had this fully functional backpack. There were no failures to date. I started a career and used it to bring my stuff to and from work every day. I bought my first house near a state park and also started using it for hikes in the park. It held up the entire time.

Eventually, out of pure personal interest and not need, I bought another backpack and retired the Recon to a closet – probably around 2015. I did not use it for several years. Fast forward to 2021, I volunteered to become a Cub Scout leader for my son’s Cub Scout pack. Ever the gear nerd, I wanted to keep all my Cub Scout stuff in a bag ready to grab for meetings, camping trips, events, etc. I wanted something that I could dedicate to this purpose. Instead of buying something new, I dug through my closet and decided to pull out the Recon that I retired. It was still in great condition, so why not? After two more years of frequent use as a backpack for Cub Scouts, this thing is still going strong.

This long tale of my backpack serves the purpose of demonstrating how durable this backpack is – with a hiatus of roughly 6 years, my The North Face Recon backpack has lasted 20 years of use. This thing just trucks on and on and on. If I were to enter a post-apocalyptic hellscape, I wouldn’t hesitate to grab The North Face Recon as my go bag. And neither should you! The fact that my back has held up for 20 years should give you full confidence in the durability of this bag. So durability aside, let’s dive into the feature and specifics that make this bag useful beyond its durability.

I’ll touch briefly on features, but I’m not going to put too much weight into them because this backpack has experienced a bunch of design changes since my model so these might not be relevant anymore. Like most The North Face backpacks, mine features a hip belt. The hip belt is thick enough to really help support some weight. Many backpacks these days have slimmed down their hip belts, but the heft on this one really helps with weight. The chest strap has a whistle, like most The North Face backpacks, to help you out in the event of emergency.

The main compartment features a laptop sleeve. The secondary pocket has an organizer to help keep smaller items tidy. There’s a smaller zip pocket on the outside where you can keep anything you need to grab quickly without opening the larger compartments. Then, there is an expandable mesh net on the outside that really comes in handy. I shove so many things in this expandable mesh pouch. It looks like newer models don’t have the expandable mesh pouch, and that’s a real shame because I think that’s one of the main reasons I love this pack. After 20 years, none of the mesh has broken or worn down yet either. There’s also two expandable mesh bottle holders on the side. While the mesh on these has held strong just like the exterior mesh pouch, the toggle that tightens the bottles in the place doesn’t hold very well anymore – but it still works! And finally, there’s two straps on the bottom that can be used to lash items in place such as a rolled up jacket, tent, sleeping bag, etc.

The North Face Recon backpack with box in mesh pouch
I can hold an entire box of markers in the expandable mesh pouch, which I do often for Cub Scouts. This is my favorite feature. I wonder if the current model can hold something this big…

It looks like the newer model has pared down on the hip belt width. It also lost the awesome expandable mesh pouch. It looks like there is still some mesh storage there, but nowhere near as much as it used to have. I’m sure The North Face has good reasons for these changes, but I’m just pointing them out because they are features that I really like about my 20 year old model.

One of the zipper pulls broke off, but I can’t really fault it for that


  • Durable
  • Expandable mesh pouch can hold bulky, awkward items
  • Wide, strong hip belt – can use for serious hiking with weight


  • Toggles for water bottle pockets stopped holding tight (this is fine because it appears the new models no longer have these toggles)
  • Water bottle toggles come loose now, bottles may easily fall out
  • A zipper pull broke

Rating: 5 / 5

After 20 years of use, I can confidently recommend The North Face Recon backpack. I have no experience with the newest model, and it appears to have changed a lot in 20 years, but if The North Face has maintained its quality then you’re getting a great backpack for the long haul (pun intended). If you look at reviews for the newest model across major sites, it seems to be doing well – 4.7 stars on Amazon, 4.5 stars on, 4.6 stars on REI. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a new one if needed. My backpack is still in great condition after 20 years. I would not hesitate to lug this puppy across a post-apocalyptic landscape. I feel like 20 years is a solid test period. If this isn’t a “buy it for life” backpack, it’s as close as you’re gonna get for the price range. Sure, you can spend hundreds more on a more durable backpack (e.g. Mystery Ranch or Eberlestock), and those are awesome for what they are, but if you’re just a student or casual hiker this pack will serve you well.

Do you have experience with the newer models of this backpack? Share your thoughts, I’d love to see how this backpack has evolved. Do you have another decades old backpack you’d recommend? Comment below and let us know! Thanks for reading.