North Face Recon vs Borealis Hands-On Comparison - What's the difference?

Shopping for a new North Face backpack? Torn between the Recon and Borealis? This North Face Recon vs Borealis backpack comparison is here to help you decide. We will showcase each backpack side by side to see what the real differences are so you can choose the right one for you.

Before we begin it’s important to note that this comparison is of the 2019 versions of both the North Face Recon and Borealis.

The North Face is known for updating their backpack designs every so often and specific details may be different if you wish to compare older versions of either backpack.

Quick Specs

North Face Recon vs Borealis

The North Face Recon

The North Face Borealis
Dimensions ~21" H x 15" W x 9" D ~19.5" H x 14.5" W x 8" D
Volume 30 Liters 28 Liters (Mens)
27 Liters (Womens)
Material 600D Polyester
500D Nylon
Cordura Nylon Ripstop
600D Polyester
500D Nylon
Cordura Nylon Ripstop
Laptop Sleeve Up to 15" laptop Up to 15" laptop
Weight 2lbs 7.7oz 2lbs 8.9oz
Front Storage Stash pocket Elastic bungee system
Price Check the latest price on Amazon Check the latest price on Amazon

Video Review

Men’s vs Women’s North Face Backpacks

The Recon and Borealis backpacks used for this comparison are the women’s versions. If you are looking to purchase a men’s North Face backpack please note that 99% of this comparison will still apply.

The main differences between the men’s and women’s versions are as follows:

  • Men’s North Face backpacks have larger back panels and wider shoulder straps to accommodate broader shoulders. This is the biggest difference.

  • The men’s version of the North Face Borealis has a 28 liter carrying capacity while the women’s version is 27 liters. Both the men’s and women’s version of the Recon are 30 liters.

  • The men’s version of the Borealis has a wider front elastic bungee system and includes daisy chains. The women’s Borealis does not include daisy chains.

  • All pockets and compartments are exactly the same in both the men’s and women’s version.

North Face Recon vs Borealis Side-By-Side

Carrying Capacity and Size

One of the most obvious differences between the North Face Recon and Borealis are their size and carrying capacity.

The North Face Recon has a carrying capacity of 30 liters while the Borealis sports a carrying capacity of 28 liters for the men’s version and 27 liters for the women’s version.

North Face Recon vs Borealis carrying capacity

A 2-3 liter difference in carrying capacity isn’t all that much but we found that the larger main compartment of the Recon makes it ideal for people who need the extra room for large books, clothes and other daily items.

Most of the extra room on the Recon can be found in the height and depth of the main compartment when compared to the Borealis.

North Face Recon next to 1 liter water bottles. The extra carrying capacity can be found in the height and depth of the main compartment.

North Face Recon next to 1 liter water bottles. The extra carrying capacity can be found in the height and depth of the main compartment.

We found that the official North Face dimensions for the Recon and Borealis are not correct. According to North Face the dimensions are:

  • North Face Recon: 19.25(H) by 13(W) x 7(D) inches

  • North Face Borealis: 19.75(H) X 13.25(W) X 9.75(D) inches

The official measurements make it seem like the North Face Borealis is the larger backpack of the two when it comes to dimensions. When actually measured the North Face Recon is the larger backpack both in size and capacity.

The actual measurements are as follows:

  • North Face Recon: Approx. 21(H) x 15(W) x 9(D) inches

  • North Face Borealis: Approx. 19.5(H) x 14.5(W) x 8(D) inches

North Face Recon vs Borealis size comparison

Interior Pockets and Similarities

On the interior of the backpack is where things get interesting. Despite their drastically different exteriors, the North Face chooses to use the same interior pockets, organizer panels and laptop sleeves on the inside of each bag. There really isn’t much difference between the North Face Recon and Borealis when it comes to storage.

The North Face Recon and Borealis are essentially the same backpack with different exterior shells.

Let’s run through the main carry features so you can see what we mean.

Both the Recon and Borealis have the same fleece lined front pocket to store items like phones, earbuds and other small electronics.

North Face Recon vs Borealis: Front fleece lined pocket

Both backpacks have nearly identical front organizer compartments. These compartments have organizers for small items such as pens, phones and chargers. The North Face also includes zip and stash pockets for larger items.

North Face Borealis vs Recon: Front organizer pocket comparison

The laptop sleeve on the North Face Recon and Borealis are also nearly identical. Both backpacks can support a laptop up to 15-inches.

North Face backpacks Borealis vs Recon laptop sleeve

The similarities don’t end on the inside. Both the North Face Borealis and Recon include stretch side pockets for water bottles, padded top handles, and the same exact back panels and shoulder straps.

North Face Borealis vs Recon: Stretch side water bottle pockets

Exterior Carry Differences

The real differences between the Recon and Borealis are on the exterior. Each backpack has special carry features on the outside that are worth considering when choosing between the two.

North Face Borealis Elastic Bungee System

North Face Borealis Elastic Bungee System

The North Face Borealis has an elastic bungee system that adorns the front of the bag. This bungee system is made out of small tie out loops with elastic cord running through them. It’s used for attaching large and bulky items to the front of the backpack.

Examples for real world use of the Borealis bungee system include:

  • Quickly tying down a light jacket or sweater

  • Carrying bulky items like a beach towel or blanket

  • Securing extra tall items like a light sleeping bag or yoga mat.

The North Face Borealis with beach towel attached to front

The North Face Borealis with beach towel attached to front

The elastic bungee system is incredibly functional and you can find a million ways to use it. This feature alone makes the North Face Borealis a great choice for anyone looking for a versatile backpack for school, travel or outdoor activities where carrying bulky items is necessary.

The North Face Recon front stash pocket

The North Face Recon ditches the bungee system for a single stash pocket. Although the pocket is extendable using the side compression straps, the pocket isn’t that large. It measures 9.5 inches vertically and has no straps to hold oversized items down.

If you have a light sweatshirt or jacket - it might fit. Smaller items like a bike lock or a small notebook will fit just fine. But it’s definitely too small for a pair of shoes or a bike helmet.

The North Face Recon: placing headphones inside front stash pocket

The North Face Recon: placing headphones inside front stash pocket

This front stash pocket on the North Face Recon is most useful when you need to put something away quickly and don’t have time to open up a zippered pocket. It’s actually very convenient on busy days.

Another difference on the Recon is the inclusion of daisy chains on the front of the stash pocket. Although the men’s version of the Borealis does include similar daisy chains on the side of the bag, the women’s Borealis includes no daisy chains whatsoever. Both the Recon and Borealis feature a lash tab on the bottom of the front of each bag.

North Face Recon backpack daisy chains

As an aside, if you want to learn more about daisy chains, tie out loops, and lash tabs then make sure to check out our anatomy of a backpack guide where we explain what all of these external attachments are for.

Material and Construction Comparison

When it comes to construction and materials both the Recon and Borealis are on the same page. The North Face uses the exact same primary materials for both backpacks and construction quality feels identical.

North Face Recon and Borealis materials and construction comparison

Both bags use a mix of 600D Polyester Toile, 500D Nylon Oxford Slub and Cordura Nylon Ripstop fabrics. Materials may vary depending on which color you choose as the North Face may use additional fabrics for different colors.

Since both the Borealis and Recon use the same exact shoulder straps and back panels - both backpacks feel the same when worn. Neither backpack edges the other one out in terms of comfort since the size differences aren’t that great to begin with.

Identical back panels and shoulder straps.

Identical back panels and shoulder straps.

As you can see, most of the differences between the North Face Borealis and Recon are cosmetic. Their important carry, comfort and construction features are nearly identical.

Which Backpack is Better?

North Face Recon Backpack

The North Face Recon

North Face Borealis backpack

The North Face Borealis

Choose the North Face Recon if… you need a larger backpack for books, binders, clothes and other essential items. At 30 liters, it’s just the right size for a daily backpack without being too bulky. The quick stash pocket in the front is convenient and comes in handy when you are in a rush. Commuters will like that the external pocket on the Recon can comfortably fit a bike lock.

Choose the North Face Borealis if… you like the idea of the external bungee system to haul around oversized gear or smaller items like light jackets. This bungee system is great once you start to utilize it since it frees up the main compartment and gives you a ton of more storage space. The Borealis is also great if you prefer a smaller capacity backpack.