North Face “Router” Backpack (2014) Review

North Face Router BackpackPhoto info: SONY SLT-A77V, 26mm, f/5, 1/25 sec, ISO1600

I finally got a backpack that I am pretty sure I will keep for a long, long time! It’s the North Face “Router” backpack in Cosmic Blue/Asphalt Grey. There is so much about this model that makes it perfect for me. But first let me tell you about my backpack saga…

Not too long ago, I had two backpacks. One of them was a real backpacking pack, the REI Flash 65. I used it to go on a short backpacking camping trip where we had to hike to the campground carrying all of our gear and food. This pack fit me perfectly and served me well. But, I haven’t gone backpacking since then! So, it’s been sitting in my closet for a couple of years. Through the magic of Craigslist I sold that backpack to someone who could actually use it.

My other, more useful backpack was the North Face Base Camp Hot Shot which I loved and used often. The problem with it was that it was simply too small to hold my camera gear. It has a 30-liter capacity which is a nice size but with the camera padding, it got a little cramped inside. It was however very tough and durable, and extremely water-resistant. Again, using Craigslist I found someone (in the same neighborhood even!) who wanted to buy it from me.

While I still had these packs, I had done my research and decided on the North Face Router model. I visited REI a few times and even brought my camera gear (in the padded insert) to see how it fit in various backpacks. The Router was the best backpack for the camera gear and also my other stuff. Its 41-liter capacity is a big upgrade from the smaller packs. Why didn’t I go for a dedicated camera backpack like a Lowepro or Kata? Well, I wanted something that didn’t look like I was carrying expensive gear around in. I prefer to just get a regular bag, and put in the special padded insert. I do this for my REI messenger bag too, and it works great. (I still use the messenger bag, but a heavy load using just one shoulder gets hard after a while)

Now that I had decided on the right backpack (and color I loved) I just had to find the right price. I waited for a while and finally decided to buy it at REI. I know they often have big sales, and sure enough, along came one such sale: 20% off any single item for REI members. So I went to the REI near my work, but to my dismay, they were all sold out! Just a couple of days prior, they had several in stock. But now, I was staring at an empty space where the Router models were supposed to be. And what made it even more exasperating was that no other backpack models were even close to selling out! I did a quick check online to see if either of the other Austin-area stores had them, but they were all sold out too! Just my luck…

Later that evening I was chatting with my brother and he asked if I could get the same discount if I ordered from the REI website. I checked and yes, I could still get 20% off with the online order! So I placed my order and a week later my Router backpack was ready to be picked up at my local REI. I finally got the backpack I had my heart set on!

As some of you may know, I sort of have an obsession with bags. I’ve owned and have gone through a lot of them. But I am excited about this one because I feel like I am going to keep this pack for a very long time. It’s relatively expensive ($145 list) compared to other backpacks, but it’s very high quality and it has the volume, configuration, and style that I really like. I don’t mind spending more money on something that I know will last a long time.

Besides the main compartment where I keep the camera gear, there are two other large compartments. The one closest to my back is for laptop and tablet. There’s a tablet sleeve that sits kind of in the middle, which is perfect for my Dell Venue 8 Pro and Bluetooth keyboard. In the laptop area, I keep a folder with papers in it, my Kindle, and a small notebook. The third large compartment is closest to the outside and has all the little pockets and places for pens, wallet, etc. Then on what would be considered the outside of the bag is a small fleece-lined cellphone pocket, two vertical “Napoleon” pockets, a water-bottle pouch (I keep my point-and-shoot camera here), and a snug-pocket for I don’t know what… another water-bottle pouch would probably be more useful.

To carry all of this gear, the Router has nicely-shaped padded shoulder straps, fully adjustable with sternum strap (and integrated whistle in the buckle). Also, there is a nice light-duty waist strap, which can be stowed away in the ventilated back pad if not being used. The back pad also has a semi-rigid plastic support plate. It’s a very slick setup, and really comfortable!

I have to admit, 41 liters is a lot of space for a daypack, and the Router is probably too big for most people. But I like to carry my camera with me wherever I go, so this bag suits me just fine. I’ve only briefly listed what I carry in it, but maybe in another post, I will show a more detailed set-up. I’m still working out what goes where, so it might take a little while to get it all sorted out! I actually think it’s fun to pack stuff, and also see how other people pack their bags. I’m weird like that.

Lastly, if you made it to the end of this long post, ありがとう!! (Thanks!)

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