Getting a large electronics backpack right is something that many manufacturers haven’t quite mastered. The midsize gadgets backpack market is full of excellent choices, like the Dell Premier Backpack, but they don’t scale up in size efficiently. Unfortunately, most larger electronics are just that, bigger versions of smaller backpacks that don’t take advantage of the extra space.
The North Face Recon is a spacious backpack which manages to feel smaller than it is, while at the same time comfortably carrying a lot of gear. You can watch my full review of The North Face CLG4-JK3 Backpack in the video above, or read on.
Size Doesn’t Matter
It’s how you use it and the Recon, despite being a 31-liter backpack measuring 49 centimeters x 36 cm x 24 cm, seems both smaller and larger than its dimensions. (Lighter too, only 1.2kg / 2.5 lbs.) The first thing the Recon gets right is having one main, large pocket. For example, the Swissgear Scansmart 1900 I use breaks up most of its capacity into three large compartments. In essence, what this does it restrict the backpack into being primarily a laptop carrier.
The North Face Recon on the other hand has one large compartment with a smaller front pocket. The larger, main compartment has a laptop sleeve (lined with fleece) that can comfortably hold a 15-inch Macbook Pro. With that out of the way and no pockets to stealthily gobble up space, you can easily fit a DSLR, drone, plus regular travel items like extra clothes in the main compartment.
Whereas most midsize electronics backpacks are made for mostly for gadgets, the Recon was designed for your gadgets as well as other travel gear. At 31 liters, the Recon is very close to being a bag that can eliminate your need for a check-in bag for short trips or if you travel very light.
Small Details Of Quality
Having a larger main compartment opens up a lot of space, so you could use the Recon as your only backpack for a short trip, even if you are a person that travels with a lot of electronics. You can see all of the tech gear I use – the Recon held it comfortably (with the help of these Swissgear toiletry kits) – with a lot of space let over for clothes and actual toiletries.
The smaller compartment is sized to easily fit an iPad Air 2 (the iPad Pro might just fit too). The Recon’s smaller compartment also isn’t pocket deficient, taking the best of smaller electronics backpacks (pockets!) and making the most of them.
Looking at the exterior of the bag, although it’s not specifically stated, the Recon appears to be thoroughly weather-proof. Zippers are tightly stitched, there are no open seams, and the fancy ballistic nylon wicks away water. You can definitely take the Recon out on rainy days, personally I would even feel at safe to walk around in a substantial downpour, electronics inside or not.
There are also small touches which imprint The North Face quality, that doesn’t come with an absurd markup. Both side compartments for water bottles are made of tight elastic, not just a single stretchy band like many other backpacks. The front, open compartment as well provides support across the entire pocket. Not only will this make the elasticity last longer, it ensures you won’t constantly be checking to see if anything’s fallen out.
Taking The Best From Big And Small
Straps are also some of the most comfortable I’ve used in all of the backpacks I’ve tested, a lesson the Recon takes from larger backpacks. The few gripes I do have with the Recon – the rounded bottom (the backpack can’t really stand up straight on its own) and the too-bright all white logo – are minor at best. It’s available in 10 different color configurations (unfortunately not an all black on black) and the rounded bottom actually makes it easier to fit the Recon under the seat in front of you on a plane.
The North Face have given the Recon CLG4-JK3 a premium feel for $99, a lot less than expected for this brand. The North Face Recon takes the the better parts of both large and small backpacks to make for a very versatile electronics backpack for travelers who want to occasionally ditch a check-in bag.