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The North Face Surge Backpack – An Updated Version Of An Old Favourite

Web: www.stevenfrischling.com — E-Mail: fish@flyingwithfish.com

8/05/2008 – The North Face Surge Backpack – An Updated Version Of An Old Favourite

For years I have used, abused, schleped and lived out of my North Face Borealis backpack. The North Face Borealis backpack has met the vast majority of my needs when traveling quick and light. The only design flaw I found in the Borealis over the years was my need to open the main compartment to access my laptop without maneuvering around the contents of the bag’s main compartment.

Depending on how I pack my bag, reaching in to remove my laptop at a security check point can be a significant hassle; the solution to this design need is the North Face Surge backpack. The North Face Surge has a very similar design to the North Face Borealis, with the notable difference being the addition of a separate top loading slot that can accommodate up to a 17″ laptop. This top loading laptop slot makes traveling through airport security very easy, additionally it makes generally accessing your laptop while on a plane or a train very easy.

My North Face Surge’s first trip was a significant test of it’s abilities as a multi-purpose backpack. The Surge’s first test was having it haul nearly everything I needed to photograph four shoots, in four cities, in four countries, on three continents around the would in less than four days. Every nook-and-cranny of the North Face Surge backpack was used, from the “hidden pocket” at the base of the bag loaded with my laptop power supply, security cables & locks and a few empty zip-lock bags to the left side mesh-pocket that was used to carry a Manfrotto 3373 compact light stand, even the bottom lash-straps were used to carry my sweater when I was not wearing it.

Overall my Surge backpack held inside it’s compartments (other gear was carried in a Newswear belt sysem, cameras were carried out on my shoulders)
4 – pairs of underwear
4- pairs of socks3
3 – button up shirts
1 – sweater
2 – Nikon SB-28dx flashes
1 – Pocket Wizard transmitters
2 – Pocket Wizard receivers
1 – Calumet Swivel adapter
1 – PhotoFlex 22″ white/gold reflector
2 – Pocket Wizard PC cables,
1 – Ilford Anti-Stat cloth
1 – Apple 15″ PowerBook
1 – Apple AC power supply
1 – Case Logic neoprene laptop protector sleeve
1 – Sony PSP & Power Supply
1 – Case of 4 UMD (PSP) Disks
1 – Apple 60gb iPod
1 – Sony MDR-NC22 Noise Canceling Headsets
1 – APC emPower in-seat power inverter
1 – Canon BP-511 Battery Charger
1 – Three-way outlet splitter
1 – 12 slot DVD holder
1 – Motorola USB phone charger (for Motorola Razr & Blackberry 8700)
1 – Stick of Right Guard (alpine scent)1 – Toothbrush/Toothpaste kit
1 – hair brush
2 – packs of sani-wipes
1 – US to Euro power-tip adapter
1 – US to UK (for Hong Kong) power-tip adapter
1 – Pair of Oakley sunglasses
2 – Packs of Kleenex tissues
4 – Sentry combination locks
1 – Eagle Creek locking cable
3 – Pens / Sharpie Markers
2 – Spare sets of 4 “AA” batteries
2 – Spare “AAA” batteries
1 – Lonely Planet “Encounters” Guide

For a bag measuring only 21″x12″x9″ (52cmx30cmx22cm), the well planned out and extremely versatile interior design, allows the North Face Surge bag to carry a significant amount of “stuff” inside it’s low profile design.

Having worn this back pack now on two long trips, around-the-world in under 4 days, as well as this past week using the Surge backpack while shooting a three day wedding in Paris (again traveling with no checked baggage!) I find the bag easy to wear. The ergonomics of the shoulder straps, the ease of getting the bag on and off,and the side compression straps make the bag comfortable hour after hour on your back. As a photographer I find the bag very easy to wear while shooting, even when using a Newswear belt with pouches of a ThinkTank Skin kit (belt/shoulder system with pouches).

With the North Face Surge being part of my kit for a month, and having flown with this bag for nearly 30,000 miles in this short span of time, on a dozen flights, through 7 countries, on three continents, I can safely say this bag is fantastic. I envision using the North Face Surge as my “go-to” backpack for the foreseeable future.

Below are a few photos of my North Face Surge Bag shot in the last month. The first photo is on the ramp at Providence’s TF Green Airport (PVD) after a United Airlines flight; the second photo is at Gate E3 at Amsterdam-Schiphol International Airport (AMS); the 3rd photo is in my seat on board a trans-atlantic Northwest Airlines.

Happy Flying!

–Click Images To Enlarge Them–
a backpack on the ground
a backpack on a window sill
a backpack on a seat


  1. Thanks for this detailed review. I’ve been looking for the “one” bag for business travel, my basic requirements were 30-40L with a dedicated laptop compartment and compressions straps.

    I currently use a 40L Osprey Vertigo (which is great btw, completely maxed out will still easily fit into a standard overhead bin front-to-back) with a separate laptop bag, but I know I usually don’t need nearly that much. I’ve been leaning towards the Surge, I think you’ve convinced me.

  2. I also use the Surge however I took the pocket at the bottom and place a piece of foam pillow at the bottom since there was not any padding. There are straps on the side that line up well with the web pockets so its easy to strap in a tripod. It really does work quite well and its very comfortable to carry.

  3. Hi,

    Thanks voor je detailed review. I’m not sure which one I should take: the Borealis or the Surge. What is the main difference between those and what makes the Surge better dan the Borealis.


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