Friday, September 5, 2014

North Face backpack madness

It's been a popular for as long as I can remember to disparage larger, more commercial outdoor brands such as Patagonia and The North Face. As with anything perceived as mainstream, people that see themselves as innovators will turn up their nose and point to some lesser known brand as more legit, better designed, or better value.
For the most part I've tried to resist the temptation as I understand that you can always sell more graphic tees and hoodies then technical shells or down parkas, and these sales funded large R&D departments that quietly turned out quality products in smaller amounts, such as the North Face's Summit Series. As long as these quality, innovative products kept coming I could turn a blind eye to the deluge of cheap imports aimed at the Denali-fleece-and-Ugg-boot clad masses.

Well, at least for the time being I am formally withdrawing my support for North Face and jumping on the "they jumped the shark" bandwagon.

What the hell is this? This is what happens when you change your back pack line every year out of compulsion and not for the sake of incremental improvements over the last models.
I don't know what kind of mysteries are hidden behind that piece of nylon but why have tubular frame sections transition to flat stays?
arbitrary patterns indented into the hip belt padding. overly complex adjustment system. ridiculously thin padding. Iffy proprietary fabrics.
I'm all for innovative, daring designs but there is no clear design focus here, it really looks like a crowd of burnt-out backpack designers go together an threw a bunch of their left over ideas into one pack. For all I know it might even work very well for some body types, it certainly has some good features too it, but there is no focus, no overarching goal. This is what it looks like to get curb stomped by the Good Idea Fairy, features for feature's sake.

While we're on the subject, check out this other North Face pack. It's hard to tell from the picture but the designers decided it needed an obscenely steep lumbar angle, for a flat-backer like me the point is the only part that makes contact. You can see were the designers are coming from but somewhere in the line the signal/noise ratio is getting shot to hell.

I don't have pictures to illustrate my point but a lot of this has slowly built up over the years as I've watched North Face's pack department slowly degrade. The Terra line for instance was a respectable, simple top loader for many years that died a slow death as it was weighed down with gimmicky features. The battle to keep the price point the same has seen a decrease in quality until now, when it seems more at home next to a Cabela's house brand pack then among the Gregoys and Ospreys of the market.

Maybe I'm just bitter over the changing market in general (Golite's laughable transition being a prime example) but I do hold out hope because even with many companies seeming to take leaps backward there are still more fantastic backpacks on the market then ever before, and more showing up every year. Just buy your backpacks from backpack companies and your hoodies from hoody companies and you'll be fine.

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