Sun, May 20, 2018
Review by: Rob Havasy
The North Face Renegade Pack
The North Face Renegade is a sturdy, cavernous internal frame pack that boasts a host of features and very rugged construction. I have had for just over 3 years, and so far I only have a few minor complaints. Like all North Face products that I have seen, the construction of this pack is first rate. The materials are rugged, the suspension is sturdy, and there are all kinds of pockets and lash points ready to accept gear.
The basic design is a top loading internal frame pack. There are 2 large pockets that run the length of the front of the pack. Each one has a set of daisy chains sturdily stitched on for lashing extra gear. The top pocket of the pack is free floating, so the spindrift collar can expand to ridiculous heights. With the collar extended all of the way, this pack towers 2 feet over the top of your head and holds a cavernous 5200 in 3 (for the large frame size). In addition to being free floating, the pack top is also removable and converts into a decent fanny pack for short off-trail trips, or day hikes away from base camp. While not quite the best fanny pack in the world, it has a better belt than one would suspect, and holds a reasonable amount. I especially like the internal pocket with the built-in clip for keys. This takes a lot of the worry out of hiking and wondering if you dropped your only set of car keys when you were scrambling for your rain gear.
As one would expect on a pack of this caliber, the suspension is fully adjustable. In fact, there are enough adjustments to confuse those who aren't familiar with internal frame packs, so seeking the advice of a qualified pack fitter might be wise if you are looking at this as your first internal frame. The shoulder straps are wide enough that they don't bite into your shoulders, and thickly padded enough that they easily distribute their load over your shoulder and chest area. Perhaps the best part of the suspension, though is the hip belt. In fact, the hip belt is one of the main reasons I decided on the North Face pack over some of the others I tried, including Dana Designs, Gregory, and Mountainsmith. The belt is wide and thickly padded, but, more importantly, it has rigid sides, so it doesn't deform under the weight of the pack and continues to support heavy loads all day long. So, while this was an important factor in my choosing the pack, it has also become one of my sources of irritation. With a heavy load in the pack, the hip belt really punishes your hips, because it is so rigid. During the first hike of the year, or with really heavy loads, my hips can become bruised after only a couple of days. I liken the feeling to the way your butt feels after the first good mountain bike ride of the season.
The pack has all kinds of other little features that I like, including plenty of hooks and places to hang gear. There are also two little "wing" pockets that occupy some of the space between the pack bag and the hip belt. I think the idea was that you could store little items in them that you frequently use on a trail, like a knife or compass. But, in practice, you have to be some kind of contortionist to reach these pockets while the pack is still on. It seems like a good idea, and I do use them, but they are just awkward.
In classic internal frame style, the main pack compartment is divided into 2 sections, a lower, zippered compartment for a sleeping bag, and a larger main compartment. One nice feature is that the divider unzips to move out of the way. This makes it much easier to tote around really long items like tent poles and things. The packs also have two mesh pockets on either side, which make it easy to lash other long items (trekking poles, camp chair, etc) to the pack sides, but also make a great way to carry water bottles, or stick wet shoes/sandals after a river crossings.
One of the criticisms that is often levelled at internal frame packs is that they are hot to wear, because they ride close to your back and do not allow for air circulation. This pack is no exception, and you will get a wet, clammy feeling when hiking long distances in the summer. But, The North Face has done some work to combat the problem. The material covering the framesheet pad right behind your back is some sort of wicking material. After a few summertime hikes, I can honestly say that it works better than I expected ... it does move some of the water away from your back.
Overall, I consider this a top notch pack. If you work hard to get the suspension adjusted and the hipbelt fit correctly, I think you'll be happy for many miles.
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Chris Oberg & Robert Havasy