The North Face Women’s Banchee 50 is an adjustable-torso length backpack specifically designed to fit a female torso with breast-friendly shoulder straps and hip belt padding that adjusts to the curvature of your hips. Loads of pockets make the pack easy to organize, with plenty of straps and loops to attach gear to the outside of the pack. But the key selling point for me is the fit. Being a small women, backpacks tend to slip down my hips and rest on my shoulders. The thing I like best about the Banchee 50 hip belt is the lumbar pad which keeps the hip belt from slipping down my waist, keeping it comfortable all day. But like all packs, the Women’s Banchee 50 has its pluses and minuses. Read on, for the details.
Specs at a Glance
- Gender: Female
- Pack Type: Top loading
- Frame: Internal ventilated, aluminum
- Adjustable-torso: Yes
- Max Recommended Load 30-35 lbs.
- Torso Size Range: M/L: 16 – 19 inches; XS/S: 14 – 17 inches (XS/S – Tested)
- Waist Hip Belt Size Range: Fits up to 38″
- Weight: 3 lbs. 5 oz.
- Pockets: 8
- Materials: 210D Ripstop Nylon
Backpack Storage and Organization
The Banchee 50 is a top loading backpack with a top pocket, a kangaroo pocket, side water bottle pockets, and “double-barrel” front pockets that give you tons of organizational options.
The top lid is a floating pocket rather than being sewn to the backpack. This means that it can be removed completely or raised, so you can scrunch bulky gear under the lid, like a rope or tent body. This can be real handy if you like multi-sport adventures that combine backpacking and climbing or mountaineering.
The top pocket also includes an inner mesh pocket, good for segregating small gear that you want to keep close track of. When packed, the top lid did touch the back of my head at first, which was kind of annoying. It took a little experimentation, but I found I could stop this by repacking the top of the main compartment, putting bulkier items lower down in the main compartment. This let me pull the top lid backward on its straps, giving my head more clearance. Something to be aware of, but not entirely uncommon on curved frames like this.
The front of the pack has a tube-shaped “double-barrel” pockets that provide extra organization capabilities for carrying snacks, electronics, maps, rain gear, and other items you want fast access to during the day without having to pop the top lid and grope around for them inside your pack. These pockets are on the outside of a kangaroo pocket. The zippers face inwards, which helps to protect them and keeps the zipper pulls from catching on overhanging branches along the trail. The double barrel pockets are also great for winter hiking when need to carry a lot of extra mittens, hats, snacks, a face mask, and goggles and switch between them frequently. But it took me a while to figure out what to use them for because they provide more pocket space than I’m used to on my other backpacks.
The kangaroo pocket, located behind the double barrel pockets, has a mesh strip down the middle to facilitate drainage, perfect for carrying camp Crocs or a dripping wet water filter. It’s tied into the side compression system of the pack which lets you cinch it tight to lock in the contents. Most of my other multi-day backpacks have a pocket like this.
If you prefer using a hydration reservoir to carry water, there’s an internal pocket for that purpose in the main compartment. My preference is to carry water bottles in the side pockets, which are covered with a tough mesh for durability. But I can’t reach back and pull out my water bottles on this pack, without swiveling the pack around on my hips. And the pockets are a pretty tight fit for storing a water bottle, too.
External Attachment and Compression System
The Banchee 50 has two tiers of compression straps, which is pretty standard on packs of this size. They’re spaced fairly far apart though because they serve double duty in helping close the kangaroo pockets, which limits their utility. That said, the top strap is well positioned to secure a longish item stored in a side mesh bottle pocket.
My favorite external attachment points are the sleeping pad/tent straps provided on the front and bottom of the pack. A lot of backpacks of this size don’t have these straps, which can make it hard to carry a bulky pad or tent if that’s all you have. What I like about these straps is that they clip into buckles at the base of the double barrel pockets, so that a pad or tent body rides higher, closer to my center of gravity. Other packs, make you carry a pad/tent under the bottom of a pack, which can throw me off-balance.
Backpack Frame and Suspension
The Women’s Banchee has load lifters and an adjustable sternum strap attached to a rail, making it easy to move up or down so it doesn’t smash your bosom. The shoulder straps are curved for greater comfort and while the hip belt wings flex to the angle of your hip bones. I found the wrap around my hip bones good with just the right amount of padding, not too much and not too little.
In addition to being ventilated, the Banchee 50 is an adjustable-length backpack, so you can lengthen or shorten the torso length to dial in a perfect fit. The shoulder straps are attached to the pack using velcro, so you just need to unstick and raise them to make the torso longer or lower them to make it shorter. This is so much better than fixed length backpacks, which usually come in 3-4″ torso ranges, making it harder to get an exact fit. If you’re shopping for your first overnight or multi-day backpack, I’d definitely consider getting one with an adjustable torso length because having a well-fitting pack is so important.
The Banchee 50 is also a ventilated backpack, with a suspended mesh back panel to keep you cooler and your shirt drier while you hike. The aluminum frame is curved to create an air space so that air can flow behind you, but makes it harder to find stuff in the main compartment, since it’s also curved inside. Still, the curved frame makes it feel like the pack leans into and around me, rather than trying to pull away from me, which Philip says can be a problem in other ventilated backpacks.
The hip belt has two large hip belt pockets that are large enough to store essentials and electronics. The hip belt also has a unique lumbar pad that’s split in the middle for better ventilation and comfort. It’s not that noticeable, but it prevents the hip belt from sliding down my hips. This makes all the difference, because it keeps the weight off my shoulders on multi-day trips, so they aren’t sore afterwards.
The hip belt pockets can also be moved backward or forward along the hip belt, a great feature depending on your waist size and the shape of your hips. If you’ve ever purchased a backpack where you need to reach backwards to get stuff out of the hip belt pockets, you can understand why being able to move them forward along the hip belt is so desirable. It’s hard to believe that this feature is not emphasized more on this backpack, because so few packs offer the same sizing option.
The North Face Women’s Banchee 50 is a female-specific multi-day backpack with an adjustable-length ventilated frame, women’s-specific shoulder straps, and adjustable hip-pockets that can be moved forward or back along the hip belt to give you a custom fit. The thing I like the best about this pack is the body hugging fit and the lumbar pad in the hip belt which prevents the pack from slipping down my hips and making my shoulders sore. While the curved frame makes the main compartment of the Banchee more of a challenge to pack, the abundance of external pockets makes it easy to keep frequently used gear more accessible. While everyone has different preferences in backpacks, I really think this pack is a keeper, and that the fit is a home run. I’ve been using an Osprey Exos for multi-day trips and the Women’s Banchee 50 is much more comfortable.
Beth Zimmer is an expert backpacker who’s backpacked all over New England and Eastern Canada, with a long list of hiking accomplishments to her name. She’s section hiked the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail, climbed the New England Hundred Highest and the New Hampshire 200 highest (mostly bushwhacks), redlined the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles), and climbed the White Mountain 4000 footers several times over. Beth also teaches GPS and off-trail navigation classes as a volunteer for the Appalachian Mountain Club and is co-chair of the New Hampshire Excursions Committee, which oversees all volunteer hiking and leadership training activities. When she’s not hiking and backpacking, Beth resides in New Hampshire where she can usually be found sipping coffee and planning her next adventure.