RRP$350 www.thenorth­ TESTED BY Justin Walker

Australian Geographic Outdoor - - Gear Test -

BIKE COM­MUT­ING is one of the ways I get to work. As any com­muter – rid­ing or walk­ing – knows, find­ing a pack that of­fers the cor­rect type of stor­age – not to men­tion pro­tec­tion – of your frag­ile elec­tronic gear (lap­top, tablet, phone, hard drives) and other work and trans­port-as­so­ci­ated para­pher­na­lia (note­books, pens, wal­let, of­fice pass, keys, blah, blah) is not that easy.

For years, I have pressed one of my day­packs into com­muter ser­vice and just put up with the fact it wasn’t ide­ally suited to the task. So when The North Face an­nounced its all-new Ac­cess pack and one landed in our of­fice, I knew to whom I would be al­lo­cat­ing it for test­ing. Yep, that’d be me…

The Ac­cess of­fers all the things you want in a com­mut­ing-fo­cused pack, with a cou­ple of new and exciting stand-out fea­tures. The most ob­vi­ous is its con­struc­tion: the Ac­cess fea­tures a ro­bust alu­minium frame for en­hanced rigid­ity, cov­ered with 500D ny­lon/polyester fab­ric. And on top of that is the spring-steel main com­part­ment that flips open via a sprint-loaded clip at the top of the pack. This does away with zips (the only zips are wa­ter­proof job­bies in the sep­a­rate lap­top com­part­ment) and works a treat; the large open­ing re­veals a cav­ernous main com­part­ment. (To­tal vol­ume is 22 litres.)

The Ac­cess’s main com­part­ment of­fers, ahem, ac­cess to a num­ber of other ones, each of dif­fer­ent di­men­sions, and each de­signed to store dif­fer­ent work items, such as the tablet, mo­bile phone, note­books, etc. The lap­top com­part­ment is sep­a­rate from the main com­part­ment and fits a lap­top up to 15-inch in size. This com­part­ment fea­tures those wa­ter-re­sis­tant zips and sits clos­est to the har­ness/ your back. A nice fea­ture of some of the Ac­cess’s com­part­ments is the tog­gle bands. These are elas­ti­cised, al­low­ing you to pull up on a tab to bring the par­tic­u­lar item into easy reach with­out hav­ing to ri­fle through stuff. In­ter­est­ingly, The North Face promo video for the Ac­cess pro­motes this ease of use with a lot of one-handed grab­bing of equip­ment out of pack. And it ac­tu­ally is that easy; the elas­tic tabs work bril­liantly – just pull up on the tab(s) and your elec­tri­cal gad­get pops up to grab. It will be a few more months of ex­ten­sive test­ing be­fore I can say how ro­bust the tabs are, but so far they have worked a treat.

I of­ten say to any one who will lis­ten that I like struc­ture and or­der (yeah, I know: bor­ing!) and this mind­set has been well sat­is­fied with how you have to pack the Ac­cess. Un­like my old soft day­pack, the Ac­cess’s rigid struc­ture means you can­not squish it down if it is not full, so, well, I fill it – and in a cer­tain or­der that cor­re­sponds with what item fits in what com­part­ment. Yes, I know, I prob­a­bly need to see some­one but it is a near-joy­ful ex­pe­ri­ence plac­ing my mo­bile phone in its own par­tic­u­lar com­part­ment in­side the Ac­cess…

If I could find any neg­a­tive to the Ac­cent it would be that, at 1.95kg, it is no­tice­ably heav­ier than my old day­pack – an ob­vi­ous re­sult of its internal frame and tough con­struc­tion. How­ever, for me, this ex­tra weight is well worth it for the sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in as­sur­ance that my work equip­ment is very, very well pro­tected. Be­sides the ex­cel­lent pro­tec­tion and se­cu­rity of all your stored good­ies, the har­ness sys­tem also off­sets the ad­di­tional weight. From a bike com­mute per­spec­tive, even though it is lack­ing a waist har­ness, the com­pres­sion-moulded shoul­der straps, chest strap, and TNF’s ‘Flex Vent’ back panel are both sup­port­ive and com­fort­able. Im­pres­sively, if you do stand up and re­ally push it on the ped­als, re­liv­ing that imag­i­nary Tour de France sprint fin­ish, there is only slight sway from the pack.

The Ac­cess ain’t cheap, but you are pay­ing for a pack that of­fers far more equip­ment pro­tec­tion than oth­ers – plus it’s built to the usual TNF stan­dards, so should pro­vide many years of re­li­able use.

The North Face Ac­cess has a unique pro­tec­tive shell for your gear and ev­ery­thing in­side is very easy to ac­cess.

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