THE NORTH FACE ACCESS
RRP$350 www.thenorthface.com.au TESTED BY Justin Walker
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.