The North Face Angstrom 20
An excellent lightweight (709g) panel loader daypack…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $75
An excellent lightweight (709g) panel loader daypack from The North Face. Great use of lightweight fabrics, intelligent, well thought out design with handsome looks and excellent durability. Can be used for trail running, day hikes, and compact enough to be used as a summit pack for winter mountaineering.
The use of proper hipbelt and slim design which seats the pack squarely down the middle of your back makes for a great ride over rough terrain, ideally suited for scrambling/mountaineering.
- Great panel loader design
- Low weight (nice use of different low weight materials)
- Comes with an excellent rain cover
- Great organization
- Compact shape excellent for scrambling
- Proper hipbelt (excellent for a small pack)
- Lack of compression straps
- Flimsy zipper ties
Manufacturer specs and features:
- Average Weight: 1 lb 9 oz / 709 g
- Volume: 1220 cubic inches / 20 liter
- Dimension: 11 x 6.3 x 19.3" / 27.5 x 16 x 49 cm
- Access: Panel
- H2O Compatible: Yes
- 70D mini-ripstop, 210HT ripstop nylon
- Hydration compatible
- Integrated rain cover
- Large stretch woven front and side water bottle pockets
- Multiple pockets for easy gear organization
Before I review the specifics about fit and build quality, I should preface this with why I bought this particular bag. I was looking for a summit pack for summer/winter and general hiking/mountaineering day pack for summer with a capacity of no more than 22L, and generally low weight and packability.
I found most completely packable day packs to be too flimsy and ride poorly for long days out, so I started looking at lightweight day packs. I also wanted a proper hip-belt for both comfort, convenience of pockets, and ability to fit the pack more snuggly while moving over rough terrain. Another feature I wanted was panel loader access since I find that easier to access when dealing with a small pack, this inevitably narrowed the field for me.
I ultimately ended up getting the Angstrom 20 and haven't regretted it since. It has been on several adventures over the past few months, in the Rockies, the Alps, and the Welsh mountains. So far so good!
As well, even though I don't fold it over so as to not permanently crease the foam back insert, it packs down very flat and can easily stow away in a bigger pack to be used as a summit pack.
Fit: The pack fits me very well (5'10", 180 lbs) and keeps the load centered squarely down the middle of my back. This is particularly important for me as I use it for scrambling, where much like climbing you don't want the bag getting in the way of your arms as you move over challenging terrain.
The straps have a good deal of adjustability and I was able to easily find the perfect fit for me. This is not always the easiest thing to do as I have fairly broad shoulders and chest, which does not always mesh well with small packs and I end up with chaffing over my collar bone.
TNF also list a women's version of the Angstrom 20, but other than different colours I am not sure what the difference is. I assume it is probably the angle of the hip-belt, but I could be wrong.
Comfort: In general I find the pack quite comfortable. Being a lighter weight pack I do not expect the same level of padding and ventilation of heavier bags, but for the most part it is adequate. The foam back pad is fairly soft, but it is stiff enough to keep internal contents from poking your back and that is all you can ask for in this type of pack.
The ventilation is borderline. It is certainly better than packs that have just a flat featureless foam pad, but nowhere near as good as those that have deeper air channels or trampoline. Of course this is an admirable compromise between features, comfort, and weight. If you temper your expectations and put it into context of weight and design, the ventilation is perfectly acceptable.
One major facet of comfort for this bag, which is fairly unique these days is the use of a proper hip belt on a small lightweight pack! This really helps distribute weight and keep it snug to your back. One nice touch is the use of two different fabrics for the pockets; one is mesh and the other solid. The mesh pocket is great for storing wet liner gloves so they can dry as you move.
The shoulder straps are on the thinner side, but they are quite soft and comfortable enough that they have not caused me any chaffing or discomfort.
Capacity: Being a panel loader, I find it easy to pack fully and for the most part I feel the entire bag can be used to its capacity much better than other small bags I have used. I can fit all the gear I need for full days out (I do use lightweight/ultralite gear though so mileage my vary). I have no problem fitting a 3L insulated bladder, map, kit of essentials, waterproof jacket and pants, hat, gloves, primaloft or down puffy jacket, some food, camera and spare shirt, all without issue.
Organization and Accessibility: Being a panel loader, the accessibility is great and was a big selling point for me for a bag of this capacity. The organization is more than adequate, and surprisingly given that it's The North Face it has been kept to a reasonable, and useable standard as opposed to their typical overuse of organizing pockets which just have no real purpose. The main body features a water bladder holder, and some internal organizer pockets.
In addition, is an external pocket made out of stretch fabric perfectly sized to swallow up a large map, gloves, hat, or some snacks. The two hip belt pockets are adequately sized for liner gloves, snacks, cell phone, compass etc... There is also a bungee cord on the front of the pack which is strong enough to secure a small tripod like a gorillapod SLR or a crampon bag, or jacket without issue. There are also two stretchy bottle holders on the side.
In the photo below you can see the use of stretchy fabric for both the bottle holders and front pocket. There is no shortage of storage solutions for this pack and they are all intelligently laid out.
Ride and Compression: There is only one real issue with this pack, and that is the lack of compression straps on the side which causes two issues, one of which affects the ride. First, the lack of side compression straps prevents the use of the side pockets to store walking poles (there are pole holders on the front, but I prefer to use those for an ice axe). This also prevents you from cinching the bag tighter, which can make the pack annoying to use when it is not adequately filled, especially if you are running as you can feel things moving around.
However, the good news is that the bag starts to ride well once it is about 2/3rd's full, which is not a difficult feat to achieve with a 20L pack. Once you have an adequate amount of gear in there, it is very stable, and the bag takes well to being filled to capacity and does not deform or ride uncomfortably. The lack of compression is however a major oversight by TNF and really holds this bag back from being just about perfect.
Features: One nice feature, which I actually never use is the integrated rain cover (I prefer to use a waterproof rolltop dry liner inside the pack). It fits inside a velcro fastened pouch at the bottom of the bag. If anything, this extra layer of fabric makes the bottom of the pack more stable and more durable. I always leave the rain cover at home and use that pocket to store my garbage for the day (also a nice feature!)
Even though I don't use it, I was actually impressed as to how nice the rain cover actually is!
Another feature, which I think is often overlooked is the outlet for the hydration system. In particular smaller packs often have just a small slit which tends to pucker when the bag is full allowing rain to trickle into the bag far too easily. The elasticated slit on this bag thankfully does not pucker and I have had no issue with water trickling in during rainy hikes.
Construction & Durability: Overall, almost (see later) everything about this bag screams quality. Even though the fabrics used are generally lightweight, they have a quality feel and they are assembled flawlessly. I was suspect over the longevity of the stretchy material for the outer front pocket, which I thought would for sure fall apart within months, I am pleased to say that I was wrong and even though I have snagged it the woods several times, there is no damage!
My one complaint is the use of very thin shock cord for the pole holders, and the very flimsy feeling zipper ties which in some instances already show signs of fraying. This is not a big deal as I can just tie something else to them when they break, but it's a small detail TNF could have easily remedied. My other TNF bags have much better ties on the zippers.
Still overall, the construction is excellent, and the bag has given me no real doubts as to its durability over continuous use.
Conditions: I have used this bag 9/10 trips this spring/summer from the Rockies, to the Swiss Alps (see pic below), and the Welsh mountains. The bag has stood up well to activities ranging from casual hiking, trail running, to scramling/climbing in weather from sunny to full on storms. I am confident to take it out on any adventure as long as the capacity is adequate to the task.
It has become one of my favourite packs in spite of its few drawbacks, the main one being lack of side compression straps. It happily fits into my backpack family and I imagine it should get at least a few years of good use before being retired.
Conclusion: If you are looking for a quality daypack or a summit pack with a little more weight but with a lot more features and durability, then this may just be the pack for you!