User Review: The North Face Liberty
Design: top-loading daypack with framesheet
Size: ~2,000 cu. in.
Number of Pockets: 2
Max. Load Carried: 35 lbs
Height of Owner: 6'0"
I bought this pack in the mid-nineties and for more than a decade it was my go-to pack for long day hikes, ice climbing, even carrying ski gear. The Liberty is spacious enough to carry enough gear for a lightweight overnight, but a good system of compression straps also allows it shrink down to manage small day-hiking loads.
While I prefer to pack everything I'm carrying inside the packbag when possible, the Liberty has plenty of exterior lash points: two ice axe loops, four daisy chains, a section of elastic cord to hold a jacket or helmet, and four compression straps that can double as ski lashing straps. Despite all that, it's still very much a no-frills pack, with a large main compartment and comfortably-sized top lid.
The only missing features I've wished for from time to time are water bottle pockets and a hydration port. (It's possible to use a hydration bladder, but the hose routing can be awkward, especially with a full pack.)
At two-and-a-half pounds this pack can't be considered lightweight by today's standards, but is reasonably light for its vintage, and the body of the pack has held up remarkably well to more than a decade of use and abuse.
The same cannot be said of the plastic framesheet, which cracked and broke after just a couple years' use. This is probably due to a design flaw exacerbated by my packing tendencies. The fixed top pocket hinges right at the top of the framesheet. When unbuckled (to access the main compartment), the top pocket flops over the front of the pack pulls down on the framesheet. When packed heavily, this bent the framesheet, eventually breaking it after repeated stress. I eventually learned that, with proper packing, the framesheet was not really necessary at all.
In the last year or so the nylon straps began to get noticeably stiffer with age, and the buckle on the top compression strap broke. I'm still using it for winter excursions, but have been using smaller, lighter pack (Macpac Kahu 22) for summer dayhikes and will probably be choosing a new winter pack soon.
Overall The North Face Liberty has been a solid, dependable, go-anywhere-do-anything pack that has served me well in a wide variety of conditions.
The Liberty is no longer being made; the most similar packs in the current The North Face line are the Spire 30, 33, and 38.