New North Face Surge and Recon Bag Differences

Rae and I were at Valley Fair this evening to meet up with Felix, Osvaldo and Cheryl. We went to the Eddie Bauer store to look at their new bag lineup. With its Adventure and Vantage backpacks, the company is taking cues from and targeting The North Face’s Recon and Surge packs. Eddie Bauer is currently having a back-to-school promotion and backpacks are $20 off. While the packs were of lesser quality overall than TNF’s lineup, they are $40 cheaper.

We then went upstairs to The North Face store. A few months ago, I bought a green Surge backpack. While inspecting the display Surge, I immediately could tell that this was the next year model! The new packs sport YKK zippers and have a lightly padded waistbelt instead of a simple waist strap. There are fewer pockets in the secondary compartment of the Surge, and the shoulder straps have been redesigned. The company also moved the top handle to the back. On the previous edition of the Surge, the top handle was attached to the part of the backpack that opens up. If you were to open the bag, the handle becomes useless. Good decision to move it up top.

While I find my Surge to be a serviceable backpack, there’s still room for improvement. Ideally, I’d like something that’s a cross between the Surge and the Recon. Give me the dedicated laptop compartment of the Surge and add the expandable mesh front pocket from the Recon. I could do without one of the front compartments of the Surge but keep the waistbelt and top handle of the 2010/2011 model. In a way, I kinda just described the Eddie Bauer Adventure backpack! One day, I’ll develop some mad sewing skills and fashion my own ultimate backpack!

Update: I just placed an order for an Ivar Revel G2 backpack.
Ivar packs are unique in that they have a shelving system inside the back. Most backpacks, including the Surge and Recon, are basically big pouches where everything sinks to the bottom. While comfortable with light loads, these backs can become a pain when fully loaded. I’ll likely be testing the Ivar in the Bay Area before our Autumn Gem tour to Australia next month. In the meantime, I’ve put up the Surge for sale on Craigslist. As I mentioned above, it’s a fine backpack, but not quite ideally suited for my needs.

19 thoughts on “New North Face Surge and Recon Bag Differences

  1. […] my North Face Surge backpack was going to be my primary bag. One of the downsides to most backpacks is that items generally […]

  2. Dave M

    Hi Adam:

    Great review! I’m wondering if you’re still using the Ivar Revel G2 pack, and what you think of it now? I always thought the NF Surge was the “perfect” backpack, and was ready to purchase one…until I found your blog. Now you got me thinking of the Ivar bags…

    What I really want is something that can not only carry my laptop and tech gear, but also hold clothes and toiletries for a 2-3 day trip.

    Let me know your current thoughts about the Ivar. Thanks!


  3. @DaveM: Yes, I still have both backpacks. The Revel G2 is my primary pack, whereas my wife uses the Surge. Some comments:

    1) If the Ivar is filled to the brim with stuff, it’s tight/hard to put things in the front pocket or the outside mesh pocket.

    2) I use the top pocket to store power adapters, cables, etc. It’s a better design than the bottom pocket in the Surge.

    3) The Surge looks bigger than the Revel, even though they hold the same amount of stuff.

    We used both packs for 2-weeks in Australia, so 2-3 days should be really easy for you. Good luck with your choice, and let me know if you have additional questions before buying.

  4. Dave M

    Hey Adam! I know we’ve been emailing, but I wanted to post here for the benefit of your readers as well. I finally ordered the Ivar Pilot yesterday and can’t wait to get it! It seemed to meet my needs a little better as a tech/business traveler. I couldn’t really find any decent reviews of the Pilot online, so maybe I’ll write my own after I check out the bag for a bit. I also plan to post a lot more pictures of it for the benefit of others (not enough good ones out there). Hmmm… I guess I’ll have to start a blog so I have somewhere to post my review. LOL!

    Also, just as an FYI for everyone… Ivar now guarantees their bags for the life of the product! This is a recent change that actually swayed me away from ordering the NF Surge instead. Check it out —

    Happy Backpacking!

    1. Thanks for the comment Dave. Looking forward to your Pilot review, which I’ll link to when you have it ready.

      We’re currently in Hawaii at the moment. I noticed some of the threads on top of my Revel are starting to come apart. I might have to contact their customer support to see if this can be fixed/replaced.

  5. meizan

    Hi adam :)

    i am torn between the two i would like to seek for your advise.if these 2 bag were to be put with same amount of load,which one will feel less heavy and cause less strain on your back?

    And,i assume ivar’s laptop compartmet padding is much better and thicker than surge right?

  6. The Surge’s laptop compartment is in the back of the backpack, so the computer rests against your back. The computer in the Ivar, on the other hand, sits in the middle of the pack. I think the Ivar feels better, but other people may have other opinions. Because the computer is in its own compartment, it’s easier to take out of from the Surge — in the Ivar it’s in its own shelf within the main compartment.

  7. meizan

    So,simply said:

    laptop compartment,surge better than ivar

    while in term of comfort and ergonomic,in your opinion,ivar feel better.


    And i notice,on the older surge model,the main compartment have some sort of 2 “tube” padding,in order to prevent,whatever you put in the main compartment,from pressing against the laptop that is inside the laptop compartment.and these feature is not present in the 2011 you know any of this?

  8. My older model Surge has the tube padding. I haven’t seen a newer model, so I can’t say if it has it or not.

    The thing with the Surge is that it’s basically a big sack. Things will settle into the bottom unless you carefully organize what you put in (or use packing blocks). With the Ivar, there are four separate areas in which you can organize your items. One problem I will say about the Ivar is that if you pack it too much, the mesh netting doesn’t expand that much. Plus, the outer zippered pocket gets tight too. This is also a problem with the Surge.

    Let me know if you have any additional questions.

  9. meizan

    Thanks for your reply.its really helpful.i let you know if there’s any other question.

    Thanks again

  10. meizan

    Hi adam.i got another question for you.just want to clarify,both the 2010 and 2011 model of Surge,receive endorsement from ACA right?


  11. That I don’t know. You’ll want to ask North Face about it.

  12. Chrisjohn

    Hey Adam, I was hoping you would be able to answer my question. I was shopping around for backpacks and stumbled across TNF Surge backpack, they look nice and I like that they have a dedicated laptop compartment, but the only thing is that I don’t like the straps on the new models and I just wanted to know if the straps on the older model different? I like the more padded shoulder straps, from the pictures I seen of both, it looks like the older models are different but I could be wrong. Let me know please and thanks in advance.

    P.S. What do you think of this backpack…

  13. Chrisjohn: The straps are similar to the newer model. Here is a photo:

    I prefer having two side pockets; the Targus only has one. I prefer the styling on the iVar or the Surge/Recon to the Targus too.

  14. Chrisjohn

    I didn’t really notice that haha, thanks for pointing that out, now that’s out of the question. Why is making a decision on a backpack so difficult O_O! Well for me at least. I have so many options, but I just might narrow it down to just the North Face Surge.

    Would you happen to have any other pictures of this backpack? In particularly of the straps. I haven’t been able to find a picture that focus more on the straps. You said they are similar, but to my eyes the straps on the older model compared to the newer one is that it looks more padded and not see through. As for the newer model it’s see through and looks less padded? I do like how the older model ones look though for some reason.

    Also thanks for replying back and being helpful. Very much appreciated.

  15. Emily

    Hi Adam!

    Would you know when North Face is releasing their new backpack models? I was intent on purchasing a Surge this month, but noticed that all of my preferred colors are out of stock (especially on NF’s own website), which leads me to think they’re going to release their 2012 models soon. Would you know when NF released their 2011 model last year?

    Currently I’m switching between a small Belkin laptop bag and a large Timbuk2 messenger… really looking forward to getting my hands on a durable bag that will accomodate both needs!

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