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Circuit Breaker

I'm too messy for the North Face Access Pack

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I’m a mess.

When I reviewed the Bragi Dash wireless earbuds, I wrote about how much I hate wires. But the real reason I hate wires is because I never take the time to properly store them and so my backpack, much like my life, is often a tangled rat king of wires. You might relate.

A gadget nerd's dream bag

The problem goes past wires — I’m this way with papers, spare batteries, whatever. And if there’s a shred of a chance that I’ll need it some day, it’s likely in my backpack. (Until I recently switched backpacks, I still stuffed my laptop into its slot next to a press packet from covering the New Horizons flyby of Pluto from last summer.)

Needless to say, when North Face announced the Access Pack earlier this spring, I caught myself drooling. It seemed like a gadget nerd's dream bag. The bag, with all its individual pouches and easy-access levers and switches, looked like it would change my life.

Here’s the thing: it didn’t. Surprise! The Access Pack is certainly capable of enabling you to be a bit more organized, but I spent the better part of a month treating it like I would any other backpack.

That’s dumb, because this thing is relatively expensive — it costs $235, which is at least $100 more than I’ve ever coughed up for a backpack. But I do think it’s worth that price tag for a few different reasons.

The bag can cut the clutter, but it won't do the work for you

First, you can really live a less cluttered life with this bag if you’re willing to respect its design. By that I mean you’re only going to reap any organizational benefits from this thing if you’re willing to obey the pockets, zipper pouches, and cushioned laptop slots that it presents you with. And there are plenty of these! You get two perfectly phone-sized pockets, and a couple spots for pens, but there’s also two nice, deep zipper pouches on the innermost part of the bag. The best one, though, is a small elastic pouch just under the lip of the shell that you flip open. It was one of the only parts of the bag that I didn’t stuff full of wires. Instead, I used it for a few things I grab often, like a microfiber cloth and an AC adapter.

The pull-tabs in the pockets sometimes feel like a gimmick — you kind of have to use two hands to use them, one to pull and one to brace, and that sort of defeats the whole purpose — but they are more effective than just blindly fishing around with one hand. They’re not quite the selling point that North Face wants them to be, but they also don’t really get in the way.

The Access Pack is pretty rigid, which is a good thing, but that means its turtle-shell shape is a bit bulky, especially if you’re squeezing into tight spaces like a crowded bus or train. If you can get past that, it’s a really nicely-designed bag. The materials feel premium, it looks great, and I even love how differently it feels when I wear it. Most other backpacks sag, especially over time, but the Access Pack sits higher and its rigid structure keeps it from pulling on your shoulders, even if you do overload it with dead weight. The straps and the back of the bag are cushioned, too, which helps with heavier loads.

But as I turn the Access Pack back in, I’m not going to go buy one for myself. The price is a big part of my decision, though I don’t think $235 is an extreme price to ask for something I use literally every day. For now I’m switching back to my beater of a backpack and will likely eye something more in the $50-$100 range, and in the meantime, I’m going to work on being a little less of a mess.