The North Face Primero 70 2008

The bigger the load, the harder it is to make it a comfy carry. It’s natural to want to backpack light, but sometimes you need a stack of gear lightweight sacks can’t hack. To carry 25-30kg you need a sack designed for the job. Cue the Primero 70.
The North Face designers started from scratch with this sack, looking at how the body moves to design the X Radial suspension system, a X-shaped alloy frame that sits inside the back system and twists at the pivot point in the centre of the X. Then they added a pivoting waistbelt. Finally, inspired by Crocs shoes, they used injection-moulded EVA to make vented back panels.
On first appearances the red EVA rubber back panel looks odd. But when you get it on your back the system works really well. It allows your body to move while remaining stable so you don’t feel like you’re tied to a tree trunk and the sack does not swing about. Heading into the hills with the Primero loaded to bursting point felt great – so good that I nearly forgot it was there.
While it was comfy, with good all-round airflow, I feel that covering the rubber in open-weave wicking material, like the hipbelt and shoulder straps are, would make it an even comfier carry.
The base of the sack has waterproof welded seams, which helps to protect the contents when dumping this sack down on wet ground. You get the usual side compression straps and wand pockets; there is a nice twist to these as they also fit a water bottle horizontally, making it easy to access a drink on the move. I liked this feature. Further more, hydration systems fit inside too.
Like many of today’s sacks you get a stretch front stash pocket. This is useful when you need to squeeze in extra kit for part of the day, particularly jackets.
The lid is a removable design and it can be extended to allow an extra 10 litres of capacity, making this ideal for expedition use. I’m not a fan of floating lids for backpacking in the UK, because I’ve found that some floating lids allow water into the main compartment. But there are lots of situations when a floating lid has advantages for securing extra kit, provided it doesn’t rain for your whole trip.
This is a huge, comfy sack that’s a delight to use. Weightwise it is superb for what it offers, as many sacks for a similar price that offer this level of capacity and performance tip the scales at 200-300g more  (that’s like an extra mid-weight fleece). At last you can go backpacking and carry the kitchen sink in comfort!

Price £180
Capacity 70+10 litres
Materials 630D Oxford nylon, PU-coated 210D nylon ripstop dual-sided PU coating
Features X Radial Backframe; EVA back panel with airflow channels; adjustable back length; one main compartment with removable base divider; zipped base compartment access; snow lock extension; extendible removable lid; side compression straps; stretch wand pockets; front stretch pocket; internal and external lid pockets; hydration system-compatible
Back lengths S: 36-43cm; M: 41-48cm; L: 46-53cm
Weight 2270g  (M back length)
Made in Vietnam
Stockist details – tel. (01539) 738882; www.thenorthface.com
Verdict
The back system is very comfortable; good weight; good price. But floating lid not ideal for prolonged, rainy backpacking; would it be even more comfy with covered EVA back panels? Overall, a comfortable big load-lugger at a competitive weight and price.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2008