The North Face Trail Lite Speed 20L Backpack | Tested and reviewed

A bag that goes mountain biking, via ferrating, climbing *and* hiking? But it's only 20 litres? Colour us intruiged.

from The North Face
RRP  £105.00
TNF Backpack, right number of stars

by Fliss Freeborn |
Updated on

In recent years, we've fallen in love with smaller hiking backpacks. Gone are the days of taking huge 40 litre packs for a day's hiking - God only knows what we were hauling up those hills - but we're now embracing packing light, feeling fast and getting those munros bagged in no time at all. The North Face Trail Lite Speed 20L is all about exactly that. It's a do-it-all 20L daypack suitable for hiking, climbing and mountain biking.

The North Face Trail Lite Speed is a brilliantly designed bag, managing to cram some really useful features into a small volume, which feels much more capacious than it really is. Of course, at 20 litres it's not going to be useful in winter or for overnight trips, but unlike other small packs we've tested, it feels more multifunctional thanks to careful design and planning. Let's get into some details.

Pros

  • Great fit
  • Loads of useful features
  • Lightweight
  • Versatile

Cons

  • Zip closure not as durable as a drawstring

Volume, shape, and weight

north face trail lite backpack helmet holder not holding a helmet

The Trail Lite Speed is available in a 20 litre size, which we've found is perfect for summer days out hiking. The bag is made up of a zipped main internal compartment, plus a deep "grab and go" front pocket - but more on pockets and features later.

Capacity wise, you can quite easily fit a couple of spare layers including a light waterproof and a micro-insulation layer in there, plus all your food for a day. If you're mountain biking, it'll fit a puncture repair kit and a hand pump, plus all the associated gubbins like a small first aid kit and extra layers. And if you're a climber, sure you're not going to be able to fit all your cams, offsets, nuts and skyhooks plus your food and drink, but it'll take a reduced rack for single-pitches or fast alpine routes.

North face trail lite backpack on the beach

Despite being wee, the Trail Lite Speed is hydration pack compatible, which saves space in the main internal compartment and frees up the mesh pockets for a summit beer, or keeps them clear if you're doing something which is anti-beer, like climbing or mountain biking.

Shape-wise, the pack is a body-hugging teardrop of a thing, tapering down towards the lower back for a close fit when climbing or biking. This is really useful for keeping your weight balanced on smaller edges or on technical terrain; we've also found that it does well for running, seeing as it's kept close in to your body. This is a fast-packer's dream, if you're into that sort of thing.

The Trail Lite Speed 20 is reasonably light too: at 580g we're not worried about it weighing us down at all, and it certainly doesn't feel at all cumbersome to wear. Although lighter packs designed specifically for climbing are available, the Trail Lite Speed 20 has far more features and uses - and despite being light, it's not really designed for gram-counting climbers only.

Back system: panel, straps, frame, and harness

The featured straps of north face trail lite backpack

The Trail Lite doesn't have a frame to speak of. Because of its size, it gets away with a supportive, thick mesh paneling instead, but one that does allow the bag to be folded down for storage. We've found everything to be very comfortable and fit well too - we have the S/M and it works for both a 5'3" lassie and a 5'10" chap with only a little adjustment needed on the shoulder and sternum straps.

Both the back panel and straps on this bag are mercifully breathable; unusually so (but very welcome, of course) on a bag of this weight and volume. We tested this bag on some of the hottest days of the year so far, and additionally used it in Corsica on some pretty toasty Via Ferrata. Happily, it kept us nice and cool throughout.

Chest straps TNF backpack

One feature we really like is the double sternum straps. They're both quite thin, but we think it's more useful to have two thin ones than one thick one - for close fitting activities such as fast-packing or climbing, it gives a much more specific fit, especially for women. There's also a waistrap, which is fairly featureless but it does the job just fine - due to the bag's small size and carrying capacity, the majority of the work is carried out by the sternum straps.

Features: closures, pockets, bells, whistles

the folding pocket on the north face trail lite backpack

This bag lives by its features. Starting with the pockets, at the top near the main compartment there's a small secure zipped key pocket, and deep stash pocket underneath that, which is great for guidebooks, maps or other items that you don't want to bother zipping and unzipping from the main compartment. There's also two side mesh pockets which can carry a Nalgene in each (you'll never go thirsty if you're using the inner pocket for a hydration pack too!) and will also have room for a couple of easy-access bars.

Nalgene pocket TNF trail lite

Then, there's the two pockets on the straps which can accommodate everything from soft flasks to gels, to phones, to tracking devices - one is left purposefully open for quick access, and the other has a secure zip fastening so you don't lose your phone down a ravine. We really like these, as they turn the bag into something more useful for faster activities; you can simply grab things like food and water while you're on the go rather than having to stop and unzip the main compartment.

The other features we're love concern the bag's brilliant alpinism capabilities. You get a helmet holder, which is incredibly useful to stop it flapping about when you're on the descent, plus a rope holder with an S shaped clasp for the top of the bag. The side straps also cinch the bag in for climbing when you're wearing your rack on your harness. Clever stuff.

9 clasp on the TNF Trail Lite

If you're not planning on using the bag to climb with, the helmet holder doubles up as a outside stash for another insulation layer, and the rope clasp will quite happily hold a rolled-up picnic blanket in place. Both features essentially double the bag's carrying capacity, which is great for dry days, or for when you're not attempting any extreme activities and just want something for a casual picnic in the park.

Materials, sustainability and longevity

north face trail lite backpack helmet holder holding a helmet

The fabric used is a recycled nylon with a non-PFC DWR coating - meaning that the bag will be fine in light rain showers, but don't expect your stuff to remain dry in a downpour. This is a bag designed with spring and summer in mind. The fabric itself, however, feels tough and durable, and we like the fact that it's made with recycled materials, and The North Face have made an effort to be more climate conscious without the use of forever chemicals in the DWR coating.

One area where we have slight concerns is the zip closure on the main compartment; many other bags of this calibre use drawstring closures, which tend to be more durable. A zip closure also makes the bag less resistant to being used in salty environments (think sea cliff climbing). That said, we haven't had any problems with it thus far in testing, and as long as we're careful not to overfill it, it should be just fine.

Price

Fliss uses the north face trail lite backpack on Mull

As expected, great performance like you get with the Trail Lite 20 rarely comes cheap. The RRP is £105, which is a little on the pricey side for just a 20 litre bag. As it's a new release for spring 2024, it's also unlikely to be discounted anytime soon - but really, if you're looking for a small pack that does it all, with comfort and ease, then it's probably worth the cash.

Verdict

Using the North Face Trail lite pack for a scootch up some scree

A fantastically useful bit of kit from The North Face, the Trail Lite 20 is represents outstanding versatility alongside excellent comfort and performance. It's slightly on the pricey end of things, and doesn't quite have the durability or waterproofing of other, tougher packs, but you get low weight and great breathability as a compromise.

How we tested the Trail Lite Speed 20

Fliss climbing via ferrata in Corsica

This backpack was tested over spring and early summer 2024 by LFTO writer Fliss Freeborn, and her partner Lewis, both in Corsica and in Scotland. The bag has been put through its paces on mountain bike trails, via ferrata, granite sea cliffs, undulating trails and a couple of 15km runs too.

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