The North Face Borealis Tote Review
The North Face Borealis Tote transitions from work to weekend with plenty of room for everything from tech to towels—just be sure to grab the correct handle.
- Converts from a tote to a backpack
- Minimal straps are surprisingly comfortable to carry
- Great size for running errands or packing for a day out
- Grabbing the back carry handle upends the tote
- Hard to see inside front quick-access pocket
- Carry handle in the way when using the bag as a backpack
1.28 lb (0.6 kg)
18.5 in x 5.7 in x 16.5 in (47 x 14.5 x 41.9 cm)
Recycled Polyester, Recycled Nylon, Ripstop Nylon, DWR Coating
Laptop Compartment Size
A shopping bag, gym bag, and stylish office tote all rolled into one, The North Face Borealis Tote is a jack-of-all-trades that easily transitions from work to weekend. Its 22L capacity is large enough to carry purchases and still have room to stash our helmet when we’re running errands on a bike, although sometimes the cavernous design means we have to rummage around to find what we need.
That’s easily fixed with a bit of our own organization, so this versatile bag is one we’re happy to grab whenever leaving home, provided we grab the correct handle to avoid dumping it—more on that later. Now, let’s count the reasons why.
Materials & Aesthetic
We’re getting plenty of compliments wherever we bring The North Face Borealis Tote, and we have to agree it’s a great-looking bag. It has a boxy design that lends itself to the travel tote bag style, and it’s easy to grab from the floor or the seat of a car. The tote is available in various colorways that, at the time of writing, include Rose Dawn, TNF Black, TNF Black Heather, Gardenia White Dark Heather, and TNF Black International Women’s Collection Print, which we tested.
The International Women’s Collection was the only colorway available with a print option—a tropical floral design—while the remaining choices are solid colors. In a bag we like to take to the store or the beach, we prefer the colorful print, but you do you.
Depending on which hue you choose, the recycled materials in the Borealis Tote are of different densities: 300D recycled polyester on the heathered options, 210D recycled ripstop nylon for the solid fabric, and 600D recycled polyester on the print. It’s coated with a non-PFC durable water repellent, so water rolls off without perfluorinated chemicals, which have been associated with health problems and are bad for the environment. That’s why the bag gets The North Face’s “Exploration Without Compromise” badge, which indicates a product made with 75% or more recycled, regenerative, or responsibly sourced renewable materials—excellent.
In addition to being eco-friendly, we like that the fabric holds up through use. Spots are easy to clean with a damp cloth, dirt and pet hair brush off, and the non-PFC DWR keeps our things dry in the rain. Inside, the lining is a gray polyester.
A strap made of webbing is stitched around the bottom edge to make it stand on its own in most cases. If we put a laptop in the sleeve without much else it can fall forward, but otherwise, this is a reasonably stable tote.
The North Face logo is splashed prominently across the front in a contrasting color depending on the colorway: Slate Rose for the Rose Dawn, Burnt Coral Metallic on TNF Black Heather, and TNF Black on both the solid black and the International Women’s Collection print. The 3-inch design embroidered on the bag’s front is likely something you won’t mind if you choose The North Face products. There’s a tiny TNF logo embossed on the molded zipper pulls too.
Speaking of zippers, the YKK zippers on Borealis Tote function well. The main compartment has a dual-sided zipper with flexible molded plastic zipper pulls that are easy to grab. One side of the zipper track extends two inches beyond the edge of the bag, while the other side leaves a small gap at the end of the track, so this tote isn’t waterproof. We find this doesn’t cause any problems during everyday use. There’s also a zipper with a knotted cord pull to open the quick access pocket in the front and a zipper with a plain metallic pull on the inner pocket, but more on that later.
The North Face Borealis Tote is a convertible bag that can be carried as a tote or a backpack, depending on how we grab the straps. The inch-and-a-half wide-webbing strap stitched onto the bag’s front is a loop that extends about 11 inches above the tote. The webbing on the front and rear straps is folded and stitched in thirds for the top six inches to create a comfortable carry handle for use in tote-bag mode. Depending on what we’re wearing, they’re easy to grab, comfortable to hold, and stay put on one shoulder as we walk around. As with many shoulder bags, it can slide off a slippery jacket, but that doesn’t happen often.
However, the strap loop on the back of the bag is not stitched to the bag. Instead, it attaches to the bottom webbing and passes through Duraflex D-rings attached to the top so we can wear the tote as a backpack. With the bag zipped (this is important!), we slide our arms through the back straps and then can use the bag when we’re riding a bike, walking longer distances, or have it packed with so much stuff that it’s more comfortable to carry on our back instead of just slung over a shoulder. Sometimes, the back carry handle flips down and gets caught against our back when we wear it as a backpack, but it’s easily flipped out of the way. The straps lack padding but are comfortable enough for more than an hour’s continuous use, especially as a backpack.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that the few times we grabbed the backpack straps without zipping the bag first, we nearly dumped the tote because nothing holds the front to the back, so it gapes open. Picking up the bag by just the back carry handle—instead of both the front and rear carry handles—is worse because the straps meet no resistance traveling through the D-rings.
In that case, the strap slides completely through the D-rings, causing the back of the bag to fold in half and the front to open. We only did this once, so don’t make the same mistake.
The North Face Borealis Tote has two large side pockets that can accommodate water bottles, an umbrella, tripod, or even footwear. Depending on what’s inside the tote, we can fit a wide-mouth water bottle on one side and a pair of flats or flip-flops in the other pocket. Stuffing the side pockets eats into the interior capacity, so your mileage may vary. Bungee cords criss-cross the outside of each pocket, allowing us to tighten it up if we’re putting in something slender or even hold our wet sandals to the outside of the bag so we don’t have to get the inside of the pocket wet.
There’s a lot happening on the outside of The North Face Borealis Tote, but not as much on the inside. Let’s take a look.
Inside The Pack
The North Face Borealis Tote lacks a lot of internal organization, but that’s ok. It makes it more adaptable to go from the gym to work to the store or the beach.
Sandwiched between the straps on the front of the bag is a 6-inch wide by 8-inch deep quick access pocket that zips closed. It’s a great place for small essentials: wallet, phone, cash, chapstick, and hand sanitizer. It’s a big enough pocket for all of those things but small enough that we can feel what we’re trying to grab without any problem. That’s good because it’s rather dark in the pocket, depending on the colorway you’re rocking, so it’s not always easy to see to the bottom.
This pocket also contains a key clip, so at least we aren’t rummaging for those. It’s also a great spot to clip an AirPods case, hand sanitizer, or chapstick on a carabiner if you’d rather. This pocket is about the only place in the tote to keep small items contained, so choose wisely.
There are three sections inside the main compartment: a lightly-padded laptop sleeve, a large zippered mesh pouch, and the remaining space. On the rear of the bag, the laptop sleeve fits a 13-inch device with ease and has room for a minimal sleeve when we feel our computer could use more protection. Remember how we said the bag stays upright most of the time? Sliding a laptop inside an otherwise empty bag is practically the only time that’s not the case. The solution is to toss in a gym towel, a hoodie, or even lunch to fill out the bottom of the bag and prevent it from falling on its front.
Along the front side of the bag is a zippered mesh compartment that spans the entire height and width of the tote. It’s good for keeping personal belongings separate from work items or snacks apart from tech, but it is still a cavernous space, as is the remainder of the tote’s interior. Packing cubes, accessory pouches, and a soft-sided cooler come in handy to organize the space. That being said, it works well for running errands around town because it’s easy to unzip and toss in our library books, farmer’s market purchases, and even a bike helmet along the way.
- Side bungees compress pockets or can hold shoes
- Can be carried as a tote or a backpack
- Large interior mesh pocket a catch-all for smaller gear
- Easy to access main compartment while tote stays on our shoulder
- Extended zipper track great to grab for easy opening
- Bottom edge reinforced to help the bag stand upright