A North Face Base Camp Messenger Bag Review

It’s very important to ensure you have the right gear before setting off on a trip overseas. While I don’t think it’s necessary to spend a fortune on clothing and gadgets, I believe that your luggage is something you should spend time choosing and potentially splash out on. Especially as a long-term backpacker, you will be carrying your belongings over huge distances in total and you need to make sure you’ll be comfortable.

A North Face Base Camp Messenger Bag Review - hiking

I use a Berghaus Jalan backpack and it’s great for the majority of my gear, but I find that it’s always useful to have a multi-purpose day bag that I can also keep with me as hand luggage on flights and to store my most valuable possessions when the majority of my things are stored in a luggage compartment elsewhere.

When I was in South America, I had a great shoulder bag made by Samsonite with removable padded compartments to hide my DSLR camera. The last thing I wanted was for people to be able to tell that I was carrying an expensive piece of electronic equipment and this bag disguised it well. Sadly, it was swiped from beneath a restaurant table one month into my trip in Colombia – you can never be too careful!

A North Face Base Camp Messenger Bag Review - the Samsonite

My beloved Samsonite bag

Since then, I have found it incredibly difficult to find a replacement travel bag that fulfilled the same criteria – durable, comfortable and spacious, with separate compartments for the usual items a traveller needs. That was until the people at Blacks asked me to review the North Face Base Camp Messenger Bag.

Having checked out the specs on their website, I said yes immediately. It looked like the perfect replacement. I recently tested it out on a trip to the Northern Territory in Australia:

A North Face Base Camp Messenger Bag Review - the bag


This bag has so many great features. The adjustable shoulder strap padding is incredibly comfortable, even when you fill its 20-litre capacity with heavy items. It also slides along the shoulder strap to accommodate both left and right handers. There’s a padded 15″ laptop sleeve at the back and a separate sleeve for a tablet or kindle. On the outside at the back is a pass-through panel to enable you to slip your bag over luggage handles – just don’t confuse it for another compartment and shove documents down there, as I did once! Inside, there’s a multitude of fleece-lined pockets for your water bottle, electronics or other items. There are even small loops for pens.

North Face Base Camp Messenger Bag Review - Edith Falls


The zippers on the bag are water resistant and the external material is phthalate free fabric, which prevents rain water from permeating. The external structure is very rigid, meaning that you can be pretty careless, bashing against things or throwing your bag down, without damaging the items inside.


This particular (medium) model comes in four different colours. Any of them would suit either sex. It’s very well made and its exceptional high quality is reflected in the design and overall appearance.

A North Face Base Camp Messenger Bag Review - Katherine Gorge


The dimensions are 38.5 cm x 13 cm x 32 cm, meaning it will easily pass airport hand luggage checks and can fit in overhead luggage spaces and lockers as well as being small enough to sleep with on your lap on long-distance night buses or to carry around on day trips.


The Base Camp Messenger bag has a discreet back panel zip pocket for important documents, as well as a front zip compartment for easy access when you’re on the move. There’s a U-lock holder underneath the flap and the outside has reflective panels for greater visibility in low light. The outside flap has both velcro and buckle closures, securing your items inside. There is even an adjustable hip/waist belt if you’re feeling particularly over-protective!

North Face Base Camp Messenger Bag Review - Kings Canyon


I love this product. It has everything I need in a travel bag and would also double up very well for general use. The manufacturers clearly put a lot of thought into developing a product with loads of great features that can provide excellent protection for your belongings while being both comfortable to carry and stylish. It’s incredible how many alternatives on the market don’t come close to meeting some of these specifications.

North Face Base Camp Messenger Bag Review - Olgas


    • says

      Yes, I admit it was stupid. I was generally really careful during my 7 months in South America, but on that particular occasion, I was sleep deprived and lulled into a false sense of security. The restaurant was quite far back from the street and I wedged my bag between my feet and the table. Only one person came anywhere near us during that time, and my friends were sitting opposite me, so I still have no idea how they managed it! Plenty of practice I imagine! Anyway, I’ll be sure to take better care of my new bag. I won’t make the same mistake twice!

  1. Ariel says

    Hi Arianwen, I’m interested in going to South America and your route is very close to exactly where I want to go. I know its been a few years since you posted that but I was wondering if you had a round about number of how much that trip costed you – thanks!

    • says

      It’s very hard to say what amount I’d recommend as people have very different travel styles, but I would say that about US$1000 a month should get you by and £1000 should definitely be enough. I was reasonably careful with money. I stayed in the cheapest hostels and took night buses rather than flights. I didn’t eat out much. I tended to snack or cook in hostels when I had the chance. I did splash out on tours and experiences reasonably frequently though. If you’re concerned about funding, spend more time in Colombia/Ecuador/Peru/Bolivia and less in Chile/Argentina/Brazil, or don’t travel to as many places. Transport (even buses) in the countries at the bottom is very pricey. I splashed out on Carnaval tickets and I went to the Galapagos for 2 weeks, both of which were so fantastic I have no regrets. I think it’s a good idea to do a rough plan of your trip. Think about what you have available to spend and set yourself a rough daily budget. Then if you know you’ve been good for a few days you can splash out on an activity guilt free. It is hard to keep track when there’s so much disparagy between the costs of things in different countries though… I hope this helps to some extent! Have an amazing time!

    • says

      You should check it out. It really is very good. For the past year, I’ve been using a really weak and uncomfortable sports branded one I picked up in a shopping mall in Colombia. The difference is quite striking. I guess you get what you pay for. This North Face bag is a little more than some on the market, but there are very obvious reasons for it. I think I’ll have this one for years because it’s so well made.

  2. says

    I find it really hard to find a decent day bag that is big enough for your dslr camera, but doesn’t scream steal me, and that is also durable. I have a daypack, which is too big for sightseeing and a bumbag which is not big enough for a dslr, so I am still looking for something in between. This bag looks pretty cool.
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    • says

      I had exactly the same problem. That’s why this one is so great. The only thing it’s missing compared with my previous bag is the removable padding, but it still has a lot of protective cusioning – and you could buy some added cushioning for your camera if you were really concerned.

      • says

        Exactly! I understand why a companies want to put their branding on their bags, but as a traveller, there’s a massive disadvantage to advertising that you’re carrying something valuable.

  3. says

    Looks nice. I am on the lookout for a new bag to hold my camera and also a few other essentials. I hate carrying a camera bag as it is such an obvious thing to steal! I shall have to have a look at this bag for my next big trip.

  4. Ben Strivens says

    Hi, I love the North Face Messenger too, but check out the Lowepro Passport Sling looks almost exactly like the one you had that was stolen, and has a camera insert. I have one and love it to pieces.

    • says

      I think the Lowepro Passport Sling is actually exactly the same one I had before. And I can see why you love it to pieces. I was very sad when I lost mine. In my opinion, both are great bags. It took me a long time to find a replacement I love as much as the Lowepro :)

  5. Andreas says

    Hi, I love your review. Although I won’t be doing anything as rough as you anytime soon, I have been looking at getting a messenger bag that can handle rough weather and still is spacious. I’ll definatilly take a look at this next time I’m at a store that sports North Face. I was planning to get something like a leather bag, but when the weather around here is borderline storm weather as often as it is I need a bag to simply carry my stuff safely to and from the U.

    Great review :)

    • says

      Thanks Andreas! I hope you find what you’re looking for. I definitely agree that it can be hard to find a good messenger bag that’s also waterproof. If you go for this one, check the size first. It can get quite packed quickly if you’re carrying around a laptop and other gear. A practice pack might not be a bad idea! I’ve been fine using it as hand luggage on planes though.

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