I changed from my trusty 15+ year old NorthFace Borealis (28L) to the NorthFace Surge (31L), mainly for the separate laptop/iPad compartment and a bit more space.
Japan Notes: The laptop compartment sold in Japan doesn’t open flat for TSA. That was a bit of a disappointment. Also beware: there is no satisfaction guaranteed or your money back from the NorthFace’s distributor in Japan. Also it’s more expensive in Japan. If you watch video or other online reviews of the Surge there seem to be a half dozen different design and size combinations, depending on where it is made and where it is sold. I recommend purchasing in a store rather than online or you won’t know what you are really getting.
Compared with my Borealis, there is no convenient front pocket of a decent size for hand wipes and food. There is a front pocket for organizing, and it holds hand wipes ok, but it’s too shallow for even a few rice balls. That’s different from the Borealis which has a deeper front compartment.
The main compartment is larger than on the Borealis though. I’ve barely used it yet. That looks useful for my upcoming trip to the U.S.
Unlike the Borealis, the Surge is a bit hard on the knees because of lack of bottom padding and a hard rim. The balance is also off when on my lap. And it’s a bit too tall.
The balance is also poor when you want to set in on a chair. My Borealis wouldn’t fall over, but the Surge does if you’re not very very careful. And the balance gets really bad if you start opening pockets to take things in or out. That’s much worse than the Borealis. It just slips and slides and falls all over the place. That’s my major complaint today. It makes it hard to use with it falling all over itself.
There is also a lack of a hook for the neck of water bottles in the side mesh pockets, like on my Borealis, but doesn’t seem to be a problem so far. Nothing has fallen out.
Except for the lack of flat opening for the TSA (which the U.S. versions apparently have), the computer compartment seems useful. I like the documents section. I haven’t tried my laptop (MacBook Pro 13-inch) in the outermost compartment yet. I have my iPad there this morning on the way to class. The middle “tablet” section in that compartment is a bit too tight for an iPad with a keyboard case. For travel, when I have both my laptop and iPad I’ll have to remove the iPad from the Logicel folio keyboard and pack it separately. But if you’re only carrying one or the other (laptop or iPad with keyboard case) the computer section is good.
The Surge carries “fairly well” on my back. About the same as the Borealis I would say. An Adidas I bought last year while getting a zipper repaired on my Borealis actually carries most comfortably of all of the them. But the Adidas was designed by somebody who was stoned I think, and it is crazy hard to use.
So far I would give it a “2.5 out of 5” rating. I can’t return it, but I may see what they have in the U.S. and if I find something better I may get it and sell this when I get back to Japan. Am I too obsessed?