The North Face Cobra 60 Backpack Review

The North Face Cobra 60 is a versatile winter backpack suitable for climbing, multi-day mountaineering-style winter trips, and backcountry skiing. Like many specialized winter packs, it can be configured in a number of different ways, depending on your trip needs, with optional components that can be removed if they’re not needed. Fully configured, the Cobra 60 weighs 3 pounds 11 ounces, but that weight can be dropped as low as 1 pound 13.9 ounces in a more minimal configuration. The Cobra 60 is an impressive winter backpack, one that was obviously designed for and tested by winter athletes, judging by the excellent balance between features and function on the pack.

The North Face Cobra 60 Backpack

Comfort
Weight
Suspension
Features
Adjustability
Sizing
Durability

Highly Recommended

The North Face Cobra 60 is a full-sized alpine pack large enough for multi-day routes, but easily stripped down for fast and light hiking, climbing, or backcountry skiing trips. It has an impressive array of features, but is still easy to use and configure, providing a highly functional carry with good load transfer.

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Specs at a Glance

  • Volume: 60 Liters
  • Gender: Unisex
  • Torso Length: 16″-21″
  • Hip Belt Length : 28″-42″
  • Size (Fully Configured Weight): S/M (3 lbs 11 oz), M/L (3 lbs 13 oz)
  • Size S/M: Stripped Weight, Actual: 29.9 oz.
  • Removable components:
    • Hip belt padding: 5.9
    • Framesheet w/ 2 stays: 13.5 oz.
    • Top lid: 5.7 oz.
    • Mesh Helmet carry: 1.0 oz.
  • Materials: Cordura Nylon
  • Type: Internal Frame
  • Max recommended load: 40 lbs.

Backpack Storage and Organization

The Cobra 60 is an alpine-style top loader with a large main compartment that closes with a drawstring. It has a floating top lid pocket which can be removed if not required. The top lid connects to the pack in four places: two clips outside the shoulder straps and two attached to straps on the front of the pack. When the top lid is removed, its two rear straps can be routed to the clips outside the shoulder straps to form a third tier of side compression straps.

The Cobra 60 backpack has a floating top lid which can be removed to save weight
The Cobra 60 backpack has a floating top lid that can be removed to save weight.

There is a permanently attached speed lid (a flap of fabric) underneath the top lid that covers the drawstring opening to keep out snow and rain and can be used alone if you decide to leave the top lid off the pack. This is a great option, especially if top lids tick you off. A floating top lid is a great option if you want to sandwich gear under it, like a rope, but it can flop around annoyingly if it’s overpacked and top-heavy. I’ve been hiking with just the speed lid and prefer that configuration when I don’t need the extra navigation tool, glove, or hat storage that the top lid provides.

The Cobra’s main compartment has an internal hydration pocket with a central hang loop. There is an oversized rear crampon pocket on the front of the pack, large enough to store crampons, microspikes, a shovel blade or extra layers. It’s quite a big pocket and much more useful than a pocket that’s only sized for storing crampons.  A clip-on mesh helmet carry is also provided, which can be attached to the outside of the oversized pocket, as well as two side wand pockets.

The hip belt padding has one small zippered pocket with a solid fabric face on the right and an external gear loop on the left, so you can clip gear to it. The small pocket has a glove compatible zipper pull for ease of use.

Backpack Compression and External Attachment System

The Cobra 60 has one of the best external attachment systems I’ve ever seen on a winter backpack. You can carry snowshoes, ice axes, skis, an avalanche probe, shovel, a rope, insulated water bottle holders, attach a climbing helmet, attach it to a sled, or rack climbing gear. Yeah!

The Cobra has two tiers of side compression webbing straps which can also be used to attach snowshoes to the side of the pack. There are no dedicated ski straps, so you’d use the same straps if you wanted to do a ski carry.

The pack has dual axe pick sleeves located under the base of the front crampon pocket that are compatible with all climbing and walking ice axes. The shafts are secured under the side webbing straps that hold the oversized front crampon pocket closed.

Small gear loops sewn into the seams make it easy to attach gear to the pack in unconventional ways.
Small gear loops sewn into the seams make it easy to attach gear to the pack in unconventional ways. Shown here – insulated water bottle attached with a biner.

There are twelve short webbing loops sewn into the seams of the pack: four on the front, six on the rear, and two on the top lid pocket. These are really handy to attach gear to the pack like the mesh helmet carry or and an insulated water bottle holder, as shown above, attached with a carabiner. The position of this water bottle is perfect. It’s easy to reach while wearing the pack, but doesn’t bounce against the side of my hips when I’m hiking or snowshoeing the way it would if attached directly to the hip belt.

The oversized front crampon pocket has four straps at the corners that help control its volume. You might be able to use two of its two straps as a diagonal ski carry, but that’s a long shot. I’d recommend strapping your skis to the sides of the pack instead.

If there’s one weakness on the Cobra 60, it’d be the shoulder straps, which don’t have daisy chains sewn to their outside. There’s just one hydration hose keeper loop on each strap that you can attach an accessory pocket to. If you want a good pocket that will work, try the Gossamer Gear Shoulder Strap Pockets. They’re big enough for a small camera or phone.

The Cobra 60 has a removable plastic framesheet with two aluminum stays providing excellent load transfer and good stiffness
The Cobra 60 has a removable plastic framesheet with two aluminum stays providing excellent load transfer and good stiffness. It can also be replaced with a bivy pad if you want a multi-use framesheet..

Backpack Frame and Suspension System

The Cobra 60 has a pre-formed internal framesheet with two aluminum stays that can be removed if you want to lower the pack’s weight. It’s stored in a velcro’d pocket behind the hydration pocket which is large enough that you could replace it with a bivy pad. The framesheet slots down into a lumbar area pad in front of the hip belt padding. It does a marvelous job of protecting your back from sharp objects in the pack and providing load transfer to the hip belt, while the stays can be bent for further customization. The carry is fairly stiff, which is optimal if you’re hauling a lot of winter gear weight and tools.

The hip belt has two components – webbing straps and hip belt padding. The webbing is anchored to the corners of the pack bag, just inside of the wand pockets. If you want, you can remove the padding (which is anchored with a velcro patch behind the lumbar pad) and just wear the webbing straps as a simple, unpadded hip belt. This can be useful if you’re wearing a climbing harness. The webbing threads through fabric slots sewn on the padding (under the hip belt pocket and the gear loop). The hip belt usually comes fully configured with the padding attached, but you have the option to strip it down if you want.

Comparable Winter Backpacks

Make / ModelWeightFloating LidCrampon PocketHip Belt LoopsSki CarryPrice (USD)
The North Face Cobra 60 L57 ozYYYY$250
Gregory Denali 75 L72 ozY-Y-$360
The North Face Phantom 50 L40 ozY-YY$190
Black Diamond Mission 75 L64 ozYYY-$240
Cold Cold World Chaos 66 L60 ozYYYY$245
Exped Lightning 60 L41 oz---Y$229
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack 70 L 37 oz-YYOption$380
Mountain Hardwear South Col 70 L59 ozYYY-$300
Osprey Mutant 52 L55 ozY-YY$200
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 60-75L42 oz----$220

Recommendation

The North Face Cobra 60 winter backpack is a great snowsport backpack than can be used and configured in an impressive variety of ways for winter backpacking, climbing, mountaineering, and backcountry skiing. With 60L of capacity, the Cobra is best used for overnight or multi-night trips, with a max recommended load of  40 lbs. However, it’s versatile enough that you can use it for winter day hiking, especially on those days that you need to carry extra traction, food, water, a just-in-case sleeping bag, and survival gear. While the Cobra 60 is quite a technical pack and somewhat strap-heavy when compared to a three-season minimalist backpack, it’s surprisingly simple to use.

Disclosure: The author purchased this product with his own funds.

Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.

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14 comments

  1. Rodney on the Rock

    Awesome review. Thank you.

    I have the Gregory Zulu 65
    https://www.rei.com/product/895089/gregory-zulu-65-pack and was comparing it with the details from your review

    • There’s a big difference in functionality between winter packs and regular 3 season packs, as you can see. Winter packs are really optimized for carrying pointy sharp things on the outside of the pack.

  2. Looks like a great backpack! Thanks for the review.

  3. “Unisex’ sizing??? I have not seen nor tried on this product but it looks like it is proportioned for males. Why even use the designation ‘unisex’? Call it a male pack unless the manufacturer states they have done prototypes for both genders. Why give the ‘sizing’ a 4.5/5 stars, when the pack only fits one gender and somehow claims a unisex designation?

  4. Hi Philip,
    I am planning for a Himalayan 10 days trekking and confused between cobra 60 and Osprey Atmos 65. My top priority is comfort as I have to carry it for 10 days. Somewhere I have read that cobra 60 is not that comfortable. Please advise.Thanks

    • Osprey Packs are usually overbuilt and heavy. But everyone has different tastes. Buy them both, fill them up with gear, climb a mountain somewhere, and return the one you don’t like.

    • I just purchased this pack based on this review. I loaded the pack with about 25 lbs hiked and gained 1200 feet of elevation and I have to report that it felt very comfortable. The crampon pocket is awesome and having all the straps to secure my snowshoes or ice axe I found very useful and I don’t have to improvise anymore in trying to secure them. So far perfect winter pack for me.

    • Richard Saunders

      I’ve used this pack on a couple climbs now (West Crater Rim of Mt Hood, 2-day ascent of Mt Baker North Ridge) and organizationally it is perfect. The weight is reasonable too. But it just isn’t that comfortable. The hip belt presses in an uncomfortable way and I’m practically bruised in my upper hips/lower back.

      Also the hip belt straps are difficult to loosen, especially with gloves on. When I change layers and need to re-adjust them I’ve had to take my gloves off. First time I’ve had a pack where that has been an issue.

      I’m going to try a size Large though and see if it avoids the hip belt comfort issue, according to their sizing chart I’m at the top of their S/M range.

  5. Thank you for such great review!! I know this backpack is designed for alpine, but I would ALSO like to use it for some of my backpacking trips during the spring. Do you still recommend it? I want this to be my main backpack for most of my backpacking trips

  6. Hi,

    Can I ask your advice on whether you would recommend the 60L or the 52L version of the Cobra for 2 to 3 day overnight hikes?

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