The North Face Phantom 50 is an ultralight, alpine-style backpack weighing 40 oz (max) that can be configured in different ways for different types of trips ranging from technical day hikes, backpacking, rock-climbing, ski mountaineering, or alpine climbing. For example, you can take off the top lid if you don’t need the extra storage, remove the framesheet, or the hip belt padding, bringing the pack weight down to a minimum of 22.4 oz. While the Phantom is loaded with functionality, the clincher for me is the Phantom 50’s fit and comfort. It barely feels like it’s there when you’re wearing it.
Specs at a Glance
- Max weight: 40 ounces, fully configured (actual 39.5 oz in size large)
- Removable components
- Top Lid: 5.0
- Frame sheet: 8.3 oz.
- Hip belt padding: 3.7 oz.
- Bag alone, with webbing hip belt, no framesheet, no top lid: 22.4 oz
- Frame: Internal, U-shaped wire with horizontal stiffener
- Gender: Unisex
- Torso lengths available: S/M, L/XL
- Max recommended load: 25-30 pounds
- Bear canister compatible: vertical
- Hip belt: one size (but it just barely fits my 38″ waist)
- Materials: 210D high-tenacity nylon, 840D IronLite nylon
Backpack Storage and Organization
The Phantom 50 has a large main compartment which closes with a drawstring, an internal hydration pocket with a hang loop, and a top lid with two zippered pockets, one exposed and one on the underside.
The top lid is floating, so you can wedge bulky gear between it and the top of the pack bag. If you remove it, there is a permanently attached speed lid over the drawstring opening to keep water or snow out, which also provides top compression and a rope carry when the lid is in use.
The Phantom’s top lid does not flop over to one side or slide down the front of the pack, which is a problem on a lot of alpine-style backpacks, especially ones with floating lids. Instead, it’s cut wide enough to cover the pack bag and is held down by front webbing straps that are angled in from the sides rather than running straight up the front of the pack. When the top lid is removed, those webbing straps can also be removed so they don’t get flop around and get in the way.
The Phantom’s main compartment is noticeably narrow, only 12 inches wide when the pack is packed full. The narrow width makes the pack highly maneuverable for scrambling, climbing, or skiing. Otherwise, there are no side water bottle pockets, no front shovel, or external mesh pockets on the Phantom 50, keeping with its alpine character. That’s to be expected on this type of backpack. There are plenty of external attachment points, however, which I cover below.
Backpack Frame and Suspension
The Phantom has a combination plastic framesheet and U-shaped wire frame that stiffens the back panel and helps transfer load to the hips. The framesheet is perforated to reduce weight and has a horizontal stiffener at shoulder height. The frame is very flexible, so it will move with your torso when you’re climbing or scrambling. If you choose to remove it, you can replace it with a foam bivy pad. That’ll require a little creative trimming on your part, but a lot of backpackers and climbers do this to save weight and make the frame multi-purpose.
The Phantom’s shoulder pads are lightly padded and covered with a soft mesh fabric. While the pack does have load lifters, but they’re not attached to any structural element in the frame, except the pack bag, which makes them less effective. There’s a slight S-curve in the shoulder pads, so they’ll be more comfortable for women and men with muscular chests. The lightly padded hip belt padding is also flared in a female-friendly way to wrap around curvy hips. The pack is still only available in a unisex model, however.
The back of the pack (facing your back) is also covered with soft, mesh-covered foam, that’s pre-molded to fit the contour of your back, with a slight lumbar bump at the bottom. The hip belt padding slots in behind it and is secured with velcro. If you don’t need the hip belt padding it can be removed, a feature on many of the North Face’s packs including the Cobra 60. When you remove the padding, you’re left with a webbing belt, making the Phantom climbing harness compatible. The hip belt padding also has a small, solid-faced zippered pocket on one side and a gear loop on the other to rack carabiners.
External Attachments and Compression
The Phantom’s external attachment and compression system is fully functional but quite streamlined. The pack has a pair of waist-high side ski loops so you can carry skis in an A-frame configuration. There are also two tiers of side compression straps, both angled to help pull the load up and into your back. The top compression tier also has a quick release buckle which makes it easier to attach snowshoes to the side of the pack.
The Phantom 50 has a pair of protective ice axe pick sleeves with elastic handle retainers. There are also daisy chains sewn into the front pack seams for attaching additional gear. These elements are all highly functional but quite streamlined to save weight.
Finally, there are small gear webbing gear loops distributed around the pack that can be used to clip in even more gear, on the hip belt, the top lid and around the perimeter of the pack’s front. These might sound like small flourishes, but they’re super functional if you want to carry specialized gear on the outside of the pack and go heavy.
The North Face Phantom 50 is an ultralight alpine-style backpack that can be configured in a variety of ways. While it’s highly optimized for alpine or ski mountaineering, it can also be used for ultralight backpacking, provided you’re willing to forego the external mesh pockets that characterize so many backpacks in that category. With 50 liters of capacity, the Phantom has plenty of space for multi-day trips, but it’s so comfortable you might forget you’re wearing it. I’ve been really impressed with the North Face’s backpacks we’ve reviewed this year (see the Cobra 60 review and the Banchee 50 review.) The Phantom 50 is another great backpack and worth a look if you hike, climb, and play in the snow, and want one ultralight backpack that does it all.
- Light as a feather
- Speed lid for when top lid is not needed
- Compression system makes it easy to use as a higher volume day pack
- Poor documentation of specs and hip belt padding configuration
- Can’t connect compression straps around front of pack
- Only one hydration port (right side)
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