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Meet Laura Descher and Her North Face Terra 40L

Lauren Descher North Face Terra 40L

This post is part of a series in which ladies on the road offer a review of their backpack. Today’s post comes from Laura, an expat living with her husband in Thailand, and is all about the North Face Terra 40 backpack review. 

After finishing my Master’s degree last year, my husband and I moved to the incredible city of Chiang Mai, Thailand.  By day I’m an English teacher at a local private school, and by night/weekend I work with Shan refugees at an awesome organization (, eat delicious street food, and am always planning our next trip!  We just got back from a visa-run-turned-adventure through Laos, and in the next year we’re planning to travel all around Thailand and to Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, and maybe Indonesia. 

What’s your backpack brand and model? How much does this backpack typically cost?

My pack is a North Face Women’s Terra 40L.  I bought it roughly four years ago, and since then this particular size has been discontinued; it is still available in 35L (gender neutral), 45L and 55L (both women’s specific), so depending on your circumstances you could go larger or slightly smaller.  The retail price ranges from $139 US to $165 US.

>> Check prices for the North Face Terra on Amazon.

How long have you had your backpack and where have you traveled with it?

I bought my backpack before my first long-term move abroad in 2009, to France.  It’s been with me all across Europe, to Egypt and Morocco, and most recently to Thailand and Laos.  I’ve thrown it up and down stairs, into and off of trains, buses and airplanes, and it’s survived it all like a champ. 

north face Terra 40L review

What factors were most important to you in choosing a backpack? How did you come to choose this one?

I do a lot of urban traveling, but I am also an avid camper and hiker, so I wanted something that could survive in both worlds.  I was looking for something that was pretty waterproof without a rain cover, small enough that even fully loaded it wouldn’t be too heavy, and that had enough pockets to keep me organized without too much thought going into it.  What I’ve really come to love about this pack is that the outside material on all of the main pockets is stretchy, so they fit everything from toiletries to shoes.

My main priority was finding something that would fit comfortably; I am pretty curvy, and looked primarily at women’s packs that wouldn’t awkwardly squeeze my chest and that would sit comfortably on my hips without putting too much strain on my lower back. The hip straps on this pack are slightly curved instead of just wrapping straight around me, so it actually sits on top of my hips, which I love; I can carry any amount of weight comfortably because of this feature.

What do you like most about your backpack? Any down sides?

I LOVE the color of my pack!  It really stands out and is easy to spot in a crowd of other bags, so it’s easy to keep track of in public places.  I also like that it is very easy to adjust while it’s on, so it fits perfectly no matter what I’m wearing or what I’m doing (and I never have to ask for help!).  I’d say the only thing I don’t like about it is that it’s top loading, and while there is a zipper across the bottom for access from both sides it can be a pain to retrieve things packed in the middle without completely tearing everything apart.  However, there is a built in divider that can be hooked into place to create two separate spaces within the bag that helps with this issue.  It’s meant to create a stuff space for a sleeping bag, but I often end up using it to keep my clean and dirty clothes from contaminating one another, and it works pretty well.

North Face Terra 40L backpack review

Tell us about the fit and comfort level of your backpack.

As I mentioned before, part of what I love about this bag is the fit; not only is it designed to fit my hips and shorter torso, the straps are easy to tighten and loosen while it’s on.

A big part of what helps the bag be so comfortable is the Verti-Cool strip on the back; it’s an open mesh piece that allows for some extra air flow, something I’ve been grateful for every time I’ve had to haul it around in the heat.

If you want to take your backpack as carry-on luggage, can you?

Yes… most of the time.  I bought this size specifically because the frame of the pack is just inside the length maximum for most major airlines, so the 35L would fit fine but the larger models would likely need to be checked.  There are two compression straps on each side, in addition to the main closures connecting the brain pouch to the bag, so it can become quite compact when necessary.  However, if the brain pouch is full and the pack is stuffed, it won’t fit; I only carry mine on when I absolutely have to, and when I’m not taking too much with me so the bag isn’t stretched beyond the size of the frame.  When I was traveling around Europe on budget airlines (usually Ryan Air or Easy Jet), I always had to check it since their carry on luggage policies only allow for one small bag.

Have you found the size to be too small, just right, or too large?

The size of this pack is just right for me, since I wanted something versatile enough to handle week-long trips and multi-month expeditions.  I like that it doesn’t come up very high behind my head, even when the brain pouch is full, and that it’s small enough that I can put it on while standing without help.

FUN FACT!There’s a safety whistle built into the buckle on the chest strap!  Thankfully I’ve never had to use it, but I can definitely see it coming in handy if I get lost in the woods/get mugged/something else dreadful happens, and it’s very conveniently located.  I’m not sure if this is unique to the women’s model (or to this line of bags), but I think it’s a neat feature for anyone regardless of gender.

Overall, would you recommend your backpack?


You can follow Laura’s adventures on her blog at

>>Check out other female backpack reviews here on Her Packing List.

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Travel Resources

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Creative Ways to Minimize Your Toiletry & Beauty Kit – Practical tips alongside DIY recipes designed to help you pack lighter, smaller & with fewer liquids. (Also included as a bonus to Handbag Packing Masterclass.)

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Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions


  1. andie says

    hi! i will be going on a 1 month trip to europe this year. i have the northface alteo 35, but i am not sure if that will fit ryanair’s specifications. i measured it before and with a pillow inside, and it seemed like it fits into the measurements. i am just wondering if you have heard from other travellers who used te same backpack and was able to use it flying ryanair without checking it in? or do i need to buy another bag? thanks!

  2. Lara says

    About how many days worth of clothing can you pack in this one bag? I am traveling through Europe for almost 2weeks, but I won’t have access to a laundromat. Thank you for your helpful comments!


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