‘The North Face have certainly been working hard to simplify the design, in fact the new Prophet bears little resemblance to it’s predecessor’
The North Face have had a Prophet model in their extensive pack range for several years now; I owned an original blue Prophet 45 several years back and eventually sold it as I thought it was over designed, heavy and the straps were a nightmare during those windy howlers on The Ben. The model also had a make over 2 years back which improved some the issues such as weight reduction and a restyle, but it still seemed overly technical for an Alpine pack. So I was very keen to see if the new 2011 Prophet 40 was an improvement on my original pack and whether it would perform better.
The North Face have certainly been working hard to simplify the design, in fact the new Prophet 40 bears little resemblance to it’s predecessor, it’s sleek, light and stripped to the bone. It’s a full 400 grams lighter than the Prophet Mk 2 and the features have been obliterated, it now really does look the part: slim, lightweight and stylish. Gone are the detachable lid, crampon pocket, lashing cord, removable bivvy mat and wand pockets; in are super light indestructible fabrics, a fixed lid and a very cleverly concealed and useful side pocket.
Firstly the über technical fabrics, the main body is made from 314 denier Cordura Bombastic™. This fabric is used in car airbags, no kidding and is the sort of real innovation that only a large corporation with dedicated design teams could pull off. It certainly felt superlight and at first I thought it wasn’t going to stand the test as it feels very flimsy, but it has withstood some real stick, including chimney thrutching. The base is double layered and the high wear ice tool area is reinforced with Hypalon™. The ice tool loops are made from SuperFabric™ a fabric you’ll hear more about in future outdoor products and was developed for NASA, so another innovative use of materials which helps the pack stand out in a very crowded market.
And onto the features, its all well and good having fancy fabrics but a pack lives and dies by its functionality. I’ve had more packs than I care to remember, all of them have had funny quirks that I didn’t quite like and so it proved with The North Face Prophet 40. The fixed lid and snow valance is another innovation; the valance is sewn into the upper part of the lid. This made the lid closure very simple and efficient; pull the cord and the lid falls down over the front of the pack, all very neat. In use it proved more awkward as it was very difficult fold the lid over and fill the pack and it quickly became a pain, especially on a belay when I was trying gain access to kit in the pack and had it clipped by the haul loop. It became even more pronounced when I removed the aluminium backstay, the closure performs better with the stay in; it was a nifty way to close the lid though and with a little more work would be great. The lid pocket was vast; I could easily fit a lightweight belay jacket in plus gloves, hat, some food and camera. It had a mesh inner pocket and key clip that was big enough for my Blackberry, car keys and a wallet. It also had 4 cord loops so I could attach cord for lashing crampons or sleeping mats on; all the loops had reflective strips that were pretty effective in the dark, so it would be easy to locate with a headtorch on. Overall I found the lid excellent.
I would have liked to have seen more cord loops on the main body as these are extremely useful for lashing extra bivvy kit on. Also located on the main body are the ice tool holders, tough elastic stitched onto a textured Hypalon patch and adjusted using a glove friendly, chunky cord locks. The tool loops, as said earlier are made from Superfabric™, a material developed for the space program. It looked just like any other woven pack webbing, but is much tougher ad lighter; again the loops are backed by a protective Hypalon patch. The loops are adjustable but not easily so they would have to be preadjusted to fit at camp or at home. The lid closure is a standard double buckle design which I find neat and tidy, there were no problems closing the pack, even with winter gloves on. There are 4, easy to adjust and close compression straps and a very clever and useful hidden side pocket that was big enough for a guidebook and a little food.
The waist belt is made from 50mm webbing, sewn into comfortable waist padding, it had 2 gear loops although I would have preferred ice clipper slots and tension straps for load stabilisation. The whole belt is removable via a hook and loop pad at the lumbar pad. The shoulder straps are a little too wide for me, but were comfortable under heavy loads, the sternum strap was adjustable on rails and there were two D rings sewn in so that I could clip on my GPS, watch or camera. A nice feature that more pack manufacturers should copy. The tension straps were easy to locate and use, even with gloves on.
Inside the pack was another, handy key clip. The single, aluminium stay was one of the easiest to locate, remove and replace that I have come across. There was also a removable polypropylene insert, but due to the materials the pack became very floppy when it was removed. Overall the pack performed much better with all the support in place. The pack volume is 40 litres (for the Large) and proved to be of Tardis like proportions, there was no way I could fill it with enough kit for a normal cragging day in summer. It easily swallowed all my winter kit with room to spare. It would be a great pack for an overnight bivvy or even a multiday backpacking/mountaineering trip. It would be perfect for a multiday glacier/mountain hutting trip and I wish I had it when I completed the Stubai Glacier Tour last year when space was at a premium.
The large nature of the pack though did impede when climbing and the length got in the way when looking up on technical ground, especially with a helmet on (but could have been down to the sample pack size which was a little too big for my back). So in conclusion, a great multiday, lightweight mountain pack that will suit all your mountain activities. A little too large for a cragging day pack and a definite improvement on the previous models.
I would have liked to have seen wand pockets (for stashing poles); daisy chain or reflective loops for attaching lashing cord on the main body; ice clipper slots instead of gear loops and slightly narrower shoulder straps. It’s a good offering from TNF in a crowded market and a definite improvement on both the original and revamped Prophet model. For those who are planning expeditions that need bigger packs the range also includes the Prophet 52 and the Prophet 65
The North Face Prophet 40 comes in two sizes:
S/M 38 litres; M/L 40 litres