By National Geographic Adventure Contributing Editor Steve Casimiro, editor of The Adventure Life
I long for the day when environmentally conscious products like The North Face Tree Hugger 32 backpack ($149) are the exception and not the rule, when instead of saying, “Oh my gosh, it’s made of wool,” we say something like, “Ew, can you believe they’re still using petroleum to make their packs?” For now, though, I’ll take comfort that the capability exists and that a brand as big as TNF is getting behind it.
And the Tree Hugger is nothing if not capable. Once you get over the novelty of its material, the pack feels, acts, and behaves like any other 32-liter backpack. You stuff your kit into the top, smush it down to the bottom, make sure it’s well-balanced behind the plastic frame sheet, and away you go. The load carries nicely for a minimalist pack—the hipbelt and straps are both lightly padded with vented mesh and foam—though if you fill all 32 liters with, say, full water bottles vs. pingpong balls, you’re going to wish for a more robust suspension. Stick to extended day trip use and you’ll be happy.
The wool itself is ripstop and treated with a durable water resistant coating that makes liquids bead and roll off like pearls. It feels softer and more natural than a typical nylon pack, but no less abrasion proof. The synthetics on it—webbing, mesh, foam, buckles—are 100 percent recycled, too. Time will tell if the Tree Hugger leads the way to more innovation in the use of natural materials or simply becomes a one-note feel good; from my experience filling it and carrying it, I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be the former.