Summary

Pros for the Gnomad:

  • Simple pocket and organization design
  • Fits a 15” MacBook Pro
  • Expandable rolltop
  • Flexible main storage bucket/pocket
  • Shoulder straps adjustable at top and bottom
  • Sternum strap
  • Feels light and comfortable
  • Rides high

Cons for the Gnomad:

  • Does not fit a 15” MacBook Pro with a sleeve
  • Laptop pocket protection is dubious
  • Unusual dual pockets with single zipper

Details

The bag I received has GNOMAD printed on the side, and the product page on The North Face website for this bag has gnomad in the URL, but the bag seems to have been rebranded as the ROVARA. Although it seems the bag is being renamed, I will call it the Gnomad since that’s what is written on my bag.

Gnomad name printed on the bag
Gnomad name printed on the bag

The Gnomad has a fairly straightforward design. It is a rolltop bag with a simple metal clip to seal the primary compartment. There are a couple exterior zippered pockets as well. The bag flares out a bit towards the top and is more narrow at the bottom.

Outside view of the bag
Outside view of the bag

The back has a very rigid plate (for lack of a better word) covered in a comfortable mesh padding and a taut ventilated material over that. This rigid plate that rests along my back feels very comfortable due to the mesh and padding, but it also has a strong armor-like feel behind it, which I prefer.

Backing of the bag
Backing of the bag

The backing is like a separate piece entirely that’s stiched together with the bag rather than being a core component of the bag. I say that based on how it looks, but I shouldn’t pretend to know if the way it is attached is any better or worse than any other backpack. From the feel, it seems extremely secure and I see no issues with it, but hopefully it doesn’t ever come loose or separate as the bag ages.

The rigid plate juxtaposed against the bag
The rigid plate juxtaposed against the bag

I prefer a rigid backing in a backpack since it makes sure the laptop pocket inside isn’t resting on my spine, and it helps the bag keep its shape.

Backpack curves and keeps its shape along the backing
Backpack curves and keeps its shape along the backing

The shoulder straps can be adjusted from the top.

Top adjustments
Top adjustments

The shoulder straps can also be adjusted from the bottom.

Bottom adjustments
Bottom adjustments

The bag comes with a sternum strap as well.

Sternum strap
Sternum strap

The Gnomad has a simple metal clip to secure the main compartment. I was unsure about this design at first, but I’ve come to appreciate it. It’s silent, durable, simple, and seems like there’s at least a chance of repair if it ever broke off in the distant future.

Strong metal clip for securing the main compartment
Strong metal clip for securing the main compartment

The clip fits into one of multiple loops that line the rolltop. This allows you to secure the clip whether the rolltop is compressed or fully expanded.

Multiple loops provide a variety of options for securing the top lid
Multiple loops provide a variety of options for securing the top lid

The Gnomad’s rolltop is shaped in such a way that the ends of the compartment can form a seal rather than being a simple open bucket.

Rolltop ends seal well when loaded
Rolltop ends seal well when loaded

If the backpack is fully loaded and the rolltop all the way up so that the ends cannot meet, the buckle/strap can secure the top of the bag. This makes me feel better that loose items at the top are less likely to fall out in the rare scenario my bag is loaded to this extreme.

Strap adds some security when the bag is overloaded
Strap adds some security when the bag is overloaded

When the rolltop is folded, the clip creates a secure connection and the “WEATHER RESITOR” compartment seems like it should stay safe and dry, although I have not tested this yet.

Rolltop compressed and closed
Rolltop compressed and closed

The Gnomad puts the laptop pocket inside the main water-resistant compartment, which makes me feel comfortable that my laptop is protected from the elements. Unfortunately, I find that the feel of the laptop pocket is a bit dubious. When I put my “naked” 15” MacBook Pro into the pocket, it does not hug the laptop as well as I’d like.

More slack than I would prefer in the laptop pocket
More slack than I would prefer in the laptop pocket

Even though there is excess slack in the laptop pocket, it is too tight of a width to fit the third-party laptop sleeve I own. I would end up tearing the laptop pocket open if I tried fitting my sleeve in there. I’d much prefer to have the extra security of a dedicated sleeve for my laptop, so the shape and size of the laptop pocket is less than ideal for me. I may end up buying a hard-shell case for my laptop for added ease of mind.

MacBook Pro third-party laptop sleeve
MacBook Pro third-party laptop sleeve

The Gnomad has a 27 liter capacity, and I believe that is the capacity when the rolltop is down. I believe it can fit several more liters with the rolltop up. It fits my “extended cargo” load with ease. My “extended cargo” load contains the maximum number of items I’d ever have with me while commuting. Typically I’d have a bit less than this on my usual bike commute or train ride to the office.

More cargo than I typically carry, and it all fits with ease
More cargo than I typically carry, and it all fits with ease

Even with all that cargo I find that the rolltop seals with ease.

Rolltop when compressed
Rolltop when compressed

The bag offers no internal organization options aside from the laptop pocket. There are three total external pockets for storage, but only two zippers. The largest exterior pocket is a simple open compartment.

Largest exterior pocket
Largest exterior pocket

The remaining exterior pockets share a single zipper, which is a bit odd. One of the pockets takes up about 2/3 of the height, and the smaller one only about 1/3.

The 2/3 height exterior pocket is a little deeper than the previous pocket.

2/3 height exterior pocket
2/3 height exterior pocket

The 1/3 height exterior pocket shares the same zipper as the 2/3 height pocket, but is separted from it by a seam. This pocket is a very tight squeeze in my opinion. It seems best for small or long and thin items.

1/3 height exterior pocket
1/3 height exterior pocket

I’m half afraid of ripping up the pocket divider if I push my hand in too far or overload it, but I guess time will tell.

Two pockets share one zipper
Two pockets share one zipper

Although the overall volume of the Gnomad is what I would like, the shape is not conducive to something like a single large box. For instance, I can squeeze a fully loaded paper grocery bag perfectly in my North Face BigShot II bag, but not in the Gnomad. The bottom is too narrow to allow for it. Instead, the Gnomad is well suited for numerous items.

I don’t think the Gnomad makes any claim of being waterproof, but it says it is water resistant, and the rolltop makes me feel confident enough to that effect. That plus a Backpack Rain Jacket/Cover/Coat like the Duck’s Back from REI can make any backpack waterproof in a pinch.

The 420 Denier (420D) nylon on this bag isn’t as strong as something like you’d see on a Chrome backpack, but the tradeoff is that the Gnomad feels reasonably light and flexible too when you need to cram in extra cargo and let the bag expand a bit.

I like this bag overall. I prefer having a single large compartment like this offers, and the three external pockets give me all the organization I care about. I think the rolltop design is fantastic and I love the metal clip used to seal it. The laptop pocket could be improved and I’m crossing my fingers that the overall build quality holds up for several years, but I plan to make this my standard commuting bag.