Thule Stir at Capitol Reef, Utah

First Look: Thule’s 2016 Technical Backpack Line

People know Thule for its vehicle racks. But the Swedish brand has a burgeoning backpack line.

Thule Stir at Capitol Reef, Utah

“Light in weight, but heavy in features.” — That is a no-fuss tag line for Thule’s new backpack collection. We put two models to the test this summer, hiking and backpacking in Utah and the woods of northern Minnesota.

In total, Thule unveils a half-dozen new models this year with its Versant Backpacking line and the smaller and lighter Stir Hiking line. Upgrades include better fit, adjustments, a revamped overall design, and interesting features throughout.

Can the company carve out a section of the crowded technical-pack market? They look on the surface like many other offerings seen on the outdoor-shop shelf. But a focus on adjustability and usability make Thule packs stand out.

Review: Thule Stir 35 Backpack

I got my first test of the Stir 35  ($140) in the Utah desert on a long, rugged day hike. I also used it for a day of canyoneering (see my story on the trip, “Canyoneering Utah’s Capitol Reef“).

Available in unisex 15- and 20-liter capacities, as well as men’s- and women’s-specific 35-liter versions, the packs’ colors and materials stand out. The main body is a smooth and water-resistant nylon. YKK zippers and sewn pulls finish off the closures.

Thule Stir 35 Closure
A cinch top with a clever one-handed operation combines with a hook and ladder flap to secure the top of the Stir

On the outside is a simple dump pocket with a snap closure, with a daisy chain of nylon tape on each side and loops at the bottom for additional attachment points. Side pouches with some elastic and rigid tape provide storage for poles, tripods (or trail beers).

For me, the real magic is on the backside of the bag. A large movable panel gives a user 4 inches of torso height adjustment – a feature rarely seen in a pack this small. It’s an important improvement for short-torso, long-leg folks like me.

An internal wire frame gives the bag some structure. Main straps have adjustable load lifters up top and ladder adjusters on the bottom. One strap has a stretchy zipper pouch big enough for an iPhone 6, the other a hydration hose keeper. A long side zipper gives instant access to the guts of the bag.

Hiking in to Cohab Canyon
Hiking in to Cohab Canyon, Capitol Reef, Utah

Thule adds waterproof fabric to the bottom of the pack and includes a stowed rain cover. The bottom is always water-tight, so you don’t have to worry about the occasional puddle or wet canoe floor.

At 2.37 pounds on our scale, it’s not winning any ultralight awards in its capacity. However, the bag transforms from its loaded, backcountry setup into a more svelte pack via a removable hip belt and sternum strap.

Removing those items, along with the rain cover, brings the trim weight down to 1.94 pounds.

Thule Stir Front And Back
Front/back view of Thule Stir 35 shows adjustment options and removable hip belt and sternum strap.

In the Utah canyons, the pack’s sheer nylon held up to the rough walls and sandy floors. Attachment points let me bring ropes and other gear, and with a hydration bladder and a water bottle on board, I was ready for a day in the desert.

Traveling home, the pack converted for airline carry-on use. Back in Minnesota, it’s become my go-to day pack—ready for the weather, just the right amount of space, and great style.

Thule Versant 50

Versant 50 Review: Convertible Lid, Fit Features Stand Out

Versant Features
Size adjustment, a top lid that converts into a sling bag, and a removable waterproof pouch add a lot of flexibility to the Thule Versant.

New in the line this year, the Versant 50 ($240) is right in the middle of Thule’s capacity range and aimed at the weekend backpacker.

My screaming yellow pack stands out in a crowd, and not just because of its color. It has a lot of adjustability through the torso and a robust hip belt.

The Versant shows off a pair of nice Thule features: The top lid of the bag is removable, converting into a small sling bag that’s perfect for around the camp on short hikes or if you need to stash your bag while in transit but just need a few things for the road. It’s a little wonky to set up the first time, but after a couple of tries, it’s a breeze.

The right-side hip pouch has the company’s Versaclick attachment system, allowing for customizable, swappable, and secure accessory attachments. Thule is currently shipping the standard mini roll-top pouch, a zipper pouch, and a water bottle pouch with the attachment. Camera holsters come in 2017.

The stock roll-top pocket provides just enough waterproof security for a phone or small camera, and it stood up to a quick dip in a murky pool in Utah, though I wouldn’t submerge it for any length of time.

Thule Waterproofing
A 3/4 rain cover pairs with an internal waterproofing in the bottom of the bag

Side pouches on the Versant are angled forward, making it easier to retrieve and stow water bottles. A huge zipper on the exterior face makes it possible to open the bag up like a duffel.

From materials and sewing to how the torso adjustment works, every detail is nicely done.

One issue is that the hydration bladder pouch is a nuisance when empty; it is not sewn at the top, so it can get jumbled in with cargo, and more than once I’ve partially stuffed a sleeve or hood into it. Further, the Versant felt like it had too much webbing in the form of adjustment straps.

But these little hindrances are minor compared to the overall quality in the new packs from Thule. The Versant’s solid design and features will appeal to backpackers looking to upgrade from an older, less comfortable pack. As an everyday pack, the Stir is hard to beat in its ready-to-go simplicity.

–See Thule’s complete pack line here.

Bjorn Christianson

In addition to occasional photojournalism, Bjorn is's Director of Design & Development. He rides bikes, enjoys cold beverages, and lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.