When I first heard that Thule was entering the backpacking market, I was admittedly a bit skeptical. Thankfully, they’ve proven themselves to know what they’re doing. Thule has obviously hit the market with capable engineering team backed by experience, as is evident with the fully featured Versant 60 backpack. This is my review.
Coming in at 60L, the Versant lands squarely in the middle of typical backpack capacities. It’s large enough for multi-day trips yet small enough for an weekend getaway. It’s designed to adapt not only to the length of the trip with various cinch straps placed along the sides and top to keep the pack from being loose, but also to the shape of the user by utilizing an adjustable hip belt and torso system. Even the pockets can be modified with removable and waterproof “VersaClick” pockets that roll down and seal tight to protect valuables . The built in StormGuard system combines a partial rain cover with a built in waterproof liner on the bottom of the pack, reducing weight, improving protection and simplifying use. There are two included water bottle pockets, vertical zippers for quick access to items in the bottom of the pack, and a removable lid that doubles as a removable sling pack. The Versant is available now, weighs 4.14 lbs and retails for 259.95.
What I liked
For a first attempt at backpacking, Thule really nailed the ergonomics of the pack. The frame slides comfortably into the lumbar of the spine and grips to the hip bones for support. This leaves the back well supported, comfortable, and with with no weight sitting on the shoulders when adjusted properly. The well padded but not overly thick hip pads sit directly on the hip bones, providing excellent weight distribution without shifting around, and the chest straps are wide enough and padded enough to provide a nice snugly fit without being bulky and in the way. The torso and the hips are both fully adjustable, so most users should be able to dial in the fit to suit their needs. This all works together to provide excellent support, generous padding, and avoids dropping the weight of the pack, and thus tension, onto the neck, shoulders or spine, which is ideal. After miles on the trail, the Versant provides ache free backpacking.
Adjusting the pack is very straight forward and in fact one of the simplest that I’ve tested. Simpy lift up on the Velcro and you’re free to slide the torso around into the position and length needed. This is true for the hip belts also, with another simple Velcro tab that lifts up to release the slider. It’s wonderfully convenient for on the trail modifications.
Organization is excellent with the Versant, providing a large central compartment for most larger items like sleeping bags and tents with a convenient and easy to use cinch closure. A sleeping bag access zipper is provided, allowing the bag to be removed without digging to the bottom. The two large vertical zippers allow access to the depths of the pack on either side, or it can be unzipped completely for a convenient and unrestricted grab and go. The top lid houses two pockets on the outside, excellent for headlamps and bug spray, while the hip belt pocket conveniently holds smaller items like snacks or a map that can be accessed on the fly. The VersaClip system allows for a lot of flexibility, where large waterproof pockets or even full water bottle pockets can be attached via an easy to use but secure clip system. There are also two water bottle pockets located on the sides of the pack, large enough for hefty Gatorade bottles and tent poles. Finally, a large stretchy pocket is located on the back of the pack, plenty large enough for an entire rain suit or a light insulating layers.
The lid is easily detachable via three clips, and converts in to a surprisingly robust and comfortable sling pack. It has several pockets, three attachment points for the body (over the shoulder and it wraps around the hips too)to keep it from moving around while hiking, and the shoulder strap is surprisingly comfortable to use. Even with several pounds inside, it’s comfortable enough to use for miles. This is great for hitting base camp, dropping the large pack, and exploring further with the light weight lid as a pack.
Build quality all around is fabulous, utilizing burly and reliable 420D Cordura in high wear areas and a lighter 100D nylon to shave weight when possible. The stitching is consistent, clean, and has shown no signs of stretching or coming undone while the zippers have performed admirably without hanging up or getting snagged. Thule backpacks are also covered by their limited lifetime warranty. A definite plus.
The StormGuard system is very clever. The bottom of the pack is completely water proof, and the top is supplemented by the included partial rain cover. The benefit is that the bottom of the pack will stay dry if sat down in a puddle or wet grass, where a traditional rain cover would actually fill up and trap water inside. It also allows access to the water bottle pockets without pulling back the cover, a definite plus.
To shave weight, it’s quite easy to leave the lid and the VersaClip system pockets at home, shedding significant weight and putting the pack under the 4 lb mark. The pack functions just fine without it, and the flexibility allows the pack to suit the needs on a per trip basis. The best part? It takes less than 10 seconds.
What I didn’t like
While the torso can easily be adjusted to fit a wide range of sizes, extending it to it’s outer limits can cause some issues. The frame ends before the reasonable maximum of the torso extension, which results in the load straps bearing down directly on the shoulders pads of users with longer torsos. While it’s not terribly uncomfortable, it can result in some pressure and it’s a less than perfect situation for those with very long spines. This will not affect most users, however.
I’ve found the water bottle pockets to be a bit finicky, often dropping items out of my backpack when bending over at extreme angles to tie my boots or while climbing under fallen logs. Thick Gatorade bottles, Platypus bottles and a few other stay great, but slimmer bottles and things like bear mace or poles might slide out as you cannot adjust the pockets to sit tight around them. The tension system just isn’t very secure.
I’ve also found that, at some heights, the chest strap will slip up or down depending which way the tension is pushing against it. I’ve not found it uncomfortable, as it always finds a nice place to sit once it’s done moving around, but due to this adjustability does take a small hit. I couldn’t find a way to prevent this from happening, but it’s mostly an issue with heavier pack weights (more weight pulling against it).
The hip straps themselves could stand to be a little softer as well, as they don’t provide as much padding as I’m used to when filling the pack to it’s limit. Again, light packed weights relieve the issue. It’s not been painful by any means, but it is a little less than ideal.
Thule has come out of nowhere with what I can only describe and an expertly designed and innovative product. Targeting all of the key areas, the Versant 60 is designed and built with a flexibility and durability that many brands that have been on the market for years cannot compete with. The adjustable torso and hips provide minute adjustments to fit nearly any user, and the wealth of organization options make for a pack that keeps everything in it’s place, yet instantly accessible. The added features of a very comfortable sling pack, exchangeable hip accessories and the clever integrated weather proofing system on add to the list of pros. Excellent padding for the most part and well thought out ergonomics result in a comfortable, durable, and great looking backpack that should hold up for a very long time. Aside from a couple minor complaints, namely the less than perfect watter bottle pockets, slipping chest straps and lackluster chest padding, it’s a wonderful all around backpack.
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For more information on Thule and their excellent line of gear, check out www.thule.com
I wanted to send a special thanks out to Thule for their support and for providing this excellent piece of equipment to review. We couldn’t do this without their help. Thank you so much! Our full disclosure can be found on the about me/contact page.