Thule Vital Hydration Pack

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Tested: Thule Vital Hydration Pack

The Swedish transportation specialist enters the mountain bike hydration market with a splash.

Rating: Vital Review
Tested: Thule Vital Hydration Pack

When we stumbled on Thule’s new range of hydration packs at Eurobike 2017 we were a bit surprised to see them. Best known for their racks and other automotive carrying solutions, Thule also produces an impressive line of luggage and backpacks, but this is the first time the Swedish manufacturer has ventured into the hydration pack area. We wasted little time examining the new goods in detail, and what we saw made us want to put the packs to the test out on the trail. No sooner said than done - we’ve now racked up a full three months with the new packs in action, and we’re ready to let you know whether or not they lived up to that initial impression.

Thule Vital Hydration Pack Highlights

  • Material: nylon
  • Lightweight and ventilated construction
  • Dimensions: 9.1 x 3.9 x 17.5 inches (8L)
  • Cargo volume: 8, 6, or 3 liters
  • Weight: 1.21 lbs (8L), 1.15 lbs (6L)
  • Reservoir capacity: 2.5 liters (8L and 6L version), 1.75 liters (3L version)
  • “Retrakt” hydration hose management system
  • Internal compartments for tools, including small zippered pocket
  • Key hanger
  • Soft lined phone pocket
  • 2 external hip pockets
  • External extension pocket (8L only)
  • Colors: Dark Grey or Blue
  • MSRP: $139.95 USD (8L), $119.95 USD (6L)

Initial Impressions

Thule named this new line of hydration packs “Vital”, and while we’d like to think that they were inspired by your favorite website, the truth is that the name is more a reflection of what they wanted to bring to the market with their first foray into this space. The goal was to produce a set of comfortable and durable packs that can carry your essentials for short- to medium-length rides – just the “vital” stuff in other words. Available in 3, 6, or 8 liter versions, the Vital packs aim to be stable in use, thanks to a low center of gravity and a slim profile. We tested both the 6 and the 8 liter versions, the only difference between the two being the extra expansion pouch on the 8 liter pack. Thule also informed us that they are working on future additions to their hydration pack line up already, with bigger packs likely to appear at some point in the future.

The hydration hose is held in place by Thule’s clever “Retrakt” system, basically a magnetic sleeve that holds the entire upper portion of the drinking hose in place against the shoulder strap.

What really caught our eye with these new packs was the level of attention to detail. There is an abundance of different materials used in various places throughout the pack, for example to improve the breathability of the straps or to give the back plate a more solid shape. The hydration hose is held in place by Thule’s clever “Retrakt” system, basically a magnetic sleeve that holds the entire upper portion of the drinking hose in place against the shoulder strap.

The rear of the pack features two pockets inspired by the rear pockets found on road jerseys. The goal here was to not only make the pockets easy to access, but also to place them on a relatively flat part of the back, as opposed to having them curve around the hip – something that Thule says often causes things like energy bars to break or crumble. In our experience, we agree with Thule on this point.

The Vital line is delivered with a low-profile Hydrapak bladder, 2.5 liter capacity for the Vital 6 and 8, and 1.75 liters for the Vital 3. The bladder is of the "sliding-top" design, which provides a large opening in order to make cleaning the bladder easier. The pack features a bespoke strap designed to fit this "sliding top" and hold it securely in place while you ride.

A good hydration pack should be stable in use, and Thule paid particular attention to this point as well. The center of gravity of the pack is relatively low, and the various straps have been shaped to follow the body’s contours. There’s a ton of adjustability as well, which should allow any rider to dial in a comfortable and secure fit.

On The Trail

The Vital 8 liter pack is relatively small, but it is still capable of holding a fair amount of gear. We typically ride with a good selection of tools and spares, as well as a shock pump, a tire pump, some first aid supplies and of course the odd energy bar or can of Red Bull. Much to our surprise, our regular packing list found a home in the new pack, mainly thanks to the expansion pouch which provides an extra 2 liters of capacity compared to the more basic 6 liter version. Another nice feature of this expansion pouch is that it will hold your rain jacket as well, and it can also be pressed into doing duty as a helmet carrier.

Once loaded up, the pack was still comfortable on the back, and it was easy to dial in the fit thanks to the multitude of adjustments on offer. The lightweight and airy construction lets the pack breathe well, and even though we didn’t test during the height of summer, we’re pretty confident that it will work just fine then as well. We were also quickly converted to the merits of Thule’s “Retrakt” system which makes hydration hose management a non-issue. Grab it to take a sip of water, and then simply let it go – it snaps back into place by itself, and it will then stay there until the next time you want to drink again. We’ve never seen it shake loose under any circumstances.

The overall shape, low center of gravity, and the placement of the straps all contribute to helping hold the Vital in place no matter what.

So what about that stability, did Thule nail it? You bet! In fact, we’ll go so far as to say that the Vital pack is one of the most stable packs we have ever tested. The overall shape, low center of gravity, and the placement of the straps all contribute to helping hold the Vital in place no matter what. If you’ve ever found your pack listing to one side or bouncing up and down as you blast through a gnarly section of trail you know that it can happen to the best of them – but with this pack, that just didn’t ever seem to occur.

Packing and unpacking the Vital is easy, thanks to large openings and quality components (zippers, buckles, etc). We found that the internal compartments did an equally good job of keeping the pack contents in place, and it’s relatively easy to access items you might need during your ride. We appreciated little touches like the soft lined phone pocket or the dedicated key clip. The roomy hip pockets are awesome for storing energy bars, with the clever flap construction keeping contents secure all while allowing easy, zipper-less access at all times.

Things That Could Be Improved

Thule has done an awesome job with their first hydration pack, which has left us thoroughly impressed. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, so here are a few points that could be addressed to make a good pack even better:

  • There is no rain cover. Granted, not all packs include one, but at this price point, it would be a welcome addition. We should point out that the Vital is made from materials that do not take on much water, so even if you get it drenched, it will dry out very quickly (the same may or may not be true of your contents).
  • The Hydrapak bladder provided with the Vital packs is not one of our favorites. It has a tendency to let gunk build up if you don’t wash and dry it regularly, and its flappy construction makes that hard to do. The bite valve works well, and has remained drip-free so far. However, there is no cover available for the valve, which means it’s free to catch mud and dirt during the wetter months.
  • The strap-end management could be slightly improved. For example, the sternum strap lacks any kind of elastic band or similar to store the loose end of the strap in.

Long Term Durability

We’ve had two packs running with two different riders for over three months now, and both packs have seen a variety of riding conditions ranging from outright nasty to warm and pleasant. In addition, the 8 liter version has been pretty much packed to the brim during this time as well. Well, not a single thread has come undone, nor do either of the packs look much worse for wear. By the evidence available so far, we’d say you should expect to get years of service from this new pack.

What’s The Bottom Line?

There is nothing but choice in today’s hydration pack market, so anybody wanting to make an impression has their homework cut out for them. Well, it seems that Thule has taken on this new challenge with all the attention it could muster, as the Vital pack has turned out to be a great piece of kit. Comfortable, stable, and with just enough cargo capacity for most regular rides, the Vital has quickly become the pack we find ourselves reaching for time and time again. We can’t wait to see where Thule goes next as they look to further expand this new line of products – they are most definitely on the right path.

More information at: www.thule.com.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord - Age: 44 // Years Riding MTB: 12 // Weight: 200-pounds (90.7kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)

Johan loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

Photos by Nils Hjord and Johan Hjord

Specifications

Product Thule Vital Hydration Pack
Rider Unisex
Hydration Pack Type Backpack
Bladder Capacity 2.5L (84.5 oz)
Storage Capacity
  1. Version 1:8
  2. Version 2:6
Materials Nylon
Pockets
  1. Version 1:5
  2. Version 2:4
Colors Black, Blue
Miscellaneous
Price
  1. Version 1:$139.95
  2. Version 2:$119.95
More Info Version 1:

​www.thule.com

Version 2:

www.thule.com

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