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

“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.

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.

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.

READ MORE