- Buyer's Guide
Drive By :: Thule Versant 70L
High above the waters of Lake Superior I navigate a winding trail that skirts worryingly near the edge of 300-foot cliffs. A forest of trees devoid of any leaves stretches ahead of me. The only break in the naked trunks is made by sharp incisions from the intruding cliffs. An eagle circles somewhere high overhead. Pictured Rocks mid-November in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a desolate scene. A trail absent of any other hikers but full of frigid air. The trek is well worth it provided you’ve got the right gear.
Hauling my sustenance, shelter and plenty of booze to get me through the long and lonely nights for the next few days is the 70L Thule Versant (to be released later in ’16). We first glimpsed Thule’s newest entry into multi-day packs at Outdoor Retailer. In the field of multi-day packs where both quick hip/torso adjustments and modularity are becoming standard, Thule has put a strong foot forward with the Versant. We were excited about it on the tradeshow floor but how does it get down?
Who It Suits
New backpackers looking for a good first multi-day pack. It’s a very adjustable pack both in terms of the hip and torso fit as well as the modular components. Furthermore for a backpacker figuring out exactly what to pack and where to pack it, every bit of this pack and anything inside is ridiculously accessible.
“It’s a very adjustable pack both in terms of the hip and torso fit as well as the modular components.“
Regardless of body type or trip length there are gender-specific sizes in volumes of 70L, 60L or 50L. Though certainly not ultralight, the 70L version clocks in at 4.19 lbs (1.9 kg) which your legs will always find welcoming. A raincover is included, a feature which is frustratingly absent on a surprising number of packs. This is a very easy-to-use pack with a ton of features a new backpacker will appreciate.
Who It Doesn’t
Hardcore backpackers or long-distance thru-hikers. When the Versant is on your back for long periods of time over many miles it becomes painfully obvious that the suspension system of the pack isn’t as dialed in as other packs on the market (see below). To be fair, the suspension is what separates good packs from great packs, a point Thule will undoubtedly refine in future releases. For some reference here, we heard rumors at OR that Osprey’s much lauded Anti-Gravity suspension system took 10 years of development.
“…the suspension system of the pack isn’t as dialed in as other packs on the market…”
The adjustability, and the speed with which it can be done. The Versant offers 12 cm of torso and 15 cm of hip belt adjustment. Adjusted via a simple Velcro connection, the Versant can be fitted as fast as any pack on the market. My 6’6″ frame was able to jack up the torso and extend the hip belt in a matter of seconds.
The standard pocketing. Every cubic inch of this bag can be accessed very easily so you won’t have to debate about going hunting for that Clif Bar (the answer is always yes). The main pocket is accessible by the top drawstring opening or via the front with an orbital zipper. The volume of the main compartment is 90% of the pack. For this trek I was carrying a fair bit of cold weather gear to combat the wind blowing off Lake Superior. Despite this additional load, everything fit cleanly in the Versant with no sleeping pads or tent poles needing to be secured to the exterior of the bag. The aesthetic part of me was pleased. Two small water bottle pockets grace the sides and a shove it pocket covers the front of the pack, perfect for maps and hats that become discarded during the day. A dedicated raincover pouch is sewn into the bottom curve of the bag which produces a bright blue raincover.
“…every bit of this pack and anything inside is ridiculously accessible.“
The modularity. Attached to the top of the pack is a free-floating, three-zippered piece of pocketing that can fully detach to become a slingpack. It’s a surprisingly roomy and comfortable pack that is excellent for stowing a few small items when you want to ditch the main bag at camp. Moving down the pack the hip belt features two zippered pockets. The left pocket can be detached and replaced with either an insulated water bottle holder or a chrome-esque waterproof pouch. Both are convenient features and further increase the usability of the Versant.
“Attached to the top of the pack is a free-floating, three-zippered piece of pocketing that can fully detach to become a slingpack.“
The weatherproofness. With the Versant Thule has opted for a traditional raincover for the top ¾ of the bag. The lower ¼ of the pack is lined with a thicker Cordura weave and the interior is fitted with a waterproof liner. Much to my relief (and contrary to my initial scepticism) this raincover configuration kept the patches of freezing November rain that graced my hike at bay. This is a great design as the two side pockets are still accessible when the raincover is on. But more importantly when you wearily throw your bag down, the wet pile of leaves that your bag lands on isn’t going to wet your kit.
The Not So Good
The suspension system. A combination of the short November days and wanting to get a good feel for the Versant resulted in me covering the 76-mile trail in four days. After consulting my feet and back after this trek the consensus is that the Versant suspension system isn’t bad but isn’t great. It carries reasonably well but doesn’t move especially well. The frame is fairly static in this regard with some disjoint between the weight distribution of the shoulder straps and hip belt. It felt as if there was a substantial part of the carry that was sagging and borne entirely by my shoulders.
Others to Consider
There are many other multi-day packs on the market but a favorite here at Carryology is the Osprey Atmos.
“It felt as if there was a substantial part of the carry that was sagging and borne entirely by my shoulders.”
Thule’s Versant is an excellent pack for a new backpacker. Whether you are adjusting the fit or accessing your kit, Thule has designed this bag with ease, adjustability and modularity in mind. And while the suspension system isn’t as dialed in as other (more expensive) packs on the market, average users won’t have gripes with the way this bag carries. If you’re looking to head off into the woods and stop lusting at the Instagram feeds of others who are, the Thule Versant is a great pack to get yerself down that trail.