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Thule Upslope 35L Review

by , July 3, 2019

With a storied history in ski racks and vehicular gear carry, Thule has created one of the best ski packs I’ve ever used, the Thule Upslope 35L. Inspired by efficiency in the mountains, they have put together a quick-transitioning pack perfect for the backcountry skiing workflow. With its low profile and snug fit, it is easily one of the most well balanced ski packs out there. Big “quickdraw” waist pockets allow for easy access to cameras, water bottles, snacks, or gloves without taking the pack off which means efficient hiking, snacking, and more skiing. In many ways, it is a beautifully designed exercise in functionality that does away with the restriction of aesthetic in pursuit of a more seamless backcountry skiing experience.

skiing in hokkaido
Photo by @d_lit

Who it suits

Backcountry skiers who prioritize transition efficiency and exceptional ease of use with durability to last for many seasons to come. 

Who it doesn’t

Skiers and boarders in pursuit of the “light and fast” style of skiing or those who prioritize aesthetics. The Upslope 35, when fully packed, has the tendency to look like a jetpack or koala latching on from the back. The “Blackest Blue” colorway is a low profile option for those who want to go stealth.

skiiing through snow-covered trees
Photo by @b.scott_photography



The Thule Upslope 35 is one unique pack when it comes to looks. It has a unique function before form approach, which gives this exceptionally well wearing pack a sci-fi look, especially when the waist pockets are packed full, flaring out like little wings. I have received quite a few comments on how strange the pack appears, especially because large 1.5 Nalgene sized waist pockets throw off the proportions of the traditional silhouette. I have also received equally as many comments on how amazing it would be to have pockets of that size so conveniently placed as other skiers forlornly look down at their cell phone sized pockets.

The sample I received in the “Lime Punch” colorway is most definitely high-vis and easy to spot on the mountain, which makes it a great safety color for a ski pack with a Buzz Lightyear appearance.

bootpacking in Hokkaido
Photo by @christian_bangbang
backpack in back of car


As an airbag compatible pack, the Thule Upslope 35 utilizes metal buckles that latch into each other in place of plastic buckle clips that are usually used on non-airbag packs. This strap is non adjustable and I found the best way to adjust size is to tie knots to shorten the straps. With gloves on, it becomes difficult to consistently take the waist strap off because without the perfect alignment of inner tab to outer tab, the buckle stays locked (which is great in the event of an avalanche). I found it easier to ensure a clean unbuckle by degloving each time.

The sternum straps and buckles are nothing to write home about. They reliably work as they should, every time.

waist buckle close-up


420D Nylon throughout the pack ensures protection against the most common ski bag fatality, ski edges. Throughout a season of rough handling in low elevation powder runs and alpine rock bashing, the Upslope 35 has held on tough.


Straps and Workflow

The Upslope features two adjustable straps located inside the waist pockets that keeps the pack compact and compressed depending on the mission. Most of the time, I would keep the straps in their fully extended position, as I’ve found the longer the ski tour, the less careful I am about meticulously repacking my layers or gear and having slack for a poorly packed down jacket or jammed bottle is worth the convenience. A nifty feature of having the straps inside the waist pockets are that they can be adjusted without taking the pack off. This seems to be a recurring theme throughout 

inside backpack

The Upslope 35 has an ice ax carry loop which doubles as a slot for diagonal carry, which I have found is the quickest way to transition from ski or touring mode to walking or bootpack mode. Slotting the skis first through the adjustable loop and then cinching down the top strap wastes no time at all compared to setting up an A-frame carry, which I appreciated on frozen Hokkaido bootpacks where getting to shelter from whipping Siberian winds becomes priority. This sits the bindings, the heaviest part of a ski, into the center of gravity. 

bootpacking in hokkaido
Photo by @b.scott_photography
daisy chain close-up

Through the winter, I used this pack with a 118 underfoot ski with a 135mm tail and Dynafit Beast 13 bindings and a 105 underfoot ski with a 138mm tail and G3 Ion 12 bindings, oftentimes strapping the skis onto the pack with skins on (I am mentioning the tail dimensions of the ski because that is the first part that must fit into the loop). The adjustable lower loop can be locked into place before skiing and the upper loop cinches down and locks the ski onto the pack during the transition. No matter how deep the conditions you will be chasing, the Upslope’s system can accommodate the widest fat-skis and pow-surfers.

Snowboarders can bring the side buckles onto the front of the pack to secure the board vertically.

The adjustable shoulder straps are perfect for walkie-talkies or bear spray (we have to share the mountains with bears in the spring).

backpack latched with skis
ski backpack close up

Space and Access

Thule’s debut pack is minimalist in the sense that it only has three pockets and with a bit of familiarization, a system falls into place where three pockets is really all I would need. It features an avalanche gear compartment on the outside, a main compartment, two extra-large waist pockets, and a soft goggle compartment with the capacity to stretch. 

This is an average setup of how I have skied most days this winter. The Upslope 35 can comfortably take them all with slack for messy repacking. Days start more heavily filled and get lighter as snacks and liquids are consumed.

The avalanche gear pocket features three zippers, one of them being blue (high contrast) on my sample for easy IDing in an emergency situation or to dig out a snow couch. It is roomy enough for a snow shovel, probe, seven meters of static rope, a space blanket, and assortment of ski straps without intruding on space reserved for the main compartment.

ski trip gear load out

The avalanche gear pocket features three zippers, one of them being blue (high contrast) on my sample for easy IDing in an emergency situation or to dig out a snow couch. It is roomy enough for a snow shovel, probe, seven meters of static rope, a space blanket, and assortment of ski straps without intruding on space reserved for the main compartment.

inside avi pocket

The main compartment of the pack is large enough for spare gloves, a down jacket, a mirrorless camera, a second lens, a water bottle, and miscellaneous gear. A minor downside or upside to the Upslope is that the top zipper only grants access to the cavernous goggle pocket that does not connect to the main compartment. It means you have an extra pocket for gear organization but it also means you cannot access the main compartment via the top zipper like you can on many other ski packs. It was a slight inconvenience at first, but I quickly adjusted to the pack and have grown to appreciate the large goggle pocket. It can fit goggles, sunglasses, a Nalgene, and other miscellaneous items with ease, and because it stretches, this pocket can accommodate a wide range of items without the restrictions of a static pocket. This goggle pocket is a soft lens-cloth esque material that can come into direct contact with goggles or sunglasses without damage.

inside thule upslope
google pocket

The insulated hose sleeve for a hydration bladder is housed in the right shoulder strap and leads into the back access pocket. As safe practice, I still blow the water out of the hose even though the insulated sleeve is meant to prevent freezing from happening. On occasion that a one liter bottle won’t be enough water, I have squeezed a two liter hydration bladder into the main compartment, behind the goggle pocket. 

hydration system

The standout feature of this pack is the two large hip pockets which can carry everything you need for the uphill. I have assigned one pocket for liners, gloves, and snacks and have a one liter Nalgene bottle and energy gels stashed in the other. This allows me to regulate the temperature of my hands and stay fueled without having to take my pack off. On the downhill, I’ll put my bottle into the main compartment and relegate the bottle pocket to the skins pocket, which fits my 181 cm skins with a bit of jostling (this compartment does not stretch). This system keeps snowy skins in a separate pocket from the gear I would like to stay dry.

snacks in side pocket

Thule has integrated the pack with a Mammut Removable Airbag System 3.0, which folds into the top pocket. I did not test an airbag with the Upslope 35 but in my experience, the zipper tends to unzip with the pressure of skis in diagonal carry or during vigorous riding. Although snow can get into this pocket, it does not let snow into the other compartments of the pack. Riding with this zipper open does not affect comfort.


Due to a large part of its 35 liter volume being shifted to the waist, the Upslope does not pull from the back when fully laden with gear as much as most other ski packs of this size will. Well paced weight distribution means it hugs the body rather than straps to the torso. A majority of Hokkaido skiing is tree skiing and one minor inconvenience is that the Upslope tends to catch branches when ducking under tight openings. The gap between the shoulder straps and the internal frame is the perfect shape to slot a branch so on particularly low gaps, dipping into a backslap oftentimes works better than ducking into a tuck.

During spring touring, the back panel soaks with sweat quite easily because there is no venting, but the sweat does not travel into the interior.

skiiing in hokkaido
Photo by @b.scott_photography

Durability / Weatherability

With a winter season of almost daily use both in resort and in the backcountry, this highlighter yellow pack has a few scuffs to show for it but is otherwise undamaged and ready for seasons to come. In my experience, I have never had the inside of the pack wet out, keeping snow and dampness out. Abrasion from the shovel head has also introduced wear to the dividers for shovel handle and probe, but is purely cosmetic.

abrasion on exterior fabric close-up
abrasion on exterior fabric close-up

Alternatives to Consider

Arc’teryx Alpha SK series, Black Diamond Blitz series, Blue Ice Warthog 28, Hyperlite Summit Pack, Mammut Trion Light 28


The Upslope 35 is a utilitarian approach to a ski pack that ensures that it has become one of my highest rated bags for ease of use. It occupies a niche between fully featured bags and minimalist packs. If you live for chasing storms and gravity powered adventure, this could be the perfect bag for you. With its foot in each field, Thule have created a pack that is versatile enough for the shortest resort days to ski tours up to a day. With enough motivation, this can even be a hut skiing pack, as there are enough attachment points on the outside of the pack to strap a sleeping bag and sleeping pad to. With a full seven months of nearly daily use, this pack has proven to be one of my favorites and has secured a spot on heavy rotation through the next cycles of winter.

skiiing in hokkaido

The Good

Large waist pockets are hugely convenient

“Lime Punch” is a great safety color

Avalanche pack waist buckles are very secure

The Not So Good

Form factor of the pack is aggressive

Avalanche pack waist buckles can be annoying to take on and off

Frame tends to catch low lying branches

The Breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Geek (Performance)

Space & Access

Style (Design)

Look & Feel
Build, Materials & Hardware

Stoke (Experience)

Warranty & Support
Brand experience
X Factor

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