There is something about a hydration backpack that gets me every time. Is it that they represent the potential for adventure and long days of exploration that won’t be served by a couple of bottles? The need for extra snacks that exceed the simple pockets of a jersey? The fact that you’re riding with the stuff ‘in case of emergency’ which alludes to the risk-reward relationship we have with the sport?

Enter the Thule Vital Women’s 3L pack.You probably know Thule as manufacturers of transport solutions for your bike, but the brand also has a huge range of products that you probably don’t know about (child seats, prams, luggage and more). With a newly hydration pack range, I was intrigued to see what Swedish heavyweights could bring to our very-long-riding party.

The Vital 3L is notable in the fact that it’s a women’s specific pack. Thule have developed the pack around the ‘women’s specific torso design’ featuring ‘optimal weight distribution thanks to the low centre of gravity’. The pack features spectacular portaging options, 3L of cargo storage with key holder and zippered compartment, and side pockets that can easily be accessed while on the move. This is a key feature as at 168cm accessing my existing jersey pockets was a challenge while wearing the Vital.

The Thule pack has also thought about fitment in some innovative ways, featuring a chest strap with several different placement options: simply unload each side of the strap and position up or down accordingly. Importantly, the pack also features a waist strap; a feature missing from many competitors in this size range, meaning it stays snug and secure while sending through the singletrack.

Perhaps the coolest feature is the ‘ReTrakt’ hose return system; the end of the hydration tube is encased in a neoprene type fabric with a magnetic stripped sewed into it. When not used, the tubing finds its way by magic (I mean… magnets) to the corresponding sewn strip on the right shoulder strap. The 1.75L HydraPak bladder is a proven winner, easy to refill and clean with a sliding closure at the top, and enough for a half-day ride with some bottle backups.

 

Setting the pack up with the adjustable chest straps took a little bit of trial and error, and to be honest while I got the fit adequate in holding the pack firm, I felt that the backpack straps pulled in a bit too much and collapsed through the chest, potentially due to the length. This may not be a problem for larger chested riders, but for smaller riders it’s something to take note of, though there was no performance deficit associated with this.

The side pockets were simple and easy enough to stash a handful of gels, lollies or a sandwich in each one, and the velcro sturdy enough to ensure no nutritional-ejection occurs, and was accessible while on the move. The real golden child of the pack, however, was the ReTrakt system. Unlike other packs trying to clip the tubing back in after drinking or having it flop around, the ReTrakt magnetic system meant that you could drink really quickly between tough sections of trail and let it fall down, it would find it’s way back to the magnet. This let me drink on the fly rather than having to wait for sections of fireroad and is a real win for those who ride predominantly singletrack, or anyone who struggles with the general awkwardness of many packs.

All in all, the Thule is a very welcome addition to my hydration pack collection, and will be my top pick at my next long adventure or race.

RRP: $189

From: Thule.com.au

Hits:

- Lightweight and adjustable fitment
- ReTrakt system
- Handy side pockets and internal storage

Misses:

- Chest strap is adjustable but awkward for smaller riders
- Pricey