Thule, best known for their automobile luggage racks, makes overnight backpacks that are starting to appear in outdoor stores, side-by-side with packs from Osprey, Gregory, and Granite Gear. I’ve been tracking Thule’s packs for few years and decided it was time to take a closer look at one, especially since the Thule Versant 50 overnight backpack has an adjustable-size hip belt and torso size.
If you’ve ever wondered why some pack manufacturers, like Osprey, are dominant in the backpacking market, it’s because they offer packs with adjustable length torso sizes. Adjustable-size hip belts are the next wave of overnight and multi-day backpack innovation, something I’m excited about, because poor fitting backpacks can become a thing of the past if adopted widely by manufacturers.
Internal Storage and Organization
The Thule Versant 50 can be used as an alpine style backpack with a floating lid or as panel loader, good for use when traveling. Available in 50 liter, 60, liter, and 70 liter sizes and men’s and women’s models, the design provides a lot of flexibility for your needs.
The layout of the pack is quite traditional with a top lid compartment that includes two zippered pockets, a floating lid with lots of slack webbing so it can be used to secure larger items to the top of the pack, a stretch mesh shovel pocket handy for stuffing a jacket, an internal hydration pocket with hang loop, and side water bottle pockets.
The side water bottle pockets are notable because they are slanted rather than being upright. While this makes it easier to pull the bottles out when walking, bottles have a tendency to fall out of the side pockets, especially if they’re non-standard sized Nalgene bottles, which is most annoying. The slant of the pockets also makes it very hard to lash other gear vertically to the side of the pack, like tent poles, which you’d want to terminate in the side pockets for increased security.
In addition to the regular storage noted above, there’s a rear bottom pocket for storing a rain cover, which is a separate removable component.
If you prefer to use the pack as a panel loader, the back of the pack opens up like a duffle bag, with a U-shaped zipper that runs around the perimeter mesh shovel pocket. The ability to use the Versant 50 both ways makes it a good option for international travel, so you only have to carry one backpack for backcountry and frontcountry use.
Backpack Frame and Suspension
The Thule Versant 50 is an internal frame backpack with an aluminum wire balloon frame, augmented with a PU plastic sheet for rigidity. The frame terminates in the bottom of the pack bag but not the hip belt. Load transfer to the hip belt is still good however, since the hip belt wings are sewn to the pack bag at the points where the frame terminates. This means that pack can carry maximum loads of 35-40 pounds in relative comfort.
The torso length is very easy to adjust by detaching the shoulder harness from the velcro holding it onto the back of the pack and raising or lowering it to match your torso length. Torso length measurements are printed on the back of the pack indicated in inches and centimeters to facilitate this. It’s so simple, you have to wonder why all pack manufacturers don’t offer something like it.
The hip belt is a little less intuitive to adjust, but equally simple. It does not come with printed measurements however, so you have to adjust the length of the hip belt wings by feel, so that they cover your front hip bones. Here’s how the hip belt adjustment system works.
You adjust the hip belt length by pulling or loosening the fabric “tongue” with the cord attached in the picture above, which controls the position of the inside edge of the hip belt. By my measurements, this provides 6″ of hip belt length adjustability. It’s a fairly complicated and heavy mechanism compared to other manufacturer’s adjustable hip belts, but it does work. It’s also completely undocumented in the product’s user manual.
The Versant 50 has a lumbar pad at the center of the hip belt. There’s a space between the lumbar pad and the back of the pack, that you can think of as a hip belt garage. The inside wings of the hip belt slide into this space when you shorten the length of the hip belt and slide out when you lengthen it. The padded portion of wings actually move in and out and not just the webbing strap used to buckle them together, so you get (real) better load transfer when you adjust the hip belt wings to cover your hip bones.
The Versant 50’s hip belt is quite wide providing good comfort and a well conforming wrap that further enhances load transfer to the hips. There is one zippered pocket on the hip belt and a small removable dry bag attached to the other, good for carrying a pocket camera or cell phone that requires waterproof storage.
The shoulder pads are relatively narrow and s-shaped with elastic keep straps and an adjustable sternum strap. The Versant 50 also has load lifters which are attached to the frame.
External Attachment and Compression System
The Versant 50 has a good external attachment system, including three tiers of side compression straps (two horizontal and one diagonal), two ice axe loops, and numerous gear loops distributed along exterior seams that can be use to create custom lash points or secure the rain cover so it does fall off the pack.
The floating lid provides the ability to lash gear, such as a tent body, on top of main compartment and to hold it in place underneath the top pocket. The top pocket can also be removed completely and used as a separate carryall with an accessory shoulder strap provided with the pack.
The Thule Versant 50 is an overnight backpacking pack that can be used as a top loader or a panel loader depending on your packing preferences. Available in both male and female models, it has an adjustable torso system and an adjustable hip belt, ensuring a custom fit without compromises. While these qualities are all highly desirable on a backpacking pack, particularly one that you might use for travel as well as backcountry use, the 4 pound 6.5 ounce Versant 50 is overbuilt for a backpack with its volume, with adjustability features that are more at home on its higher volume variants, the Versant 60 and Versant 70 backpacks. In addition to its weight, the Versant 50 is difficult to use with water bottles which have an annoying tendency to slip out of its diagonal side pockets. My advice would be to give the Thule Versant 50 a pass, despite its convenient torso length and hip belt adjustment system, unless you plan to use it primarily as a panel-loading travel pack.
- Floating lid
- Adjustable torso length and hip belt length
- Attachment points that hold rain cover in place
- Waterproof, dry-bag style hip belt pocket (super nice!)
- Slightly heavy weight for a 50L backpack
- Water bottles fall out of slanted side water bottle pockets
- Fabric: 420D Cordura, 100D nylon
- Volume: 50 Liters/ 3050 cu in
- Dimensions: 13.4 x 15 x 27.2 in
- Weight: 4 pounds 1.6 ounces (Actual weight: 4 pounds 6.5 ounces)
Disclosure: Thule provided Philip Werner with a sample backpack for this review.
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