Did you know that Thule makes backpacks?
Thule… You know, the manufacturer of all those roof racks, bike racks, and cargo carriers you see strapped onto cars.
Well I sure didn’t, and when I found out they make backpacks, which are just another form of cargo carrier after all, I had to try one out.
How I Tested the Versant 50
This backpack was tested over the course of two trips to the Sierra Nevadas. On the first trip, I visited the Cottonwood Lake region for eight days. The second trip was to the Kern Plateau for six days. I also used this pack to carry climbing gear on four day trips.
Total field days = 14
Because of my job as an outdoor educator, I frequently backpack with about 15 liters worth of additional gear that I wouldn’t typically bring into the field on a personal trip (beefy first aid kit, paperwork, satellite phone). Since I have to carry all that extra stuff, I usually rely on a 70-liter backpack for a week long excursion.
So I was faced with having to cut about 20 liters worth of gear or somehow manage to pack it all into the 50 liter Versant.
After cutting out all the excess luxury items, it came time to test out my backpack packing skills. I managed to fit 7 nights worth of gear, including my additional work items, into this 50 liter pack. It was a bit of an effort to make that happen (this bag is really designed for overnight to five-day trips) but with the right technique you can stretch the capacity for longer adventures.
The Versant is designed to fit a male frame and only comes in one size. You can adjust the torso frame up to 4.75 inches and the waist belt up to 4 inches. I am 6 feet tall, 160 pounds, and have a 32 inch waist. For me, the torso fit right in the middle of its range and the waist belt was tightened down almost all the way (a typical occurrence for my build).
Weight vs. Durability
At 4.1 pounds, the Versant is a little on the heavy side for a 50-liter backpack. Some of the added ounces come from pack features such as the U-zip, built in pack cover, and the extra buckles for the detachable brain. Additionally, it’s added weight due to materials, such as the 420 denier Cordura, that don’t quite fall into the ultra light category.
Now that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, the Versant isn’t supposed to be an ultralight backpack. Instead, it’s an all-around bag that will withstand a lot of long term abuse from traveling. If your focus is on counting ounces, then this isn’t you backpack. But if you’re interested in a durable and versatile bag for overnight to week long trips, then the Versant is a great choice.
Comfort & Pack Feel
I was really happy with the comfort and pack feel of the Versant. Despite my slightly overloading it, this backpack distributed the weight nicely to my hips without feeling tippy during sections of harder off-trail travel. I did get some bruising on my hips after a few days of use, but that is a common occurrence no matter what backpack I use.
I prefer a clean backpack with no external pockets and minimal features. All I really want is a way to attach an ice axe, a small side pocket for my trekking poles or water bottle, and enough straps to adequately compress the bag. Give me a simple top loaded backpack sans sleeping bag compartment and I’ll be very happy.
The Versant gets really close to achieving this level of desired minimalism.
The only major feature addition is a large U-zip panel on the outside. Now, I will admit that I frequently used the zipper when exploding the contents of my pack at camp.
Kinda nice? Sure, but it does add some weight and is one more thing that could potentially break. For folks interested in more European-style backpacking, where you have less gear and stay in hostels or huts at night, this is a great way to stay organized and maintain easy access to all your stuff.
One feature, the VersaClick, allows you to customize the waist belt. The pack comes with a waterproof pocket which can be exchanged for a zippered pouch or water bottle holder. Again, I like things simple so I’d rather just see a zipper pocket, but if you’re someone who has a lot of gadgetry or wants super easy access to a water bottle, this might be a nice feature to have (different components sold separately).
Additional features include; the brain (lid) of the pack, which can be detached as a sling pack for day hikes, and a built in rain cover which proves great coverage without losing access to the side pockets.
If you’re in the market for a backpack that works equally well in the backcountry as it does traveling from hostel to hostel, the Thule Versant is a great choice. I loved the pack feel and simplicity of this bag. The price is right on point for the quality of backpack you’d be getting. My personal preference would be to eliminate certain features (U-zipper and VersaClick), but folks who want more customization might find those aspect more valuable. The Versant is a durable and lightweight enough backpack to excel in a variety of capacities, and is a great choice for overnight to five day trips.