Last year the Swedish storage specialists at Thule announced their first ever range of mountain bike hydration backpacks. Three packs were launched in the Vital series, including a compact 3L model, a mid-size 6L model, and this one: the Vital 8L.
As the largest pack in the line, the Vital 8L comes with a 2.5L hydration bladder and 8 litres of storage space. Made from lightweight nylon panels and mesh padding, the Vital 8 is designed with flexibility, breathability and low weight distribution in mind. Thule calls it an all-day hydration pack, with ‘expandable cargo space to fit extra gear for varying weather’.
Sounds ideal for a day out in Calderdale then.
Thule Vital 8 Hydration Backpack Features
- Storage volume: 8 litres
- Internal gear organiser
- Adjustable stretch pocket for overflow storage
- Separate soft-lined phone/glasses pocket
- Quick access waist pouches
- 2.5L Hydrapak reservoir
- ReTrakt magnetic hose system
- Construction: Nylon
- Ventilated mesh back panel
- Adjustable harness with sternum and waist buckles
- Colours: Black or Blue
- Claimed weight: 550g
- RRP: £119.95
The Vital 8’s storage is primarily defined by a large zippered main compartment, with internal dividers and zippered mesh pockets providing useful stowage. The segregated storage isn’t too complex though, so you don’t need a first class degree in origami just to put stuff in your bag. There are two barrel sleeves on either side – perfect for a mini-pump and a shock pump. I stuffed the additional pockets with snacks, a tubeless tyre repair kit, levers, and small spares. These pockets aren’t quite big enough for a tube though, so I left that and a pressure gauge loose in the bottom of the compartment.
Thule has built in external mesh pouches on each side of the hip belt. These are kind of like jersey pockets with an open top, and the concept is the same – when you’re wearing the pack with the waist belt done up, the mesh panels are pulled taught around your hips, securing the goods inside, but still allowing for easy on-the-bike access.
The Vital backpack’s party trick is a magnetic strip that runs lengthwise down the hose. Called ReTrakt, this self-positioning hose works exactly as advertised. Rather than having to look down to position the hose while you’re riding, I found I could drop the bite valve out of my mouth, and the hose would find its own way home – all while I kept my gaze on the trail ahead. With the bite valve rotated away from the bike, I found the hose remained both secure and out of the way at all times. The magnets never released the tube on its own – it’s very secure.
The thin-walled Hydrapak bladder sits inside its own dedicated sleeve behind the main storage compartment, with a small strap hoisting it vertically. In use, it’s fiddly to take out and refill, since the retaining strap is tight and inflexible. Once you’ve managed to unhook it, a slide tab comes off the bladder to reveal a wide-mouth opening that allows for easy refilling and cleaning. Unfortunately the hose isn’t detachable, so I had to rest the whole pack on the sink while I filled up the reservoir. I still don’t think Hydrapak’s bite valve is as good as Camelbak’s, with less flow available through the tube, and a more specific bite technique is required before you’re rewarded with fluids. It works fine though.
On The Trail
Thanks to the use of lightweight mesh fabrics, the Vital 8 is a very comfortable pack to wear. It’s flexible, easy to adjust, and the thin and flat profile of the waist belt means the pack conforms to your body’s shape well. It offers a terrific range of movement – to the point where you forget you’re wearing a pack at all, which is nice. The thin profile keeps everything closer to your torso, with less bulk sticking out where it could potentially catch low-hanging tree branches.
There is a caveat though. The flexible padding is on the minimalist side, which means overloading the pack tends to cause sausage-itis, putting uneven pressure on your back. On really warm days out, there isn’t a lot of room for airflow either, so be prepared to get a bit sweaty – if that sort of thing bothers you.
I’ve predominantly used the Vital 8 for long weekend trail rides including an all-day mission up and down Helvellyn, and I’ve also taken it along with me on several bike launches including the 3-day Specialized Stumpjumper launch. Though I’ve gotten used to wearing bum bags/fanny packs over the last few years, having the extra storage space with the Vital 8 has been very much appreciated on these longer days out.
I’ve found it to be just big enough to fit a Camelbak Sternum Protector, which I use as a chest mount for a GoPro camera while filming POV video on launches. Along with a full reservoir, some food, extra camera mounts, and a waterproof jacket or knee pads inside the overflow compartment, I’ve definitely packed the Vital 8 to its limit several occasions.
When it’s fully loaded, I have found it shifts around on my back a little. Not horribly so, but more than some other sturdier packs I’ve used lately. This is partly due to the lightweight waist belt, which doesn’t do a whole lot for load bearing. Bigger buckles, a heavier harness and stiffer fabrics would help with stability, but they’d also add weight. The Vital 8’s svelteness is what makes it so appealing to wear in the first place though, and really, this isn’t exactly a pack targeted towards enduro heads and mountain guides. There’s no in-built protection or specific storage for a full-face helmet. If that sounds more like the sort of pack you need, Thule has just released a new heavier duty pack range called the Rail – check out our news story in it here.
If you pack the Vital 8 properly though, you’ll be rewarded with a comfortable, conforming backpack. Personally, I’d still like to see a shorter lumbar-style reservoir to lower the centre of mass though.
One small annoyance is the partial zipper closure for the main compartment. Because this doesn’t go all the way round, you can’t split the bag in half completely when you want to grab something from the bottom of the pack. It’s no deal-breaker – you just need to rummage a little more if you’re after a loose item down the bottom. Aside from that, I found the internal pockets and storage layout of the Vital 8 to be useful.
As for those open waist pockets? My skepticism was unfounded, as they work exactly as intended. I never lost anything out of either pocket, whether it was a weighty tool-kit, a couple of flimsy energy bars, or my mobile phone. The pockets are also easy to access one-handed without taking the pack off, and I reckon that makes it particularly appealing to marathon riders who want to have race nutrition readily accessible. It also means you can quickly stow rubbish on the move.
The Vital 8 is a very lightweight and comfortable backpack for its size. It’s made from quality materials, and the level of craftsmanship is top-notch. Thule stands behind it as well with a two year warranty that even covers general wear and tear.
Though there are a couple of areas for improvement, the internal layout is well-thought out and I really like the magnetic hose. Its light weight, flexibility and easily accessible waist pockets make it a great option for long distance trail and XC riding, especially if you pack sensibly and don’t load it up with too much weight.
|Tested:||by Wil Barrett for 5 months|