Thule Vital 6L Review: The hydration pack for those that don’t like (and like) hydration packs

By Quinn Campbell

I’ll be the first to tell you that I hate riding with a backpack. And usually, this leaves me irresponsibly ill prepared for approximately 100% of the rides I go on. I’d almost always rather walk a broken bike home than deal with the nuisance of a bulky bag bouncing around with every undulation of the trail. But surprisingly, I found myself reaching for Thule’s new Vital 6L hydration pack on more than one occasion, which speaks volumes for this well designed daypack.

The Vital 6L is Thule’s mid sized hydration pack. It retails for $119.95 and comes with a 2.5L reservoir. There’s a soft lined, quick access pocket for a phone or sunglasses and the interior of the bag has a zipper pouch to keep track of smaller items while organizational loops provide a space to hold a shock or tire pump. There’s enough room to store the essentials for a full day on the trails. From the outside, the Vital has a sleek and clean look, almost understated, but don’t let that fool you; it’s well thought out and full of function.

On my first ride with the pack I was immediately struck by how comfortable and secure it felt on my back. Initially, I worried that its lack of suspension, would keep the bag tight to my back and it wouldn’t ventilate well. However, the packs low center of gravity keeps your upper back and shoulders free of material, and allows wind to travel across them, keeping things decently cool while pedaling. Additionally, the lack of a mesh suspension platform means there’s nothing rigid or hard rubbing against your hips or shoulders while riding. The Vital 6L has a foam liner, covered in mesh, which pads your back from anything hard stored in the body of the bag. It fits comfortably on your body while riding, and I never found it irritatingly warm on long sunny rides.

One of my least favorite things about hydration packs is that the second you point downhill and start smashing your way through rough sections of trail, the hydration hose inevitably comes loose and begins slapping you in the face. To keep this from happening, Thule utilizes a system they call, “ReTrakt”, which keeps the hydration hose secured to the right shoulder strap via a magnetic strip. A number of companies have used magnetic retention to secure the hose, but I’ve never seen one work as effectively as ReTrakt. The magnetic strip is quite long, and therefore offers enough surface area to have a strong magnetic bond with the hose. I didn’t once get a surprise whack from my hydration line while riding with the Vital 6L.

When I unpackaged the bag I was a little worried that the hip belt wouldn’t be robust enough to make the bag feel stable and secure when descending. But I was pleasantly surprised that the Vital 6L stayed right where I wanted it while jumping or navigating chunky sections of trail. Though the actual strap of the waist belt isn’t large or padded, Thule designed the pack with quick access pockets that wrap around your hips and the strap extends from them. The amount of material there did a fantastic job of securing the bag to my body, and left no need for a sturdier waist strap.

While I tested the Vital 6L I was riding in Bellingham and Squamish BC. The rides were long, with extended climbs and lengthy descents. It was extremely reassuring to know I had everything I needed for a full day far away from the car. The only thing I found myself wishing Thule had incorporated was a couple exterior straps to hold bulkier pads on long ascents (but the next model up, the 8L, has storage for pads on the outside of the pack). It wasn’t the end of the world to keep them on, but the ability to strap knee pads to the pack would’ve made hours of climbing more comfortable.

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