Thule's Vital 3L hydration pack is a newcomer to the sport. Yeah, I know that packs are out and frame-mount water bottles are in, but it is doubtful that every rider has forgotten why mountain bikers abandoned bottles in favor of hydration packs so many years ago. If you use a hydration pack, or plan on purchasing one, Thule's Vital 3L is one of the best compact hydration packs I have used to date. It's designed to keep the weight low where the hips support the load. Its mesh Y-back design is hyper-ventilated, and its three roomy cargo compartments let you organize both small and bulky items in its stretchy belly. The topper for this pack may be its "Retrakt" magnetic strip that automatically docks the drink hose.
Vital 3LS Hydration Pack:
• Designed for one to three-hour rides
• Low center of gravity design
• Retrakt magnetic drink-hose retainer
• Three-liter storage capacity
• Massively ventilated mesh construction
• 1.7-liter hydration bladder
• Weight: 450 grams 90.99 pounds)
• Black or blue
• MSRP: $89.95 USD
• Contact: Thule
The Vital 3L's hydration bladder holds 1.7 liters (the equivalent of two jumbo-sized water bottles) and packs up to 3 liters of total storage. The outer is a water resistant, coated rip-stop fabric, and the bottom is heavyweight Cordura nylon. One external zipper gives access to three internal compartments: a full-length forward pocket, a mesh zip pocket, and the inner hydration bladder compartment, which is constructed to stretch, so you can stash a wind-breaker where it won't prevent you from easily accessing small items.
Lots of mesh:
Like most packs, the Vital 3L's interior features a key-clip and a sleeve to secure a small air pump, but it doesn't go crazy with organizer pockets and elastic loops. It's got everything you need, and nothing you don't. MSRP is $89.95, including the bladder, and if you need more space and fluid capacity, Thule makes the Vital pack in larger, six or eight liter sizes
. Features and Performance Hands-free hose return:
One of the stand-out features of Thule's new pack is the "ReTrakt" magnetic strip - a sleeve that automatically guides the drink tube snugly against the shoulder strap. unlike the more common magnetic dock, which requires the rider to return the hose back to point, Thule's solution allows the user to abandon the hose and get back to business. It always returns and it never flops around. Helmet-style hip belt:
Texas-sized waist-belts with a large, central buckles are a necessity for hip-pack comfort, but for the most part, they function as under-wire belly-bras. Thule chose a narrow waist belt that buckles in the center. Helmet-like triangles at each side of the belt allow the waistband to be angled comfortably to suit different body types, and the belt is tensioned from the sides, which turned out to be handier than I expected. The result is that the belt sat comfortably in the same location as the waistband of my shorts, and eliminated any sense of constriction.
The entire back panel, including the wide hip-belt pockets, is made from an open mesh material. There is no barrier layer between the mesh and the contents of the pack, which seemed odd at first inspection, but proved to be wonderfully comfortable in action. As a plus, you can see the water level in the hydration bladder without removing it from the pack. The Y-back design keeps the pack and its bulk so low on the back that it feels more like a hip pack in operation, but without the excess tension on the waist-belt. Because most of the air flow occurs around the upper back, Thule's design feels much cooler - almost as if it isn't there.Minimalist shoulder straps:
Curved and padded shoulder straps leave the chest area unconfined and open to the wind. The shoulder straps have plastic sliders on them to keep excess webbing from flapping in the breeze, and the pack's sternum strap slots into one of three vertical adjustment loops.Technical Report
The cut and fit of this pack are the best I've experienced on the trail. Loaded up with water and the basic essentials, it was easy to forget that I was wearing a pack of any sort. It stayed put while jumping and there was no sensation of bouncing or jostling while descending chunky lines. I normally like a number of organizing pockets inside my pack, but the compact size of the Vital 3L plays well with its single zip pocket. I'd like a separate pocket for my phone, but it works. Nothing seems to rattle around in there, so I'm okay with that.
Thule's choice of a Hydrapack bladder and drinking system tops off this forward-thinking pack design. Its easy-open, sliding seal and ample flowing bite-valve eliminate the fuss-factor that is endemic to some drinking systems. I am a fan of the Vital 3L's 1.7-liter capacity, but out of curiosity, I wonder why Thule chose a bladder that so closely matches the capacity of two large bottles (1.5 liters), when they could have earned serious bragging rites by bumping up to a two-liter bag?
Visually, Thule's Vital 3L pack compares to the Henty Hydration pack
that I also reviewed this year, but looks can be deceiving. Both have well-ventilated mesh backs and comfortable shoulder straps, but the Henty is a high-volume, work-duty hip pack that is stabilized by shoulder straps, and designed for longer rides and heavier loads. Thule's 3L is a feather-weight pack, crafted to carry only the essentials that a rider may need for one to three-hour rides. Pinkbike's Take: