Yes, we all know, Thule makes fantastic roof racks. What on earth would prompt them to branch out from their forté and into the intimidatingly competitive technical pack market? Well, it may have been some sort of inner knowledge telling them that they could do an excellent job. At any rate, my testing supports that hypothesis.

Thule Capstone 22L Features:

  • Tensioned mesh back panel provides unparalleled breathability, keeping you cool and dry on the trail
  • Zippered pocket at the top of pack stores sunglasses and other small items
  • High-visibility, removable rain cover keeps your gear dry during storms
  • Two hipbelt pockets store snacks,a phone and other small items
  • 210D and 315D Cordura Nylon
  • 22L Capacity
  • Weight: 2.25lbs
  • Price: $119

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From roof rack to your back

This Spring Thule launched a complete lineup of technical bags. I wanted something for fast-and-light alpine trips, so I got my hands on the 22L Capstone. The packs, which are available in both male and female-specific variants, go all the way up to 75L capacity. Although the features change from size to size, the foundation of all of the backpacks is an absolutely bombproof Cordura weave. The main pack body is 210D and the special reinforced areas are 315D. These packs aren’t especially light by industry standards, but it’s clear that Thule wanted to build a product that would last above all else.

Have a quick look at an overview video from Thule showing the many details of this pack:

The Capstone has a carefully curated feature set to aid me in alpine climbs. There are three compartments: a large one, a small one for storing glasses and the like, and finally a stretchy stuff pocket with a drainage hole. There are also pockets on both hips, one of which is zippered. The largest compartment has a sleeve for a bladder, but it’s also large enough for me to slip my Mac into. A wonderful feature of the main pocket is that the zippers run virtually the full length of the pack. This really adds to the versatility of how you can pack the main compartment, and it also aids getting stuff out of the bottom of the pack.

For example, just this last weekend I was climbing a peak in the Bridger range and had tossed my crampons into the very bottom of the pack thinking I wouldn’t need them. Sure enough, I got out there and needed to pull out my ‘pons in the middle of a nasty sleet mix – I was able to scoot the zippers around to the bottom of the compartment and sneak out my crampons without getting too much moisture into the main compartment.

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For that matter, another excellent feature is Thule’s removable pack cover which stows away into a zippered pocket at the bottom of the pack. It’s done with a high-visibility blue fabric for when the weather heads south. While we’re talking about water, there are also two generous stretchy water bottle holders that easily accommodate a Nalgene. They’re relatively easy to access while wearing the pack.

One of the biggest boons of the Capstone is the zipper choice that Thule went with. I have to say, the zippers on this backpack pull more easily than any other I’ve tested, and that’s saying something. Thule included large, brightly-colored zipper pulls to make it easy to get in and out of the pack while wearing gloves. That said, the hip belt pocket can be a bit difficult to pull close with only one hand depending what’s in it. I usually toted around my iPhone in an OtterBox, which was just the right size to make it hard to close one-handed.

The real point of interest with the Capstone is its tensioned mesh backpanel. The idea here is to use a tightly tensioned mesh screen to create a substantial gap between your back and the pack body. Frankly, I was very pleased with the way it worked — as it should. In many ways this is a no-frill concept; if you make space for air to move through, you’ll experience better ventilation. I noticed that the natural motion of my body walking with the pack almost acted like a pump to move air through.

The bottom of the back panel terminates in a solid mesh pad which provides a modest amount of lumbar support. All of this is backed up by two aluminum rods which support the load. I never carried more than perhaps sixteen pounds in the Capstone. It’s not as supportive as a heavy-hauling pack, but it still handles these lighter loads in reasonable comfort as we would expect.

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My only structural quibble has to do with the way the ice axe is held on to the pack. The ice axe loop is fine, but I think the design of the elastic cord that secures the shaft to the pack could be improved. For one, it’s attached to the outer stuff pocket which becomes all floppy once the compression straps are unbuckled to get in the main compartment. This causes the shaft of the axe to flop around and poke you in the eye. Additionally, more advanced systems have an extra webbing loop that automatically holds tension on the cord so that you can tighten it up with just one hand. I would prefer to see this redesigned, particularly so that the ice axe is held on to a point of the main pack body. The current system works perfectly fine, but the generally high standard of the Capstone 22 allows me to be picky.

The Good

  • Excellent fabric and zippers
  • Fancy mesh backpanel does an excellent job
  • Great zipper design and overall storage
  • Pack transfers the load to the hips well

The Bad

  • Water bottle pockets could have been angled for easier access
  • Ice axe shock cord should attach to main pack body, not stuff pocket

Bottom Line: Thule Capstone 22L

It’s very rare to see a company make such a radical venture into a product category and do very well. Thule blew away this trend by making a technical fast-and-light pack that can compete with all of the big boys’ offerings. The tensioned mesh backpanel and overall ease-of-use (especially the excellent zippers on the main pocket) make this backpack an absolute pleasure to use. On the long, hard days associated with fast-and-light trips, not having to worry about your pack is huge.

Buy Now: Available on Amazon.com

About Author

Kevin Glover is an outdoorsman living, climbing and biking in Spokane, WA. Originally from the Nevada high desert, he moved to the PNW for its mild winters and allergen-free summers. He has guided throughout the Cascades and Enchantments for Peak 7 Adventures.

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