Thule Vital 6L Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Excellent drinking hose design, comfortable straps and hip belt, lightweight
Cons: Less storage than others, tedious reservoir placement
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Vital 6L is an ideal pack for mountain bikers or other high-intensity adventurers who will appreciate its lightweight and slim design with the most secure and convenient drinking hose attachment system on the market. While the placement of its hydration bladder makes it slightly more difficult to remove, clean, and refill once your day is done, its snug fit and innovate ReTrakt drinking hose attachment earns it a Top Pick Award for Best Drinking Hose Design.
Ease of Drinking
The Vital 6L comes equipped with a Thule-branded 2.5-liter Shape-Loc water reservoir manufactured by HydraPak. The reservoir delivers water through a drinking hose to the HydraPak Blaster bite valve that is similar to what is found on several other hydration systems in our testing lineup.
What really sets the Vital 6 apart from the rest of the competitors is the simple yet ingenious ReTrakt drinking hose retention system. Where most packs have a small plastic clip or a small magnetic attachment point on one of the shoulder straps, the Retrakt system wraps the end of the drinking hose in a 6-inch long sleeve with a flexible magnetic strip that attaches to another 6-inch long magnetic strip and a small plastic clip mounted on the right shoulder strap. The result is the most effective hose attachment system that we've seen. While on the go, even during intense, high-movement activities, the drinking hose and bite valve stay firmly planted to the pack with absolutely no extra movement.
When it's time to dip into the 2.5-liter water supply, the drinking hose and bite valve are conveniently located within easy reach on the right shoulder strap. The pieces are simple to grasp and bring up to your mouth, and when you're content with your refreshment, simply letting go will return them to their home on the pack. There's no guesswork, no fumbling around, and no wasted energy or attention to distract you from focusing on your effort and the terrain in front of you.
While the drinking hose attachment might not seem like a huge factor in the performance of a hydration pack, after spending hundreds of hours in the field with dozens of different hydration system designs, we've found that inadequate attachment points leading to floppy hoses are one of the biggest nuisances we've experienced with some otherwise stellar backpack designs. When you're mountain biking over technical terrain, scrambling through thick brush or tight rock formations, or blazing down a fast descent on foot, the last thing you want to worry about is whether your drinking hose is going to fall loose, flop around, snag against something, or leak water. The ReTrakt retention design is the most effective design we've seen to date that eliminates this potentially aggravating issue.
Ease of Filling
Although the drinking hose attachment system on the outside of the pack is one of the best design innovations that we've tested, we are a little disappointed with the hydration bladder housing and hanging system inside the pack that makes refilling a bit harder than it should be.
The plastic closure clip along the top of the 2.5-liter reservoir is similar to what is found on other reservoirs manufactured by HydraPak, but that main difference is how the pack's hanging loop is designed to attach to this clip. Instead of hanging the reservoir through a simple vertical loop (with a small buckle or velcro attachment) like with most other packs, the Vital 6L has a fixed horizontal loop that wraps around a T-shaped attachment point on the reservoir. Unfortunately, we found this design to be pretty tedious and harder to work with than most other packs.
Once you're able to finagle the reservoir off the hanging loop and out of its sleeve within the pack, the folding wide-mouth opening makes refilling a breeze, whether in a sink, in a lake or stream, or if you want to add ice.
With its slim and lightweight design, and wide hip belt wings and shoulder straps, the Vital 6L scores in the middle of the lineup in our comfort rating metric.
While the design does a good job of snugly hugging your body for a close, tight fit, the shoulder straps don't have much padding, and the foam back panel doesn't provide much ventilation. This design does a good job a keeping the pack weight down and keeping a snug, secure fit on your body, but on the whole, isn't as comfortable as other packs with more generously padded shoulder straps and hip belts, and with more well-ventilated back panels.
For riders or hikers looking for a more streamlined design, and who don't need to carry a lot of weight and therefore don't need some of the higher-end comfort amenities, this pack may be just right.
At 6 liters of pack space, the Vital 6 is definitely on the smaller end of our lineup when it comes to overall storage volume, but it does a good job of optimizing the space that it does provide.
In addition to the 6-liter model that we tested, the Thule Vital is also available in a smaller 3-liter version and a larger 8-liter version.
The main storage compartment of the Vital 6 houses the 2.5-liter water reservoir in a sleeve against the back of the pack and includes a zippered mesh storage pocket, a couple of mesh sleeves, and two keeper loops for a bike pump or other longer tools. Once all these pockets and sleeves are filled up, the rest of the main storage compartment still has plenty of space to pack some food and an extra jacket. On the outside of the pack is a fleece-lined zippered storage pocket to protect your phone, sunglasses, or other sensitive pieces of gear.
The hip belt includes two large storage sleeves that are big enough to fit a modern smartphone, and make a great spot for keeping extra gear in a conveniently-accessible spot. It might not be wise to keep your keys, phone, or other valuables in these sleeves since there is no zippered closure to keep them secure, but this is a great spot to keep an energy bar, other snacks, a map, or extra poo-bags for the dog!
At a measured 1 lb 4.2 oz, the Vital 6 is surprisingly lightweight and is lighter than all except for the most bare-bones minimalist packs in our lineup. For such a lightweight pack, the Vital 6 utilizes its storage space very well and seems to carry more than its stated volume. Compared to the minimalist packs in our lineup that are lighter than it, the Vital 6 seems much more substantial and can carry quite a bit more.
While there are other packs we tested that are more comfortable than the Vital 6 with thicker padded straps, more well-ventilated back panels, and more storage space, all those packs pay the price with a heavier weight. There are even a few packs in our lineup that come in at over twice the weight of the Vital. If you're looking for a heavy-duty daypack to haul gear for all-day outings, there are certainly better models out there, but if you're looking for a more streamlined, high-performance pack to carry the necessities during your high-output activities, the Vital 6 is a great choice.
Ease of Cleaning
Similar to the Ease of Filling metric, the Vital struggles a little bit in this category. The awkward hanging loop and the hydration sleeve inside the main body of the pack can make removing the reservoir a little bit challenging.
Once you remove the HydraPak reservoir from the pack, it's much easier to manipulate. The wide-mouthed opening makes cleaning a breeze, and is large enough to fit your hand, a washcloth, or a scrub brush, and is top-rack dishwasher safe. Some other reservoir models can be turned completely inside out for easier cleaning, but this one cannot because it has a baffle in the center to provide extra shape and support and to minimize sloshing.
The Vital 6L is certainly not the most affordable product in our lineup, but definitely fills a specialized niche of a streamlined high-performance pack with the best drinking hose attachment system on the market. Mountain bikers on technical terrain and other high-intensity users will likely find tremendous value with this pack's performance. Other users looking for a more simple minimalist pack, or a larger daypack for more general use will find better values with products that better meet those needs.
If you're a high-speed, high-performance adventurer looking for a hydration pack that carries the essentials and won't slow you down, the Thule Vital 6L should be on your list. Its lightweight, slim-fitting design is made for fast movement, and the innovative ReTrakt drinking hose retention system helps keep you streamlined and focuses on the trail ahead. Earning our favor for the best hose design that keeps your drinking tube from flopping about, the Vital 6 blazes the trail for optimum performance.
— Nick Bruckbauer