Thule Pack 'n Pedal Commuter Review
Cons: Expensive, not super stylish
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Thule Pack n' Pedal is our favorite for bike commuters. Thule makes a lot of great bike-related products, and this focus panned out well in the design of this backpack. It features reflective tape, a helmet holder, and even stowable rain fly in the case of poor weather. You can't go wrong with this comfortable and durable backpack, especially if you're often underway on two wheels (or, heck, even one).
This pack offers some of the best laptop protection available. It has a unique system that uses a completely cushioned insert to store and keep a laptop up to 15 inches super safe, but it'll carry smaller laptops and tablets just fine, too. Given the flip-top enclosure, your expensive equipment won't move around, staying safe and well protected.
The insert buttons into the main compartment of the back, sitting high and cushioned with an inch of foam on all sides. The insert closes quickly with a Velcro top that ensures the laptop won't come out if flipped upside down.
What's more, with the insert inside the back, the thick foamy backplate encases it. When loaded up with other stuff, it affords more protection. It also comes with a stowable rain cover (which we cover in water resistance, below) that makes this an excellent option for bike commuting and traveling in the rain. Its level of protection is unmatched by any other laptop backpack in this review.
The Thule Pack n' Pedal is comfortable to wear all day long. It features nicely cushioned and ventilated shoulder straps and backplate that makes sweaty endeavors feel okay. The material on the backpack is also smooth and soft, feeling good for wear against the skin.
Let's start with the shoulder straps. Sewn-in at a reasonable distance apart, they accommodate all sizes. The length is adjustable, allowing you to find the perfect balance for load distribution throughout. The padding isn't maximal, but minimal, breathable, and flexible. These straps come with an adjustable sternum strap.
The backplate is also quite comfortable for both walking and riding a bike. It has a plethora of box-like padding bricks with many vents that allow ample breathability. When riding a bike, the laptop sits nice and high on the back and offers the best fit and comfort you could ask for in a laptop backpack.
The Pack n' Pedal comes with thoughtful and versatile storage options. The main compartment has a 24L capacity and houses the laptop sleeve. The laptop sleeve and the front compartment offers additional organizational compartments to fit all your gadgets and easy-to-access items. It also features some unique storage features that we haven't found with any other laptop backpack so far.
The roll-top backpack offers ample volume in its main compartment, allowing you to stack in as much as possible. You can get bulky stuff inside, such as groceries, gym shoes, clothing, books, papers, and more.
One thing this bag does lack is security for loose papers or folders. It doesn't have any storage inserts big enough for this, and because the main compartment is cylindrical, you may find your papers and folders bending or folding. It'd be great to see a secure pocket somewhere for this functionality. That said, we were able to fit most of our thinner folders right into the laptop insert along with the laptop (it's wide enough).
The laptop sleeve itself clips in and out of the backpack, allowing you to pull the entire laptop out and carry around just the sleeve, or just the backpack. This feature is great for travel if you want to take the backpack hiking, but don't want to carry a laptop. The sleeve has one zippered mesh pocket. We like to store our power cord here, keeping everything together in a nice, neat package.
The front compartment facilitates easy access to items and some organization. The main part is zippered, and inside you'll find another larger zip-up pocket and two mesh storage pockets (with no top). You'll also find a key ring. This pocket is a great place to store charging cords, hard drives, and the like. We did wish for a pencil holder here but found that the large zip up pocket sufficed, just like a built-in pencil case.
There is also a tiny pocket on the front of the smaller compartment. It has excellent volume and is where we store our wallet and phone for easy access. The water bottle holder on the side has an expandable mesh pocket that functions even when the pack is fully loaded. It's perfect for an on-the-go coffee cup or 1L Nalgene bottle.
On the exterior, there are some super unique features that we fell in love with. First is the hard-cover glasses holder, which is a felt-lined glasses case that can store your sunglasses or regular glasses while you're biking around town or hiking. We love this as our lenses didn't get scratched or crushed, even when we were throwing the bag around the car when traveling.
We also appreciate the built-in helmet cover that keeps a helmet strapped onto the backpack when you're at work. This detail functioned just fine, clipping into the clip-in points located laterally to the smaller compartments at the front of the back. We also appreciate the stowable rain cover. We found that if you didn't think you needed the rain cover, you could remove it, and its stash spot becomes a pretty voluminous "hidden" pocket: awesome features, awesome storage, awesome backpack.
Ease of Use
With great organizational features, it's straightforward to use. The expandable roll-top backpack allows you to find things easily. The extractable laptop pouch is easy to grab, unbutton, and pull out, even when fully loaded. It does take some time to clip the insert back into the pack and unroll the pack.
The zippers are large with durable pull tabs that work well, even with gloves on. The buckles on the sides are big, so they don't require a whole lot of dexterity to operate. We appreciate the helmet cover that attaches to the lateral clip-on points. The helmet stays in place and doesn't move around when you place the backpack down on the ground.
Another cool feature is the built-in rain cover. This detail took a little effort to find, but it's at the bottom of the back in a zippered compartment. You pull it out when it begins to rain, pull it over the pack, and button the strap from top to bottom together. The rain cover also has an attachment point for a blinky light for night riding if its raining and dark. The reflective stripes on both the rainfly and backpack providing more safety for night riding, walking or even hiking.
We are super impressed by the water-resistance of the pack when all of its systems are completely employed. It features water-resistant fabrics and a stowable rain cover that will keep everything in your backpack dry when the odd thunderstorm rolls in. This feature, along with the roll-down construction of this pack, ultimately makes it waterproof. Without the rainfly though, rain does seep through the zippers and the bottom of the pack.
We took this pack into short rain showers and into the shower to see how it does. During a light rainstorm, the fabric did an excellent job wicking away moisture, and we didn't have any issues with our stuff getting wet. In the shower, it was a different situation.
After being under the shower nozzle for about one minute (with no rainfly), this pack became quite saturated and wet. When we took it out to see where water got inside, we were astounded that the laptop insert was completely dry. During this time, the bag was sitting in a pool of water, and we did notice water pooling at the bottom of the central and front compartments.
We tried this again with the rain cover, and with that on covering the bottom of the bag, no water got inside. The rainfly ultimately made it waterproof! As a result, we can say, with confidence, this is the pack if you're going to be in wet weather and need high protection. It's essential to use the enclosed rainfly.
Honestly, this is not the most stylish bag. The roll-top design is not a favorite among most, and it definitely has a nerdy "bike guy" look to it. If you don't care too much about style, this is a great option, but if the style is a priority, you might want to check out another option.
The off-the-shelf price is steep. It's constructed of very durable materials and has a lot of great functions and versatility. Ultimately, you can find a backpack for less that offers a similar level of durability, but you'll be hardpressed to find one with the same level of protection, features, and water resistance. If this is what you seek, then the price is worth the performance you'll be getting. If you don't need these fancy features, look for other high-value options.
The Thule Pack n' Pedal is our favorite for bike commuting because of its excellent protection and features. While it suits the bike commuter best, the features are amenable for everybody that needs a good laptop backpack.
— Amber King