Thule Capstone 50 backpack review

Have Thule Capstone 50, will travel!

Thule Capstone 50 backpack front viewI received a Thule Capstone 50 backpack from Thule South Africa to test, and thought it would be perfect to travel for a few weeks to give it a thorough (and exotic) review. Where should I go?

How about visiting a small country in South America with a big bite? (More on that bite later.)

It was also the host country for a lifestyle hacking retreat I was already heading to later in the year.

And so the decision was made: I was going to test the Capstone 50 to, from, and in Ecuador, a Spanish and Quichua (pronounced kitch-wa) speaking country that straddles the equator*. The Andes range intersects it from top to bottom, so it’s no surprise that with both tropical and montane environments, it has mind-boggling biodiversity. Scientists believe it may be the most biodiverse region in the world.

Thule Capstone 50L review: Magnificent cloud forest near Los Bancos, Ecuador-

Magnificent cloud forest near Los Bancos, Ecuador. One hectare here contains more plant species than Canada and the USA combined. Photo Deon Braun

In the east, around 40% of the total surface area is cloaked by the western flanks of the Amazon rainforest. The central band is the raised spine of the Andes, going as high as 6,310m, and because of the shape of the earth at the equator, the closest place to space on our planet. The westernmost vertical band is the coastal plain, bordered by the Pacific Ocean, and the most populated by humans. One thousand kilometres offshore is the Galapagos Islands, one of the natural marvels of the world.

The country would be an ideal test for the Thule Capstone 50, a 50-litre capacity hiking backpack. The nature of my trip meant that my primary use on this trip would be to test its ability as a travel bag, instead of its primary function, hiking.

Fortunately, I did get to trek with it fully loaded several times in Quito, the country’s capital that sits at 2,800m, making it the highest official capital city in the world. The altitude would no doubt make the going tougher than it would at sea level. The Capstone was loaded with:

  • Trail shoes (Salomon Sense Ride, to run my eighth Otter African Trail Run on my return to SA)
  • Sandals (Luna Mono running model, used as regular sandals this trip)
  • Base layers (Helly Hansen and First Ascent)
  • Windproof jacket (Columbia)
  • Tights (Second Skins)
  • Running shorts (Brooks)
  • Running shirt (Brooks)
  • Underwear (Falke)
  • Rain jacket (First Ascent Hurricane)
  • Running socks (three pairs)
  • Caps (two pairs)
  • T-shirts (two pairs)
  • Long-sleeve tee (Salomon)
  • Trousers (Capestorm)
  • Eyewear carry case with spare set of sunnies (Julbo/Swisseye)
  • Gloves (half-finger cycling model, to run Otter Trail Run)
  • Calf sleeves (Compressport, to run Otter in)
  • Toiletry bag
  • Travel towel in zip bag (First Ascent)

These all went easily into the Capstone 50.

The Thule Capstone 50L on a Quito airport bench showing the quick-release drawstring which is a pleasure to use

The Thule Capstone 50L on a Quito airport bench showing the quick-release drawstring at the top which is a pleasure to use. Photo Deon Braun

Things I loved

  • The drawstring system to quickly open the top, and pull snugly again when closing it
  • The side zip to access items located in the lower and midway sections
  • The breathable, tensioned mesh back panel which kept my shirts cool and dry while using it around the city
  • The MicroAdjust Suspension system which lets you adjust the pack’s fit onto your torso, by up to 10cm, even while the pack is on
  • The 50 litre volume, which allowed me to take as much kit as I did.

thule capstone 50L back mesh panel with hand

Things I didn’t like

  • The side zipper is lockable, but the top drawstring access isn’t. (In defence of the Capstone 50, this is not something most hiking backpacks offer anyway.) I simply locked the side zipper with a small padlock, and put the bag through check-in with airline company KLM. There were no irreplaceable valuables, and I didn’t have a choice really. I had no problems on six flights (four KLM, and two British Airways flights [Durban-Johannesburg-Durban] within South Africa).
  • The left shoulder strap dug into my collarbone and started hurting it after 30 minutes or so. (Did I mention that I have a metal plate on my left collarbone? I think that might have something to do with it… haha).

Attack by the pack!

I chose Ecuador as my destination primarily because I’d signed up to attend a financial independence seminar in the third and final week. Trips to the Amazon and Andes in the first and second weeks were researched, but left to which way the wind was blowing. Or so I planned.

An innocent afternoon run to the top of one of Quito’s landmarks, El Panacillo, turned bad when I was attacked by a group of up to 10 local dogs. One of them nipped in from the side, and got in a bite on my left calf. Fortunately I managed to scare them off by running at them, and ran back down to my hostel to clean the wound. A local clinic didn’t have any rabies vaccine, so I went to one in the city and started the first of a four rabies vaccine course the next morning.

To clarify, Ecuador is ostensibly not on the World Health Organisation’s list of rabies areas, and several local medical professionals confirmed there was no rabies recorded in the city, and that there was an extensive dog rabies vaccination campaign in place. A big thanks to Dr Grant Lindsay in Tongaat, KwaZulu-Natal (unfortunately the province is South Africa’s rabies hotspot) for his invaluable advice and reassurance that I was getting the right treatment.

Then it was time to pack the Thule Capstone 50 and endure a seven-hour bus trip to an unremarkable frontier town called Lago Agrio, one of the gateways to the Ecuadorian Amazon. It passed through some of the most beautiful cloud forest scenery I’ve ever laid eyes on, but the 60cm steel pipe carrying oil from the Amazon, and visible along much of the road, also showed the other side of the challenges of living in paradise but having bills to pay.

The Amazon

The next morning, in my stale-aired and humid low-budget hotel room in Lago Agrio, I re-packed the Capstone 50, and fastened its straps. It was going to be a two-hour road trip to my destination in the Amazon, and then another two hours by open boat, and I didn’t want anything falling out or shifting around.

I’d always wondered what this vast rainforest (nine million square kilometres) that straddles nine countries (Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana) really looked like. You hear so much about the Amazon’s deforestation, but most of us cannot visualise what that might look like.

I found out on my shuttle ride on a good tar road to Cuyabeno National Park, one of two large parks that protect (or don’t, if you count the oil exploitation that is going on in Yasuni National Park) this region.

 

Thule Capstone 50L Welcome to Cuyabeno horizontal 6653

Welcome to Cuyabeno National Park, Ecuador! The Thule Capstone 50L looks perfectly at home ahead of the boat trip down the river. Should any of the often multiple daily downpours strike, it has a bright yellow pull-over rainproof cover that protects the contents while hiking. Photo Deon Braun

Outside the parks, you could see the chunks of forest that had been cleared for grazing cattle, for housing, for road widening, for small businesses. It’s not so much total destruction as it is small but ever-growing mosaics cut out of the forest, like a cancer steadily getting bigger. Eventually very little of the Amazon will be left in these cut-off areas.

First impressions

Fifty litres is a good deal of packing space, and you’d not need anywhere near its full capacity for short hikes. Like other quality backpacks, it can scrunch smaller using its strapping. You could easily hike through to your campsite, set up, then use the pack as a day pack for sightseeing.

For the Ecuader trip though, I needed to take more gear, and the 50 litres was appreciated.

During my early experimentation, I found I could fit a Salomon 25 litre trail running pack inside the Capstone’s main compartment if I really wanted to. My original plan was to use the 25 litre as a day pack once I got to Ecuador, and take the Capstone as carry-on. When I measured the outside dimensions though, I realised that if the Capstone was fully laden, it would exceed the 110cm maximum of height plus width plus depth allowed by airline KLM.

In the end, it didn’t matter, because even with 50 litres, the space was eventually taken up by a pair of running shoes and gear like the First Ascent Hurricane jacket I was also testing. It turned out all good in the end, because I decided to use the Salomon pack as carry-on with my laptop, DSLR camera and kit lens, and a 70-200mm lens. With less gear, I could easily have fitted the running pack into the Capstone, and hauled it out for day trips once in Ecuador.

*Ecuador is Spanish for equator.

Video overview

Capstone 50L key features (1min)

Blog reviews

Reviewer Leon Pantenburg liked the narrow profile. “I can swing my arms freely as I walk, without hitting the pack on either side”. Leon also said that the “suspension system is the strong point of this Thule.” He could not find anything to fault the pack with. Read the review.

For Scott Turner, the narrow width made it unsuitable to hike into national parks in bear territory, since it prevented him packing an approved bear-proof canister. That is not going to be a problem for South African hikers unless you’re heading to an area with bears, of course! Read the review.

Purchaser AJ Krebs gave the 50L four stars. AJ liked the following: “This is a totally reasonable backpack. Adjustable torso allows you to lend it to someone who’s taller than you for a weekend jaunt.”

But he didn’t like that “Sometimes it squeaks with every step.” It may also have lost points with AJ for its “top shell which does not expand up, nor detach for use as a summit pack, and its waist belt is thinner than many packs, with less padding.”

Overall, AJ seemed to enjoy the pack: “This backpack has served me well. Its adjustable torso allows you to experiment a bit to find a height that works for you. It’s small enough that I have to pack intentionally, but I’ve always been able to make it all fit—even with a rented bear can!” Read the review.

Hiking backpack advice on the web

Tips to pack your backpack (12 minutes)

The seven things you need to start backpacking (Outside magazine)

Thule_Capstone_32L_backpack for Thule Capstone 50 review

The smaller sibling of the Thule Capstone 50L, the Thule Capstone 32L backpack is more suited to shorter distance adventures. It’s shown in Atlantic colour scheme.

The official Thule description

Thule Capstone hiking backpacks are durable, comfortable, and have a smart design for organising your gear. The packs in the range consists of four sizes (22L, 32L, 40L and 50L) and are gender specific to ensure the perfect fit. These hiking packs are fully adjustable during use, they have a tensioned mesh back panel for breathability and hip belts that move with you as you walk. The new interchangeable versaclick accessories also allow you to customise the hip belt to suit your specific carrying needs.

Get the Thule Capstone 50L

  • TRAIL reader special: get 10% off at Thule Partner Stores nationwide.
  • Thule Capstone 50 hiking pack R2999
  • See the range of Thule hiking backpacks at thule.com/en/za
  • Available at Thule Partner Stores nationwide

 Thule Capstone prices

  • 22L         R1899
  • 32L         R2299
  • 40L         R2599
  • 50L         R2999

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About Deon Braun

The founder of Go Multi and TRAIL magazines has a 100% dedication to health and fitness and communicating that to the tribe that resonates to it. Both publications are simply vehicles to get the good health message out there and make the immediate world a better and happier place. If it’s an adventure under a big sky, chances are Deon’s going to try it at some stage. He’s cycled, paddled, run and swum since 1982 and believes that we should continue to improve our training and fitness skills no matter how the years advance.
Sport standouts in his short life so far include winning the 2011 Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race, finishing despite bloodied feet at the 2011 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon after running barefoot over 60m of desert-baked paving, running the debut Dodo Ultra Trail Run in Mauritius, starting and finishing all the Otter African Trail Runs to date and surviving five days and six stages of the 2003 Eden Cycle Tour.
Experiences on his Bucket List include climbing Kilimanjaro, running the Marathon des Sables, Jungle Ultra and riding the Cape Epic.

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