Thule Upslope 35L
Volume: 35 Liters
Stated Weight: 1378 grams
Blister’s Measured Weight: 1392 grams
- Roomy side pockets
- Avalanche compartment with dedicated probe and shovel handle sleeves
- A-frame and diagonal ski carry or horizontal or vertical snowboard carry.
- Back or bottom helmet storage
- Back panel access
- Insulated hydration sleeve and dedicated reservoir pocket
- Protective goggle pocket with soft, fleece like lining.
- Stowable ice axe loop
- Top compression cinches
Reviewer: 6’, ~180 lbs
Test Locations: Grand Targhee, Jackson Hole, Teton Pass, & Grand Teton National Park, WY; Jumbo Pass, BC; Taos, NM; Glacier National Park, MT.
Days Used: ~20[Note: Cy Whitling has 20 days in the Upslope 35L, while reviewer David Steele also has 8 days in the pack. So David will be offering his take, too, on some of the Upslope’s features.]
While Thule has built a solid reputation with their ski racks, bike racks, and cargo boxes, fewer people may know them as a backpack and luggage manufacturer. But after a month in their Upslope 35L backpack I’m convinced that needs to change, because — Spoiler Alert — the Upslope 35L is not only the best ski-touring pack I’ve ever used, it’s also the best ski photography bag I’ve ever used. And not by a small margin.
So what makes this bag so special?
The Thule Upslope 35L only comes in one size, and the hip belt isn’t vertically adjustable for torso length. But it’s pretty neutral as far as sizing goes. It could be just a touch longer to fit my 6’ frame, but it’s definitely not uncomfortably short, and should fit a wide range of bodies.[David: I’m 5’ 8”, and I’ve been wearing the same size pack, and it fits me very well.] Like any pack, if you’re worried about sizing, try it on before you buy. But especially with a lower-volume pack like this that doesn’t feature a frame and is meant to be worn with ski clothes that offer a level of padding, a precise fit is less important.
While the issue of pack volume is contentious (and is probably worthy of a Topic of the Week article), the Upslope’s volume feels true to its stated 35 L.
On my most heavily-loaded days in the Upslope, I’ve fit in the main pocket: my med kit, a flask, a puffy, a shell, my Canon 7d with two lenses, extra food, extra gloves, crampons, and goggles.
With the main pocket loaded, I’ll put in the outside gear pocket my shovel, probe, skins, and extra ski straps in the outside gear pocket. Then in the small top pocket goes my wallet, knife, and multitool. I can also fit a full 1L water bottle, my Sony A7II, and more snacks in the two hip pockets, and my helmet in the carrier on the back.
Loaded like this, the Upslope 35LL is less cramped than my old BD Axis 33, but not quite as roomy as the 42 L Mammut Spindrift Guide.
The main compartment of the Upslope is fairly standard. It’s worth noting that there is no top zipper to the main compartment—it’s only accessible through the back panel. This was confusing initially, but I got used to it quickly.
There is a small zippered mesh pocket on the back panel, as well as a zippered hydration sleeve.
The tool pocket fits my shovel and probe nicely, with enough extra room that I can slide skins in on top (which I do if I’m not wearing a shell with adequate pockets for them).
Now Back to Those Hip Belt Pockets...
The real magic of the Upslope though, is those two hip belt pockets. These are the most useful feature on any pack I’ve ever used, both from a ski touring and a photography standpoint.
While touring without the camera, I throw a 1L platypus bottle and a day’s worth of snacks into the left hip pocket. (It’s got plenty of room to fit a Nalgene, so it can alternatively hold a lot of food.) I then save the right hand pocket for my skins, which keeps them isolated from the rest of my gear (where there is more gunk to stick on them) and makes them easily accessible without taking the pack off.
When shooting ski photos, my camera lives in that right hip pocket. It easily fits my 7D with the Tokina 11-16, and has room for a bigger lens. I’m not sure you could get away with a full frame DSLR in there, but my Sony A7II fits with lots of room to spare. And since this pocket is fully accessible without taking the pack off, my camera is always merely one zipper away. (In the past I’ve had to use a hunting fanny pack to get this kind of convenience, and the Upslope 35LL offers a serious upgrade both in style and security.) There’s no more waiting for the photographer to take his pack off, dig his camera out, and shoot. There’s no more setting your open pack down in the snow, forgetting about it, and getting sprayed by the skier.
The Upslope’s full-zip back panel makes it easy to drop a padded ICU for your camera body and lenses into the main pocket while you’re not shooting, then keep your camera handy in the hip pocket while you’re actually shooting.
All of this qualifies the Upslope as the quickest, most intuitive, most easy-to-use bag I’ve ever shot with.[David: As with all panel loaders, the Upslope is great for easily accessing your gear anywhere in the main body of the pack, not so wonderful for overstuffing all your gear. And Cy is right on the money about the ICU functionality for camera people.]
NEXT: Other Features, In Use, Etc.