Review: Thule Stir 20 Hiking Pack

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The Swedish-born company perhaps best known for their automobile racks rolled out a line of hiking packs this year, and they’re pretty dang cool. The “Stir” line can be purchased in 15, 20, and 35 liter capacities. I got my hands on the 20L version and have been romping around with it all summer. Because it replaced my REI Flash 18 (which quite honestly needed to be replaced anyway), I was able to compare/contrast the two packs and my findings are as follows.

The Stir 20 on the summit of Anderson Peak in the Sawatch. A perfect pack for medium to longer day trips with a summer kit.

The Stir 20 on the summit of Anderson Peak in the Sawatch. A perfect pack for medium to longer day trips with a summer kit.

The Stir 20 is a versatile little beast. Though I primarily hike with it, I could see using it for anything from mountain biking to trail running. Even an everyday use rucksack for clothing and books and things. The most immediately noticeable aspect of the pack in my opinion is the durability of the material (210-denier elastin coated Robic nylon). It’s thick and maintains its rigidity as a result. Normal wear and tear from mountain ridge runs has barely phased the Stir 20 after a few months of use, and I get the feeling several years of abuse won’t be a problem. The Flash 18’s 140-denier nylon gets blown out of the water in comparison, frankly.

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Mesh shoulder straps and back panel allow sweat to evaporate well and shaves a little weight.

Another noticeable feature of the Stir 20 is the presence of a semi-rigid back panel. It’s nice to have some support, even with a small day pack. The Flash 18 is the definition of unsupported and often droops under a heavy load. I had learned to just deal with it over the years but I really like what Thule has done here. The stronger material and support panel do come at a small price – the pack weighs 17.6 oz compared to just 12 for the Flash 18. The extra handful of ounces is well worth it though in my opinion.

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The Stir 20’s large tubular body and interior mesh pocket. It’s also hydration bladder compatible.

The Stir 20 boasts a decent array of features for a pack so small. A removable sternum strap and stowable hip strap add to its versatility. A large mesh pocket similar to the Flash 18’s works well for keys and a headlamp, and a smaller pocket on the shoulder strap can be used to stash a cell phone or GPS device. A large “shove it” pocket is good for wet items (I throw maps in there personally) and a small drain at the bottom prevents water pooling.

Ease of access is a big deal for these small day packs since they normally only have a single opening. Acessing the Stir 20 took a little getting used to but after figuring it out, I’ve come to prefer its access system to the Flash 18’s. A thick string and cinch opens/closes the pack’s tubular opening, and a small flap with a metal hook folds over the top to cover up the hole. This flap is good for keeping water out and just feels more solid to me than the Flash 18’s cinch-only close system, overall.

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The top flap closed and hooked to the pack’s body. The grocery bag grab handles are up top.

Last but not least, the Stir 20 has two large exterior open pockets that will hold a Nalgene botttle. A thick gear loop and daisy chain is sufficient to pack a single snow/ice tool. And a convenient double loop at the top of the pack allows for it to be grabbed like a grocery bag and tossed into the back of the car.

The Stir 20, from Thule.

The Stir 20, from Thule.

Now for a few cons (a necessary evil for rounding out any decent review). As I mentioned, the access system may take a little getting used to. I’ll also point out that there are two steps to open and close the pack (the cinch, and the flap/hook) rather than one, so if you happen to like lightning quick access to your stuff, the Stir 20 may become cumbersome over time. Lastly, the price tag is rather high for a 20L pack. Most seem to come in well under $100 whereas the Stir 20 breaks triple digits after tax.

I know it sound like I’ve put the Flash 18 through the ringer in this review. The truth is they’re both great packs and serve their own purposes. The Flash wins in both the weight and price category (30% lighter and $60 cheaper). The Stir really is the Cadillac of 20L hiking packs. Again, I would argue the added weight and price is worth the increased durability and feature set. If you’re in the market for a new hiking pack, go check out Thule 🙂