We are at the Toyama train station – a gateway to the Japanese Northern Alps and our starting point for a multi-day hike over some of the most beautiful terrain in Japan where we are going to test and review the Thule Capstone 50L Women’s backpack. As always we are looking for lockers to leave some of our gear that we have on this three-week trip and we don’t need in the mountains. This way, for the next couple of days we can hike ‘light’. And while it would seem like an easy task – just find a locker, open it, stuff a few extra unnecessary things in, pay and leave – it was not always that easy. Especially as we were carrying what seemed to be a wagonful of ‘stuff’ for various activities (such as hiking, packrafting, wild camping and city tripping) during our stay in Japan, all of it cramped in or otherwise attached to our backpacks.
While preparing for the trip, Konstantin announced to me that he was not going to carry any of my stuff, so I shouldn’t take too much with me. At that point I realized two things – first, that I had lost my faithful carrier donkey and, second, I need to follow the advice from all those smart hiking books, which states that a smaller backpack = less luggage to carry. And that was exactly why I decided to go for a 50-liter pack, instead of the usual 70-liter one.
But the size was not the only consideration as I was also looking for the maximum functionality as well - it had to have lots of side and top pockets to organize and safely keep my valuables and other various small items, as well as handles and loops to attach things that had to be kept handy or could not fit into the pack.
I also wanted to have maximum freedom accessing my things in the main compartment - it’s so irritating if you could access it only from the top or through a tiny zipped opening at the bottom, which doesn’t make taking things out any easier. So, I knew that my new backpack had to have a big bottom zipper which would help me take out things freely, rather than drag them out using force.
Finally, to that list of female wishes I added one more feature – a “breathing system” for my back. I knew that Japan in summer is famous for its unbearably humid climate and had read about locals, who never parted with small facial towels, which they regularly used to wipe off the sweat.
But what do you do with your back when wearing a backpack while it is so hot and humid? There had to be some way to keep it cool and dry. And that was actually the top wish from the whole list, which I handed to Konstantin asking him kindly to find a suitable backpack for me. And he found one, which met all the requirements mentioned above.
I think it’s been scientifically proven that women tend to bond more with their belongings and, therefore, personalize them by giving names. And that is exactly what I did with my new all-violet Thule Capstone that I got from Konstantin – I called it “Thuvi”.
At first, to get to know each other and make sure that we make a good team, I tested Thuvi in the Polish mountains on a few short hikes. And from the very beginning it became clear that we liked each other — Thuvi had all the features from my original wish list and more. Thus, besides the top and bottom access points, Thuvi also had a large size zipper, which was rather well hidden (it took me a while to discover it). Moreover, it had a bright blue removable rain cover, which can be stored in a special pocket at the bottom of the pack. All this came in rather handy when we were in Japan.
So, as I mentioned before, I had to limit the amount of things I could take on the trip. And, of course, switching from 70 to 50 liters was like switching from Suzuki Vitara to Swift, which is why, at the beginning it took me rather long to pack Thuvi properly. Eventually we still had to take some extra daypacks to carry all necessary things for the trip.
It was still quite surprising how much stuff I needed to take with us. Which is why, for the Japanese, passing by the lockers at the train station, it must have been a hilarious sight to see a European girl with all her things on the ground, selecting what to take and what to leave, and deciding on where and how to squeeze everything in. Eventually taking a 50-liter backpack for 4 or 5-day hiking trip into the wild was kind of a challenge. Luckily lots of pockets and attachments made it possible.
Eventually, out of those 21 days in Japan, I must have used Thuvi on at least 18 - we went on four different hikes, travelled a couple of thousand kilometers by train and walked with it in more than a dozens of towns/cities. And all this time Thuvi served me well. Especially when it came to keeping me cool and dry.
Indeed, the best of the best in this backpack is the carrying system with its ventilation function. What is it exactly? Well, simply put, it is the mesh back panel that, while resting comfortably on my back, creates a gap between it and the backpack itself, allowing air to go through. This prevented me from intensive sweating (yaiks) and, thus, allowed me to keep my back as dry as it was possible in the overwhelming humidity in Japan. Compared to it, the shoulder straps were completely wet and sweated though and through. So, it seems that the carrying system with such a netted back panel as this Thule backpack has, definitely turned out to be a better solution than the standard back cushions, which I was used to in the past. Eventually not only for ventilation, but also for the hygienic reason.
Talking about the shoulder straps, this was probably the only thing that Thuvi and I disagreed on as I found its shoulder cushions much harder than in my previous backpacks. However, I cannot put all the blame on Thuvi as this might be partially due to my bonny shoulders.
Eventually my relationship with Thuvi grew on its honeymoon in Japan and on a number of occasions since then (I even used it as hand luggage on the trip to Russia last winter). And, from where I am standing right now, I hope it will survive another summer in Japan.
Well, the tickets have been bought and the plans have been made (this year we are going to hiking and packrafting to Hokkaido as well). All is left is to pack the bags, which should be much easier this year. At least in theory …
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