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Which bag do you take if you are going on winter adventure in Finnish Lapland and you need to take a lot of gear with you? Or what do you do if you need to pack for summer holidays during which you are visiting Japan and the North of Sweden and you do not have time to come back home to repack? Or simply if you are going on a business trip to Scotland or Norway which you want to combine with packrafting and camping? I don’t know which bag you would use, but I used my Thule Chasm XL (provided by Thule) and here is a short review of my experiences with it so far. At the end of this article, you can also find some details about the newer model which we have recently tested in Slovenia.
The Chasm XL duffle bag from Thule is the biggest of their range of duffle bags (i.e., Extra Small, Small, Medium, Large and, finally, Extra Large). With the capacity of 130 liters (or 7935 cu in) it weighs 2,235 gram, which makes it just under 17.2 gram per liter which means that it is the most efficient travel bag I own. In comparison, my other large bag, the Rolling Thunder XL from The North Face, weighs more than twice as much, whereas it is marginally bigger. Of course, one of them is a duffle and the other one is a trolley, but when it comes to making a decision which bag I have to pack when I have a weight limit, the answer is obvious.
Talking about the weight, what I measured on my scales and what is mentioned on the Thule website and on the package the bag came in are not the same. While I had it at just over 2.2 kg, Thule gave it 1.2, which is more than a kilogram lighter. Having compared the weight of other bags from this range, it seems that it is the weight of the medium size as all three duffels – Chasm M, Chasm L, and Chasm XL are given the same weight – 1.2 kg, whereas Chasm S is 1.1 kg.
Regardless of this discrepancy, the bag has been a great companion for me on my travels for almost a year. It has been exactly what they advertised it to be – my “go-to gear hauler for any adventure”. I took it to Finnish Lapland with extra winter clothes and snowshoes. My Chasm XL also accompanied me on my trip to Scotland, where I combined some work and packrafting on the Tweed. In summer, it carried most of my gear to Poland, from where I first traveled to Japan for three weeks (hiking, packrafting, camping, and some city trips) and then I took it to Sweden for another two weeks (Fjällräven Classic, packrafting and hiking). I also used it on my trip to Alta, Norway, before which I had swung by Finland for the Second Finnish Packrafting Gathering, and after which I paddled the Altaelva canyon for a few days.
The Chasm has two modes – a duffle mode and a backpack mode. The difference is very simple – whereas in the first case it is carried in your hands or on your shoulder, in the second, it is on your back. To switch between the modes, all you need to do is to change the position of one of the shoulder straps from the side of the bag to the middle or the other way round. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? However, the first time I did it I got a bit confused. In retrospect, I should have read the instructions on Thule’s site or at least tried to understand the explanation on the packaging a bit more.
But I didn’t and it took me several attempts by trial and error to figure out which strap goes right and which strap goes left, which side is up and which side is down and finally which attachment points out of many the shoulder straps should be hooked onto. But even if I had read the instructions, there still have been a few things that I needed to discover on my own, namely, how to pack the bag and what my preferred length of the traps was.
To begin with the packing, it helps to make sure that you keep something soft against your back and put heavy items at the bottom (the opposite side from the one with the zippered pocket), which is just very reasonable.
What you also need to do, however, is make sure that whenever you pack, the bag always stays tight and there is no empty space left in it. To do that you need to use the four compression straps that are positioned under the regular handles. This what, you can almost always make sure that everything stays in its place. Only once did I experience a problem with it just because the bag was almost empty and there was not enough gear in it to stay in place. But I just should have taken a smaller bag instead, so that one is on me.
As for the length of the straps, I tried several setups and the best one that works for me most of the time is when the distance between the padded parts and the top is shorter than that at the bottom. Of course, you need to be ready to adjust the length depending on how full the bag is and what you have against your back, but as a rule of thumb, it is better that way.
I have already mentioned the volume of the bag (130 liters) and that it is rather big. But how big is it exactly? Well, Chasm’s external dimensions (length x width x height) are 86 x 47 x 42 cm (or 33.9 x 18.3 x 16.5 in), which, when added, make 175 cm (or 68.7 in). What does this mean? First of all, that this bag is big, and sometimes even bigger than the allowed size for a checked bag for some airlines which is only 158 cm or 62 in (e.g., American Airlines, KLM, or Finnair ). Therefore, to avoid paying extra for oversized luggage, make sure that you check the allowed external dimensions for your airline in advance and, in case it is less than 175 cm, use compression straps, which will help you to adjust the size of the bag accordingly.
Besides worrying about exceeding the size, you might have a strong temptation to fill it in completely and take too much sometimes unnecessary and “just in case” stuff with you, which makes your bag too heavy. On several occasions, I had to curb my enthusiasm and take things out before it was too late. A heavy bag is fine if you are traveling by car and (to a lesser extent) by train, but there are just not that many airlines that can accept over 24 kg, Wizzair being the only exception that normally allowed you to carry up to 32 kg. But even then on one of the occasions, when I was traveling from Poznan to Stockholm this summer and had just a few hundred grams more, I was asked to take some things out as 32 is indeed the maximum that you are allowed to put into one bag (it has something to do with health and safety reasons). The funny thing was that I still had some space left in my Chasm.
But even if you do not fly, making the bag extremely heavy might not be a good idea – as a duffle, it does not have wheels and you need to carry it either on your shoulder, in your hands or on your back. And if you do that for a long time, your knees and your back will start complaining. After all, it is not for nothing that 32 kg is the maximum weight that airline ground personnel are expected to handle.
But what I like about this bag a lot is that regardless how big it is, when rolled up for storage, it fits into a small round stuff-sack of 45 x 20 cm that it came in in the first place. To take the picture for this review, I put the Chasm back into its stuff sack and when my wife saw it she asked what it was. I explained that it was my duffle bag, to which she exclaimed: “Really? It is so small!”
Finally, as with all Thule products that I own, I have not been disappointed with the high quality of their craftsmanship, nor with the design or the materials they used (no wonder they give 25 years quality guarantee). The outer shell is made of polyethylene-vinyl acetate, some qualities of which are low-temperature toughness, stress-crack resistance, and resistance to UV radiation. And of course, it is waterproof, which makes the duffle bag splash-proof as well.
The bag is divided into the main compartment and the exterior stash pocket with a splash-proof zipper. When traveling, this is where I usually keep my documents, my trusty spork and some other small items that I easily need to find without actually opening the whole bag.
The main compartment can be accessed through the top opening, which is also zipped. The opening is made in such a way, that at on one side (opposite to the external pocket, which means that it is at the bottom when you carry the bag in the backpack mode), there is an extra-wide mouth opening which helps you to access your gear without unzipping it all the way. However, if you want, it is also possible to make it fully open, in which case you have a complete overview of the contents.
Inside the main compartment, there are three internal mesh pockets: a long narrow one on the side of the bag and two more (one bigger and one smaller) are under the flap (approximately 2/3 vs 1/3 of the flap respectively). The pockets can come in handy if you want to organize the bag a bit, however, to be honest, I haven’t used them that much yet. Maybe once or twice when I wanted to store some small soft items – being on the outside of the bag/next to the wall, I do not want to risk putting anything hard and fragile lest it is damaged during the transportation. In addition, the things have to be rather flat, as the flap goes against my back when carried as a backpack.
When in the backpack mode, it is possible to move the handles away from the back, by fastening them to the sides with the help of specially located next to the compression ones.
Finally, I have one last comment about the colors. The color of the Thule Chasm duffle that I have is identified as “dark shadow”, which is basically a combination of grey and black. But the bag also comes in “zinnia”, that is yellow and black, and “cobalt”, which is blue and black. So, one way or another it is always a combination of two colors, or ‘multi-colored’. Why am I telling you this? Well, I just want to make sure that you avoid the frustration I had when my bag was ‘lost’ on the way from Helsinki to Oslo.
After the Second Finnish Packrafting Gathering, I flew from Helsinki, Finland to Alta, Norway with a layover in Oslo. As the bag was rather big and broad, in Helsinki I was asked check it in as odd-sized luggage to make sure that it does not get stuck somewhere.
However, when I arrived in Oslo and had to pick up the bag to go through the customs again (it turned out that in Norway they still require it if you are changing from an international flight to a domestic), it never arrived. Getting a bit stressed (all my hiking and packrafting equipment was in that bag), I went to report the missing bag.
The guy who assisted me could not find what happened to it which is why he created the so-called Property Irregularity Report and asked me to keep in contact with them. And so I did. For the next 6 days, I was first calling the airport and then, once my case was transferred to the airline, the customer services of the airline itself, which were located in the States. The latter was able to locate my bag.
It turned out that the problem was that they were looking for a different bag altogether. When I reported the missing bag in Oslo, I said that it was a Thule bag, which was black AND grey (so, multi-colored).
However, what they recorded and, therefore, searched for was a black/grey bag (one color). So, next time, in case your Thule Chasm duffle is gone missing, please make sure that they search for a black AND grey, yellow AND black or blue AND black bag. It was definitely a valuable lesson that I learned about colors.
To conclude, based on my experience so far, the Thule Chasm XL is a great, spacious and well-made bag that can be worn as a duffle or a backpack and can be used for to transport your gear on winter or multi-activities trip (or moving houses). If packed to the extreme, it might be too bulky and too heavy which makes it more suitable for road travel rather than for traveling by air.
However, if packed reasonably, or with light bulky stuff, then it is great for air travel too. And if you remember that it is multi-colored, you will be able to enjoy it for many years to come (well, at least for guaranteed 25).
The Thule Chasm 130l bag is a newer model than the one described earlier in this blog post. Thule provided us with this updated model so we could test it during one of our trips.
The duffle bag is not that light with 2.3 kg. However, it seems to be quite bombproof and I used it during the European Packrafting Meetup 2018 in Slovenia as an extended storage space next to my Hilleberg Unna tent. The duffle bag is not watertight (meaning when it would fall into the river) but it keeps your stuff dry when exposed to rain.
Personally, I use the duffel bag to load all my gear when I am planning to travel by airplane. The duffle bag also folds quite small. Also, the inner mesh pockets are great to keep smaller gear organized. I also liked that I can carry the duffel bag as a backpack.
The Thule Chasm 130l duffel bag also folds quite small – about the same size as a folded packraft.
You can get the Thule Chasm on Amazon.
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