Thule Rail Pro 12 Hydration Pack
When Thule decided to enter the mountain bike hydration pack game in 2018, they did so with just one model available in three sizes – the excellent Vital pack, related to your favorite website only in name but nevertheless a great product in its own right. We found it innovative, comfortable, and very well put together, so when we saw Thule adding more models to its hydration pack range for 2019 we jumped at the chance to do some more testing. The all-new Rail Pro 12 is a bigger pack with more features as well as an integrated back protector, aimed at those looking for a little extra peace of mind on rowdy trails or when racing enduro. Read on to find out how we’ve been getting along with it.
Thule Rail Pro 12 Highlights
- Material: Nylon
- Cargo capacity: 12 liters
- Hydration reservoir capacity: 2.5 liters
- Hands-free “ReTrakt” hose management system
- Integrated, removable, CE-certified “Koroyd” back protector
- External straps and helmet carrying system
- External compression panel for extra storage
- External pockets on waist strap
- Internal tool storage pockets and dividers
- Reflective details and light attachment loop
- Weight: 1020 grams (2.25 lbs)
- MSRP: $199.95 USD
One of the things that impressed us with Thule’s first hydration pack was the attention to detail, and this carries right over to the new Rail Pro. There are a ton of clever little features that make a difference when using the pack. For example, the “ReTrakt” magnetic hose management system is a stroke of genius, snapping the drinking tube back into place as soon as you let go of it. The internal compartments are just the right size and shape to keep order among your tools, and they are easy enough to reach when you open the pack. The side pockets are meant to keep items such as snacks that you need to reach often handy, and the straps are ergonomically optimized to fit your body and improve stability when riding.
The Rail Pro comes with an integrated and removable “Koroyd” back protector that is Level 1 CE certified. If the name sounds familiar, it is because it is the same stuff that has been popping up in helmets over the past few years, providing an alternative to the classic EPS shock absorbing liner. Koroyd looks like it was made from gluing a bunch of drinking straws together, there is probable more to it than that but the look is certainly surprising at first glance – especially in neon green. What you need to know about the CE certification is that it is in fact based on a motorcycle standard for back protection, EN1621-2, under which there are two levels of protection. Level 1 is as you might have guessed the least stringent of the two, and it translates to a force transmission of less than 18nm when a mass of 5 kg with a rounded triangular faced prism, of length 160 mm, base 50 mm, height 30.8 mm and radius 12.5 mm is dropped onto a sample sitting on an anvil shaped as a radiused cylinder, with its axis orientated to the direction of impact, of height 190 mm, diameter 100 mm and rounded end radius 150 mm (for reference, level two only allows 9nm).
The overall shape of the Rail Pro is fairly compact, with clean lines and materials that hold their shape well. The main compartment holds the back protector (in a separate sleeve), the Hydrapak hydration bladder (also in a separate sleeve), the tool pockets, and a general storage area. There is also an external elasticated “compression pocket” which allows you to store a few more items and also doubles as a helmet carrier, and there are straps at the bottom of the pack for attaching body armor or anything else you might need to carry here. There is no soft-lined pocket for your phone, although the zipped, side-access pocket is the right shape to hold one. The back panel is covered in a ribbed material to help promote better breathability, and there is a central channel left open to allow a bit of air to circulate as well. There is no rain cover included.
On The Trail
There are two sides to the Pro Rail. On the one hand, it is perfectly well suited to carrying all the tools and the basic extras you could need for a big day out in the mountains, be it racing enduro or just riding with your buddies. On the other hand, the pack lacks any extra flexibility that would really turn it into a serious pack mule. This is due to the design which is very compact and also relies on pretty rigid materials. Yes, there is a seemingly large expansion pouch on the front of the pack, but the elastic bands holding it are in fact not very elastic, and if you try to squeeze anything bulky in here it ends up just stealing space from the main compartment. Similarly, there is a small pocket on the side of the pack which is convenient to access but won’t hold much cargo, again because it shares the general internal volume of the pack as opposed to allowing you to tap into extra space. Nevertheless, the Pro Rail certainly fits the advertised 12 liters of cargo and 2.5 liters of water, so you can’t accuse Thule of any false advertising. As for organizing it all, we do feel that the Pro Rail provides just the right amount of pockets and compartments to hold everything in place. The upside of the compact design is that nothing moves around when you ride, and the low profile also helps you avoid getting caught up in branches or similar.
On the trail, the Rail Pro is comfortable. With the back protector included, it ends up feeling a bit stiff and clunky, especially if you fill it to the brim, but it is still very stable in action. With the back protector removed, the pack is free to hug your body contours a bit better which really lets you forget you are wearing it. The generally low center of gravity also helps promote good stability in rough terrain. As we previously alluded to, the “ReTrakt” system really is clever, snapping the drinking tube back in place as soon as you let it go and holding it there securely until your next sip. The breathability of the fabrics and materials used is fairly good, the back panel does get a bit warm in hotter weather, but not to the point of being uncomfortable. The relatively compact size of the main body of the pack also helps with this aspect.
Things That Could Be Improved
The back protector is very stiff, and as such it prevents the Pro Rail from really conforming to your body’s shape. The advantage of the Koroyd material is that it is extremely light, a trade-off which may well be considered an advantage to some.
The side pockets are roomy, and we like the idea of tucking them away towards the back of the body where their contents are less likely to get squished. However, Thule placed the main anchor points of the shoulder straps right over these pockets, which makes them very hard to get into when wearing the pack – a bit of an unfortunate oversight.
As we mentioned in the previous section, the external storage pocket could be made a bit more elastic which would make it more useful for those epic days when you just need to bring a bit extra gear and food.
Long Term Durability
We’ve had one of the very first samples of Thule’s Vital pack in action for well over a year now, and the Rail Pro tested here has been with us for a good 7 months. Both packs are showing significantly better than average reliability, which really bodes well for the long term. All the fabrics are holding up, as are the threads and miscellaneous pieces of hardware. The only slight blemish here would be the Hydrapak bladder which is a bit prone to developing gunk over time, but regular cleaning takes care of this easily.
What’s The Bottom Line?
Thule has been making quality luggage and general activity backpacks for quite some time, and they have brought considerable design and manufacturing expertise with them when entering the mountain bike hydration pack market. The Rail Pro 12 is a great solution for those looking to carry a good amount of tools, spares, food and hydration on their back in a compact and stable pack. The nifty “ReTrakt” drinking tube management system is a real plus in action, and the internal storage offers just the right amount of space and dividers to let you organize your gear. The CE certified back protector will set your mind at ease on rowdier trails, although we did find the Rail Pro more comfortable without it (there is a version without the protector available to purchase as well). The Rail Pro is one to consider if you are stepping up from a more minimalist pack but still want a somewhat compact form factor.
More information at: www.thule.com.
About The Reviewer
Johan Hjord - Age: 45 // Years Riding MTB: 13 // Weight: 190-pounds (87-kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)
Johan loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.
Photos by Johan Hjord