By Steve Casimiro, editor of Adventure Journal
When a brand steps outside its traditional product offerings to bring you something new and different, consumers beware. All too often, slapping a logo onto a backpack or camp chair or Frisbee simply means a manufacturer is trying to squeeze more profit out of its brand, typically by licensing the name to a third party or buying off-the-shelf unbranded products in China and marketing them in North America as their own. Even when these brand extensions are conducted in-house with honest R+D, they can still result in uninspired products that aren’t up to the brand’s normal standards.
Thus it was with a skeptical eye that I viewed Thule’s newish line of luggage. It’s one thing to make great racks, another to figure out the intricacies of rolling bags. But as it turns out, not only did Thule create a luggage line that doesn’t besmirch the brand’s reputation, it’s as well-designed and well-made as anything out there.
The 38 Liter Rolling Carry-On ($290) is the bread and butter model, fitting into the majority of airplane overheads, and through it you can see that Thule did its homework. The bag stands upright whether empty or full, eliminating a major annoyance. The double-shaft handle is sturdy and slides easily (though a center latch release would be more convenient than the releases on each side). Three and a half inch wheels are larger than most and roll more easily over airport curbs and parking lot gravel, even when the bag is loaded heavilty. The top grab handle is also larger than most, and there’s a small one on the bottom, too.
In short, Thule thought through the niggling little design flaws of most luggage and then improved them. The feet upon which it stands are aluminum, not plastic. The hideaway backpack straps attach to the soft front of the bag, not the rigid back where the handle hardware lives, so it’s exponentially more comfortable to wear. There’s even a hard-sided internal compartment for protecting sunglasses or electronics—a nice touch.
Complaints? Not really—more suggestions. The handle release could be in the center, as mentioned, and should be solid instead of sculpted, which is uncomfortable to press on. The price is in the ballpark for nice rolling carry-ons, but $300 is still a significant purchase. And at 7 pounds 8 ounces, the weight of the Thule is in the range for a typical rolling carryon, but shaving a pound or two would be nice if it could be accomplished without losing durability or protection.
So, yep—the Thule luggage is brand extension done right. In this case, it’s not consumers beware, it’s competitors beware.
- Nat Geo Expeditions