Gadling Gear Review: Eagle Creek Thrive 65L

I’m a long-time fan of Eagle Creek. I’ve raved in the past about their superior customer service skills, but my love for the company doesn’t end there. Most importantly, they create impressive, well-thought-out backpacks for the independent traveler. I can’t imagine traveling with anything else.

The Eagle Creek Voyage 65L was my first pack from the company. It’s a rugged, durable, innovative bag that has lasted me many years and proven itself invaluable for nearly every one of my trips to various parts of the world.

So when Eagle Creek announced an update to their Voyage series with the new Thrive model earlier this year, I knew I had to give it a go.

The Thrive 65L — the updated model in the 65-liter size — looks very similar to my older Voyage. It still offers many of the features that made me fall in love with its predecessor: a modular, removable day pack, front-loading panels, multiple grab handles, and numerous external and internal pockets. But many new features and upgrades lurk inside of this nifty pack.

The most noticeable upgrade is its Zip-away X-ACT Suspension. Like the Voyage, the hip belts and shoulder straps can be zipped away to give more of a duffel bag appearance. But the new suspension system becomes truly invaluable when you place the fully-loaded pack on your back. Various bits of mesh-covered foam keep the main load away from your back, creating a refreshing flow of air between the pack and your tired traveler torso. That’s right — no more sweaty backs! The shoulder straps are even more ergonomic than the previous version, and each is adjustable at numerous points throughout the system.

Perhaps my only complaint with the new suspension system in comparison to the old is the rigidness of the hip belts. The Voyage series hip belts were much more pliable, which made it easy to tuck away behind your back when they’re not needed. (Ever walked down an airplane aisle with the hip belts unstrapped, slapping the faces of seated aisle passengers on your way to the back? Not fun.) The new hip belts are much too rigid to comfortably place behind your back. However, with a fully-loaded pack, the Thrive does a much better job at supporting your lower back with its rigid belt — so not all is lost.

The removable day pack has proven to be my favorite feature of every Eagle Creek pack I’ve owned. The Thrive offers many small upgrades this unit, making it not only a great addition to the entire system as a whole, but also a stellar 2-3 day pack on its own. A secret compartment near the top of the back, directly behind the upper grab handle, holds all of the smaller valuables that you want hidden away, like a passport, plane tickets, keys (it has a handy latch for those), mobile phone, cash, and even your mp3 player. A handy headphone port completes the secret compartment, allowing you to run the phones conveniently up to your ears without having to remove the device.

One of the few negative upgrades to the daypack are its shoulder straps: you can no longer unhook them for easy storage in the back pocket, which is strange because they still include the pocket. Folding away the shoulder straps without being able to unhook them ends up making the day pack bulkier than necessary. The main, front compartment of the pack is large enough to fit my Macbook Pro along with 2-3 days worth of clothes. Unlike the third compartment on the older Voyage, the Thrive has a a much larger third pocket for easy access to any other small items you might want to take out on your day trip.

On to the main pack itself: Wow, this thing is huge — but not too huge. I normally pack no more than 5-6 days worth of supplies for trips lasting at least as long as that, and the 65L offers more than enough room to fit that, and any souvenirs I decide to hide away for friends back home. The front-loading panel means I can grab something from the bottom of the pack without removing everything on top of it — a necessary feature for every hostel-goer who is in and out of his or her pack numerous times a day, but still wants to use it as a locker of sorts. Pair it with some packing cubes as I’ve done, and you’ll end up like me: more organized on the road than you are at home.

Another invaluable upgrade to the 65L line is the built-in rain cover. I purchased a detached rain cover for my older Voyage, but that was a pain to keep track of and stuff away when it was wet. The Thrive’s rain cover unrolls from the bottom of the pack to cover itself, and easily stuffs back away into its own compartment when you’re done.

Eagle Creek has also put a lot of thought into security with their newer line of backpacks. Each and every zipper offers a lash point which allows you to zip together the openers and run each through a grommet so a security lock can be attached. If you’re hauling around a lot of expensive gear like I usually am, this is invaluable. It won’t help fend off that jerk with a pocket knife who plans on slicing through the material to snatch your booty, but it’ll keep crowded-market hands away. You’re no longer the easy target.

Overall, I’m extremely pleased with the upgrade. Eagle Creek continues to prove to be one of the best choices for the independent backpacker, and I can’t imagine running across a more well-thought out, quality backpack in the near future.

Thrive 65L – Eagle Creek. MSRP $200.00.