Thule Subterra 34L Review

The Thule Subterra 34L Travel Backpack targets itself at the emerging one-bag-travel niche of backpacks. These backpacks offer enough storage for trips away without being cumbersome and excessively large. The ideal bag for travel should be big enough for regular travelling but also small enough for day-to-day use. The Thule Subterra 34L Travel Backpack does just this, albeit with one or two caveats.

Build

Materials

The Subterra is made from 800D nylon. It gives the pack a slightly rough texture that is durable for everyday use from cycling to work, jumping into taxis and rushing to meetings. The Thule logo is very visible on the pack and does detract from the overall minimalist design. The logo is quite large and the silver colour contrasts the navy of the pack that I’ve used. The Subterra is also availble in black. On the flip side, however, it does catch light and is reflective at night time.

Zips & Clips

The YKK zips have a rubber grip, adding a bit of heft to the already beefy zips. These are easy to find when rushing through airport security and also blend in well with the overall look of the pack. The plastic clips on the rolltop and shoulder straps are made of a sturdy plastic that has stood up to daily use on my trips across Europe and North America.

Straps

The shoulder straps are made from perforated EVA with a mesh covering. The EVA is quite thin but still provides a lot of comfort when out and about. The perforated holes mean that more body heat can escape when you’re jumping between planes and trains on your travels. The chest strap is quite minimal. It keeps the bulk down, but with only one thin chest strap, and no hip strap, it’s clear that Thule doesn’t feel that people need this feature. I generally travel light, so this wasn’t an issue for me.


Design

Pockets & Compartments

The Subterra is a rolltop bag with cinch straps and zip access. There is a large deep front pocket and one main large compartment. There’s no small external pocket, which might annoy some who like to have quick access to their passport or other important documents. There is a zipper pocket on one side and it can be expanded to hold a water bottle on your travels.

The Rolltop

The rolltop design of the pack combined with the cinch straps on the side means this pack can quickly change capacity in a matter of seconds. I was actually quite surprised at how small the pack can be cinched down to. When fully compressed it looks quite similar to my 18L day pack. One complaint I have about the pack is regarding the clips. The clips on the rolltop are both female, with the male clips being on the pack. If the clips were alternated, the pack could have greater capacity. With the rolltop fully extended each end could clip into each other and the bag sealed with the magnetic closure. Not a major complaint as I don’t think many would use this option regularly, but still, I think Thule missed this opportunity.

Packing Cube

One large packing cube comes with the Subterra. Normally packs are more efficient when used with multiple packing cubes of different sizes. This allows you to organize your clothes into easy to find packages, rather than digging through all of your clothes to find that one pair of socks. I found the large packing cube handy when travelling on short trips. The large packing cube is quickly removed and your weekend pack instantly turns into a day pack, and you’re ready to hit the cafe or co-working space.

 

The Main Compartment

The interior of the pack is a bright orange that contrasts the navy exterior. While this is definitely not my favourite colour, there’s no denying that it is extremely functional. The contrast in colour makes it quicker to find items in your bag. Perfect for grabbing things on the go. And it’s easy to grab from the main compartment because it has three openings! The rolltop opening is great for packing and unpacking. There’s also a side zip for the main compartment as well as another side zip for access to the 15” laptop sleeve.

The Front Pocket

In the large front pocket, there are a number of internal storage options. At the very base of the pocket is what Thule are calling ‘Power Pocket’. This is a pocket that Thule envision you storing a power pack and they’ve designed cable routing up to the top, felt lined, pocket where you can keep your phone or other devices charging. The pocket is large enough for two phones or an e-reader. Opposite this pocket is a large mesh zip pocket. This allows for the contents to be readily viewed, ideal for passports, medicine and travel documents. There’s also smaller pockets for pens and cards as well as a clip to make sure important keys don’t fall out of your bag when travelling.

During my time using the Subterra I found that the front pocket had enough storage for whatever situation I was in. However, I would like to have a smaller, dedicated pocket for small valuables as I feel that they become lost in the larger pockets.

Who is the Thule Subterra for?

The Thule Subterra 34L is suitable for a number of applications thanks to its carry-on size, style, range of capacity and easily removed packing cube.

The Digital Nomad

The ‘Digital Nomad’ lifestyle has exploded in popularity over the past few years. Improved internet connectivity and changes in business operations means that people can now work from anywhere in the world. The Thule Subterra is fantastic for this. The minimalist traveller may fit all their clothes and laptop in the Subterra. It’s also great as once you unpack your clothes the pack cinches down to a regular day-pack size.

The Weekend Away

The Subterra is a good choice for weekends away as well. The packing cube helps prevent your clothes from creasing which means no need to bust out the ironing board on your city break. The design aesthetics of the Subterra are also muted enough that they suit any situation from the fanciest of hotels to modern Airbnbs. 

The Business Trip

For a short business trip, the Subterra is also a brilliant choice. It can comfortably hold enough clothes for that upcoming conference and a laptop for work (or Netflix) at the hotel. Travelling on longer business trips is also more convenient as the Subterra has a pass-through panel that allows for it to be attached to rolling luggage. This lets you keep the pack off your back and your suit looking fresh.


Conclusion

I highly recommend the Thule Subterra 34L backpack. It’s functional and adaptable to almost every situation. I feel that it misses out on getting full marks from me due to one or two design decisions that were overlooked. In saying that, I would recommend this backpack to anyone looking for a backpack that will make their travelling that little bit easier.


Thule Subterra 34L Backpack