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Hands-on Gear Review

Thule Sapling Review

Editors' Choice Award
Price:   $280.00 List | $279.95 at Amazon
Pros:  Comfortable for wearer and passenger, useful storage, easy to use
Cons:  Less supportive seat
Bottom line:  Super comfortable pack that is easy to use with useful storage
Editors' Rating:   
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  • 5
 
Manufacturer:   Thule

The Skinny

The Thule Sapling is a thoughtful backpack carrier that is comfortable for both passengers and parents. This pack has unique torso and waistband adjustments with a wider range to create a customized fit. We were impressed with this pack's ability to distribute weight for a snug fit for parents and little ones. The adjustable cockpit has a nice harness and a firm seat pad with an angled face rest and padded headrest. It has several storage pockets for longer trips with internal storage and features for organization. While this carrier may cost more than some budgets will allow, we feel the price reflects the impressive quality and performance this pack offers.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Backpacks for Carrying Babies and Kids


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz

Last Updated:
Monday
November 20, 2017

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The Thule Sapling is the top scoring product in the review with an impressive performance in most metrics.
The Thule Sapling is the top scoring product in the review with an impressive performance in most metrics.

In 1942, Thule was established in Sweden with a mission to bring the world closer to people with a passion for life. The company strives to make products that allow safe, easy, and stylish transport for your gear, so you can live your best life. Whatever your passion is, wherever you are going, and whatever you plan to bring with you, Thule helps you live your active life to the fullest. Thule makes strollers, bike trailers, kid carriers, backpacks and all kinds of cargo and gear carriers.

Performance Comparison


The comparison chart below shows the overall scores for the backpack carriers we tested in this review. The Thule Sapling (in blue) earned the top score with an impressive performance in all metrics.


The information below includes details about how the Sapling compared to the competition in our tests. The overall scores are calculated using the individual metric results.

The Sapling straps can be adjusted easily by pulling forward to relieve some of the pressure from carrying the baby's weight.
The Sapling straps can be adjusted easily by pulling forward to relieve some of the pressure from carrying the baby's weight.

Parent Comfort


The Sapling earned a 10 of 10 for parent comfort.


With adjustment features not found in the competition, the Sapling provides a more customizable fit.

The Thule has a breathable back with supportive padding and an adjustable width.
The Thule has a breathable back with supportive padding and an adjustable width.

This pack has a mesh fabric back for increased breathability and strategic padding where the pack makes contact and needs additional support.

The Thule has an adjustable torso which is the only one in the group.
The Thule has an adjustable torso which is the only one in the group.

The Sapling is the only pack we tested with a torso width adjustment. This helps the pack fit various sizes better than packs with a stationary torso. The torso length is also adjustable with four different lengths with a six-inch range.

The Thule has an internal structure you can adjust for a custom fit.
The Thule has an internal structure you can adjust for a custom fit.

The waistband has additional structural elements that add support and increase comfort for the wearer. This is a close second to the Osprey Poco AG Plus. The belt sits nicely on the hips and distributes the weight so well it feels like a part of you. It has a forward pull to adjust and an extra section of the belt extends the rigid piece.

The chest clip on the Pathfinder is easy to use and helps draw the cockpit closer to your back.
The chest clip on the Pathfinder is easy to use and helps draw the cockpit closer to your back.

The shoulder straps are well-padded and combined with the chest clip help pull the carrier closer to the back of the wearer increasing overall comfort and improves weight distribution.

The Thule provides a cozy  snug cockpit with a firm headrest and angled face rest.
The Thule provides a cozy, snug cockpit with a firm headrest and angled face rest.

Child Comfort


The Sapling earned a 9 of 10 for child comfort, making it the second most comfortable pack for passengers.


The Sapling is a very stable feeling pack for children, and we were even able to jog while wearing it without jostling baby.

The Thule has a cockpit side adjustment strap for a custom fit.
The Thule has a cockpit side adjustment strap for a custom fit.

The side straps can cinch up while on the go which makes it easier to carry and prevents little ones from flopping around uncomfortably inside.

The Thule face rest is removable and sits at a slight angle for comfort.
The Thule face rest is removable for easier cleaning.
 

The removable face rest/drool pad (above left) on the Sapling has comfortable padding at a slight angle for increased napping comfort. The strap to remove the pad (above right) is on the front making the center of the pad uncomfortable for napping.

The Thule has a soft  flexible U shaped harness with two clips closures.
The Thule is adjustable with the baby in the pack but you do need to remove the headrest to reach the straps.
 

The shoulder straps are a soft fabric in a U shape (above left) that is somewhat stretchy with a center clip. The seat bottom has firm padding that supports baby's weight well. The harness and seat pad are both adjustable with the baby in the pack (above right).

Moving the headrest on the Thule to reach the cockpit adjustments is easy.
Moving the headrest on the Thule to reach the cockpit adjustments is easy.

The headrest is firm and nicely padded with a slight curve on both sides for additional head support. Little ones aren't likely to use the headrest as much as the face rest, but it is nice if they choose to lean back.

The Thule has removable stirrups that have a nice wide base for little feet to sit on.
The Thule canopy deploys from the top pocket and provides protection from the sun and rain.
 

The Sapling has adjustable stirrups that work well and little ones feet slip inside easily. The Sapling has a canopy with more coverage than some of the competition, however, visibility is impaired with the longer side walls and some passengers may not like the limited view.

The Thule is easy to use including adjustments to the seat height.
The Thule is easy to use including adjustments to the seat height.

Ease of Use


The Sapling earned a 7 of 10 for ease of use.


Ease of use impacts your experience while hiking and using the features of the pack.

The waistband straps pull forward and are easy to do on the fly.
The waistband straps pull forward and are easy to do on the fly.

The waistband on the Sapling is comfortable and adjusts with a forward pull. The belt has two portions for a more customized fit and additional support.

The buckle on the seat pad of the Thule sits behind the pad for additional comfort.
The Thule headrest pulls forward for access to the canopy and cockpit seat adjustment.
 

Both the harness and seat height can be adjusted with the baby in the pack. The adjustments are both highlighted with blue buckles and hidden under the padding. They are fairly easy to use once you know where they are and you won't need to adjust them very often. To adjust the seat height (above left) you need to remove the headrest to pull or release the strap. The shoulder strap adjustment is hidden behind the headrest (above right) and has a similar pull and release strap.

The Thule has two really nice handles that make picking up the pack and making adjustments easier.
The Thule is the only pack we tested with a foot pad to help stabilize the pack while you make adjustments.
 

The Sapling has dual carry handles (above left) that can be used to carry, hold or hang the pack. It has a footpad (above right) that makes adjustments easier by giving you a place to hold the pack down as you pull upwards on the different buckles and straps.

The canopy on the Thule attaches to the front side of the pack in front of the mesh cup holders.
The canopy on the Thule attaches to the front side of the pack in front of the mesh cup holders.

The canopy stores on board and connects in the front with a leg in a slot and toggle through a loop connection in the front. It is easy to use though oddly convoluted compared to the competition.

The Thule has nice storage features including mesh cup holders that passengers can reach.
The Thule has nice storage features including mesh cup holders that passengers can reach.

Storage


The Sapling earned a 9 of 10 for storage.


The more storage a pack has the more supplies you can carry with you and the longer your adventures can theoretically be.

The storage pocket on the bottom of the Thule has a wide opening that makes putting items in and taking them out easier.
The storage pocket on the bottom of the Thule has a wide opening that makes putting items in and taking them out easier.

The bottom storage pocket on the Sapling is easy to access with a wide opening. It can fit jackets, snacks, water bottles, diapers, and wipes.

The Thule has an easy zip top pocket large enough to hold diapers  wipes and other supplies.
The Thule is the only pack with a waistband pocket large enough to fit a smartphone.
 

The topmost pocket on the Sapling is for canopy storage (above left). It is easy to unzip and the canopy fits inside nicely. You could potentially store other items inside, but they will get in the way of using the canopy. The Sapling has dual waistband pockets (above right) that both have zippered closures and can hold a larger smartphone and still fit granola bars. This is the only pack we tested that will fit the larger mobile phones.

The outside thin pocket on the Thule has a clip closure and holds items like maps  diapers  and smaller supplies.
The Thule has side mesh cup holders that little ones can reach but they won't hold larger water bottles.
 

There is a medium-sized pocket on the back of the pack with a clip closure (above left). It can fit a few diapers, wipes, a water bottle and maybe some snacks, but items can fall out if you bend over or the pack falls over when not in use. The Sapling also has side pockets (above right) that will fit smaller water bottles within reach of the passenger.

The Sapling is hydration bladder ready and it fits in the pocket on the back with access under the drool pad. There is a loop and buckle inside the pocket to attach the bladder and exterior loops for the hose on either shoulder strap.

Manufacturer Video




Accessories


  • Thule Sapling Rain Cover
    Thule Sapling Child Carrier Rain Cover — This rain cover is made specifically for the Sapling. It wraps around the back and attaches to the canopy providing protection from the more extreme elements. While you may not plan for wet adventures, they sometimes come up unexpectantly.

Other Versions


  • Thule Sapling Elite
    Thule Sapling Elite — This cool pack is similar to the Sapling with additional features for convenience or comfort including rearview mirrors so you can see your passengers. If you think you want to use your Sapling for longer adventures or need to have the ultimate version, then the Elite is the pack for you.
Juliet Spurrier, MD & Wendy Schmitz

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Most recent review: August 31, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

BabyGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:     (0.0)
Rating Distribution
1 Total Ratings
5 star: 100%  (1)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)


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