I switched from my external frame Kelty to an internal frame pack back in 2011, and ended up with a Cabela’s pack that was about 90L. That pack has served me well on a couple dozen backpacking trips, and many other camping trips.
The Cabela’s pack weighs 5.75 lbs. When I was working on getting my pack weight down, that’s obviously a good chunk of weight. A couple months ago, the gear review issue of Backpacker magazine came out, and so I decided to read it to see what was available for less weighty packs. I also visited Backwoods, and a couple REI stores to see what they had.
One that caught my eye was the Bergan’s of Norway Helium 55 pack. It only weighs 2 lb 3 oz, so that’s darn near three pounds lighter than my Cabela’s pack. It also retailed for $180, which was about $100 less than comparable packs. After reading the Backpacker article a couple times, a couple online reviews of the Helium 55 (and the previous years version of it), and general reviews of Bergan’s products, I decided to give it a try. I wanted to try it on, but they have limited places that carry Bergan’s (one was north of Salt Lake City; I was reading the Backpacker magazine on the flight home to OKC from SLC, oh well…). I ordered it online from Bergan’s, it shipped from Colorado, and was at the house a couple days later. I had included two auxiliary pouches that are meant to be strapped to the outside of the pack, and add five liters of carrying space on the outside of the pack, each.
First thing, I transferred everything from the Cabela’s pack to the Bergan’s, and it all fit. Now, that doesn’t include food, or any shared gear I might be carrying, but there was still quite a bit of room in the Helium. I looked at every seam and every surface, it seemed well put together. The straps were a little thinner, the pads not as substantial as on the Cabela’s, but OTOH they padded where the thing touched me. The fabric of the pack was a lot thinner than the Cabela’s, but it wasn’t strained either.
I took the pack on a shakedown hike with my Scouts a couple days later, it rode pretty well, but then I didn’t have it fully loaded up.
I had a three-day backpacking trip in Colorado coming up, and was largely living out of the pack for a total of eight days. When I loaded it up for the trail, dry (i.e. everything but food and water), the total pack weight was 22 pounds. When I loaded it with food and water and shared gear a couple days later, I was at 28.5 pounds, which is 60% of what I carried over the rim at Grand Canyon a couple years ago. My back appreciates the weight reduction… 🙂
Here’s the pack after three days on the trail:
The walking part of the trip was over 21 miles. The pack felt as if it was an integral part of me. I adjusted the torso length to maximum. The hip belt was right on top of my hips, and tight enough that there wasn’t any slack that let the pack slide around as I turned. The pack had good ventilation as well; my back was sweat-wet, but the pack didn’t get any of that.
The side pockets: WHOA! At one point, I had both 1-L bottles, and the area map, in one side pocket, and my water pump, pack cover, and some thing I was carrying for someone else in the other, with room to spare. I love those pockets!
The pack has stretchy strings cris-crossed on the sides. I never figured out how those work, so I took them off and stashed them. I will revisit them later.
The lid was never completely full. One thing I liked is that the lid has four adjustable straps. For the first two days, I had our tarp between the lid and the main compartment, but on the last day I realized it would it into the pack with the rest of the stuff.
The pack felt comfortable walking. I did have a hard time reaching my water bottles and map in the deep side pockets. I moved the map to a pocket on my pants. When I wanted a drink, I asked one of my fellow hikers to grab the bottle, then put it back later.
The zipper down the front never got bound up or seemed to be too tight to close. It was kind of cool to unzip from the bottom and grab my tent out of the middle of the pack.
I would pack stuff in this order: sleeping bag into the very bottom, then the pad (rolled up), then the tent fly, stakes, and tent body (rolled up, again). The food bad and pot/stove/fuel next to each other. The rest of the stuff on top of those. I never got the collar at the top extended, so there was another bunch of space.
I think I can use this pack for five-day trips with no issue. If it is colder and I need more clothing, the trade in space is that the food we carried on this trip is bulkier then what I usually carry. I also have the two external five-liter pockets to add space.
I inspected the pack closely inside and out after getting home from the trip. There wasn’t any damage visible, or areas to be concerned with.
I’m happy with the Helium, if just due to the weight savings. The cost was pretty reasonable as well.