Chris Townsend is a world-leading authority on outdoor gear. In his weekly column, he assesses new innovations and tests exclusive early samples of new kit. This week he looks at an innovative new ultralight pack from Berghaus
An Ultralight Pack for Lightweight Backpacking
Berghaus’s new range of Fast Hike ultralight packs comes in three sizes – 20, 32 and 45 litres. All the packs are made from tough ultralight Robic nylon and have roll top closures, external stretch mesh pockets, breathable mesh-covered perforated foam back padding, and wide shoulder straps designed to mould the pack to the body. I’ve been trying the largest size, which also has a wire frame and a detachable hipbelt that converts into a hydration belt.
Packs like this have been popular for ultralight and lightweight backpacking for quite a few years now but this is the first time a company like Berghaus has come out with one. Other than the name on the front you wouldn’t recognise it as a Berghaus pack. The pack really is light, weighing just 930 grams. This can be reduced to 530 grams by removing the hipbelt, back pad, alloy frame, compression straps, and internal pocket. The last is zipped and ideal for keys, wallet and other small valuables, given that there’s no lid pocket for these. The pack has nine external stretch mesh pockets – a huge one on the front, two on each side, two on the hipbelt, and two on the shoulder straps. The upper side pocket runs inside the lower one. Other features are side and front compression straps plus daisy chain loops on the front with adjustable shockcord loops for attaching trekking poles.
The hipbelt and shoulder straps are made from the same mesh-covered foam as the back pad. The hipbelt is wide but is quite thin and has no stiffening. The unusual-looking shoulder straps are no thicker but the width does spread the load. The top of the back pad is below the point where the shoulder straps separate from the mesh and the straps are not attached to the main pack except by the top tension straps which run from the top of the frame. There’s only one back length – 51cms, which is a little short for me.
Whilst these details may seem unimportant I found they did make a difference to how the pack carries, as did the lack of side tension straps on the hipbelt, which curves round the back rather than being attached to the sides of the pack. Indeed, I think the design limits the amount the pack can comfortable carry. With 10kg inside I found the bottom of the pack starting to sag – I think side tension straps would reduce this – and the shoulder straps buckled slightly at the top and the top tension straps kept slipping as they took all the strain. With 8kg the pack felt much better and I reckon this is the upper limit for a comfortable carry.
On an overnight trip to Braeriach in the Cairngorms the Like Hike 45 easily held everything including a rather bulky tent I was also testing. I reckon with a smaller shelter it would carry everything for a 3-4 day summer trip. The stretch pockets held all the items I might need during the day including waterproofs and windproof jacket. When I walked out the wet tent went into the rear pocket.The roomy pockets meant I didn’t miss a lid pocket. The roll top worked well and was easy to use.
The pack proved stable on rough steep terrain. With a full load the wide shoulder straps didn’t make any noticeable difference, probably because I prefer to carry most of the weight on my hips. However with a lighter load from my camp to the summit they did feel more comfortable than narrower straps, enough so that I didn’t bother with the hipbelt in order to reduce condensation build-up. As it was the mesh and foam worked quite well at keeping my back dry and I only got really wet under the hipbelt and in the small of my back. The pack held off light rain but of course it’s not waterproof as the seams aren’t sealed.
Berghaus are pushing the pack for fast trips, hence the name. It’ll do just as well whatever the pace though. For loads up to 8kg I think it’s fine. I like the pockets and the light weight. The harness could be a bit more supportive so it could handle heavier loads though.
The Lite Hike 45 won’t be in the shops until next spring so you’ll have to wait a while to try it.