I have to admit, when Berghaus first invited me to test some of their gear, I wasn’t immediately convinced there would be much on offer of interest to me. After a few emails we agreed that the updated Freeflow 20 Rucksack might be most relevant and the instruction was to use it and give an honest review based on my experiences. So here we are!
Straight out of the packaging its hard not to notice its quite……red! I have an old Freeflow backpack that I picked up on eBay many years ago but the colour was a rather dull shade of blue and didn’t really stand out. After the initial retina burn had subsided I began to quite like the colour!
After an initial inspection of the bag the immediate response was that the bag was actually quite light considering it has the Freeflow frame supports to add bulk and a bit of weight. The material is very sturdy, and like my much used, 3rd hand Freeflow I can see this standing up to a lot a of abuse. For me, I’m not sure I need fabric this tough and with my weight-saving head on I was immediately thinking that a significant weight saving could be had by using a slightly less thick denier fabric – which would make a considerable dent in 874g on my scales. Still its not marketed at us ultra-light crowd so I vowed to use it commuting on my bike instead.
Now, its been quiet on here for a while and that is mainly as I’ve been spending quite a lot of time on my road bike – I’ve been training for my first long distance sportive so I’ve been out in all weathers and on a daily basis. I usually use my Innov-8 Race Pro pack for cycling as it is light, has hip-belt pockets and sits quite nicely in terms of how ‘aero’ it is. I thought a good test of the Berghaus pack would be to see how easily it could replace the Innov-8…
In terms of sizing this pack is described as having 20 litres, 5 smaller than my Race Pro. The most significant difference over my previous bag is the frame, which holds a taught layer of breathable plastic mesh, keeping a ventilation space between your sweaty back and the bag. This also adds structure so that on days when I’m carrying virtually nothing to work, it doesn’t flop about in the annoying way that the Race Pro does. It will stand up nicely against a wall without effort whereas the Race Po looks like a sack of spuds clad in black/green rip stop nylon!
The first few days I used it I hardly noticed I was wearing it. It held my trousers and shirts in a decent crease-proof condition and its red colouring added to my visibility on the road. There is plenty of adjustment so you can easily get a good fit for cycling and walking though, at first, it often felt as though is was sitting a little high. In reality it isn’t and I’ve narrowed it down to hip-belt positioning.
It’s the practicality tick box that remains empty for this pack – particularly was using it for commuting. That ventilation space is brill, and it works, but its means that the main compartment has a rather inflexible arch to the back panel meaning that anything other than soft items are a struggle to fit in. The most obvious example is my MacBook. I can slide it down inside but it isn’t the most natural feeling and means that use of the space at the bottom and top of the arc is then very limited. In reality, I only bring my laptop to work a couple of times a week but it does mean that you might want the Freeflow 25 if you intend to use this for anything other than a minimal day pack.
There are two mesh side pockets that hold a 500ml water bottle, a Montane Featherlite Velo or waterproof etc. There is an outer pocket running down the centre of the rear of the pack. It has a water-resistant zip but this puzzles me a little as the useable space in here is tiny and gets worse if you are close to capacity in the main compartment - which sits directly behind it. I’ve not used this pocket at all and mainly as it’s a narrow space and the zip positioning means that any items you managed to squeeze in here would most likely fall straight out once the zip was opened! In other news the pack is hydration compatible with an internal sleeve and storm resistant flap for the tube. There are pole loops (fairly standard) and the usual grab handle.
Now, the Berghaus pack has no hip-belt pockets. This, in my opinion, is the biggest oversight in the design. To me its kind of irrelevant what activity you’re using an ‘outdoorsy’ rucksack for, in general hip-belt pockets are a minimum expectation. This means there is no handy access to my keys, phone or wallet without taking the bag off and is probably the most disappointing thing about the bag itself.
However, the good news is the bag is quite weather-resistant and has been tested through a VERY wet summer. Whilst it isn’t waterproof, it kept my nicely folded shirt and trousers dry on very wet commutes (of around 20 minutes) on more occasions than I can remember.
Overall I liked the updated version of the bag and the Freeflow frame with highly breathable foam shoulder straps work really well. For me, the pack is suited more to fast paced walking where it can be used as a day pack, rather than a cycling/commuting pack though it doesn’t really fail at anything in particular – you just have to consider exactly how you want to use it. The breathable foam padding in key areas really helps when I’m training after work and riding hard, where it doesn’t leave me feeling sweaty like the Race Pro. If Berghaus added weather-resistant zipped hip-belt pockets it would be a great all rounder – though I’d probably recommend the Freeflow 25 just to give a little more flexibility.