Other people's experiences may differ, but I have found that many of the rucksacks on the market with claims of back systems which will reduce the levels of perspiration do not work very well. It’s a little like the mistake of thinking that materials like Gore-Tex won’t make you sweat. It simply is, in most cases, not true. You still sweat in Gore-Tex, or Event, but this perspiration is transported away by the material in an attempt to limit the level of perspiration. This may not be true for everyone, some people perspire much more or less than others. The passive back systems on rucksacks are much the same. I’ve tried several packs and find that my back perspires regardless of the technology involved. More with some, less with others. When you have a rucksack on your back a micro climate is created between you and the pack where the temperature increases and you begin to perspire. This creates a highly humid space that I believe makes me sweat even more, much like hot and humid weather. In my case, it’s like the Tropics. What I have found is that my back perspires less with the Montane Medusa 32 I own as this has a quite small surface area in contact with my back. It’s this situation that has driven me to re-evaluate the rucksacks I own and possibly replace them with what maybe more comfortable alternatives. I’ve also made weight a bit more of a factor, so I decided to pick up one of the new Berghaus packs, the Vapour Light 20 day-sack.
When I tried the pack it ticked the two boxes mentioned, very light weight and only a small contact area with my back. Length wise I found it just fitted me. At 5’10” I would say that anyone taller will struggle with the fit. The hip belt is elasticated which makes it quite easy to get a snug fit without feeling overly squeezed. But I believe this will limit the packs comfort level at high weights as the elastication in the waist belt may allow the hip belt to drop a little if overly heavy. So it’s definitely a fast and light pack, which I was after. Padding is limited, which again potentially reduces weight limits, but that is the idea of the pack.
The pack is quite heavy with features, even for such a light weight. Some features make real sense, some may be a little open for discussion depending on your opinion.
The standard features are very good, stretchy side pockets which easily accept water bottles from half a litre to a litre and do a good job of holding onto them. The compression system, referred to as Halo by Berghaus is made up of a series of bungees that do a good job of holding everything together due to the light weight of the packs contents. On a much larger volume pack where more weight may be carried this system would probably not work very well.
The shoulder straps are contoured and sit comfortably across the shoulders with load lifter straps to cinch in the load. The sternum strap has a good level of adjustment that most people should find okay. Although I may have to cut down the sternum strap itself so that I don’t get whipped in the face like I do with another particular pack due to the excessive length of the strap. I have something around a 47” chest and I find the sternum strap more than enough. Next to the sternum strap on a thin cord is a small whistle, just in case.
The hip belt is quite different from the other packs I have owned. The other packs had a symmetrical belt with the two halves of the buckles coming together in the middle. The hip belt on the Vapour Light 20 is asymmetrical with the buckle coming together off to your left hip. There is a small elastic loop to retain the loose end of the hip belt strap. There is a hip belt pocket on each side which are zippered. The zips are definitely a two handed affair to open and close like others I have experienced.
The back system is a simple single channel affair with a very simple plastic tubing frame inside the cavity where the hydration bladder can be stowed. There is also a thin perforated foam panel in the cavity to help with padding This can be taken out to use as a sit mat. Removing the parts that can be, will probably knock a few grammes off the packs total weight. If that rocks your boat then you may like the pack. For me, a few grammes is just a few grammes.
The front of the pack has another bungee cord system for holding a waterproof or similar. It may hold a helmet if the cords have something to hook onto to hold them in place. I have a climbing helmet that holds as long as it is loaded behind the bungees in the right way.
All the bungee cords are cross connected onto two alloy bars vertically fixed to the pack which are intended to enhance the compression function of the bungees. I imagine the work a little like the two bars on a hammock helping to maintain the structure. They may well be a slightly controversial feature.
What seems to be more controversial about the pack when I looked around the internet was the roll top lid. Personally I like it. It can be a little awkward once open as the two halves of the lid constantly want to come together, essentially closing the lid. But I like how easy it is to compress down and close the lid quickly. This feature is in another pack I will be reviewing and it seems to be one of those Marmite features. People love it or hate it.
Have I mentioned it is light, Berghaus quote 594g prior to stripping the pack of the removable items.
The final feature that may be put into question is the water bottle that is horizontally mounted in the bottom of the bag. There is a hole in the base of the bag, on the right hand side where wearing it that accepts a small water bottle. Berghaus have supplied a water bottle that fits in this hole which is nice. The bottle is secured with an elasticated loop. If you are wondering how accessible this is you need not worry. I have only fifty percent use of my right elbow and wrist and I am able to pretty easily access the bottle and return it. It takes both hands, but is simpler than you might think. I like it as an alternative to a hydration bladder, although the pack will accept one.
As for capacity, it takes 20 litres. Because of the shape of the pack, which is much like a cocoon(as can be seen here http://store.berghaus.com/p/equipment/vapour-light-20-daysack/420815), stuffing a waterproof, a warm layer and the other bits needed for a days walking is very easy. This would be the packs limit due to the afore mentioned structural limits.
If you keep it light the pack is very comfortable. I have worn the pack for three varied length walks, all in warm conditions, and I have no complaints. The sign of a good pack is when you forget it’s there, and this falls into that category. For the winter I think it would be a no go. The weight of my winter packs would be too much with not enough capacity for warm layers, emergency items etc.
Straps are easily adjusted, cinching the hip belt up first, then the shoulder straps to get a good fit with the weight on my hips. Then finally the sternum strap to stabilise the shoulder straps.
The pack has a fairly small contact area with my torso, helping to limit the previously mentioned perspiration problem. One of the walks was in weather that was sunny and in the 20’s, and will I did have a damp back, it wasn’t soaked. It’s important to avoid an overly wet back as this could cause you to become cold once you stop for a break.
The pack has limits, it won’t take too much weight, it’s fast and light. I would try to stay around the 5-8Ib limit, around 2-4kg. These are rough weights, but I would not exceed them by too much as the limited padding and structural rigidity would start to make the pack uncomfortable after a time. The pack itself, being just under 600g is extremely light to begin with, so there is no reason, with summer gear, to keep the weight down.
There are also a few quirks with pack which you may love or hate. I like the idea behind the quirks. Time will tell whether I grow to love them or hate them. But currently I really like the roll top lid idea and find the water bottle system interesting. It’s designed as a race pack, but why shouldn’t it be used for other activities. Days out on simple scrambles in the summer would be a good use for the pack, and the one I considered when purchasing. At around £50 it isn’t the cheapest, but there are a few more expensive packs at this volume around. You may find the Vapour Light 20 innovative, or just really hate it. But it’s worth checking out.