When planning for a trip to Slovenia in 2010 I needed to acquire a rucksack and after a period of deliberation I plumped for the Berghaus Freeflow Pro 50, picking it up from Go Outdoors for £90.
This was long before I decided to get into the hiking thing, and my knowledge of outdoor gear was limited, but this pack met the criteria for my two week sightseeing trip and proved to be a comfortable carry. Given that I’ve had two and a half years of use out of it and am in the process of looking at how I pack my gear I thought it was a good time to give it a review.
“Whether you’re heading out on a hike or looking for a short expedition pac, this sturdy rucksack gives generous day sack capacity, and is built on a system that allows airflow and ventilation where it counts.”
This pack is reasonably lightweight for its 50l capacity. My Freeflow Pro 50 weighs slightly less than the quoted 1,750g, coming in at 1,685g and it is made from a trio of proprietary Berghaus fabrics.
There is a zipped pocket in the lid, which I use to carry my waterproof jacket and overtousers; a flat one on the front with a water resistant zip that is handy for compasses and maps; and two stretch pockets on the sides that will comfortably swallow 1l bottles. The sides both have two webbing straps that let you reduce the volume if you find yourself taking less gear
On the underside of the lid there is a small mesh pocket where I usually keep my wallet and keys to protect them from the perils of the outdoors. The front panel can be loosened to accommodate a wet flysheet or jacket. Inside, at the bottom, there is a zippered compartment that I have never used since I tend to pack my gear vertically, in layers. A hydration bladder pouch, a pair of walking pole/ice axe loops and two hip belt pockets completes the set.
The lid is not extendable so aside from the flexibility afforded by the adjustable straps the volume is fixed at 50l, unlike packs such as the Crux AK47-x which can give the user a couple of extra litres if they need to pack a couple more pies. Full specs for the Berghaus pack can be found here.
I used this pack for a couple of weeks of European travelling in 2010 and didn’t really test its capabilities. This year has produced more of a challenge as I’ve camped and hiked all over Northern England with it. In March I took the Freeflow Pro on a two-day walk between Barnard Castle and Middleton-in-Teesdale and back with my mate Michael. The 15kg load was the most I’ve tried to accommodate in this pack; this included a full Vango Banshee 300 tent, a Nanok Endurance -10 sleeping bag and enough food for a small army. Weight-wise, 15kg would be the absolute maximum I’d attempt to carry in this pack, due to the thin straps and light-duty hip belt – my normal load of around 11-12kg is quite comfortable.
At the start of the aforementioned walk, about two miles out of Barnard Castle, the pack’s sternum strap failed. I was adjusting it and the clip broke clean free of the shoulder strap; it was attached to a small ‘rail’ and not secured with any stitching. Our best efforts to reattach it failed, so I’ve lived with no sternum strap since that day.
Since that walk I have gradually upgraded my gear, which as a result has reduced in volume a bit. I can easily fit everything needed for a three day, fair weather hike and wild camp inside although now that winter is approaching I’m a little nervous as to whether it’ll hold everything I need to stay warm. An easy fix would be an extendable lid that would allow me to fill the bag to maximum capacity without having a permanent headrest when walking.
Being out in the rain on Blencathra, Pen Y Ghent and Cross Fell has proved that the fabrics are far from waterproof. Luckily the pack comes with a good rain cover and over the ‘summer’ I started packing my gear in Exped fold dry bags to add another layer of protection. The persistent rain on Blencathra caused the mesh of the suspension system to sag a little as the main fabric of the pack swelled. This was quickly remedied once I got home and found the cord that adjusts the system’s tension.
By design the Freeflow Pro back system holds the pack away from my body meaning occasionally I feel as if I’m being pulled off balance. Because of this gap my back doesn’t get sweaty but the balance shift is a little disconcerting on steep climbs such as Helvellyn’s Striding Edge. One of my criteria for a new pack will be that the load is closer to my back since I plan to get into scrambling more next year.
I find myself using most of the features when I’m out and about but I rarely use the zippered access to the bottom of the pack because of the way I tend to organise my gear. I also find the hip belt pockets far too small for anything useful – if I’m taking snacks I want to take a more than just half a mars bar and a wine gum! The flat front pocket rarely sees any action either because its too limited in terms of the things you can actually fit in there when the pack is full and the adjustable front flap is also used infrequently. The side stretch pockets aren’t easily accessible when you’re wearing the pack but I don’t normally store anything in them that I need to grab whilst moving.
The Freeflow Pro 50 has stood up well to the abuse I’ve subjected it to this year. The fabrics haven’t torn or abraded anywhere except for a tiny hole on one of the side stretch pockets. It has quite an impressive feature list, it’s just a shame that one or two either don’t get used or don’t quite live up to expectations. The broken sternum strap makes load carrying a bit more laboured as the shoulder straps slip when walking and, when added to the fact that the pack is held away from the body, balance can become impaired on more technical sections.
This pack has served me well through my first season of hiking and has given me a good idea of what I like and don’t like in a rucksack. I think I’ll be upgrading to a more flexible pack, that sits closer to the back and one that has slightly fewer (but more user-friendly) features. I’d like the capacity of my new pack to be about the same as the Freeflow Pro 50, but with the option of upping the volume to around 55 or 60l through an extendable lid or additional pockets or pouches.