OK, confession time: since the end of last year, we have done very little walking. And, with the dual constraints of work commitments and weather conditions, much of that has been confined to short skips round the local lanes - an hour here and an hour there, grabbed as and when we could squeeze them in. So, whilst we haven't had much in the way of excitement to report, we have at least kept ticking over, readying ourselves for when things improve and the need to google "kit list for ark excursion" recedes.
However, despite the limitations of time and meteorology, what I have been able to do is put a recent acquisition - a Berghaus Freeflow 20 daysack - through it's paces, albeit rather gently to date (in fact, both Missy G and I have been trying it out, but more on that later).
The Freeflow range has been around in one guise or another for some time now, and is very much a staple of Berghaus's daypack collection. Notable mainly for a back system which keeps the sack away from the back to aid ventilation and reduce sweating, there are a number of differently sized options designed for a variety of different uses, from quick trundle to lightweight overnighter. Over the years, the range has gained plenty of fans (although, to date, has not counted either of us amongst them).
At 20lt, this is the smallest size in the range. For a variety of reasons, we would both normally use a slightly larger capacity for year-round, day-to-day use - it's what we are used to and what we prefer. So rather than measure the Freeflow 20 against our personal preferences, I'll try to assess it objectively and treat it for what it is - a small, lightweight daypack.
In fact, for a small pack, the Freeflow 20 is quite well endowed with features, with an inner and outer zipped pocket, side mesh pockets, an internal hydration bladder sleeve and tube outlet, walking pole attachments, adjustable waist and chest straps, and a stow away rain cover. This is what Berghaus themselves say about it: http://store.berghaus.com/p/day-sacks/freeflow-20-rucksack/434556
In use, the first thing to note is that it is very comfortable. Admittedly, there is a limit to the amount of stuff you can load into a 20lt bag, but what it can hold it does seem to carry well. There is an adjustable back system, which means we were able to get a reasonable fit for both me (5'10) and Missy G (5'1) without too much difficulty, whilst the chest strap adjusts to accommodate both the male and female chest area anatomy.
|View of back system showing padded, ventilated shoulder straps,
lumbar padding and adjustable chest and waist straps
There is also a webbing waist strap, rather than a padded hip belt. This is for stability rather than supporting any load - because the pack is short, the waist strap sits much too high to rest on the hips (even in Missy G's case). In any event, the small capacity of the bag means it is unlikely there would be sufficient load to warrant weight transfer to the hips anyway. Both chest and waist strap have an elasticated section to aid comfort and ease of use - a simple, but effective addition.
The main compartment is accessed via a large all-round zipped entry, giving a wide access to the bag which makes it pretty easy to get everything in and out. This means there is no lid like on some rucksacks - and hence no outer lid pocket - but there is a small zipped pocket inside the main compartment suitable for valuables like a wallet or keys (there is a key clip inside). Also inside is a sleeve to accommodate a hydration bladder and an outlet for the drinking tube (which is centrally placed to allow the tube to pass easily over either your right or left shoulder).
|Wide all-round zippered opening, showing internal zippered pocket,
sleeve for hydration bladder, drinking tube exit and grab handle
On the outside, the bag has a pair of stretch mesh pockets (one either side) each large enough to take a 1lt drinks bottle or small flask. There is also a vertical zippered pocket with a mesh pocket inside - an unusual combination I've never seen before, which even the Berghaus website doesn't mention or describe what it was intended for. However, it proved quite useful for storing the things you might want quick access to (although note that things can fall out quite readily if you forget to zip it up properly!).
|View inside front zippered pocket, showing mesh retaining pocket
The back system is good, both in terms of comfort and allowing a flow of air to mitigate against a sweaty back. The bag is kept away from direct contact with the back by a combination of a stiff, pre-curved panel and a taut mesh panel which create a fixed gap to maintain airflow. This is assisted by the shoulder straps which have holes in the padding to reduce weight and aid ventilation.
In general, the system does work quite well in this respect, but there is a downside in that the pre-curved back is a bit of a hindrance when it comes to packing the bag. In earlier, larger models this was quite pronounced: not quite so much here, but it is a smaller bag and the volume/ability to get stuff in and out is slightly compromised. Other manufacturers do seem to have less issue with this, whilst still providing a successful "airflow" type back system. It's a small niggle, but ought to be solvable and is the only real negative to an otherwise perfectly good product.
On the plus side, the zips run freely (something I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about), and the zip pulls are large enough to operate even when wearing gloves.
Finally the bag features an integral rain cover, which is stored in a pocket at the base of the bag. My personal preference is to use a waterproof liner as I think it is more reliable in nastier weather, but the rain cover here seems good enough to keep moderate rain out. A reasonably snug fit can be achieved so it doesn't flap around too much in the wind (although I haven't tested it in anything more than a gentle breeze).
Well made from quality materials and components.
Comfy to use, with ventilated shoulder straps and airflow back working well.
Plenty of useful (if sometimes unusual) features.
Tidy and well thought out, looks good too.
Capacity and ease of access slightly reduced by curved back.
Perhaps a bit too small for a full day outing or a winter trip.
In general, this is a lovely little daysack - well made from quality materials and components, and with some nice touches. Although I have one or two minor niggles with the Freeflow 20, all in all it's a very nice product that should last for many years, and if you are looking for a solid daysack for summer use (or shorter trips where you just need a drink, some food and an extra layer) at an affordable price, you would be hard pressed to get anything much better.
As mentioned earlier, for a full day out both Missy G and I prefer a slightly roomier bag, but in the right circumstances I can see us getting quite a bit of use out of it.
NB. The Berghaus range has a number of different sizes and styles available. For more information go to www.berghaus.com