The Bergans of Norway Helium 55L backpack took me by surprise. Weighing 2 pounds 9 ounces on the SectionHiker scale, the Helium is set up like a climbing/winter backpack with tons of external attachment points but carries very much like an ultralight backpack, with side mesh pockets to carry water bottles and frequently accessed day time gear. It’s also a panel loader, with a long front zipper, good for carrying rope or digging gear out of the bottom of pack quickly without having to grope around for it blindly from the top.
Made with lighter weight, but abrasion resistant 100 and 210 denier Cordura fabric, the Helium is the sleek greyhound of the Bergans backpack product line and at 55L (3,350 cu in.), it is the perfect volume for more technical winter day hiking, ski-mountaineering, or multi-day lightweight backpacking where you need to carry technical gear or big loads. Featuring a fantastic compression system, you can also easily reduce the volume of the pack for shorter adventures where less storage space is needed.
As an advocate for lightweight backpacking and sub-three pound backpacks, it is exciting for me to see manufacturers producing backpacks with large volumes, like the Helium 55L, using lighter weight but durable materials. Advances in material science are starting to make lightweight backpacks the norm rather than the exception.
The Bergans of Norway Helium 55L backpack is an internal frame backpack with one vertical aluminum stay running up the middle of the back panel which can be pulled out and bent to match your body shape. It has a flexible horizontal rod, probably made out of fiberglass, that runs across the top of the back which the load lifters are anchored to, and thin foam padding over the rest of the back without a hard framesheet.There are two columns of a mesh covered padding that run down the back that provide ventilation to keep the wearer dry.
The hip belt is sewn to the back of the pack and not removable. This translates into exceptional load carrying control and load transfer to the hips, while eliminating the need for additional hip belt stabilization straps. It also means that the hip belt is only available in a fixed length which can be problematic if your waist is larger that 36 or 37″, including additional clothing layers.
The adjustable hip belt uses a Scherer Cinch, invented by Kelty, which is two strands of U-shaped webbing that you push forward to tighten the hip belt. I’ve never been a fan of this kind of closure because I think it slips a bit too easily and I found myself having to periodically tighten the Helium waist belt during the day. Many other companies use this kind of hip belt tightening system, so maybe it’s just me and my hip structure that are to blame. The inside of the hip belt is padded using the same mesh fabric used to pad the back frame and lumbar area.
The shoulder straps on the Helium 55L are surprisingly simple, J-curved neoprene strips that won’t absorb sweat or water, with webbing sewn on. Each strap has two elastic keeper straps, which can be also used to attach other gear and electronics, and there’s the standard sternum strap with emergency whistle buckle. Load lifter straps are included with this pack and attach to the top of the shoulder straps and the frame.
Storage and Organization
The Storage system on the Helium 55L backpack is superior to many other climbing style packs and even rivals many ultralight backpacks in its versatility and simplicity. The Helium has an alpine style design with a large main compartment and a true floating lid (all 4 straps are adjustable), making it possible to scrunch extra gear between the bottom of the top pocket and the top of the main compartment.
The top lid has a single zippered storage compartment, but no pocket on its underside where it faces the top of the main compartment. The zipper for the top lid pocket is not waterproof, but is very water resistant in heavy showers because it’s covered by a fabric zipper guard.
The top of the main compartment has an extension collar so you can stuff even more gear into it and closes with a draw string. There’s also a separate drawstring below the extension collar to help keep smaller loads in place.
While one can load the Helium 55L from the top, the pack also comes with front panel zipper which is particularly convenient in camp for accessing gear while keeping it organized and off the ground. The panel zipper is a burly two-way zipper that runs from the top of the extension collar all the way to the bottom of the pack, where it is secured with a snap to prevent it from opening accidentally.
While I think the panel-loading zipper is a nice feature for dry or very cold climates, it does leak in heavy rain filling the base of the pack with water. I think this backpack would be just as good without panel access and would recommend that Bergans drop it altogether, because it limits the Helium to very cold or dry climates.
The Helium also has two side pockets which are set up higher along the sides of the pack than other backpacks, with the base of the pockets in line with the top of the hip belt instead of the bottom of pack’s bottom. While each side pocket has drain hole at its base, wet items placed in the side pockets do soak the seam at the bottom of the pocket resulting in the transfer of moisture into the main compartment. Something to watch out for if you use a water filter like the Sawyer Squeeze, which stays wet after use.
Attachment Points and Compression System
The attachment points and compression system on the Bergans Helium 55L backpack are very versatile for a pack of this size. The Helium has two daisy chains sewn onto the front that make it easy to lash snowshoes, a tent, or a sleeping pad to the outside of the pack. There are two ice axe loops at the bottom of the daisy chains and elastic keeper cords higher up for securing ice axe handles or walking poles.
Two tiers of side compression straps, as well as two compression straps in the front of the pack, make it easy to attach all kinds of gear to the outside of the pack or shrink its volume for smaller loads.
- Super responsive carry with excellent load to hip transfer
- Fantastic storage and attachments points that swallow gear but still enable easy access
- Lightweight (2 pounds 9.4 ounces) but made with durable fabrics.
- Excellent compression system that expands the range of loads that this pack can carry from weekends to multi-day trips.
- Long front zipper leaks in heavy rain, limiting the pack to cold or very dry climates.
- Fixed hip belt and a single size makes it difficult for large hipped users to get a good fit
- Side mesh panels are prone to tears and snagging if you hike off trail
While all backpacks have their strengths and weaknesses, I’ve really enjoyed using the Bergans of Norway Helium 55L Backpack for trips this summer. It’ narrow size, foam back panel, and sewn-on hip belt make it very comfortable to carry in rocky terrain, even with heavier loads. While I think it’s best suited for cold weather climbing and skiing, the Helium has enough warm weather functionality, such as the side mesh pockets, to use it during the rest of the year. I wish I didn’t have to return this loaner pack to the manufacturer because I’d definitely use it for winter hiking and shoulder seasons.
- Volume: 55 L / 3,350 cu in
- Weight: 1.1 kg / 2lbs 6oz (2 lbs 9 oz on SectionHiker scale)
- Torso Length: 43-51 cm / 17-20 in”
- Fabric: 100D Cordura RS, 210D Cordura
- Back and hip belt covered with ventilating mesh
- Detachable top lid
- Top lid with external pocket
- Top entry with spindrift collar
- Full, vertical front zip entry
- Side pockets
- Compression straps on each side and in front
- Plenty of attachment points
- Attachment points for ice axe/poles
- Hydration system compatible
- YKK zippers