While adventure racing might not be on the radar of most ultralight backpackers, adventure racing gear certainly shows up on our pack lists and wish lists quite often. Companies like Terra Nova, OMM, Inov-8, Salomon, and Brooks-Range are well known for their drool-worthy adventure racing equipment and clothing. Now UK-based Berghaus has entered the fray. Their special R&D team, MtnHaus, has given special effort to designing the frameless Octans 40 for two-time Adventure Racing World Champion, Team Orion.
It is not often that Backpacking Light reviews an adventure race pack. However, the Octans 40 has definite crossover appeal to ultralight backpackers. As such, we are reviewing it as a backpack, not as an adventure racing pack.
|Year/Model||2011 Octans 40|
|Style||Frameless adventure race pack|
|Sizes Available||One size|
|Fabrics||Ardura 70D RS for main pack body, stretchy mesh for pockets|
|Features||Adjustable sternum strap with whistle buckle, attached lid with two zippered pockets, drawcord closure, EVABREATHE perforated foam on shoulder straps, two side pockets, one front pocket, two zippered hipbelt pockets, removable zippered chest pocket, removable perforated back panel foam pad, four side compression straps, 3-liter hydration bladder holder with two hydration ports, removable quick-release pole attachment straps, haul loop, thumb loops|
|Volume||2440 cu in (40 L) not including pockets|
|Weight||Manufacturer: 24.7 oz (700 g)
Measured: 24.8 oz (703 g) including 1.30 oz (37 g) removable front pouch
|Volume to Weight Ratio||98.4 cu in / oz (based on 2440 cu in and measured weight of 24.8 oz)|
|20 pounds (9.07 kg)|
|Carry Load to Pack
|12.9 (based on 20 lb and 1.54 lb weight)|
|MSRP||$110 (available in the US at www.thetannery.com or www.Berghaus.com)|
The Octans 40 is a feature-rich frameless rucksack that weighs 24.7 ounces (700 g). The pack’s volume should be big enough for most ultralight backpackers: 2440 cubic inches (40 L), plus at least another 500 cubic inches (8 L) in the pockets. The feature set seems minimalist at times, with no back panel mesh and no frame, and yet extravagant (at least in UL terms) with eight pockets, a lid, and a three-liter hydration reservoir holder.
Left: The pack has a large front stuff-it pocket, tightened with a single-buckle closure to the lid. Center: Each side has an angled side pocket and two angled compression straps. Right: On the back, a haul loop, wide contoured shoulder straps, and a light hipbelt with mesh pockets complete the setup. The pack measures 15.5 inches (38.4 cm) from the top of the shoulder straps to the middle of the hipbelt.
Left: Starting at the top: unusually, the lid’s large exterior pocket is made from stretchy mesh instead of a solid fabric, while the bottom layer is 70D ripstop. This means that precipitation would soak anything in that top pocket, but the rest of the backpack would be better protected. The pocket is 10 inches (25.4 cm) wide and has a wrap-around 15-inch (38-cm) zipper. Right: The lid also has a small interior pocket made of the same mesh with a 6-inch (15.2-cm) zipper.
Left: The contoured shoulder straps are made of EVABREATHE – a highly perforated foam that adds structure and padding while increasing breathability. The adjustable sternum strap has a section of stretchy webbing and a whistle built into the buckle. Right: Load lifter straps are not commonly found on frameless packs, but Berghaus included them to aid in pack stability.
Left: The hipbelt’s overall width is 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) wide, with a 1.0-inch (2.5-cm) gap in the middle. This gap saves weight while spreading out the pressure around the hipbone, as opposed to directly on it. Excess strap from the hipbelt can be threaded between the hipbelt and the pocket and out by the hips, so as not to dangle in front of the user. The shoulder straps are attached to the bottom of the pack at its widest point. Right: The hipbelts, however, start 2.0 inches (5.1 cm) inward, which allows them to wrap around the waist more snugly.
Left: The back panel has no mesh, but it does have non-slip printing on the torso and waist area. This is meant to keep the pack from sliding around while wearing a wind or rain shell. Right: The pack seems to be made for precipitous British weather, as there are two water drainage holes on the bottom of the pack body.
Left: A 3L hydration bladder pocket is nearly as big as the whole back panel. Right: Behind that pocket and held in place by a Velcro flap, the red perforated foam pad gives a bit of structure to the pack while also protecting the user against hard, pointy objects from jabbing in the back.
Left and Center: To save weight, MtnHaus used only one buckle, attached directly to the lid, to connect the front pocket compression strap to the lid. Shown here is the top side and bottom side of the two-piece female buckle pressed together through the lid fabric, eliminating the use of an extra strap and sewing. Right: The side compression straps are Y-shaped, increasing the compression area without much gain in weight. The gear attachment loop is adjustable and easily removable.
Kristin and I used the Octans 40 for a number of hikes throughout the European Alps in the Spring of 2011. I am 6’0" (1.83m) and she is 5’7" (1.70m) and the shoulder straps and hipbelt are sufficiently adjustable for fitting the pack to our different length torsos.
The foam pad did exactly what it is supposed to do: increase structural rigidity and add cushioning to the back panel. The foam does not absorb water. At 1.48 ounces (42 g) it could be removed to save weight, but this would not be worth it for most backpackers. For comparisons sake, this is almost exactly the same weight as the foam panel on the 2011 GoLite Peak, though the Berghaus foam is slightly denser and thinner and is perforated. I was comfortable carrying about 20 pounds (9.1 kg) with the Octans 40, which is standard for frameless backpacks (see review of GoLite Peak).
The foam pad is of course removable and may even be used by hardy adventure racers as a sleeping pad. Backpackers would probably use a half– or three-quarter-length sleeping pad and put this backpack under their legs. As an added bonus, the size of the foam sleeve (21 x 10 in / 53 x 25 cm) is such that a user could replace the Berghaus pad with their own folded-up sleeping pad, either three-quarter air or torso-sized foam, and it would be held in place and protected from the contents of the main compartment.
The pocket for a very large hydration bladder, is shown here with three sections of a Therm-a-Rest Z-Rest pad for added vertical rigidity.
The hydration reservoir pocket is huge, to the point that it may be considered overkill. I have owned half a dozen hydration bladders, but none are as wide and deep as this hydration pocket, 9.5 x 19 inches (24.1 x 28.2 cm). Out of curiosity on one hike, I was able to put 6 liters into the pocket. On the plus side, the pocket is big enough to slide two to four sections of a Therm-a-Rest Z-Rest. This adds more rigidity to the pack without pushing the center of gravity too far away from the user’s back.
Left: The sweat-soaked back panel after I was hiking on a warm spring day. Right: Kristin preferred to wear the pack leaning slightly away from her body, which helps with airflow.
The lack of mesh on the back panel does not bother me. I have used a GoLite Jam for years, which does not have mesh, and so I am used to it. However, some users might find it uncomfortable. With three layers of fabric and a foam pad in between, back sweat won’t push through to the contents inside the main compartment. The mesh-less back panel is good for backpackers in wet climates, as mesh tends to quicken the break down of waterproof shells.
I think the lid pocket is really great. At first I was unsure why Berghaus put mesh fabric on the top of the lid pocket. Any precipitation would soak right through to the contents of the pockets (but unlikely to get into the pack, as the bottom fabric is 70d ripstop). In sunny weather, the pocket works as well as any, with the added bonus that you can put wet clothing up there to dry (I wash my socks every day). In inclement weather, I have decided that the best use of the lid pocket is to hold a rain or wind shell, as long as the jacket is folded up such that the interior jacket fabric is not exposed. When the jacket is stored there, it can add an extra layer of water protection to the lid or conversely, dry out when the weather is good. When the weather turns ugly, the jacket is accesseble without opening the main compartment. The 15-inch (38-cm) long zipper wraps half way around the entire lid, allowing superb access.
The gear straps work well with trekking poles. It would be difficult to securely strap an ice axe to the lower gear loop, though, and it would certainly pose a danger to the surrounding mesh. In this photo, the pack is definitely under stuffed to have good rigidity for a frameless pack, showing its limit as a dayback.
The side pockets work well with some water bottles, but not others. The pockets are too shallow to securely hold Nalgenes, for example, unless the pack is fairly empty. I have had good luck with certain varieties of 1L bottled water and the 1L Platypus. The front pocket is a nice size and the mesh make it a good place to hold wet items, like a tarp, or trail-accessible items like an extra layer, sit pad, or camp shoes.
Sternum straps don’t generally gather accolades, but I think this one is great. The strap has 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) of vertical adjustment along the shoulder strap. One side of the strap has a stretch nylon which can expand from 1.5 to 3.5 inches (3.8 to 8.9 cm). This keeps the backpack snug and stable, without being as restrictive of torso movements and breathing as a static strap. To top it off, the sternum buckle has a built-in whistle. None of these features are extraordinary, but to have them all was much appreciated. For those who don’t use a sternum strap, this one is removable.
Trying out the thumb loops.
The wide shoulder straps are very comfortable and allow better breathability than most straps that I have tried. The lift loaders are probably unnecessary for most backpackers (and can be cut off to save weight), but are appreciated by adventure racers for load stability. The shoulder strap’s webbing is extra long and has thumb loops at the end. These worked fine when I tested them, but I never got into the habit of using them. Many hikers use trekking poles, myself included, so thump loops are not desired. These straps could be shortened by the user to save weight, or at least to eliminate the dangling portion.
Left: The chest pocket is a super accessible storage space. It is held snugly with four corner straps, each of which has three attachment points to chose from. Right: The pocket is big enough to swallow a large wind shell and the zipper makes access easy.
I am undecided about the chest pocket. It does allow me to keep one more item close at hand, whether it be a map and compass, GPS unit, camera, or a wind shell. There is the choice of three attachment points (little red loops) on each of the shoulder straps and hipbelts, so the pocket can fit around an assortment of bellies. However, the pocket may not be worth the hassle of having to take it off before being able to take off the rest of the pack. This is especially true when there are already two large hipbelt and side pockets.
The hipbelt pocket can accommodate three to four energy bars or a digital camera with room to spare. The chest pocket can attach to any of the three red loops on top of the hipbelt pocket seen here.
The hipbelt is excellent. It is comfortable to wear, yet does a good job of transferring pack weight to the hips. I think this is partially due to the unique design: the hipbelts are sewn 2.0 inches (5.1 cm) in from the normal attachment point (the outermost edge of the pack). This placement really allows for a good fit, which is maybe how Berghaus got away with such a light hipbelt. The hipbelt pockets are nicely sized – big enough to be useful, but not too big as to get in the way. Hard items, like my camera, did not dig into my hips. The one-way #3 YKK zipper operated smoothly and allowed ample access to the pocket. The stretchy mesh fabric adjusted to the contours of the contents.
While appearance doesn’t generally affect performance, something has to be said about the visual charactaristics of the Octans 40. The Intense blue and blaze red colors, along with the giant Berghaus logo, make this pack really stand out, and not necessarily in a good way. For racing, standing out might be seen as a good thing. For backpackers, however, the colors might be considered too bright to have a place in the wilderness. I don’t like the glaring colors, but some might appreciate the ability to flag down emergency helicopters with the pack (I generally own a bright rain shell for this reason). Certainly, white pockets aren’t the best for backpacking as they show dirt too quickly.
The focus of the Octans 40 is on speed, which means that function is given a higher priority than low pack weight. If the net effect is that an added feature enables the racer to go faster, then it would be worth the weight penalty. Accordingly, the Octans 40 has a lot of pockets for easy, on-trail access, and a few features that a backpacker might not need. There are a few little things that could be done to lower the weight, like eliminate the interior lid pocket, shorten the hipbelt and shoulder strap webbing, shrink the hydration reservoir sleeve, and remove the load lifter straps.The Octans 40 is definitely light, but there are several backpacks on the market that are A) lighter, B) weigh the same but also have a frame, or C) weigh the same and use more durable materials.
The Octans 40 is relatively tough and should last a long time, but it’s not burly enough for winter alpine use. The 70 denier ripstop is a nice middle ground between ultralight sil-nylon and ultra-durable Dyneema Gripstop. The abundant use of mesh, however, might be a weak point in the long run. That being said, we found the mesh to be reasonably durable and suffered no holes, snags, or abrasions. During our testing period, Kristin and I were also traveling, and we used the Octans 40 as a travel bag, so it saw a lot of use.
Unfortunately, the pack’s compression system is too limited to make the Octans 40 usable as a day pack. The color scheme, particularly the white mesh, isn’t ideal for wilderness settings. The pack is only available in one size, so it will not fit those on either end of the spectrum of torso or waist sizes.
However, there are plenty of reasons to like the Octans 40. The plethora of pockets will be appreciated by those who like to be uber-organized. The volume hits a sweet spot that should please most ultralight backpackers. The shoulder straps and hipbelts are some of the best I’ve used. There are a lot of well thought-out features and design innovations. At $110, the pack certainly represents a very good value. I bet it makes a killer adventure racing pack!
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to the manufacturer to review this product under the terms of this agreement.