A little over three years ago, I reviewed the Bergans Helium Pro 40 on this site. At the time I was in need of a technical winter daypack, to carry crampons and ice axes for mountaineering in heavy snow. After writing I carried on using the Helium Pro, hauling ropes and helmets for climbers or camping gear for overnight backpacking trips in all kinds of conditions, and eventually I passed it on, as a gift to a friend whose pack was literally falling apart on the trail. I loved it, and he loves it now. When I mentioned this to my contact at Bergans of Norway, he asked if I’d like to test something else – similar, but different.
The Bergans Helion 45 is essentially a militarised version of the Helium Pro 40 I reviewed back then. The materials, layout and features are different, but the fundamental design remains the same.
My Helion was made as part of an order placed by a specific unit in the Norwegian military. Once the order was fulfilled, Bergans kept just 50 backpacks extra, since they loved it so much. A tiny handful have made their way out into the wild, instantly bought by regular soldiers in Norway. Others are yet to be released. There’s no product page, and nothing I can link to for more info. Mine came to me as a gift from the pack’s designer, and the rarity of these alone makes it very special, though not enough to keep me from using it.
Primary Fabric: Solution dyed IRR 500D Cordura.
Quality and Comfort
As a pack designed for military use, the Helion is marked by its priorities. True to its namesake, the Helium Pro was incredibly light for its capability, which suited the role it was meant for. The Helion on the other hand is under no obligation to shave weight, least of all at the cost of durability, colour properties, or noise signature. Bergans changed from a mix of 210d and 420d Velocity Nylon to 500d Cordura, meeting the practical needs of a soldier better. The wolf grey colour makes the pack blend in better across a whole range of environments, and the Cordura reduces the crinkly noise of the lighter fabric.
I should say that I never noticed any damage or wear over the years of use that my Helium saw, but I appreciate Cordura’s reputation for abrasion resistance is hard-earned. Other changes came too – I criticised the tiny plastic hardware on the Helium, for being hard to use with gloves, and prone to get stuffed with snow – whereas here they’ve used 1” webbing and buckles. As a result, the Helion 45 is nearly double the weight of its progenitor, but still not absurdly heavy by comparable options on the market – the Mystery Ranch 3DAP, for example, weighs in at 2.1KG, despite a substantially smaller volume. I can’t fault the choices that lead to the extra weight, but I’m very glad of the work done by the pack it was based on.
I’m pleased to say that the harness on the Helion remains unchanged – Bergans have done a brilliant job with their QuickAdjust Pro system, making it easy to fit and comfortable to wear. The yoke and lumbar pad are well padded with a dense, nonabsorbent foam, preventing it from soaking up ice and creating space for ventilation on my back when active. The belt, as before, is stiff and took some breaking in – I have noticed it rubbing on my hip at times, becoming uncomfortable if the seams on my trousers lined up at the wrong points. Many users will be happy to see that the belt wraps back around the pack when not needed, making it easier to store in a vehicle or elsewhere, and secure enough to be ‘jumpable.’
When fitted properly though, I was able to walk for multiple days in rough terrain without complaint, and didn’t notice the increased weight of the pack at all. The fabric kept mud, snow and water off my gear, and the general build felt utterly resilient to the wear put on it by the environment.
Following Bergans’ traditional mountaineering packs, the Helion 45 has a simple layout, based around a tall, empty tubular shape. This design saves weight but also maximises volume and load versatility, making room for tent and sleeping bag, or ammunition and radio, as needed. The pack’s floating lid and double-cinching snow collar allow for a decent pack out, and I feel this is one of those bags that will always take a little more, when really stuffed.
Building upon the simple alpine rucksack, Bergans have added a rear zipper panel with 4 sliders, which allows the Helion to open ‘clamshell’, or in sections by the sides or top. Functionally, this is huge – it makes gear stuffed deep into the pack quickly accessible, creates a spot for antennas or a long barrel to protrude, and eases loading of large, awkward gear that might snag on the drawstring collar at the top of the pack. The interior has a simple hydration sleeve (and a passthrough, distinct from the zip), and nothing else, so the best way to keep gear separate is to use drybags and other add-in pouches. The pack can then be confidently loaded for balanced weight rather than access, thanks to this large zipper.
For small essentials, the Helion 45 has two pockets built into its brain, as is common, and these are fine for keys, sunglasses or a notepad. I was happy to see a small loop-velcro field for patches here, as well. Additional external storage is available in a couple of ways – Bergans have wrapped the exterior of the pack in laser-cut PALS matrix, compatible with an entire universe of MOLLE accessories and add-ons. Although MOLLE’s roots are strictly military, the plethora of options on the market now mean that any user can find something to meet their needs. Bergans included one pouch for me – an insulated, zip-up pocket sized for a 1L Nalgene bottle (itself a gamechanger when trekking in winter) – and I was able to add my own as needed, to keep snacks or gloves handy.
The external slots allow for mounting larger gear as well. Bergans included two pairs of straps, with aluminium tabs that would fit into the PALS or other webbing loops easily. I was able to secure my sleeping pad that way, but could probably manage an anti-tank weapon with a little work, if I’d needed. In testing, I found myself rolling and taping many of the external straps, since they are so long, and these extras are longer and more versatile still.
The Helion 45 also came to me with a unique beaver-tail attachment, which mounts using those same tabs hooking in place. The tail zips to function as a low-profile external pocket (a great spot for a first aid kit, for example) but when opened gussets outwards to hold a helmet or wet gear securely without eating into the main pack. The whole thing can be removed or set up wherever the user wants, which is great.
- Balances weight, durability, ease-of-use and aesthetics superbly.
- Adds functional features where needed, and nothing extra.
- Incredibly hard to obtain. This bag is not available for retail anywhere, and I can’t imagine what it would cost if it were.
- Differences from ‘standard’ mountaineering pack will be unnecessary or even overbuilt for many users.
Although the scope of this website is to cover all kinds of bags, I must admit we lean towards urban-focused daypacks – the kind our readers use most often. To see the cutting edge however, we need to look past the daily-drivers and into the reaches of real performance backpacks. If TPP were a car blog, this would be the Supercar feature – it’s not applicable, let alone obtainable, to most folks, but that doesn’t stop it from being awesome.
What Bergans of Norway have done here is taken an incredible pack from their mountain line, and spec’d it up even further. They’ve taken their Lamborghini, and made a Batmobile. I really can’t believe I get to own this bag, given its history and rarity, but I’m so glad that I do.
Disclaimer: The Helion 45 was supplied by Bergans of Norway for use in this review. Certain details were verified with Bergans prior to publication, but the substantial content was not shared. Our reviews are impartial and never changed to keep a brand happy.