Joy of Joys! A surplus and camping shop has opened up in my local town. At the moment it’s more surplus than camping, but nevertheless, guesses who was standing at the door as soon as it opened?
A veritable treasure trove of surplus military stuff; clothes, webbing, folding shovels, mess tins, jackets (mostly of the DPM camo style), camp beds, sleeping bags and all manner of wondrous things. Being pretty restrained (well, I thought so) I only spent £38 and I’ve promised not to return for a month. A box of US MRE (I thought I’d try one), a throw-over camo net (for wildlife watching), a folding shovel and an All Arms bergen went into the shopping basket.
I’ll chat about this last item, as my first impressions are that not only was this a bargain at £10 (although it’s pretty well used) but it seems ideal for Bushcraft use. It’s voluminous to say the least (some web research put it at 60 litres but I’m sure it can take more than that) and it has a few features that seem quite unique.
As you can see, the bag is sort of front/top loading like an urban rucksack. The double zip opens the bag from the top down (both left and right sides) to half of the height of the bag. This enables you to get to your kit more efficiently almost like a suit carrier. This is great because it lets you see almost down to the bottom of the bag instead of fumbling around in the dark from the top as with top loading bags. I suppose if you put small items at the top of the bag, there would be a danger of them falling out when you unzip the bag, but of course, you don’t have to unzip it completely and you perhaps wouldn’t have the bag tilted forward when you do this.
The straps and zips are robust and well sewn and there’s the normal padded hip and shoulder straps. An interesting addition is a flap (seen rolled up at the top) which unrolls and covers the straps. The flap is fastened at the sides and the bottom of the bag by Velcro. This and the inclusion of two top carrying handles converts the Bergen into a sort of holdall, and (according to some web military sources and somewhat amusingly) gives it the ‘Combat hand-bag’ name. I really can’t see any benefits to this and can only conclude that this feature was specifically designed in consideration of aircraft or vehicle loading to stop the straps snagging when baggage handling. Another name I’ve come across is the ‘Turtle pack’. I can see why this might be as well because when you put the pack on, the shape looks like a shell instead of the normal “tube” of a standard rucksack.
The material looks pretty tough, although I’m not sure exactly what it is – with a waterproof rubberised backing. There is a slot at the rear of the sack for a small aluminium frame, keeping the back rigid. There are pressure pads covering the lumber region, but these aren’t obtrusive like the lumber pads of the Sabre sacks. The empty sack including the frame weighs less than the Sabre 75.
There are no additional pouches or compartments except one other long and thin internal pocket to the rear of the sack (handily you can fit a SFA in there) but there are zips and fasteners on either side of the bag to attach PLCE pouches. This is also handy as my Sabre side pouches fit. I can see a problem though as the side pouches cover the length of the zips. A long bit of paracord fitted to the zips might be the solution. Two further straps are supplied at the bottom of the sack for hanging off a bed-roll or sleeping bag and there are a couple of compression straps at both sides and at the top to pull the whole thing together.
The whole thing appears robust enough (certainly for my use at any rate) but I wonder at prolonged and rough use. It appears that army personnel couldn’t get all their kit in, and there were reports that it wasn’t very good for long distance ‘tabbing’. It may be a culture issue as well. “All arm’s” generally refers to troops not generally in front-line roles and nobody wants to be seen with non-Gucci kit (well, no-one did in our day). The infantry version looking more like a standard rucksack is now issued to all Army personnel.
The proof is in the wearing and of course the personal opinion of the wearer. As soon as I put the bag on my shoulders both unloaded and loaded, I felt that this was probably the most comfortable bag I’ve worn. It might be to do with the broad back or just the Turtle pack shape, but this bag is comfy. I’ve obviously got to try it out on a walk and I would also have to watch how it was loaded (there would be a tendency to put a lot of weight in the bottom) but for now, it’s absolutely fine.
This might not replace the Sabre 75 as an expedition bag, but I can certainly see this bag used on a regular basis despite its oversize odd shape purely for ease of accessing the kit inside (let’s just chuck in a few random items quickly and head for the woods type of thing). I don’t even mind the DPM camo as it’s quite faded and not too obtrusive. For a tenner, I’m not complaining. Let’s see what it’s like long-term.
You can also get them here for £15-00.