The people at Dixie's Corner kindly tailored my issued short back bergan for me around Christmas time. I would like to highlight their customer service at this point, with the weather inhibiting postal services they were always keen to let me know about any possible delivery delays and did the work as quickly as they could to ensure I had the kit in plenty of time. Top marks there!
The work itself consisted of changing the shoulder straps for their own version, fitting a back pad, mesh side pockets, fitting a floating lid and stitching on 3 pouches along the front with a basher pouch above these. Quite a bit of work which, according to the website, would cost around the £170 mark. With around £10 postage each way you are talking about a serious amount of dosh here. However, getting it for free is a different kettle of fish...
The testing for the bergan consisted of a fair amount of tabbing up big hills, followed by some quite demanding (very) light role infanteering with heavy loads. I'm going to split the review down into suitability for each category, Dixie's corner is used extensively by those on selection and most of their modifications stem from recommendations/advice from those lads. Lets see how it gets on then!
Starting with the shoulder straps and back pad then. When tabbing around with just a bergan on these help immensely. The straps are wider and stiffer than the normal ones, more like high end civvy packs, which help to distribute the load evenly across the shoulders rather than just biting into your traps. They come fitted with a chest strap but I found that I didnt really need to use this, it does stabilise the bergan slightly but I only found it useful when running down steep slopes or heavy cross graining. One problem from this was that if you clip it tightly enough to grip your chest it can restrict your breathing, or at least if you have a chest it does. Other people found it quite useful though so horses for courses. The back pad is a large square of airtex type material that not only helps provide a bit more support on your lower back but also eliminated any type of rubbing on my back, bonus! It seems a lot more breathable and I didn't get any problems through this. It does pad the bergan out a bit but I found that for tabbing this was ideal. The pad itself is stiched on the top and bottom, leaving space to thread things through it if necessary, like a hippo pad for the belt or rigging for parachuting. It also seemed to stabilise the lump on your back a bit too.
However, when you introduce webbing the straps can become a bit of a nause. I found that the width of the straps was slightly too large and kept slipping off the shoulder or getting in the way of the yoke. I found they kept getting caught when taking the thing on and off, not ideal with a 120 pound + bergan. They still distributed the weight well but it was hard to get the right fit, especially when wearing body drama. The bad pad was good however, it also seemed to stop hard items packed in the bergan from prodding through and destroying your back, the sneaky things. I would thoroughly recommend the straps if you are going to be doing a lot of tabbing, but to me the back pad is a great investment. When you have time to adjust everything properly it does work well, but more often then not trying to quickly get it on in the dark with some obscene weight it can be a nause, but this is a minor inconvenience rather than a major failing. By making those straps slightly narrower by about an inch and maybe a non-slip surface on the underside I think these would be mega.
The mesh pockets are a good addition. Made from strong green mesh with a drawstring closure at the top. I found these very useful when carrying kit between the side pouch and the bergan (tent poles, shovels etc) as it meant that you knew whatever was there wouldn't fall out the bottom. Good peace of mind! The side pouches fit on top of these easily and you can still access the mesh. If you try to fit bulky kit in these with the side pouches on it can become a bit of an issue, i.e 66s but I found them as a good place to store trip flares (out of the tube) and other bits of kit you need to get to easily. Air marker panels also fit in easily. In a moment of desperation I managed to fit a goretex suit down one with a fully packed bergan, useful there. The tactical application of them was very good.
One thing that irritates me about the issued bergan is by the time you've packed all your own kit, plus mission kit, OP kit and your daysack the lid seems to have been designed to bend over to specifically keep hitting the back of your swede. Packing odd loads (IPK sheets with wire mesh spring to mind) can be a drama when you really don't have any more space. The floating lid helps mitigate these problems. The Dixie's corner one has 2 adjustable straps connecting the lid to the bergan with a tab of DPM material to reinforce this and stop bits of kit straying out the back. Ideally there ought to be a third strap in the middle of the existing 2 to provide more tension when securing loads, I found that one strap would loosen itself on long marches which made the kit secured underneath shift about a bit. A third point of compression on the rear would help stop this. I tried tape but with changing loads you have to change the tape, not always possible. I thought about getting a velcro tab like on the NI patrol pack fitted, but ran out of time, but still reckon this would be a possible solution. However I would recommend this modification whole heartedly, it makes life a great deal easier.
Moving onto the pouches at the front. There are 3 utility sized pouches on the lower front closed with clips, all fitted with snow shrouds (at my request) with a drawstring closure. Above this there is a basher pouch closed with a zip, and the lid secured by two more clips. I found these very useful for keeping items in that I needed to get quick access to without tearing my bergan apart, especially when you have loads of kit under the lid. I tended to use the 3 lower pouches to fit 24 hours food, plus jet boil, with spare socks/gloves and snacks. There was usually enough space to fit 1-2L of water in these too. Very useful and I didnt find that it changed the weight distribution at all. The pouches are probably a bit bigger than the usual utility ones, and with the snow shrouds could be overloaded without fearing about losing kit. The basher pouch is smaller than those you'll find on bergans from Jay Jays but this is a good thing, as filling it to capacity can get in the way when trying to do up the bergan. I found it large enough for a poncho and a cam net, which is plenty large enough for my combat care bear needs! Getting access to any pouch wasnt a drama when the bergan was full, ideal really. Dixie's stitch their own pouches onto the front of the bergan, which I thought added unnecessary weight as there's no need to have the backs of the pouches stuck on. The equipment straps running down the sides of the bergan were left open thanks to them using spreaders, like on their belt kit. This meant that you can still thread bungees through these for your roll mat e.t.c rather than having to cut holes in the bergan to get them through. A nice touch. I think that if Dixie's made a custom made panel that could be stitched onto the front of the bergan, rather than 3 individual pouches it would make an already decent set up better. I found that there was enough space between the lower pouches and the basher one to bungee yet more kit onto the front of the bergan, but this got in the way of the lower pouches, but I don't think there is a way around this unless you plan on using zip-type pouches to be able to open the entire thing.
In conclusion, the end result is a very much improved version of the issued bergan. Being able to carry odd loads over rough ground in some degree of comfort is very desirable for some soldiers and this bergan helps to provide this. However the price may seem prohibitive for some. For the soldier on a budget just get the straps, floating lid and back pad and fit an extra rocket pouch on the front of the bergan and you have a workable solution if you want to carry extra kit. A negative of having all this extra space is that if you aren't experienced enough to know what you need rather than what you want you will end up carrying all sorts of extra shit that will only slow you down. However, if your role requires you carrying the kitchen sink I would really recommend getting your bergan done by Dixie's. In the couple of months I've had the bergan everything has worked fine, all stitching is still going strong despite some arduous tests and nothing is looking like failing any time soon. I would give this bergan 4 out of 5 mushroom heads, losing one only for the seemingly expensive price tag. I've just been informed that there is an issued alternative, the Field Pack Air Support, but this costs £200 from Silverthiefs. If you have to carry a lot of kit for your operational or exercise needs, then I would throughly recommend getting these changes made to your bergan. Being able to quickly access things in the dark, when knakard, without your admin exploding is invaluable.
Thanks again to Dixie's Corner for providing the work.