The Helly Hanson Transistor could have been a great hiking backpack, but it can't handle the rain

The Helly Hansen Transistor has so much internal storage, but the lack of waterproofing is baffling

Fitness writer Lily Canter wearing the Helly Hansen Transistor outdoors
(Image credit: Lily Canter)
Fit&Well Verdict

The Helly Hansen Transistor daypack is much roomier than other 30-liter bags and has several unique features for ice climbers. However, it is bizarre that it lacks proper waterproofing, making it almost useless for rainy walks. As a result, it's best used by those looking for a comfy backpack for use on long dry days.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Very spacious

  • +

    Handy for attaching any external gear

  • +

    Comfortable fit

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Seams are not waterproof

  • -

    Limited ventilation

  • -

    It may be too short for some hikers

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The Helly Hansen Transistor is a good all-around backpack—durable, comfortable, and light enough to wear all day long. I really appreciated the roomy internal storage, too. 

But it doesn't quite fit the best hiking backpack category because, despite ice climbing functions, it doesn't perform well when wet. Frustratingly, the bag isn't fully waterproofed. 

This makes it only a good option if you prefer roaming the trails during more temperate weather. Then you'll find that this unisex backpack can definitely cram in enough gear for a day or even longer.

I put the Helly Hansen Transistor to the test on long hikes through woods and fields, carrying food, water, and spare clothing for the day. Plus, there was enough space for my trekking poles and two liters of water. 

Here's my verdict on how well the Helly Hanson Transistor performed on the trails.

Helly Hansen Transistor review: price and guarantee

The Helly Hansen Transistor retails for $170/£150, which puts it in the middle of the hiking backpacks market at around the same price as the Vaude Brenta 30, and at first glance, it seems like reasonable value for money. 

But the Brenta 30 is the same size, almost the same weight, and price, but it is entirely waterproof. It's hard to justify the cost of the Transistor when it's missing such a crucial feature. 

Helly Hansen offers a two-year warranty but doesn't cover accidental damage or wear and tear and is limited to manufacturing defects. This contrasts with the Fjällräven Ulvö 30, which has a lifetime warranty. 

Helly Hansen Transistor review: design

Helly Hansen Transistor packed with trekking poles attached

(Image credit: Lily Canter)

One of the best things about the Transistor is its size, whether you choose the midnight green or black edition. The flexible shell means you can fit a lot of food, clothes, and gear inside, and there always seems to be more room to give.

The top of the bag opens and folds down, making it extremely easy to access the inside. The material appears durable, and my feeling is that you should get several years of use out of the backpack.

The bag's design is relatively standard, though the elastic cord webbing is great for attaching items like trekking poles. But there are more attractive ways to approach functional features. 

You get several specialist features, like webbing and Velcro strips for ice axes, and the attachment loops can also hold your poles. However, you'd need to take the bag off to reach them. 

But the big downside is the waterproofing—the fabric has a waterproof coating (fine for light rain), but the seams aren't sealed, so water can easily seep in. So you'd need to add a dry liner for wet walks. 

Helly Hansen Transistor review: storage and organization

Helly Hansen Transistor internal storage

(Image credit: Lily Canter)

There's plenty of space inside the Transistor, so it's ideal for carrying heavy winter gear or enough for a few days in the summer months. And, importantly, there are meshed side pockets for one-liter water bottles for hiking

You can access the bottom pocket without taking the bag off, while the hip belt has small mesh pockets for storing your keys, snacks, and other small items, but not something rigid like your phone. 

Inside, there's an inner sleeve and top meshed zippered pocket with a key clip. I found this particularly useful for loose items I didn't want falling to the bottom of the main pocket. 

Helly Hansen Transistor review: fit and comfort

Fitness writer Lily Canter wearing the Helly Hansen Transistor outdoors

(Image credit: Lily Canter)

Although this is a unisex one-size pack, there is some adjustability around the torso. The sternum strap can be adjusted to six heights, making it more suitable for women than other backpacks. 

It also includes a clever whistle built into the fastening clip. Meanwhile, the main straps are nicely padded, meaning even when the bag is fully loaded, it is comfortable to carry.

And the hip area support helps distribute the weight, and the hip belt is made of foam with a mesh to keep things cool. There's also a mesh on the back panel, but it sits directly on your back, so some sweating is still inevitable.

Since the bag is relatively light and the fabric is thin, it never feels like you are heaving around a big load, even when hiking all day. One downfall is that the back length of 45 cm may be too short for taller hikers because the top tension straps on the shoulder straps sit too low, making them redundant.

Helly Hansen Transistor review: verdict

While the Helly Hansen has many of the hallmarks of a great walking backpack, it's best suited to someone after lots of storage, loops, and straps for when you've got plenty of gear. 

I was impressed by how light it felt and wasn't uncomfortable wearing it over extended periods. But it takes a lot of work to get over the half-finished waterproofing, especially at this price. 

Also consider

Side view of fitness writer Lily Canter wearing the Fjallraven Ulvo backpack outside

(Image credit: Lily Canter)

Fjällräven Ulvö 30

The Fjällräven Ulvö 30 is an excellent all-rounder with exceptional waterproofing and multiple pockets, although it has fewer loops and straps for attaching external items.

Side view of fitness writer Lily Canter wearing the Vaude Brenta 30 backpack outdoors

(Image credit: Lily Canter)

Vaude Brenta 30

The Vaude Brenta 30 is slightly cheaper at $150/£140 and comes with a rain cover, adjustable back length, and greater ventilation via its suspension frame. It's made from recycled materials, too.

Lily Canter

Lily Canter is a freelance money, health and lifestyle journalist with more than 20 years' experience. She writes about fitness for Runner's World and Trail Running magazines and focuses on personal finance for Yahoo! Finance UK, Metro, The Guardian, and the Mail on Sunday. In her spare time she is an ultra-runner, canicrosser and running coach. She also co-hosts the award-winning podcast Freelancing for Journalists.