In 2005 I travelled across the Nubian Desert, in North Sudan, in a variety of pick-up trucks. During the penultimate leg my poor backpack was strapped to the flank of a Toyota Hilux, where she likely received the worst punishment any pack could reasonably endure and still remain in one piece. On reaching Dongola I almost wept at the sight of her as she fell limply from her strapping like a drowned corpse, and that night I lovingly washed her, dabbing her furrowed lid with a damp cloth. In time, she recovered, and carried my gear all the way to Cape Town, and a couple of years later all around South East Asia. What a pack!
She was my first – well, after the one my parents bought me for school and scout trips when I was 16. She was a Highlander Nevis 66 and I found her in London, in a classic old camping shop on The Strand before the outdoor stores around the corner in Covent Garden proliferated into a veritable swarm. She was £60 and had a lifetime guarantee. ”Any problems, ever, come back and see us,” said the salesman. “But what if you go bust before then?” I asked, ever the pragmatist. In reply, he pointed solemnly to an old gentleman seated in the corner. “He’s had this shop for 50 years,” he said, “We’ll be here”. He clinched the deal with a Hi-Gear day pack and I took her home.
We went first to the Middle East, then around Europe, then Central America. We had a blast but along the way some of her buckles broke and the stitching began to fray around her bottom. No worries; before my next trip (around South America) I decided to test the guarantee. It had been four years but I took her back to The Strand. Damn place had closed down! I knew it – fly-by-night cowboys! I had to send her back to Highlander HQ in Scotland but fair enough they sent a shiny new pack to a retailer on the other side of London. Getting there was a hassle but three days before my one-way flight to Buenos Aries I collected her. Relishing getting to know her better I only got as far as the bus stop when her left shoulder strap buckle snapped. Arse! They had to express freight me a third pack. This was a good ‘un though; she lasted another ten years: South America, the Africa trip, Asia plus plenty of long-distance hiking in between - what an awesome pack!
But this is not a review of the Highlander Nevis 66.
When I first met Ned I was impressed. I wouldn’t call it love at first sight but from then on my old girl’s days were numbered. Far from the cosy retirement she doubtless deserved she found herself unceremoniously hung outside on the street – empty, worn and distressed. She was gone the next day. I’d like to think she is still active, helping an elderly gentleman carry home his shopping, or maybe doing some gentle day walks in the Blue Mountains. I’d prefer not to imagine her being pulled down and shredded by a pack of wild dogs, but either way – Ned & I were alone at last.
And so we began a new, lifelong partnership. Given that he cost four times what the last one did I bloody well hope so anyway. I am confident though, because Ned was made by a company called One Planet. This small company is based in Melbourne, Australia, and makes strong and extremely comfortable gear (sleeping bags and tents as well as their packs) and they make it extremely well. Ned himself is a 70 litre canvas beast with a full hiking harness endorsed by the Chiropractor’s Association of Australia. He’s got all the features you’d expect in a travel pack – clam-shell opening, harness cover, blah blah blah. And like his namesake, Ned Kelly, he’s almost bulletproof.
So I took Ned on my 3-month circuit of the Caribbean. He was at home on buses, boats and mules, and even accompanied me on a 6-day trek in Venezuela and came through super-comfortable – quite a feat for a travel pack. Yes, it looks like Ned and I will be spending quite some time together, maybe even sharing our twilight years. I barely even think about what’s-her-name any more, Nevis. What a pack though.