We tested the Highlander Ben Nevis 65 backpack on the 255-mile Cape Wrath Trail

This well-priced pack is roomy, fully featured and comfortable to carry, but it didn’t make it through our testing entirely unscathed.

from Highlander
RRP  £139.99
Hiker wearing Highlander Ben Nevis 65 pack with LFTO star ratings

by Matt Jones |
Updated on

Founded back in 1985, Highlander is a Scottish outdoor brand with an ethos focused on making reliable, affordable kit. The company is still family-owned and is now run by the son of its original founder. The Ben Nevis backpack is a staple of the brand’s product range. Indeed, previous generations of this pack have won various awards from us – and not just Best Value, but also a Best in Test.

Highlander claims that this latest version, which comes in 52L and 65L volumes in both men’s and women’s versions, is the best model yet. It’s been completely redesigned, with new features and fabrics. The brand describes it as “a lightweight performance pack delivering extraordinary ventilation and comfort”, whilst being “packed full of features and perfect for the mountains, weekends backpacking and lightweight, multi-day trips”. Sounds perfect – but how did it fare when we tested it on the gruelling Cape Wrath Trail?

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Well ventilated back panel
  • Affordable
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Chest strap slides around
  • Lacks a floating lid
  • Some concerns over build quality
  • Poor sustainability
  • Features
    4.0
  • Construction
    3.0
  • Comfort
    4.0
  • Performance
    3.0
  • Value
    4.0
  • Sustainability
    2.0
Weight1.38kg
Volumes52L, 65L
Materials200D nylon w/ PU coating
SizesOne (men's and women's versions)

Design and features

Highlander Ben Nevis 65 base
©LFTO

The Ben Nevis 65 has a very good weight-to-volume ratio. Despite being able to swallow plenty of gear, it weighed a commendable 1.38kg on our scales, which puts it among the lighter packs in its class. This is actually even lighter than Highlander’s quoted weight of 1.5kg.

Unlike many other lightweight packs however, it has a classic lidded design that will be familiar to lots of backpackers. The lid fastens with double Duraflex buckles, protecting a drawcord closure that gives access to a single roomy main compartment. It’s easy to load and rummage around inside, aided by a two-way, side entry zipper for fast access to the lower half of the pack body. It’s a slight shame that the lid is fixed rather than a floating design though, which would have given you the option to ‘overstuff’ the pack and carry a couple of extra litres if needed.

Highlander Ben Nevis 65 lid and stash pocket
©LFTO

An internal perimeter wire frame provides good rigidity and load-carrying support. The pack itself is mostly made from 200D ripstop nylon, with stretch fabric used for the front panel and side pockets. It has a PU (polyurethane) coating for added weather resistance, though the pack also boasts a waterproof rain cover stowed in the base. It’s easy to fit and is attached to the pack itself via a webbing strap that prevents it from blowing away.

Harness and back system

Highlander Ben Nevis 65 side profile
©LFTO

The Ben Nevis 65 has a suspended mesh back system that provides good airflow and ventilation. The harness is adjustable via a simple Velcro panel, which allows you to move the shoulder straps to suit different back lengths. These straps are broad, well-padded and nicely contoured (with differential cuts on the men’s and women’s versions to suit different body shapes). You also get a sliding chest strap with integrated safety whistle – though on test we found it slid around a bit too easily, rather than staying put in the desired position.

The hipbelt is also well-padded, and secures with a chunky, robust buckle. Single-pull webbing loops make it easy to adjust, though it’s worth tucking these away in the space behind the hipbelt pockets to ensure they don’t snag or flail around.

Pockets and storage

Highlander Ben Nevis 65 side elastic pocket
©LFTO

The pack has a profusion of useful pockets that make it easy to stay organised on the trail. There are inner and outer zippered pockets in the lid, the inner being fitted with a plastic key clip for security. Inside the main compartment you get a hydration sleeve for a water reservoir, with an exit port for a drinking tube.

There are two more zippered pockets on the hipbelt, with elastic-bound stretch fabric side and front pockets. These are big enough to take a 1-litre Nalgene – during testing on the Cape Wrath Trail, we also used the front pocket to store a pair of river crossing shoes. Although these pockets look a little vulnerable to getting snagged or scuffed, we actually found them to be a lot more durable than the mesh pockets of other packs we’ve tested. The base of each of these pockets is also reinforced with nylon, which also helps to prevent abrasion when you place the pack on the ground.

Highlander Ben Nevis 65 side compression strap
©LFTO

Buckled webbing straps on both sides of the pack and at the base allow for easy compression, but also provide places to stash a backpacking tent or closed cell foam mat. The lid also features webbing loops to create cord lashing points if you wanted to secure extra items too. There’s also a loop for carrying trekking poles or an ice axe, and an additional drawcord bungee on one shoulder strap. We found this particularly useful for temporarily stashing trekking poles when checking nav, taking photos, crossing stiles and opening gates on the trail.

Highlander Ben Nevis 65 attachment point and zip
©LFTO

All these features – especially all those webbing straps – would normally give a backpacking pack a busy, cluttered look. Fortunately, straps are fitted with little Velcro tabs that allow you to roll up and secure the ends to prevent them flapping around. It gives the Ben Nevis a much sleeker and cleaner profile than you might expect.

Performance and comfort

Front of Highlander Ben Nevis 65
©LFTO

On paper, this pack ticks all the boxes – it’s comfortable, fully-featured and fairly lightweight given its generous 65-litre capacity. What’s more, it’s reasonably priced too. All this made it a compelling choice to take on a long walk like the Cape Wrath Trail, which is widely acknowledged to be one of the UK’s toughest long-distance hikes. We did the whole thing end-to-end over 17 days, covering 255 miles with this pack in total. Fully laden, we were carrying between 12-14kg on most days, depending on how many days’ food we had left before resupply. So, we tested it pretty hard. How did it perform?

Pretty well overall – albeit with one caveat. It certainly proved itself to be capable and comfortable, and carried all our kit safely to Cape Wrath, the very northwest tip of Scotland. There were plenty of features that we really appreciated on the trail, such as those stretchy front and side pockets, the useful zippered side access to the main compartment, and the roomy hipbelt pockets. Unfortunately, by the end, the pack had started to show a few signs of distress, with abrasion to the base, and more worryingly, stitching failures to both shoulder straps. It held out but did cause us some concern.

Highlander Ben Nevis 65 wear and tear
©LFTO

This led us to question the pack’s overall build quality – somewhat surprising, since this is one of Highlander’s flagship products. They’re so confident in the pack’s quality, in fact, that they offer a 282-year lifetime warranty on it (that’s one for each Munro in Scotland). We duly got in touch with the brand, who confirmed that this shouldn’t happen and that they would replace the pack, no questions asked. That’s reassuring, although had the pack failed while on the trail, it would have been scant consolation, especially if it had meant having to cut the trip short.

Sustainability

This is another area where Highlander could perhaps try harder. For example, the pack uses no recycled or Bluesign-approved materials, and sustainability as a topic gets scant mention anywhere on the brand’s website.

Price and competition

With an RRP of £140 for the 65L model and £125 for the smaller 52-litre model, this pack is competitively priced. Shop around and you might find an even better deal – for example, one online retailer recently had the Ben Nevis 65 on sale for £100.

In that price bracket, you might also look at value-oriented brands like Karrimor, Eurohike and Kelty. It’s worth considering rivals in Decathlon’s Forclaz trekking range too, particularly the MT500 Air 50+10. There’s also the Berghaus Trailhead 65 and the Vango Contour 65. But all those packs are simpler in terms of features and back systems, yet a fair bit heavier than the Ben Nevis. Nor do they typically come with such a comprehensive lifetime warranty.

You’ll need to bump your budget a bit if you want a pack from industry big-hitters like Osprey, Lowe Alpine or Gregory, though that would give you tougher fabrics, better carrying comfort and, in our experience, superior build quality.

Verdict

Hiker wearing Highlander Ben Nevis 65 pack with LFTO star ratings
©LFTO

The Ben Nevis 65 is a mixed bag: roomy, comfortable, practical and affordable, but loses marks for poor sustainability and some doubts about build quality. An excellent lifetime warranty makes it less of a gamble though.

How we tested

NEMO Hornet Elite OSMO 1 Matt Jones for scale
©LFTO

The Highlander Ben Nevis 65 pack was tested by Matt Jones, one of our freelance gear testers and reviewers on LFTO and our magazine, Trail. Matt tested the Ben Nevis 65 on the 255-mile Cape Wrath Trail over 17 days.

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