After several years of success with their ruckcase range, Highlander have decided it’s time for a revamp and have developed an upgraded version of their popular ruckcase travel backpack. The main elements of this backpack that have been improved are the fabrics, design and colour ways available, the latter certainly impressed us, with the selection of coloured travel packs on the market becoming more limited each year. Ok, so it looks good on paper, but is it worthy of accompanying you on your gap year? Let’s go through the Explorer’s credentials and find out…
The Highlander Explorer is definitely a breath of fresh air compared to the black and grey travel packs out there, available in different colours and appearing more robust and stylish compared to it’s predecessor, the Highlander Ruckcase. One thing it does have in common with the Ruckcase range is that it is aimed at travellers on a budget, who require a reasonably priced backpack that will get their gear from A to B. It doesn’t have many of the all singing, all dancing features of our higher end travel packs, but it still manages to incorporate the ‘must have’ features, as well as some other useful additions.
Although their are three different sizes available, I have chosen to evaluate the 45+15L option, as all the features are exactly the same across the Explorer range, apart from the main backpack and daypack sizes, dimensions and weights.
As previously mentioned, this backpack is available in different colours, including black, raspberry and teal. I can see that black and teal would maybe appeal to both guys and girls, and the raspberry would be a good option for female travellers looking for a more girly coloured travel backpack.
In terms of sizing, the 45+15L size would be ideal for shorter trips, such as inter-railing around Europe or shorter gap years, where you’re only travelling for a month or two. The 60+20 litre size would be suitable for anything from 3 months to a year and the 80+20L size would be suitable for around 6-18 months, these are of course just guidelines and the size you would need would all come down to how much you pack as an individual.
With prices starting at £54.99 (RRP £69.99) for the 45+15L size, I’d say that this is a pretty reasonably priced backpack, particularly well suited to gap year travellers on a budget.
Materials: 600D Ripstop Polyester with PVC coating
Back System: Triple Lock Adjustable Back System (ladder lock design)
Back System & Comfort Features
The Explorer comes with a triple lock adjustable back system, which has a ladder lock design with a Velcro strap for adjustment. I do find ladder lock back systems a little awkward, but hopefully once you’ve got the height to where you need it to be, you’re unlikely to need to adjust it again. I’m fairly tall at 5’8″ and although this is a smaller backpack, I had no issue finding a comfortable setting to suit my height.
As with most other travel backpacks, the back system is padded and features breathable air mesh material on body contact points, which are great for helping to prevent a sweaty back in hot climates.
The back system also comes with a padded hip belt, which is designed to offer support and stability, however, I feel it could benefit from some reinforcement, as it’s a little too flexible, which probably wouldn’t offer much support when carrying heavier loads or if you’re wearing it for long periods of time. That being said, you only tend to find reinforced hip belts in higher end backpacks, like the Lowe Alpine range, so the fact that the Explorer doesn’t incorporate this feature, isn’t exactly a deal breaker for the price. Personally, I’d only use this backpack for carrying my stuff to the hostel, and would invest in a more expensive pack if I was going to be carrying it for extended periods of time.
The Highlander Explorer 45+15 has a 45 litre main compartment, which is actually pretty generously sized for it’s capacity and a 15 litre detachable daypack for day to day use.
The backpack has a side opening (suitcase style) design with twin zips for access. The zips also feature special lock housing, which enables you to pass most luggage locks through and lock them for added security. Inside the main compartment, the backpack has a large zip pocket which is ideal for storing dirty clothes, although this could be improved by using mesh material for better ventilation. It also comes with two compression straps to help hold your clothes and other items of luggage in place, which have a wash bag/organiser attached for storing toiletries and smaller items separately.
Another organisation feature of the Explorer is the optional drawcord divider in between the base and main compartments, this would be great for storing shoes separately from your clothes to help keep them clean. As the divider is optional, you can also combine the main and bottom compartment to make one large packing space. You can also access the main compartment through the twin zip at the bottom of the bag, and my one criticism here would be that the base compartment zips should really have the interlocking design to improve security. This is a feature I find to be an issue on many backpacks, however, you should be able to overlap the two zips and fit a padlock through if you need to.
As previously mentioned the Explorer comes with a detachable 15 litre daypack, which includes clips for attaching it to the main backpack harness. Although not all travellers like to utilise this specific feature, it can come in useful in countries with high crime rates where you need to keep an eye on your valuables. The daypack also includes a small front pocket, two mesh bottle pockets and a main compartment with elasticated pocket. It’s a shame Highlander haven’t included a hydration tube port at the top of the daypack, but again, this isn’t really a deal breaker, unless you’re looking for a hydration compatible backpack.
To sum up, I would say that the Highlander Explorer is a good backpack option for travellers on a budget, with the 45+15L model being particularly well suited to shorter trips and those who are aiming to pack light. In terms of comfort, it offers a good level of carrying comfort and support, but I would recommend a higher specification pack if you would be carrying it for long periods of time, especially if you’re taking part in treks during your trip. From my experience of the previous ruckcase model, it’s plain to see that the materials used on the Explorer are of a higher quality and will most definitely offer a higher level of durability, especially with the addition of the reinforced base.
My main criticism would have to be based on the zips, on models such as the Vango Freedom and Caribee Mallorca, the durability and quality of the zips is of a much higher standard, but then again this is reflected in the higher price tag. The zips can be awkward to close on the zip out expansion, so maybe the inclusion of higher quality zips could remedy this issue.
Although this backpack is classed as a more basic option compared to some of the other packs in our range, it still includes a lot of the key features travellers would come to expect from a travel pack, and the expanding section was a surprising addition that I wouldn’t have expected from a backpack of this price. I also like the fact that the Explorer is available in 45+15L, 60+20L and 80+20L sizes, as this caters to a range of requirements and suits trips from 2 weeks to 18 months+. The colour ways available are also a huge bonus, which will appeal to travellers looking for a stylish backpack that is easy to spot at the airport. Although the bag comes with a back system cover, I would recommend buying a transit cover to protect the entire bag, as the back system cover won’t help to prevent damage to your backpack in transit. It’s also worth noting that this pack doesn’t come with a rain cover, so you may want to consider buying one separately, especially if you’re visiting a country during it’s rainy season!
You can find out more about the Highlander Explorer range here.
Rachel has worked for the company for 9 years and as one of our buying team, has a wide knowledge of travel gear. She has travelled in Europe and Southeast Asia, but her dream destination would be South America to experience Carnival in Rio, unleash her inner Attenborough in the Galapagos and sip on Colombian coffee in colonial Cartagena.