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Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail XT60 – Review

The Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail XT60 is a 60 litre, feature packed and comfortable rucksack retailing at £150 that should be a serious consideration for any long-distance hiker or wild camper.

Choosing a rucksack can be one of the more difficult purchases us ‘outdoors people’ have to make with a wide variety of different sizes, features, technologies the manufacturers invariably claim to be the best and of course, prices.

One thing that’s always hard to judge is how comfortable the rucksack is going to be. Trying it on in a shop is preferential to buying online but no amount of adjusting and walking around in Blacks with an unloaded rucksack is going to provide you with the best conclusion. Without weight through the straps you are almost no better off and so most people are left choosing between aesthetics and price alone.

Fortunately, the internet is a great place to read reviews, so long as you can find one detailing the product you’re interested in. We’re going to take the wondering out of one rucksacks capabilities and today that’s the Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail XT60.

Five years ago, I did exactly what I wrote above. With a lesser knowledge, know-how and eagerness to purchase hundreds of pounds of kit for my first wild camp, I entered Field & Trek looking for a rucksack, amongst a multitude other things. Aesthetics and price were my only two variables; anything over a certain amount was immediately discounted. I don’t think I even tried anything on.

I selected a Karrimor (not the best decision to start with) Panther 65L based on its nice red colour and 35% reduced price. It served me well but was never particularly comfortable. I put it down to me not being used to carrying such a weight but even when my fitness was top level (I’d been walking 60 miles a week, weight training, cycling and eating on a very strict, protein rich diet plan and had just finished the Caledonian Challenge), I never found a way to alleviate the pull on my back or spread the weight nicely; I still can’t now.

That was my first large rucksack at 60L and reviewing this Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail XT60 is my second, though I briefly used an even larger Deuter 70+15 which was incredible but less comparable.

I felt instant pleasure at the realisation it was the rucksack and not my lack of knowledge or fitness causing my back and hips to ache – the XT60 felt light and extremely comfortable from the outset. Strangely the weights were almost identical so there must be a better balance across the XT60 – the material is certainly much thinner, though likely stronger.

The Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail XT60 retails at £150, just £40 more than the suggested price for my old nemesis. In that case it is a bargain but in reality it’s still more expensive than some alternatives in this size category from other brands.

Let’s walk through the feature set for this XT60 starting with the most important bit – the back system.

The X-Transition back system is spot-on though hard to get into place.

The X-Transition back system is spot-on though hard to get into place.

Jack Wolfskin call this particular system ‘X-Transition’ which is designed to distribute the load between the shoulders and hips for the best comfort. There are anatomic differences between the male and female versions too. Furthermore, the lightweight aluminium rods and hip belt are contoured to provide maximum freedom of movement and better comfort.

I can attest to the latter of those points being absolutely true. With 15KG loaded in the XT60 and scrambling along Crib Goch I never had a problem balancing or lifting my legs to get around challenging obstacles. During a rapid day hike with climbing and scrambling that put the XT60 outside of its intended purpose, it faired well and caused only one issue – almost disabling my neck when climbing and reaching, not allowing me to look up and forward without difficulty because the lid was in the way. Still, that was an activity for which the rucksack was not intended and the fact it caused me only a slight issue highlights just what a good fit it is.

My movement was unrestricted even while climbing and scrambling. Apart from my neck.

My movement was unrestricted even while climbing and scrambling. Apart from my neck.

The X-Transition suspension system is curved nicely and padded substantially down both sides and onto where it rests on the base of your back. In order to move the straps up and down to suit your back length size, you are faced with a bit of a challenge however. In the centre of the back is a ladder system of incredibly stiff and rugged tabs, positioned incrementally so you can push the equally tough velcro strap through and secure at the desired height. Genuinely, this is a task that involves patience and a bit of strength. The tabs have very little slack and the strap is an incredibly tight squeeze through them. Combined with the lateral stiffness of both, forcing the strap through the tab is tough and bending the end of it is more likely than it simply sliding through into place. This is of course done for a reason, it needs to be secure enough to hold a lot of weight and to keep the pack even on your back. Most of all, you’re probably expected to only do it once. It’s an important connection because it is the only place the shoulder straps are fixed to the rucksack besides the load adjustment straps.

The system goes from Small to Extra Large, which fits 46cm-62cm back lengths, which are measured from the shoulder to the upper edge of the pelvic bone.

The hip-belt and back is padded for the utmost comfort.

The hip-belt and back is padded for the utmost comfort.

The hip belt is the next most important thing after the back system and shoulder straps and I found the one on the XT60 to be very comfortable. The outside of the hip belt has quite a hard shell to it, while the inside is nicely padded and doesn’t rub when tightened up. Jack Wolfskin made the strap extremely adjustable – it tightens from both sides so people with the smallest waists still won’t have a problem getting it tight.

The chest strap is fitted on runners for additional adjustability and it also features a whistle on the buckle, as a lot of brands are doing these days. It’s a feature I love, though have never used outside of testing but one I feel is certain to help someone one day. On the front of the shoulder straps are two bands either side to hold your drinking hose in place and they also serve well to stop the load straps from flapping around.

The bottom of the rucksack sports an elasticated pocket either side that’s comfortably big enough for a Nalgene bottle, a map or even a rain jacket. Access to these could potentially be blocked by the compression strap – one that controls the depth of the XT60 – that runs across the top of it.

At the very base of the rucksack, there is a zip secured compartment hidden away at the back – you’d never see it if you didn’t know it was there – that holds a bright yellow and well fitting rain cover, always kept in place by a lightweight plastic buckle. It’s easily accessible and takes seconds to fit.

The great fit leads to brilliant stability and comfort.

The great fit leads to brilliant stability and comfort.

There are lashing options for hiking poles and for a helmet that are robust and keep things very tightly in place. Compression straps are everywhere – there are two for the lid, four controlling the depth tightness, two at the base, two that allow the lid to expand, one inside and two load straps. That’s 13 in total which allows for a load of flexibility, adjustability and improved stability.

As standard now, the XT60 is set up for hydration systems with a little opening underneath the lid to put your hose through – no rain can get in once the lid is tightened down. On the left side there’s an additional pocket, which like the rain cover pocket is almost invisible. This is an ideal map pocket – big enough to fit it in but something that isn’t going to unevenly distribute the weight in your pack. On the front, there’s one more pocket bang in the middle which is spacious enough to fit a whole host of things – there’s also a separation sleeve in there incase you want to organise kit a bit more.

Another detail on the outside of the XT60 is a zip that runs all the way from the base of the lid, down to the bottom compartment, across the bag and back up the other side. This is one of my favourite features and one that allows the entire front of the rucksack to open up and give you access to everything inside.

The gigantic zip on the front opens up the main compartment.

The gigantic zip on the front opens up the main compartment.

One large, split front pocket is ideal for bits and pieces.

One large, split front pocket is ideal for bits and pieces.

For those times when something has fallen down in the main compartment or when you’d rather not pull everything out to get to something in the middle, now you can just unzip the front and get a plan-view of everything instead of a top-down view of the only the uppermost items. I used this on multiple occasions and it saved me a lot of time I would usually have spent re-packing.

Further to this, there is another spacious section at the bottom of the bag where you’re most likely to store a second pair of boots or your sleeping bag (it’s ideal for this) and inside this, Jack Wolfskin has added a zip that allows you to access the main compartment from a third direction – or to just create one enormous compartment by leaving the zip undone.

Whatever the intended function of the zip in the bottom compartment, you are left with three ways of accessing the main compartment and at some point you will use all of them. Accessibility is a huge part of the Highland Trail XT60 and I loved that.

Before we’re completely done with the outside features, there’s another one worth mentioning and it’s the third time I’m going to tell you it was almost invisible and that I found it purely by accident. On the right hand side, where the hip belt meets the rucksack itself is a small velcro pocket that stores a fold out bottle holder. Pull out the material and you have a specifically designed place to put your Nalgene bottle, or less specifically, your trail food. It’s kept in place by a buckle that secures into the side of the hip belt. It’s all in the details.

Straps for hiking poles on either side.

Straps for hiking poles on either side.

The water bottle pouch pulls out of a velcro pocket.

The water bottle pouch pulls out of a velcro pocket.

As expected, there are fewer details inside that need to be mentioned but I’ll quickly run through the main ones. Inside the lid, which is height adjustable so you can cram in an extra five litres or so of kit, there is an SOS set of instructions that include distress signals and information on accident procedures. Jack Wolfskin have been doing this for a while now and just like the whistle, it’ll come in handy one day. The lid has an internal pocket as well as a large external one and sports a security key clip which does exactly as the name would suggest.

The main compartment looks almost as though it’s giving up storage space to the back system as the curve intrudes slightly – this means the compartment isn’t ‘square’ but is instead arched on one side. There is a large, elasticated pocket inside with plenty of room for your drinks bladder and above it is a velcro tab to keep it from moving about.

The waist strap fits the smallest of waists.

The waist strap fits the smallest of waists.

Lots of space inside the main compartment, with an elastic pouch and hydration tab.

Lots of space inside the main compartment, with an elastic pouch and hydration tab.

And breathe…

That’s about it for features, unless there’s something else hidden away that I’ve missed! As you can tell, it’s packed with great details but doesn’t skimp on quality or finish, as always with Jack Wolfskin. It’s worth noting that the lightweight material on the outside is made to be tough and tear-resistant using Jack Wolfskin’s ‘Cross Rip 210D’ technology and the base is more durable still, using 300D and reinforcement threads.

The D in 210D stands for denier, which means the fabric weighs 210 grams per 900 metres of yarn. This number indirectly measures strength.

A stronger thread is woven into the light ripstop fabric every few millimetres. If the fabric tears, the rip stops at the stronger threads; this is why it has the name “ripstop”.

These fabrics are by no means the thickest or strongest in the business – 600D is twice as thick and therefore much stronger, for example – but they’re designed to withstand a battering while remaining light.

One of the first things I wrote in this review was how light the rucksack seemed, yet with all the features I’ve listed, I expected it to be more than the 2180g it’s listed as. I weighed it and it was actually 130g lighter than suggested. Curiously, my ill-fitting Karrimor Panther comes in 300g lighter still, so it’s testament to how a well designed back system offsets a bit of additional weight.

To conclude this lengthy review, let’s just remind ourselves that the Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail XT60 is £150 and as I also mentioned earlier, there are others that are significantly cheaper. The difference is that lots of its competitors don’t offer the hidden features the XT60 does. It’s like the difference between a standard Audi and an S-Line model. You get some nice additions, but they cost more.

For those of you who buy kit to last a long time and to serve you well at every opportunity then well thought out features like these are more than likely something you are looking out for. The extra spend to get the S-Line features offered by the XT60 is, in my opinion, worth it and if you find a retailer that’s offering it cheaper then you’ve got yourself a bargain.


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