In 1987, when I was a 23-year-old ne’er-do-well, my buddy and I bought packs for a West Highland Way adventure. If memory serves, he selected a Karrimor Panther. I can’t confirm that vague recollection – my pal is hiking in perpetual sunshine in a better place – but I’m sure that if he dropped by tomorrow he’d be delighted to find that the Panther was still available and has changed little.
Call it ‘retro’, call it ‘traditional’, the Panther is the kind of pack that tends to get chosen by the likes of school groups and Duke of Edinburgh Award-hungry youngsters. It’s easy to see why: it’s at the budget end of the packs here, is pretty robust and well-padded at the lumbar region and on the shoulders. There are sizeable bellows side pockets, nicely accessible stretch-mesh wand pockets, and a bungee-type strap on the lid. The adjustable back system means it should fit most folk without trouble.
That SA (Side Adjustable) back system – introduced in 1983 – is easily modified, the harness sliding up and down a pair of external alloy stays and with a little practise can even be altered on the hoof.
For all that, the carry isn’t overly comfortable. The weight doesn’t sit comfortably on the hips and I found the pack itself sagged below the hip belt, dumping some of the weight uncomfortably on to my backside. It also bounced a little, shifting around as I walked, weight pulling at my shoulders: at times I felt it was fighting against me. When I’m out and about I like to be able to focus on the environment around me and not concern myself with being mugged by my pack. The sternum strap is easily adjustable, moving fairly freely on sliders.
The main compartment is split into two, with zipped access to the base in which sleeping bags were traditionally carried. The lightweight rain cover concealed beneath that compartment is unattached to the pack, which means it can easily be replaced or repaired if lost or damaged.
Hydration bladders can be accommodated within an internal sleeve. The exit port for the hose is across the right shoulder – no choice – and is a tad tight and fiddly for threading a hose through. Mind you, they didn’t have them when my pal and me were lads…