Sometimes methods used in other cultures can inspire improved product design. Sixty-something-year-old Peter Clark has combined western backpacks with the Nepali namlo to create a product that he says has prolonged his tramping life.
A traditional Nepali namlo is a strap made from woven hemp or jute, which is worn over the head or forehead and attached to a tapered basket which rests on the person’s back. The wearer leans forward as they walk, sharing the load between head, neck and back.
Clark visited Nepal in 1974, observed the way the locals used the namlo and decided he could improve the design by attaching the head strap to western style backpacks.
He says combining the two gives him the best of both worlds. “You have extra choices of how you carry your load. With a namlo only, you basically have only one position.
“With the namlo plus western backpack combo, you have several choices of position. This is great, as you can change position while you’re actually in motion.”
If Clark needs to rest his hips, for instance, he’ll undo the waist strap of his pack and carry the weight on his shoulders and head. If he wants to rest his neck, he’ll remove the namlo from his head, and so on.
He still enjoys long tramps in Nelson Lakes, Arthur’s Pass and plenty in between, and believes the combo has increased his longevity in the hills. “I have been using a namlo on and off for 33 years,” he says. “I’m ‘over the hill’ now and find this is really when it helps me the most because I can still go on big trips when I’m old.
“It’s excellent for those times when you’re carrying exceptionally heavy loads on a track or on good terrain.
“It’s easier on your back. The stationary position is hard but, once you’re walking and in motion, it all changes. It’s more comfortable than it looks. You just have to play around a bit and adjust it to the right length for you and your load.”
Clark uses a namlo made from traditional materials, but says leather’s good to use, as would a car seatbelt, though he recommends using padding to prevent rubbing on the forehead. The western packs are nearly always, though unintentionally, well designed to accommodate a namlo.
“The current pack I use, the Macpac Ravine, has an ice axe eyelet centred low down on the back,” says Clark. “It works really well.”