Everyone loves a good backpack, and today I’d like to talk about a great one that has been around since 1978: Fjällräven’s infamous Kånken. Originally designed as an ergonomic solution to back mauling backpacks for school children in Sweden, by now the bag has reached a kind of hipster/cult status and comes in several variations aside from the original Classic (Kids, Mini, Big, Maxi and three sizes of laptop bag).
For those that think the regular safety logo of reflector + red artic fox is simply not dieselpunk enough, despite the fact that it has a kind of boxy militaria look going on, there is the Kånken no 2, which has leather detailing, giving it a proper dieselpunk look. Watch out though, whilst the regular Kånken is very much waterproof by itself, the no 2 needs Fjällräven’s Greenland wax to become and stay waterproof, so some faffing about is to be expected with those bags.
Now the Kånken isn’t the prettiest backpack around, let’s be honest about this. Even though it has a certain appeal, it’s still a square with a square and a big old logo in the end. But what it lacks in look, it makes up by the sheer ingenuity of design.
For starters, Kånken are lightweight. A Kånken Big, which fits as much as a two compartment regular daypack (such as the Eastpak and Jack Wolfskin ones) weighs a mere 350 grams empty. The Mini, Kids and Classic weigh even less, and the laptop backpacks are probably the lightest models of their kind out there as well. The lack of base weight diminishes absolutely nothing of the sturdiness, so even though it weighs next to nothing, it’s still going to be just as sturdy as another bag.
It may look like it will fit barely anything, but it’s surprising just how much you can pack in one of these backpacks, even the small ones! Especially the big(ger) ones will proverbially fit your life in them.
It’s incredibly comfortable. I have loaded the exact amount of things I would put in a two compartment Jack Wolfskin daypack into my Kånken big and barely noticed it was even on my back. Whilst a regular backpack often left with me upper back, shoulder and/or neck pains afterwards, the Kånken has given me _no_ issues at all. Of course if you combine it with a shoulder bag, your satchel supporting shoulder may still ache, as the Kånken will do nothing to compensate any other bags, but that’s normal.
You can be out in a storm and your stuff will still be bone dry. Just make sure to put it on a towel or mop when you bring it inside, because the water will run off (much like a wet umbrella) and puddle.
Aside from that, depending on the model, it may come with one or two side pockets, which are good for things such as folded newspapers, umbrellas and conveniently sized water bottles.
And there is of course this little feature that may seem a bit ridiculous but may prove very convenient: the seating mat. Which is basically a small removable little yoga mat that sits in a pocket in the back of your Kånken. It gives more padding and thus comfort to your back, and you can take it out if you want to sit on a cold floor. Or dirty floor, but then I wouldn’t recommend putting it back in because it’ll just dirty your Kånken.
They do sell replacement mats for it, but it’s cheaper to just buy a cheap yoga mat and cutting that to the right size.
On top of all of these features, the Kånken is also made in a carbon neutral way.
There is a very practical camera insert for the classic, making you able to turn your backpack into a camera backpack and the only real possible downside that there is to the classic and mini are the straps. Whilst padding on Kånken straps is totally unnecessary when you are wearing a long sleeved shirt or top, they can be quite uncomfortable on bare skin. The mini’s much less so because it is a small backpack, but when it’s fully loaded and heavy they can be a bit uncomfortable as well. They don’t chafe as such, so you don’t have to worry about carpet burn style incidents, they’re just not the most pleasant against bare skin. This may of course be my personal experience with them, and others may not be bothered, but especially when carrying heavy backpacks, it’s worth considering purchasing the removable padded straps for mini or classic. I would definitely try it without the padding first, because there are undoubtedly plenty of people who find them unnecessary.
Even though many cats love turning a Kånken into a hidey-hole, you’re definitely not purchasing a cat in a bag with these backpacks! (I just couldn’t resist this pun, I blame my cat!)
So in conclusion: yes, a Kånken is a more expensive bag, but thanks to all of its very practical features, the fact that it’s both ergonomic and light weight as well as nigh indestructible (people still using a 20+, or even 30+ year old Kånken are not uncommon). Most models (Mini and Classic especially) come in an immense variety of colours, including at least 4 different shades of brown and some combos thereof on top, and are generally the most comfortable backpack you’ll ever own. It’s unsurprising that most Kånken owners own several models or several versions of their favourite model.
Left to right: Big, Classic and Mini, all in Brown.
For those interested in buying one:
If you are in the UK or living outside of the EU, your cheapest and best option is probably ilovemykanken.
For those living in the EU in a country that does not use the £, you are best off googling for the bag you want and comparing prices and checking out local shops specialising in Scandinavian items, eco shops and outdoors shops.
If you live in Belgium, just go to Moose in the City in Antwerp. They sell everything at the same price as the Fjallraven website, and can order in (there may be a wait though) anything not in stock 🙂
Brown and Sand Classics at Moose in the City.