Fjällräven Kånken Review: Are Kånken Backpacks Worth It?

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When you think of iconic duos, do you think of you and your future Kånken backpack? No matter who you travel with, the ultimate companion is your backpack, so it’s paramount that you find the perfect one. If you’re considering a Fjällräven Kånken Classic, you’ve come to the right place. This is a Fjällräven Kånken backpack review.

We’ll talk about just how much you can fit in a Kånken backpack, its features, whether you’re getting a bang for your buck, and of course, some anecdotal proof of whether the Kånken suits you as well as it does me.

pink kanken backpack with a ribbon

History of the Fjällräven Kånken Classic

Before we get into the nitty gritty, here’s why the Kånken has been a big deal for a third of a century. As a Swede, I admit I get a pang of pride when I see just how many Fjällräven backpacks have spread all over the world. Here’s a brief history to tie up any loose ends – and hopefully teach you something new!

In 1978, Sweden underwent some pretty drastic changes. Firstly, dads became the target of commercials and legislation: paternity leave was recognized and encouraged. Secondly, Sweden also became the first country to make hitting children a criminal offence. Family was at the epicenter of Swedish life. And that’s where Fjällräven Kånken stepped in.

It’s no coincidence that Fjällräven (pronounced “Fyellrairven”) produced the Kånken (pronounced “Konken”) Classic backpack at the same time as these political changes. Swedish kids had bad posture and back pain because their school bags weren’t designed to balance weight evenly between both shoulders.

The founder of Fjällräven, a man called Åke Nordin from Örnsköldsvik, had a solution. He created the first recognized ergonomic backpack: the Kånken Classic. Åke had been working hard since 1960 to make hiking and outwear more durable in Sweden’s harsh, wet climate. His focus moved to making school bags more comfortable and practical, and to great success.

That was 42 years ago, and it’s still very much true today. This cult classic remains a favorite with parents, adults, kids and everyone in between. And as a bonus, if you’ve ever been curious to know what Fjällräven means, it’s the Swedish word for Arctic fox (though we call them mountain foxes).

Now it’s time to get into the Fjällräven Kånken backpack review.

Pros and cons of the Kånken Classic backpack

Pros of the Kånken backpack:

  • Fashionable: Available in a variety of colors and has an iconic, retro design
  • Wide opening for easy access
  • Plenty of storage space
  • Practical for day-to-day usage
  • Lasts for years (and years)
  • Easy to clean
  • Compact for storage

Cons of the Kånken backpack:

  • High price range
  • Not suitable for heavy loads
  • Requires organizational experience

Overall rating & features

As with everything in life, whether you like or dislike something comes down to your preferences. For me, I need my backpack to be versatile, practical, durable and look good. In my opinion, it’s no good investing a lot of money into something that will only be used once or fail you in your day-to-day endeavors. For this Kånken backpack review, I’ve based my responses on the four criteria below.

  • Design: 9/10
  • Durability: 10/10
  • Value: 7/10
  • Practicality: 8/10

There’s a lot to unpack – pun intended – when it comes to rating a backpack. Let’s get into the details.

Features of the Kånken backpack

Your backpack arrives in the mail, here’s what you’ll see:

Firstly, at the top, there are two handles that can be snapped together. Below that, there is a reflective Fjällräven logo of an adorable Arctic fox. There are two zippers that open to the central compartment of the backpack. Inside, there is a compartment for the seating pad (which doubles up as the padding against your back when wearing the backpack). There are two side pockets on either side of the backpack’s exterior, as well as a smaller pocket with a zipper on the front. The shoulder straps are ergonomic.

1. Measurements

  • 14.9″ x 10.6″ x 5.1″ (38cm x 27cm x 13cm)
  • 16 Liters storage
green blue kanken with girl's boots

2. Design

If you’re reading this article, I doubt you need telling that this is the trendiest backpack right now. The design of the Kånken Classic has stayed the same since 1978, and it’s proof that some things are just timeless. I love how retro the backpack’s design is. Everything from its color scheme to its minimalistic exterior is classic and versatile. Take time to pick the right color for you, and you’ll be able to match it to your aesthetic.

Even though everyone seems to have one, it’s a backpack that feels very personal and intensely your own. For those of us who get imposter syndrome from donning purpose-made hiking gear or feel like Bilbo Baggins having a strap around our midriffs, the Kånken Classic is the perfect aesthetically pleasing alternative.

3. Storage capabilities

This is a biggie. A backpack’s main function is to carry your stuff, right? Here’s where I disagree with other reviewers. Some say the Kånken’s lack of internal organizational compartments lets it down I counter this with the fact that a well-organized mind doesn’t need hundreds of compartments for you to forget where you stuffed your things. Here’s my case for having more freedom. Below is everything I can comfortably fit into my Kånken Classic.

what is inside my pink kanken backpack

I know it looks like I’m prepared for everything from endless boredom to possible armageddon, but the truth is I know how it feels to be stuck hungry and bored on a layover in the middle of the night somewhere.

So, what is in my Kånken backpack?

  • 1 75 ml water bottle (side pocket)
  • Phillips Toothbrush charging case
  • Nintendo Switch Lite (& case)
  • A book
  • iPad mini Gen 3
  • Pringles
  • Transparent bag of liquids (under 100ml each)
  • A warm sweater
  • bag with spare underwear, socks, spare t-shirt
  • Travel documents
  • Bag with spare chargers and portable phone charger
  • Valuables pocket bag (jewelry)
  • Wallet & phone case (combined)
  • AirPods (front pocket)

Size isn’t always a great indicator of power. For me, the Kånken’s wide opening to its central compartment is a dream. It means I can organize my stuff without pesky dividers telling me I should allocate less space to snacks and books. The fact that the center is devoid of extra compartments means that it’s up to me to use the space as efficiently as I like, and this may be considered a drawback if you prefer a more uniform approach.

Now, should you carry your laptop in your Kånken? For full transparency and clarity, I want to mention that Fjällräven don’t actually advise you to put laptops in the Classic design. They’ve got other models designed to protect your tech better. But if your laptop is the same size as mine (13 inches) – it’ll fit without problems! If you have a larger laptop, you might consider investing in the Fjällräven Kånken laptop bag. These accommodate for 15″ laptops, and even have a zipper especially designed for easy access to your computer.

4. Durability

I love my backpack, but if you asked it for testimony on our relationship, I don’t think it would remain in my custody. Blizzards, being dropped in the sea, hurled into the car trunk with the force of Zeus…yeah, it’s been through a lot. Luckily, the Fjällräven Kånken backpack is made of strong stuff so it can handle pretty much any temperature or weather conditions. And, if you’re anything like me, clumsiness. This is a backpack that will last you for years, which in my case is pretty lucky. It can go from school bag to hand carrier luggage in just a few minutes of reorganizing your belongings – mega bonus for fellow lazy heads!

That said, I wouldn’t take my Kånken on any major hikes (more than four or five hours). Why? If you’re looking to invest in a purely ‘hiking bag’, then the Kånken Classic probably isn’t for you. The bag’s straps are ergonomic, but I wouldn’t go crazy. This is more of a day-use bag than a place to store gallons of water and rations to survive the wilderness. The foam seating pad does provide relief to your back, but if you know you’re going to be carrying exceptionally heavy gear a long while, I’d advise you to go for something sturdier than the Kånken Classic.

hiking in winter with a black kanken backpack

5. Material

Practicality when it comes to bags isn’t just about how much stuff you can carry around in it. If you are someone who is a “chuck it in, I’m sure it’ll be fine” type of person, then you’re probably also a person who needs reassurance that a bit of rain won’t make your backpack crumple like paper. 

Quick pivot to the science-y part. Kånken backpacks are made of a material called Vinylon F, which is a big deal because it’s dirt-resistant, water-resistant and wipes clean. If you decide to take your Kånken on a mini hike and it gets splashed with mud, no worries.

Under no circumstances should you put your Kånken in the washing machine – it’ll destroy the material and the reality is, it just doesn’t need it. A big bonus if you live somewhere where it rains a lot!

6. Reflective logo

Next, though really it should be top of the list, safety. It’s not glamorous to talk about road safety, but this feature of the Kånken backpack actually has the ability to save your life. Personally, I feel this feature is neglected by other reviewers. The easiest explanation of why that is could be down to weather differences. In Sweden, it can be dark for most of the day in winter (no exaggeration). Most Swedes wear reflexes half of the year to protect themselves when outdoors. Therefore, it makes sense that a Swedish company would incorporate a reflective version of the iconic arctic fox logo to their backpack. It means you can be seen even when it’s dark, which could save your life. 

A 2010 study by the Australasian College of Road Safety found that in only 2% of cases drivers could see people wearing black clothes at night. That number increased to 15% when people wore a vest, and 90% when the people were wearing knee and ankle reflexes. Worth thinking about, especially if you’re travelling with your Kånken.

brown kanken on bed

7. Safety

The front pocket of the Kånken Classic is a godsend for things like chapstick or small coins that get lost easily. However, a major drawback of this backpack is that it doesn’t come with any safety features, so I wouldn’t put anything valuable in the front pocket if you’re traveling. If you’re going somewhere known for pickpockets, you probably already know not to put your valuables where they’re easily accessed – by you or anyone else.

However, I find the front pocket especially useful in my day-to-day life. For commutes to school or work, the front pocket is especially useful for stashing away odd bits. It’s also worth mentioning that because the handles on top of the backpack snap together, they act as a safety feature because you can’t access the zips without unsnapping them.

8. Internal seating pad

For many people, the fact this backpack comes with a seating pad is an area of bewilderment. Trust me when I say that when you live in Sweden, where bus stops and forests are often frosted with snow and ice, it can be nice to whip the seating pad out and park your butt on something dry for a change. I concede that most people won’t find much use for it, and the pad itself is fairly thin so it doesn’t provide ultimate comfort while wearing the backpack. If you know you’ll often be carrying bulky or sharp gear, then the Kånken Classic might not work for you.

On the other hand, it’s not uncomfortable to wear the backpack even when it’s full. For me, the foam pad does a great job of protecting my stuff and my back. I’ve never experienced back pain or wished the foam pad was thicker. For daily use, it does what it’s supposed to.

going hiking with a fjallraven kanken backpack

Value for money

Lastly, let’s talk about money. Fast fashion is a temptation most of us face every day. There are knock-off products that imitate the Kånken Classic, but do they live up to the real deal? Honestly, no. If you want a backpack that will last you for years and years with little to no maintenance, then I recommend Kånken. Especially if you know you’ll use it a lot.

The price tag is pretty hefty, but I encourage you to see it as an investment. If you use it every day, it’s comparable to paying a few cents every day for a few months. The beauty in the Kånken Classic lies in its simplicity, which translates to versatility. If you’re in the market for a backpack that will double up as a weekend bag, sports bag, and school/work bag, then I can’t think of a better option. If you’re looking for something with serious capabilities in terms of hiking or heavy lifting, then you might consider looking into other models by Fjällräven or their competitors.

Other notable Fjällräven Kånken products

Just like the classic, but smaller! This version of the Classic Kånken is best suited to those of you who just need to pack the essentials but don’t over-estimate how much you’ll need.

Calling all MacBook Air and larger Microsoft models users! This is the Kånken that’s up to handling larger laptops that can’t squeeze into the Classic. Extra points because the back panel has a pocket especially for your convenience – handy at college or work.

Gamers or hardcore thesis writers, this one’s for you. If your laptop needs extra wriggle room, consider investing in the 17″ Kånken to make sure your tech-baby is taken care of.

If you’re truly dedicated to your “look”, you might consider grabbing a matching Laptop case for your Kånken backpack. Or go nuts, and pick the opposite color. The world is your oyster!

Final thoughts on the Kånken Classic

hiking in a pink kanken backpack

For my own needs, there is no other backpack that comes close. The combination of the fact that it always looks good and is so reliable is what seals the deal for me. I love that it looks the same as when I first bought it, and that I’ve mastered organizing my belongings in it so I know where to find everything. My Kånken Classic fits into my lifestyle seamlessly.

But as much as I love the Kånken Classic, I can admit it has its drawbacks.

I admit that the backpack is expensive. Its cost will undoubtedly put some buyers off, especially if they’re hardcore trekkers on weekends who need a bit more comfort that the Kånken Classic can’t provide. I also know I’m somewhat unique in wanting to have all my stuff together, rather than separated by dividers.

If you’re feeling disappointed that the Kånken Classic isn’t quite up to what you need it for, see if there’s another backpack by Fjällräven that might just solve your problems. All Kånken backpacks are unisex, so all you need to do is decide which color is for you and then get packing!

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