Expert Review: Fjallraven Kanken Backpack

This review is my honest opinion of the backpack, which I purchased with my own money in 2016.

A Fjallraven Kanken Backpack in a pile of backpacks.

I left my bag in a big pile of all my friends belongings in the middle of the standing room for a concert. As you can see, the bag still looks good! Photo courtesy of Grace VanSurksum

About this Review: This review is my honest opinion of the backpack, which I purchased with my own money in 2016.

My take

This timeless backpack is my everyday bag: going to class, to the beach, for a bike ride, concert, etc. The design hasn’t changed since 1978, and neither has Fjallraven’s defining quality and style. It is stylish, durable, and spacious. I mainly used this pack when I was a tour guide for a posh yet rustic hotel in Burlington, VT. I would take guests on a “Bike-and-Brew” tour around the city. I could fit everything I needed in my pack, have room to carry beer purchases for guests, and look good while doing it.

About the gear

  • Model: 2016 Fjallraven Kanken Backpack
  • Gender: Unisex
  • Size: Small
  • Pack capacity: 16L

About me

  • Height: 5’5”
  • Weight: 130 lbs.
  • Experience: 10 years

Test conditions

  • When I bought it: 2016
  • Length of trips: Day trips
  • What I carried:
    • Other: School books, computer; day trip essentials like sunscreen, towels, and beer.
  • Total pack weight: 10.6 oz.
  • Used for: Everyday use.
  • Where I’ve used it: All over Burlington, Vermont.
  • Terrain: Biking, beaches, school, airplanes.
  • Seasons I’ve used it in: All 4 seasons, mostly in the summer.

How it performs

Back Breathability
4/5
Comfort
3/5
Design
5/5
Durability
5/5
Versatility
4/5
Weight
4/5

What I was looking for

I actually got this pack back for free when I was working as a tour guide for a local hotel in Burlington, VT. The hotel’s theme was “Modern & Rustic.” Fjallraven wanted to promote its products, and the hotel wanted its employees to fit the look, so a collaboration was in order. I remember all my friends were so jealous that I was just given this highly sought, quality pack!

Why I chose this gear

I wasn’t forced to use this backpack while working for the hotel, but I chose to use it because it was so practical for my day-to-day tasks as an activities coordinator and tour guide. Not only is it functional with a protected computer sleeve, removable seat pad, smaller outer pocket, and spacious main pocket, but it’s also cute and goes with all my outfits because of its sleek, simple design and fun colors. Mine is light blue (my favorite color)!

What I love about it

  • Durability: I use this pack every single day and I am not gentle with it. The material is called Vinylon F. It’s a thick, canvas-like material that is dirt-resistant, water-resistant, and wipes clean.
  • Weight: This small pack is light yet maintains durability. There are lighter packs out there that are designed to be lightweight day hike bags, but the material may not be as durable and isn’t nearly as stylish.
  • Ease of use: The simple, retro design is easy to use. There is one zipper that opens three sides of the main pocket. The shoulder straps adjust in length easily and the protective back panel is removable.
  • Capacity: The official capacity of this pack is 16L, and the large pocket is my favorite feature of the Fjallraven Kanken pack. It opens on three sides and the material is stiff enough to hold the square shape so it is fillable like an open suitcase. The smaller front pocket is large enough to fit smaller items like pencils, a wallet, or toiletries. The side pockets will fit a small water bottle.
  • Weather Resistance: If I get caught in the rain, the material is water-resistant for long enough that my belongings stay dry. I wouldn’t want to have my computer inside and be out in the pouring rain, but the pack will keep things safe in a drizzle or a short walk through the rain to class.
  • Features: This pack features one large zippered compartment that opens on three sides, one small zippered front pocket, two side pockets, adjustable shoulder straps, a removable back panel pad that doubles as a seating pad, and two top handles which snap together.
  • Pack Access: This pack is accessible via a two-way zipper that opens the main compartment on three sides.
  • Other: This pack is frameless, but the stiffer material holds the pack in its iconic, square shape.

Issues I’ve encountered

  • Suspension and comfort: This pack is frameless and has no designed suspension. The shoulder straps are only 25cm wide and have no pads. However, the shoulder straps are strong, durable, and built to last. If one plans on carrying heavier loads, Fjallraven also sells shoulder pads separately.

Favorite moment with this gear

It’s difficult to think of a specific favorite moment with the Fjallraven Kanken pack because I wore this pack every single day for years. I used it to hike Mount Mansfield, the tallest mountain in Vermont. I used it for college and carried some heavy books uphill, running because I was late to class. It was with me on countless plane rides (it fits nicely under the seat) back home to Minnesota. I brought it to concerts to see some of my favorite artists with good friends. It carried everything from books and my computer to sweatshirts for cold chilly nights around a campfire to beer for hotel guests.

Value for the money vs. other options

The Fjallraven Kanken backpack is expensive (about $75) for what one is getting functionally—users are paying for the brand and the style. That being said, the pack is very durable and will last for years, and it has a timeless look that will surely stay in style for as long as I have it. A larger day pack with the same Fjallraven style and quality, but with wider, more comfortable shoulder straps to carry heavier weight is the Fjallraven Ulvo 23. The Ulvo runs at about $88. A backpack that has the same function and uses as the Kanken, but is much less expensive (about $38) is the Black Diamond Trail Blitz 12. This pack is high quality and will last years.

Final verdict

For short day hikes, school, travel, and day adventures, the Fjallraven Kanken has me covered. I love it for its large, sturdy main pocket, its durability, and its stylish, timeless look. I wish it was less expensive and had more comfortable shoulder straps. Overall, this multipurpose backpack is great for everyday use.

Selling Fjallraven on Curated.com
Fjallraven Kanken Backpack
From $79.95
$90.00
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Written By
Grace VanSurksum
Grace VanSurksum
Camping & Hiking Expert
Hiking abnormally far distances is my passion. Sleeping outdoors is my medicine. Walking in nature is my meditation. I hiked almost 500 miles last summer and plan to hike another 1800 miles this upcoming winter in New Zealand. BUT, I wasn't always a hiking "expert". Before I hiked the long trail, I...
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