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The Classic Fjällräven Kånken Backpack Review for Travelers (2020 Update)

The Fjallraven Kanken classic backpack review by Her Packing List.

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Are you in search of a stylish everyday bag that can pull double duty when you travel?

Or perhaps you’re after a minimalist carry-on backpack or daypack that comes in fun colors?

Here our friend Camilla introduces us to one of the most popular bags in Sweden – and one growing in popularity across the globe. It is water-resistant and lightweight, yet stands up to heavy wear and tear for years, as she’s personally found out. 

In Sweden, people typically use it for their commute and shopping, but Camilla also appreciates its use for attending university and as a carry-on while traveling.

We’ve even seen the most ultralight travelers use the Kånken (and a handbag) for their complete minimalist packing list!

Read on to find out more about why Camilla highly recommends this perfectly-sized, classic 16L Kånken backpack.

Fjällräven Kånken Quick Review

  • TOP PICK FOR: Minimalist travelers packing ultralight and long-term explorers searching for the perfect daybag.

PROS

  • Lightweight (300g) & built to last
  • Perfect 16L carry-on, personal item, or daypack size
  • Water-resistant fabric
  • Lots of fun colors to choose from

CONS

  • Lacking pockets and compartments
  • Additional purchase of shoulder pads needed for extra comfort
  • Classic version not recommended for carrying laptops

Fjällräven Kånken 16L Classic Backpack

Fjällräven Kånken 16L

Price Range – $$$$$


Review: The Fjällräven Kånken Basics

Fjällräven Kånken 16L Classic Backpack and Fit

My backpack is a Fjällräven Kånken, in the standard 16L size.

In Sweden, I see it everyday when people commute and go shopping. The name Kånken means roughly “the lug,” as in lugging something, so it’s quite fitting.

I’ve had my Fjällräven Kånken for at least five years. I’ve mostly used it for school, but I also traveled a week in London with it as a carry-on. For my biology project at university I spent a month out in the woods with it as a daypack.The Fjällräven Kånken in the classic 16L size goes for about €79, but I always use it with the additional shoulder pads for €20.

Why I Chose the Fjällräven Kånken

Fjällräven Kånken backpack review

For me, it is important that the bag is weightless when empty, but also comfortable even when it’s full. I also value being able to have my things organized in different pockets and sections. 

The Fjällräven Kånken is perfect for me- lightweight and waiting to be stuffed.

Features: What is special about Fjällräven Kånken?

The Fjällräven website lists the Kånken features as follows:

  • Size: 16L (works as daypack, carry-on, or personal item)
  • Weight: 300g (super lightweight!)
  • Composition:  Lightweight and durable Vinylon F fabric (withstands dirt and wetness)
  • Opening: Main compartment opens large for easily accessibility (almost clamshell style)
  • Storage: Main compartment plus two flat side pockets and a zipped front pocket
  • Comfort: Includes PE foam seat cushion, stored in interior back pocket next to back. Optional shoulder strap pads sold for additional cost.
  • Carry System: Adjustable shoulder straps or top carry handles
  • Extras: Reflective logo and address label in main compartment

Top Fjällräven Kånken Backpack Feature

The bag is extremely lightweight (at 300g, it is lighter than a soda can) and easily stuffable.

For this review I put a full binder into it to show the size, but you can easily stuff even more things into it, like some clothes around the sides. I usually put in one or two packing cubes that work as my organizers for my small things. 

The two side pockets are great for umbrellas, bottles, sunglasses and things of that size and shape. The front pocket is nice for quick-grab items like napkins and snacks.

Fjällräven Kånken backpack review
The bag has a two-way zipper that allows you to fully open it to see and grab all your stuff.

Backpack Testing & Durability

This is a bag that lasts. I love that it is so durable (no wear and tear after 5 years of use, except the discoloured bottom), as well as washable. 

As mentioned before, I’ve mainly used the bag for transporting belongings to and from school, but I’ve also enjoyed using the Kånken backpack for travel purposes. It works perfectly as a carry-on bag or daypack!

When I bought it the company recommended a light hand wash and then re-applying wax to keep it water-resistant, but I’ve machine washed it (on the gentle setting) two or three times without re-applying wax, and it survived fine.

Editor’s Note: The company’s site specifically states to never put the Kånken in the washing machine, and only certain versions of Kånken are meant to be waxed. Read more in our FAQs section below. 

Kånken Backpack Size: Perfect Carry-On or Personal Item

Fjallraven Kanken backpack review - What fits in a classic Kanken.
Fjallraven Kanken backpack review – What fits in a classic Kanken.

At a mere 16L, the bag works perfectly as a carry-on or personal item, but depending on where you’re going (or what you’re carrying) it might be too large for a daypack. If you’re exploring the city you might as well just go with a smaller handbag. 

When I use it for school I can easily carry a laptop, a writing pad and a textbook, along with other necessary things like snacks, wallet, water bottle, sunglasses and emergency charger.

Fit and Comfort Level

Fjällräven Kånken backpack review
Here’s how the bag looks with and without the shoulder pads.

Is the Fjällräven Kånken comfortable?

The built in straps can easily hurt when you carry a heavy load, but if you spend the extra €20 for the shoulder pads it is as comfortable as can be. I am a mere 155cm (5’2”), but I have never thought it was too big or too heavy when it was full.

Along with the two shoulder straps, the bag also has two carrying handles, which is great when you need to have your bag ready at customs or whenever you don’t want to have the bag on your back, like on public transit.

FAQs About Fjällräven Kånken

Is Fjällräven Kånken waterproof? How can I waterproof my Kånken?

The original Kånken is not waterproof; it is water resistant. Kånken is made of Vinylon F: 100% vinylal and is not made to be waxed or waterproofed.

However, the Kånken No. 2 is made of the G-1000 fabric and is much more water repellent (read: still not completely waterproof). Fjallraven highly recommends waxing G-1000 fabric with their Greenland Wax for an increased water repellency and durability. 

If you expect heavy British downpours or other comparable weather, Kånken No. 2 might suit you better.


How should I wash my Kånken?

Kånken is not made to go in the washing machine. Dirty marks can be washed with a soft brush or sponge using lukewarm water and mild soap. Hang in an open area to dry but not in direct sunlight, to avoid fading.


Does Kånken fit a laptop?

Fjällräven website begs you to not put a laptop in the original Kånken, to avoid strain on the straps and zippers. 

However, they do have a Kånken laptop version specifically made with a padded compartment and padded shoulder straps for carrying your laptop safely and comfortably. This version is available for laptop sizes 13 inch, 15 inch, and 17 inch.


Is Fjällräven Kånken vegan?

Some, but not all, varieties of the Kånken are vegan friendly. Fjällräven’s website is very clear and up front about which bags are vegan and which are not. You’ll see a legal notice section under “product specifications” on the product pages of bags that “contain non textile elements of animal origin.”


Is Fjällräven Kånken available in stores? Where can I try Kånken on? 

Many cities offer a variety of Fjällräven qualified retailers, so it’s worth checking with your favorite hometown travel and outdoors store to support shopping small and local. 

  • In the U.S., REI carries some colors and a few locations have them in the store. The rest will allow you to buy online and pick up in store. In any case, all REI returns can be done in a store near you, even if you purchased online.
  • In the UK, Cotsworld Outdoor and Urban Outfitters stock the Kånken, making them excellent places to try before you buy. 
  • In Australia, Fjällräven has an official, physical shop in both Sydney and Melbourne. The major department store, David Jones, keeps the Kånken in stock, as well as a number of smaller luggage and bag shops across the country.

How do you pronounce Fjällräven Kånken?

Fjällräven is pronounced “fyell reven” (and is Swedish for arctic fox, thus, the logo). Kånken sounds like an English pronunciation of “konken,” which means “the lug,” as in lugging something.


How to spot a fake Fjällräven Kånken!

Backpack Drawbacks

Honestly, the only improvement I’d make on the backpack is to include a few more compartments, as it only has four- two side pockets, one big compartment and one small in front.

Some additional separation in the big compartment would be nice, or an extra pocket in the front.

I suppose another downside could be that they don’t sell green shoulder pads to match my backpack straps, but I really don’t mind at all.

Conclusion: Highly Recommended

I highly recommend the Fjällräven Kånken to everyone who wants a simple, lightweight, durable bag that does exactly what it’s supposed to, with no extra fuss (or weight).

Fjällräven Kånken 16L Classic Backpack

About the author: Camilla Nilsson is an environmental biologist from Sweden, but is currently studying environmental and health protection. She has mostly travelled within Europe but wants to see the world. She also illustrates and sews in her free time.



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Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


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Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

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Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Svenja says

    Love the Kånken! I actually have two of them, one 16 l classic and a slightly bigger one with a laptop compartment (20 l, I think).
    I’ve had the 16 l one for almost 30 years, used it as a school backpack as a kid, then rediscovered it a couple of years ago – and used it again as a school backpack (this time as a teacher 😉).
    I’ve recently upgraded to the Kånken with laptop compartment for school and as an overnighter for conferences, but I still use my trusted old 16 l Kranken as an everyday daypack when I need something bigger than a purse.

  2. Emma says

    Denmark here – we love them too! They are incredibly durable! The one I use sometimes used to be my dads back when he was in high school, and it’s been used well throughout the years. The wear and tear does show on mine by now and I’ve closed a rip with needle and thread, but I like the beat-up look of it, and love the fact that I use a 30-year old bag!
    the models with laptop compartments are great too! The only reason I don’t use one for everyday school basis is that I bike to the university and easily get sore shoulders, so I need that hip belt!

  3. AJ says

    FINALLY! I found the true definition of the word “kanken”. Spent not one hour and even google translate didn’t have the word, because I assume it is a slang. THANK YOU 🙂

  4. Nik says

    Thanks for this post, thanks to it I learned about the add-on padded straps! I’ve seen these backpacks a lot both online and in person, but I’d never seen anything about straps. It was odd to me because I thought the Kanken looked like a fantastic backpack – one of those great, minimalist but super-versatile all-rounders like the Jansport SuperBreak or the Eastpak Padded Pak’r – but I couldn’t make sense of those weird skinny straps that were bound to dig in! All the other backpacks like that have nice, cushy straps – nothing too over-the-top complicated with gel inserts and all the other clutter, just a pair of simple cushioned straps, sometimes with a grippy material on the underside so they don’t slide off your shoulders.

    But the Kanken packs I saw never did, and it was so weird to me! Now it makes sense 🙂 I guess this makes it possible to keep the price of the packs lower (so all the kids could have one and save their backs) and I suppose they wouldn’t dig in too badly over a thick winter coat. But if you want to use it during the summer, you can get the cushy straps!

    Pretty smart:-)

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