The Fjällräven Kånken was created in 1978 as a basic, durable, lightweight, back-friendly backpack big enough to carry daily essentials for school. While variants such as the Kånken Laptop and Kånken Mini have been released to meet the needs of a modern, growing international market, the Fjällräven Kånken Classic is the closest model to the original Kånkens made nearly 40 years ago in Sweden. Anecdotally and based on the number of reviews on Amazon, the Kånken Classic appears to be the most popular model out of the 9 Kånken models that’s currently available. We’ve previously taken a look at the Kånken Laptop 15″ here and Kånken Mini here. In this post, we take a look at the Kånken Classic and share our thoughts on this iconic backpack to help you decide if it’s the right bag for you.
As is customary for Tekuben, we made a video of this backpack that you can watch below or on our YouTube channel Tekuben Prime:
We make these videos to give you a closer look at bags you may be interested in. It is our intention to help you make a purchase decision. If we missed anything in the video or in this review that you’d like to know, please feel free to ask and we’ll do our best to get you an answer. Tekuben is a labor of love. We are independently owned and operated. We do not receive merchandise to keep or payments from manufacturers. Our work is for and supported by you through your viewership. In order to keep the site sustainable, we are Amazon Affiliates and as such, we earn a small commission when you purchase any product after clicking on a link that takes you to Amazon. We also have advertising units that we hope enhances your experience on our site (just the other day I learned about a new backpack brand through an ad). We are proud to not have any pop-up ads because we feel it disrupts the experience. We are also proud of keeping our website junk-free by not using Outbrain or Taboola. Ultimately, our goal is to become the best online source of luggage and travel commentary. We’re just getting started and we’re excited that you’re here to help shape our future.
Check out all of our Fjällräven Kånken videos:
Fjällräven Kånkens have a distinctly pedestrian design. The packs can be identified by their unassuming squarish frame and a bright round arctic fox logo that sits at the base of the front handle. It’s catchy. And hip. Kånkens aren’t technical packs. They’re not pushing boundaries, but then there’s a benefit to not being convoluted. Kånkens are simple – simply designed to be a durable pack that can be worn on and not damage your back (maybe your shoulders, but we’ll get to that later).
The Kånken was designed in the late 1970’s to be an affordable and functional backpack for schoolchildren, at a time when single shoulder bags were popular and statistics showed a large portion of the Swedish population had experienced back pain. Kånken’s aim was to fix the back of schoolchildren by distributing the weight evenly across both shoulders. For more about the Kånken’s history, read it on Fjällräven’s website here.
Nearly 40 years later, the Kånken design has remained generally unchanged.
Fjällräven makes the Kånken Classic out of the company’s very own Vinylon F fabric, one of three types of fabrics that are used in the Kånken line of backpacks. Vinylon F is a synthetic fabric valued for its hard wearing and water resistant qualities. The company uses the G-1000 fabric to make the Kånken No.2 series and its own SpinDye fabric to make the Re-Kånken series. Watch our Fjällräven Kånken fabric comparison video.
We have mixed opinions of the fabric. New upon arrival, the Vinylon F is stiff, not like any of the fabrics used to make backpacks we’ve had. It’s not the most pleasant to touch, but the Kånken is meant to be durable, not luxurious. We hope our videos give you a sense of how it feels so you can adjust your expectations accordingly.
What you will see in our videos is that the fabric can pick up scuffs quite easily. The good thing is that the marks can be wiped off with a damp towel. While we’re not the biggest fans of the fabric, we do believe it has the qualities that Fjällräven claims it has and we expect our Kånkens to wear well.
The Vinylon F fabric is cut and sewn to make four compartments attached with two shoulder straps and two handles on the top. Five compartments if you count the interior sleeve where the included foam seat pad sits. There are two open pockets on either side of the main u-zippered compartment and there’s one small zipped pocket perched on the front of the backpack.
The main compartment is large and spacious. Fjallraven sized the backpack using two A4 ring binders. There’s enough room to carry what you need for the day.
Keeping the main compartment closed is a YKK made-zipper. The two zipper pulls pull smoothly and each end of the zipper track is reinforced with heavy stitching so that they won’t ever fall off.
The Kånken was made to distribute weight evenly across both shoulders. To that end, Fjällräven has a unique way of mounting the shoulder straps to the bag. Unlike the individual strap mounting method used on all of the backpacks we’ve had before, the shoulder straps on the Kånken are mounted on the bag in a cross pattern. It’s a difference we can feel. The same weight carried in the Kånken feels a bit lighter than the same weight carried in another backpack. While it may not capture the imagination, this is a feature that sets the Kånken apart.
Most backpacks have a handle on the top for you to carry the pack with your hand if you don’t want to wear it on your back. On the Kånken, you’ll find two handles on the top. One on the front and one on the back. They come together like a shopping tote and help distribute the weight of the pack evenly across four joints. The two handles make the backpack feel more balanced in the hand. After toting the Kånken Classic around, it’s a wonder why other backpacks don’t offer this. Again, the technology (a second handle on the front) isn’t advanced, it just makes sense and we’re happy to have it.
We were also happy to find that the end of the shoulder straps on the Kånken can be buttoned up onto itself so that they don’t drag on the floor while you’re carrying the backpack by the top handles.
We didn’t mind the shoulder straps themselves too much at first, but we grew disappointed with their comfort the longer we wore the Kånken Classic. The straps are thin, so instead of sitting on our shoulders as the padded straps on the Kånken Laptop 15″ would, the ones on the Kånken Classic dug in. It was ok wearing the backpack for short periods of time, but we wished the straps were padded when wearing it for longer than half an hour. Fjällräven does sell padding for the shoulder straps as an accessory, but the colors are limited and for a $80 backpack, it should be standard.
What we like about the Kånken Classic
- Classic Kånken styling with few modifications to the original Kånkens – still looking good after nearly 40 years.
- Spacious main compartment – lots of room to pack.
- Reinforced zipper tracks that you’ll have to try hard to break – Fjallraven recognizes that a pack is only as good as the zipper that keeps belongings packed and did a great job here.
- Cross-mounted shoulder straps to help distribute weight across the shoulder – simple and effective.
- Tote bag inspired top handle – why don’t other backpack makers do this?
What we don’t like about the Kånken Classic
- Thin shoulder straps – biggest negative.
- Side pockets that have no give – big enough to slide your hand in, just.
- Vinylon F fabric – durable yes, but we prefer the G-1000 or the Spindye.
Should you buy the Kånken Classic?
With 9 Kånken styles to choose from, the Kånken Classic appears to be the most popular Kånken if the number of reviews online are anything to go by. We get it. The Kånken Classic is the closest to being the original Kånken. It’s bigger than the Kånken Mini so it’s more practical, and less cumbersome than the Kånken Laptop so it’s more versatile.
Buy a Fjällräven Kånken if you want a stylish, durable backpack that looks equally at home in the city as it does in the woods. Buy a Kånken Classic if you don’t need a dedicated laptop compartment and if you find the Mini to be too mini.
Do not buy the Kånken Classic if you plan on carrying your laptop and textbooks every day unless you also buy the shoulder strap pad add-on.
Thank you for reading!
Check out this comparison video we made of the Kånken Classic, Kånken Mini and Kånken Laptop 15″ to further help you decide which backpack is right for you:
We also made a video comparing all 3 fabric types that the Kånken is available in: