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.
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.
The Kanken is a piece of art, it’s official.
In 2016 the Swedish Government listed and protected the Kanken on Svensk Form, the Swedish Society of Crafts and Designs.
In fact, Fjällräven is really committed to innovating with new synthetic materials. It’s part of their heritage. “Fjällräven” means “Arctic Fox” in Swedish. Look them up, they’re really cute. Unfortunately, they’re also endangered, which motivates Fjällräven to do better by all animals. You won’t find any unethically-sourced materials in Fjallraven products, and they’ve even supported Arctic Fox preservation projects at Stockholm University.
If there is one thing that those who have owned Fjällräven products will tell you is that they last for a long time and, in particular the backpacks, hold their shape commendably over time.
Stays in shape better than we do. Many bags that share this design droop into a floppy sack when you have little to carry on. At times this can make wearing the backpack uncomfortable, like when your umbrella sticks out in an awkward position. The Kånken, however, has a box like structure. This, along with its stiff material, helps it maintain a shape that’s actually presentable.
The use of Vinylon F makes the Kanken amazingly light, much more so than most other backpacks giving you an advantage before you fill it up.
Its zippers run down to the base, and begins at the edge as opposed to the centre. When fully unzipped, the front opens like a flap. Rest the bag horizontally and it resembles luggage! I love how this grants you full, immediate access to the interior of the backpack. Because of this you are more likely to maximize its space.
Vinylon F is made in Japan but the original Vinylon was invented in North Korea. Made from polyvinyl alcohol and using limestone and anthracite as raw materials, it is the fabric of choice in North Korea where it is used for clothing and shoes and pretty much everything else. Though great for bags, it is hard to imagine what trousers made from this fairly stiff material would feel like.
Fjällräven Kankens are brilliantly water-resistant. Vinylon F, the synthetic fabric they are made from, behaves more like a natural fibre and swells as it becomes damp. As it swells, the gaps between the woven fibres close more and thus it becomes more resistant to water penetration. This means there is no coating that needs to be maintained and this property lasts the life of the bag.
6.Internal seating pad
Do not throw away the foam sheet that comes with your Kånken! This is not packaging, as you might mistake it for! This sheet is meant to serve as padding for your back while you wear the bag, and will help your bag maintain its shape. The lesser known use for this is a sitting mat! I hear that this was one of the designer’s intentions but I am not aware how many owners actually do this.
7. Environmentally Friendly
The Kanken is made by Swedish brand Fjällräven, a serious player in the outdoor gear market. Fjällräven means Arctic Fox which is a charismatic little predator on the brink of extinction and the company is involved in many conservation projects to help reverse the decline. They take their green credentials very seriously and whilst their products are not the cheapest, they are made to last and created with as little environmental impact as possible. And on the subject, they have recently launched the Rekanken which uses recycled materials.
It’s a quality product that will last you. It’s my fourth year owning this backpack which has not faltered. Very often, I’ll find reviews that claim the Kånken lasts them a good 10 years. Now, this is awfully rare for something that’s actually aesthetically decent.
Who wouldn’t love a brand that makes a product capable of looking like new for so long?