The pursuit for a better backpack is the reason our company founder, Åke Nordin, started Fjällräven back in the 1960’s. From an early age, he showed an appreciation for outdoor life and found the quality of backpacks available to be sub-par. At 14 years old, Åke constructed his first framed backpack, which eventually led to the birth of his company, Fjällräven. From day one, research and development of high-quality, durable and functional backpacks has been a part of our company DNA.
The purpose of this backpack guide is to share knowledge collected over the years regarding one of the most essential pieces of outdoor equipment. Our goal is to provide information to assist you in making an educated purchase and be well-prepared before embarking on your next outdoor adventure.
How to Choose the Right Backpack
There are numerous factors to consider when it comes to choosing a backpack, first of which are size, color, type, price, and brand. Some backpacks are all-purpose, making them useful for a variety of outdoor activities. While others are equipped with details for specific applications, such as rope pockets and ski/snowboard attachments. With so many characteristics to consider, shopping for the right backpack may prove to be an adventure all in itself.
We recommend to start with a two simple questions:
- What is the intended use for the backpack?
- What items will the backpack hold?
The intended use could be a number of activities; day hikes, long distance trekking, backpacking across Europe, mountaineering, or daily commute. The intended load will vary depending on the activity, some backpacks have compression straps to adjust size and cut slack when the pack is not full. When trying on a backpack for the first time, it’s important that it leans perfectly along the curvature of your back. If possible, add weight to simulate a real outdoor situation – this will also help the backpack settle against your body.
Many of our backpacks are available in Men’s and Women’s versions, designed to accommodate differences in anatomy. The Women’s models have “W” at the end of the product name, for example the Abisko 55 W is based on the same design as the Abisko 55, but the hip belt and shoulder straps are designed for optimal weight distribution on a woman’s body.
Your height, weight, and body type are all contributing factors to how much you intend or are able to carry. Here are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when choosing the right size:
- 20 to 40 litre backpacks are suitable for short hikes and daily use.
- 40 to 60 litre backpacks are suitable for travelling and hikes between cabins.
- 60+ litre backpacks are best for long treks when a tent, food, and equipment are needed.
For cold weather climates, you should consider a larger backpack as safety equipment and insulated garments tend to require more packing capacity.
Frame backpack or Softpack
Softpack backpacks are qualified as backpacks without an internal/external frame, which offer better flexibility and are lighter weight. They tend to be more popular than frame backpacks due to their all-purpose versatility and tighter fit – which can be helpful when out on skis. Larger frame backpacks are better suited for treks on rough terrain when stability is of utmost importance. Other advantages to frame backpacks include better ventilation and the ability to attach additional packs to the frame.
It’s All in the Details
The overall experience of a long distance hike or trip can be affected by the comfort level of your backpack. The right choice will allow you to focus on the terrain and scenery, while a poor choice can be a distraction that spoils the entire voyage. Once the correct fit and size have been established, it’s time to focus on the details.
Find the Right Support System
A more comfortable trek with a backpack begins with the right support system to help distribute weight correctly. This is where an adjustable support system is worth the investment compared to cheaper alternatives. The larger Fjällräven technical backpacks, such as the Kajka 85, are equipped with our Perfect Fit Adjustment System which can easily adapt to the length of your back and distance between the shoulder straps. Our Kajka W and Abisko W models, designed specifically for women, have tighter fitting shoulder straps that do not press down on the chest area. In addition to proper weight distribution, the Perfect Fit Adjustment System also helps with stability, mobility, and flexibility.
Another key feature on larger backpacks is a padded hip belt, which helps to transfers weight to the lower body, where larger leg muscles can assist in carrying the load. Below is a list of additional comfort options to consider when searching for a backpack:
- Anatomically shaped shoulder straps
- A chest strap for connecting the shoulder straps at front to shift the center of gravity forward
- A top strap for adjusting the angle of the backpack to the shoulder straps
- A side strap to stabilize the hip belt and pull the backpack closer to the body
- Compression straps to help with stability when the pack is not fully loaded
- Back panel ventilation
There are different kinds of opening options when it comes to backpack design. The most common version is top-loading, where item are packed from the bottom up. The main limitation to this type of opening is visibility and access to items in the backpack. The first items packed end up at the bottom, which make them hard to reach and difficult to have a full overview of contents. A combination of top, front, and bottom openings will help to solve this issue. Front opening backpacks allow for easier packing, similar to a suitcase, and provides a quick overview of packed clothing and gear.
Put a Lid on It
A versatile top lid is another important backpack design element. Items that require quick access can be stored in the pockets of the top lid. It can also serve as an extra bag, such as on our Kajka backpacks where the top lid is detachable and can be worn on the chest or waist.
Pockets for Organizing
Well-organized packing is important to having easy access to often used items. Side pockets are ideal for holding water bottles, and hidden inside pockets are great for keeping valuables safe. Some backpacks have pockets integrated in the hip belt, such as our Friluft 45, great for keeping snacks or insect repellent within arm’s reach.
How to Pack Your Backpack
The way items are packed in a backpack has a direct influence on how it will feel against your body. A simple rule to follow when packing for a long trek: keep heavy items high up and close to the back, centered on the shoulder blades. Items that require quick access should be packed last in order for them to stay on top.
Smart packing means using the backpack features to your advantage, for example; don’t leave empty spaces between items and tighten the compression straps to hold things in place. It’s best to not pack items on the outside, but when necessary use straps to avoid hanging and swinging gear that may throw off your balance.
Take time to get to know your backpack and maximize the layout to pack according to your needs. Below is a checklist to follow when preparing to head out on your next adventure:
- Keep your sleeping bag dry by using a waterproof bag, and keep it in the lower compartment if one is available.
- Night time items, such as your tent, flashlight, and sleeping clothes should be kept at the bottom with your sleeping bag – as you will only need them when setting up camp for the night.
- Separate your tent in order to pack the pegs in an upright position along the sides of the backpack.
- Changes of clothes can be packed lower down the sides of the backpack, dirty clothes can be kept at the very bottom beneath all other items.
- Ground pads for sleeping could be used to protect other contents in the backpack, standing upright with other items packed inside. Don’t attach the ground pad to the side of the pack, as it may snag on branches or create a wind trap causing instability.
- Keep your camping stove and wind sack near the top of the pack for easy access while on breaks.
- Use plastic bags to store food separately from clothing and gear. You may choose to separate food by meal type (breakfast, lunch, dinner) or by day.
- Take advantage of side pockets to hold quick access items, such as; hats, gloves, rain poncho, and water bottle.
- When carrying fuel for a camping stove, keep it separate from food to avoid spilling and spoiling. Pack the fuel upright in an outer pocket.
- Use the top lid to hold quick access items, such as; rain cover, repair equipment, first aid kit, camping stove accessories, map/GPS, or compass.
- When possible, use colored pack bags to easily differentiate types of items.
Tips on How to Carry a Backpack
For many outdoor enthusiasts, it’s quite liberating to know that everything needed for basic survival can be carried along in a backpack. However, when a backpack lacks a solid support system or is incorrectly packed, it distracts from enjoying nature to its fullest and can even lead to injury. Therefore, it’s critical to understand how to carry heavy loads and how proper packing methods can influence an outdoor experience.
Many cultures around the world have been carrying heavy loads on their heads for generations. This is the best way to carry because the upper body and load share a common centre of gravity above the pelvis and the spine’s axis of motion. When weight is too far from the spinal column, it has a tendency to twist and pull the spine back, leading to falling backwards. Our reflex is to overcompensate by leaning forward to counter the weight, but this means we are left looking at the ground missing all the beautiful nature around us. Extended time spent in this position can also cause injury due to unnecessary strain on the body.
To ease the stress of carrying heavy loads, Fjällräven technical backpacks have padded shoulder straps, back panels, and often a hip belt. The combination of these features help distribute the weight of the backpack throughout the body, leading to carrying heavier loads for longer periods of time.