I’ve been using the Fjallraven Vintage 20L Backpack for the last six months or so. It’s ranged from being my mainly daily backpack for commuting two and from work – carrying things like my iPad, gym clothes and whatever else I need that time – to a business travel carry on pack with my 17 inch MacBook Pro, iPad, noise canceling headphones, and notebooks. I haven’t done any real hiking or camping with it, though I am considering it as a good longer-term travel pack.
Fjallraven has been making packs in Sweden for fifty years. The Vintage Backpack is very much in their tradition of simple, durable packs. It really screams “Old School Backpack” – from its color to three compartment design to its leather straps. What makes it really slick, though, is the back of the pack has a raised, mesh Air Vent support system that keeps the bag itself off of your back. I’ve always been annoyed by carrying a full bag on a hot day, pressing against your back and causing a big sweat stain down the center of my back. I’ve never had that problem with this bag because of the Air Vent system. But I should back up first. While I was looking into buying this bag online, I could find almost no pictures of it beyond what it looked like closed and from the front. I was pretty surprised at how modern and technologically advanced that Vintage Backpack was when it arrived in person. The Air Vent system includes metal beams which curve the back of the pack’s main compartment. The upside, as I’ve mentioned, is it keeps your back cooler. The down side is that the main compartment doesn’t have a straight back, but a curved one, which reduces the amount of space in it, as well as makes packing big, rectangular items (like a laptop) a bit trickier.
While we’re on the back side of the pack, the shoulder straps are great and well padded. They can be adjusted through a strap system of metal grommets and buckles. There is also a waste strap and upper chest strap, though I haven’t had the need to use these.
The first thing that stands out with the pack is that soft, supple tan leather straps that close the main and side compartments. The leather is very high quality. The biggest issue with this system of leather straps and metal buckles for closing the bag is that they are much slower to open and close than a zipper. But beyond a little slow to open and close, they work really well.
The two side pockets are actually quite sizable. I usually am able to keep pens, a small notepad, business cards and a handkerchief in one, and a sunglasses case and umbrella in the other, without filling them. The only complaint I have with them is that they are fairly tall and the strap closures don’t cinch down to make the items really tight. The pockets can hold a lot, but for a regular use pack it isn’t ideal to have a quasi-open pocket at all times. Yes, the tops of the side pockets are still good at keeping things dry and in place even while not full, but they don’t help keep things safe and secure. If I were to use this bag on a long trip, I’d probably punch in a couple extra holes in the side straps to make the pockets seal tighter.
The main pouch has a two level cinch system that creates a tighter seal under the top flap. The top flap itself has a zipper pocket which is great for assorted valuables. There’s no way to easily reach into it, so it’s quite secure. I’ve used for keeping USB keys, house keys, and other wires and plugs. The only other feature in the main compartment is a vertical cinch tube on the back left of the compartment. I haven’t used it, but it would be useful for holding tent poles, a fishing poll, or a larger umbrella upright in the pack.
The last great feature is that the bottom of the bag has a tough, rubbery material. This is great for both keeping things dry if you’re setting the bag down on a wet surface and for dealing with the extra wear and tear the bottom of a pack deals with.
I’d really like to try doing a long trip out of this bag. It’s only 20L and is quite simple in its construction. Mostly, it’s just a bag. It’s not technical. It’s not heavily compartmentalized. It is simple. While it lacks some of the modern conveniences of contemporary packs, it’s stylish and comfortable. The only other knock on the bag is that it isn’t cheap. I had to order it online from the UK and it was about $130 with shipping. Despite the cost, it’s been a great bag that I use almost daily.
More pictures below the fold.