The Fjällräven Raven 20 ($80) backpack is a durable, weather-resistant backpack that is stable on the back in cycling positions. Simplistic in design (very Swedish!), it has a comfortable backpanel and set of shoulder straps as well as excellent organizational features.
Before I trek into the review, a brief lesson in Swedish is in order. You have to know how to pronounce “Fjällräven”. Get your tongue-roll on for the “r” and say it with me: “Fee-yellll-reh’ven”.
Check you out! You just said “arctic fox” in Swedish.
What I like
Great storage. The Fjällräven Raven offers twenty liters of cargo capacity and four exterior zippered compartments in varying sizes. Inside the roomy main compartment, the largest of the four, is a small secured zippered pocket and a padded laptop sleeve that holds a fifteen-inch laptop. For those with larger laptops, like my seventeen-inch Toshiba, it fits in the padded sleeve but a challenge to zip. I carry it in the main internal compartment instead.
The next largest zippered compartment is ideal for carrying an iPad mini or a book/eReader. It also contains a secure mesh zippered pocket with key clip and three stash pockets for a smartphone and pens. The third exterior zippered compartment allows for easy access to miscellaneous items like power cords or a wallet. The smallest external zippered compartment sits at the top of the pack. It is lined with a soft flannel making it ideal for sunglasses.
The Fjällräven Raven 20 also has two unsecured side pockets but I found their use limited. For example, they’re too tight to hold a water bottle or bike u-lock.
Comfortable shoulder straps. The Fjällräven Raven 20’s ergonomic shoulder straps contain enough padding to make them comfortable under heavier loads. Wider shoulder widths (e.g. larger males) may find them too narrow. But for me, with my normal-sized shoulders, I found them plenty comfortable.
Comfortable backpanel. Though moderately padded and conformed to my back, making it comfortable as a bike pack in all cycling positions. Even with a laptop inside. The downside, though, is that the backpanel offers little to no breathability for sweaty backs. Since I live in Minneapolis and tested this pack in late November on bike commutes to work, I didn’t work up any back sweat so this wasn’t an issue. Not entirely sure that Fjällrävenintended for this pack to be a bike commuter pack but I tested it that way regardless. Backpack-buyers can be a cheap bunch. When shelling out money for a pack they want to know if they can use it for more than just hauling loads to work, school or Caribou Coffee.
Stable on back while cycling. Though probably not intended to be a straight-up commuter pack, the Fjällräven Raven 20 is pretty stable when riding a commuter bike and carrying a laptop. Despite the lack of a sternum strap, I found that it moved very little on my back.
Great fit for narrower shoulders. The pack itself is shorter in the torso and narrow in the shoulders, making it a great fit for someone of my 5′ 6″ 123lb stature. Larger people will need to go with the 28-liter Fjällräven Raven for best results.
Durable. The Fjällräven Raven is constructed with Fjällräven’s proprietary G-1000 fabric, which is a tight, densely-woven composition of sixty-five percent polyester and thirty-five percent organic cotton. Though I don’t intentionally test the boundaries of gear abuse, the materials from which this pack is made and how it’s sewn together gives me every reason to believe it can withstand years of abuse.
Water resistant. The Fjällräven Raven is fully coated with Greenland Wax, which is a blend of beeswax and paraffin on steroids. This is what repelled many a drizzle and light rain and kept my laptop and other contents dry. This is not new or innovative technology at all. The Scandinavians used it make garments water-resistant long before Fjällräven was even born. In fact, according to Norse Saga, the Vikings slathered beeswax and paraffin onto their clothing to stave off hypothermia when raiding lands in inclement weather. (<<this part I totally made up)
A word about Greenland Wax. It isn’t permanent. I found that this is both good and bad. The bad is that it will eventually wash and/or wear off. The good is that it’s simple to re-apply and you can rub it onto any shelled garment to make it water-resistant and dirt-resistant. Just be advised that it only makes the garment water-resistant not water-proof. It will protect you in a light drizzle but not a downpour. (<<this part I did not make up)
What could be better
Non-breathable backpanel. Year-round bike commuters, especially those who live in humid climates (like Minneapolis), will sweat profusely into the pack’s back on long rides on hot days. Will your backsweat seep into the pack’s interior and infiltrate your contents with funk? Probably no. As you walk through the hallways to your cubicle will people give you a wide berth? Probably yes.
Difficult to zip with laptops larger than fifteen inches in the laptop compartment. This is more of an observation. My seventeen-inch laptop just sits in the main compartment and I use the laptop compartment for other stuff, like an eReader or book.
Cyclists with wider shoulder may find the shoulder straps restrictive and the pack too narrow. So just buy the 28L Fjällräven Raven and you’ll be fine.
The more I fiddle with Fjällräven gear, the more I notice the little things that really makes the brand stand out. Tight, intentional, careful stitching with super-heavy and durable thread. Industrial-grade zippers with might and heft. The eschewment of frippery and excessive features. Fjällräven is all about the heritage aspect of gear. The beauty and simplicity of original, ancient designs (before all this laptop, eReader and smartphone bullshit poxed our culture) blended with the modern sensibilities of quality construction, durability and use-value.
It’s totally a Gear Gals Piece of Recommended Gear.
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