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Monday, March 07, 2011

An old dog learns a new trick

Back in the early '80s I became friendly with a young Swedish woman named Birgitta who I had met while she was volunteering on the kibbutz where I was doing a summer ulpan (intensive Hebrew language course).

Once I'd passed my Hebrew professions exam and had started studying at the Hebrew University, Birgitta came to Jerusalem to visit me a few times. And I remember quite clearly that she always wore a small knapsack with the incomprehensible (to me) name 'Fjällräven Kanken' printed on it.


[Classic Kanken like mine]

As knapsacks went, the Fjällräven Kanken wasn't much to look at. It didn't have the padded straps or ergonomic design of the then-current (or later) knapsacks. In fact, based on it's boxy design and minimal external pockets, it seemed to have been designed to hold something about the size of the Manhattan Yellow Pages... and not much more. It also wasn't made of the rough Cordura that was the norm for nearly all knapsack/backpacks of the day (and since).

But something about that Swedish knapsack always intrigue me (maybe it was the little dots over the 'a').

It held its boxy form, thanks to a removable foam rubber insert that could be pressed into service as a seat pad. And the way the narrow straps were attached in a double stitched criss-crossed arrangement pretty much guaranteed that they wouldn't tear loose (the way padded straps were wont to do).

On her last visit with me in Jerusalem, Birgitta gifted me the little Fjällräven Kanken she had seen me admiring so often. She said she had had it for years, but it seemed nearly new, but for the bottom being a tad shiny from use.

Shortly after I came into possession of this quirky little knapsack, my parents came to visit me in Israel and also fell in love with the Fjällräven Kanken. I don't recall exactly how we tracked down a source, but within a short time, my parents were the proud owners of what would be their first (in a series) of these sturdy little packs.

I've also worn out a couple of these knapsacks, and Zahava has too. But for more than two decades, I have always had at least one of these handy packs in my closet... ready to be pressed into service for day trips, or even overnights.

Fast forward to this year when I became the proud owner of an iPad. Like many early adapters, I watched the gadget wires closely to see what kind of innovative cases would hit the market. Some were new-agey and full of extra pockets and padding, while others were retro takes on the time tested military map pouch. But what they all shared was that, at best, they they made the bearer (wearer) look like they were a messenger... and at worst, as if they were carrying a purse.

For women, the purse thing was no big deal. But for men, once you're past your early 20s, you can't really pull off the messenger look... and no man I have ever met has managed to wear a man-purse without looking like their wife/girlfriend has stranded them at the cash register while they go to try on just one more bra.

I was about to dispair of ever finding a convenient way of carrying around my iPad when I noticed the internal slot of the Fjällräven kanken which held the foam pad/seat cushion. I realized that there was enough room in that slot to also slip in the iPad, and that this arrangement would not only protect the device from bumps from outside the bag, but would keep it nicely segregated from the other stuff inside the knapsack (can't have the iPad fraternizing with dead tree products, now can we?).

So I slipped the iPad into the slot... and suddenly a chorus of angels began to sing. Not only was it a perfect fit, but after looking at the Fjällräven with fresh eyes, I realized that the top handles would be perfect for carrying the knapsack on my Vespa scooter's 'curry hook' (a little ring for suspending a bag of groceries between one's knees).

They say you can't teach an old dog a new trick... but I have news for the folks at Fjällräven (who are still manufacturing the Kanken exactly as it was when I first laid eyes on it): If you aren't actively marketing your flagship product as an iPad case... you're simply leaving money on the table.

Don't thank me... I'm a giver.

[Update: Several people have asked about the dimensions of the classic Kanken (approx. 40 x 30cm) vs. the mini Kanken (approx. 29x20cm), so I have listed them here. I have the classic Kanken which is a very nice fit for the iPad. The mini might be too snug a fit the iPad (which is approx. 25x19cm)... espeically if you keep it in a protective cover. But even if it does fit, it might (IMHO) look a little girly on big guys.]


Posted by David Bogner on March 7, 2011 | Permalink


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Ah, but some of my favorite bloggers wear man-purses, and don't at all look like the waiting-for-my-wife-to-try-on-one-more-bra type. And I do believe I met him right on this-here blog.

Posted by: Baila | Mar 7, 2011 4:27:24 PM

Mos def worthy of consideration for a spot in Kevin Kelly's weekly Cool Tools newsletter, edited by Oliver Hulland. In fact, I've forward this post to him.

Posted by: Joe Stirt aka bookofjoe | Mar 7, 2011 6:41:55 PM

the mini Kanken

If old Doc Bean were around he would tell you that an untreated mini Kanken can become infected and that the treatment can be quite nasty. Better to get that taken care of sooner than later. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Mar 7, 2011 8:31:41 PM

Dave... Do you have any cover on your iPad? Just curious if there was room for it in that area of this bag with one of those covers that Leila had on hers (and which I have on mine since day 1).

Let me know

Posted by: Val | Mar 8, 2011 3:34:53 AM

Bail a... He's a doctor. They have their own fashion rules. ;-)

Joe... Thanks! I hope you add this bag to your collection too.

Val... I have the standard apple flip cover. Plenty of room in the classic but I think it would be too tight for the mini.

Posted by: Treppenwitz | Mar 8, 2011 5:59:38 AM

It's not a purse, It's EUROPEAN!

Posted by: jerry seinfeld | Mar 8, 2011 3:37:05 PM

you, sir, are WAY to cool to be on the interntz. this goes for all the posts above this as well, i just visited your site after quite some time and was so impressed i had to send a fan letter, which is what this is, no more, no less. i think one of the reasons i don't visit so often is that there's so little, imo, to criticize! rock on in peace and good health, and may the creator of this weird universe bestow upon you many more pleasantly unexpected "easter eggs" like this swedish pack.

Posted by: jonathan becker | Mar 10, 2011 3:48:33 PM

Fjällräven means "arctic fox".

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jun 15, 2011 2:03:28 PM

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