After eight years of use and abuse on overnight ski tours, thru-hikes, and tight trips in the overhead luggage compartment, I decided to retire my high-school-era Vaude 45L backpack. My goal was to upgrade to a 55L pack with a women’s specific fit, utilitarian design, and the durability to last another decade. After much research, I settled on the Fjällräven Kajka 55, hailed for it’s durability, functionality, women’s specific fit, and the Swedish brand’s signature eco-conscience material choices.
I tested it on a four-day backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness - 32 miles from Purgatory Flats to Vallecito, via Chicago Basin.
The most impressive element of Kajka was revealed when I started packing it. The size of the compartments and zipper placements made organizing fast and easy. Four days in the San Juan Mountains (with peak bagging) requires a serious amount of gear, and I wasn’t remotely close to running out of space! I love the double zippers on the front that allow the whole panel to be peeled back - great for digging around the duffle-style interior without unloading everything.
The lower compartment features wet/dry compartments, separated with a simple mesh screen. This allowed me to secure my sleeping bag and pad in one section, and stash an emergency puffy for quick retrieval on the other side. The pack has plenty of top and side straps to compress and shape the body, eliminating bottom-heavy loads and extra space.
It’s worth noting that aside from the two-way entry water bottle holders on the side, there were no exterior stretch pockets on this pack. For me, that’s a plus, because it makes the pack more balanced and stream-lined. The top has two exterior zippered pockets for those quick-access snacks, gloves, rain fly (included!), First Aid, etc.
The sliding shoulder harness AKA “The Perfect Fit Adjustment System” was the only reason this “one size suits all” pack could accommodate my short torso. After figuring out how to adjust and compress the extra space, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my heavy load felt stable, compact, and sat close to my back.
However, to my disappointment, after shedding my fleece layer, I realized the hip belt was not small enough to truly put the weight on my hips. In all fairness, this has been a reoccurring issue in a number of packs, as I have fairly narrow hips. Consequently, when only wearing a thin shirt, the pack slipped too low and put uncomfortable pressure on my hip flexors and the top of my glutes. With layers on, the pack sat perfectly, with a women’s specific shape to the shoulder harness and an overall narrow profile.
Using the Fjällräven Kajka as a " 14er summit bag" on Mt. Eolus in Chicago Basin.
During warm, uphill climbs, my back got fairly sweaty against the padding; however, “less-breathable” is actually my preference over a mesh-style panel that is easily torn/damaged and holds the load father from my body. In the instance of a light drizzle, Fjällräven's G-1000 water-resistant fabric repelled most droplets, and the generously sized rain fly was easy to toss on in more serious weather. Fjällräven also sells G-1000 wax for a natural waterproofing option, which I will probably apply to the top and bottom. Especially for our dryer months (Sep-Nov.), the waxed material will allow me to forego a rain fly all together.
I am really stoked on the Fjällräven Kajka; the function, durable outer, wooden frame, and smart design really speak to the quality of Fjällräven's products. Also, this pack is NOT light (weighing in at 6.8 lbs!), but I feel like I can toss it in the dirt, kick it down a scree field, and strap some skis to the back without so much as a tear.
The too-large hip belt is frustrating, and I will be reaching out to them about switching it out for something smaller. If that isn’t a possibility, I either need to gain 15 lbs or stick to cold-weather backpacking.
For reference, I am 5’4”, 110 lbs, athletic build.