This is an unusual way to do a Kanken review but since this bag not only has history on its side (it’s a Swedish school classic) but it also has some great outdoors credentials, so what better place to roadtest it than on a walk to to the top of Helvellyn?
The Fjallraven Kanken Backpack In Action
I had been looking for a new rucksack for ages but could never find the right bag. Everything was either too heavy or not wide enough to carry lunch boxes, didn’t have compartments to organise everything, looked too executive or too camping store etc. When we got the Fjallraven backpack range in I wasn’t really thinking I would go for one because they looked too basic with not enough pockets and features. But, as is often the case, when you have one behind your desk for a couple of weeks you start wondering and checking it out and so I decided to give one a go because I really liked the simple design and the red fox logo.
This summer we were heading for the Lake District for a change. The (teenage) boys had got fed up with driving to France and begged to go somewhere in the UK. Having decided on the Lakes, I suggested the challenge of climbing up Helvellyn via Striding Edge and, once shown some spectacular pictures, the boys were very keen. Having recently acquired my Kanken, I packed it up with food, water (in the handily accessible side pockets) and other useful items, like our car keys, and off we headed, up the mountain.
At 950m (3,117ft), Helvellyn is the third highest mountain in England and commands some spectacular views. The most exciting way to go up is via the narrow ridge of Striding Edge and then down the other side over the marginally less alarming Swirral Edge. Both promise a ‘path’ but the whereabouts of this is not always apparent and the ascent/descent requires a fair bit of scrambling. We set off in full sun and started the long slow climb up the side of the mountain which was easy going but hard work. A few hours later we reached the Hole in the Wall, actually a ladder over a wall, which marks the divide between hill climbing and scrambling. Here the heavens opened and we were instantly soaked, our so-called waterproofs offering hopeless protection against the driving rain.
This then was the first test of the Kanken, its ability to protect my belongings in a serious downpour. Actually it stood up quite well with all the contents kept dry, especially my phone which I was worried about. The rectangular shape is good for keeping items organised (our lunch) and upright (our drinks) and the way the front unzips completely, a bit like a suitcase, makes it easy to find things. The straps are well padded and the bag sits very comfortably on the back making it quite easy to carry despite all the bottles ending up in my Kanken.
Having had a rest and some food and guessing the rain was a permanent feature of the day, we headed off towards the summit which looked surprisingly vertical. Here the terrain changed to slippery wet rocks and it was necessary to climb up the rock face using our hands. The boys came alive at this point, having slogged for hours up a steep path, this was where they felt confident and they were suddenly able to swap roles with me, recommending footholds and easier routes up and leading the way. We did see a few families with younger children and I wondered if I would have been happy to do the climb when the kids had been younger. Not without one to one supervision I decided as it was a sheer drop down the sides of the mountain. I had read a few articles about the climb and most people seemed to say it was quite manageable but no one talked about how easy it might be to slip off. In the wet and the wind, the edge was sometimes very narrow and the drop on either side of you was hundreds of feet of rock-strewn steep-sided mountain.
After what felt like a very long climb later, we finally reached the top and were rewarded with another downpour and some additional high winds. The view was still spectacular and we celebrated our victory – all decided it was the high point of the holiday and something we would all remember. We took some photos and then headed off down Swirrel Edge, by now the wind was blowing hard and it felt rather precarious. Again I wondered what it would be like with a ten year old in tow. Finally, after a good six hour round trip, we were back at the car park and looking forward to some well deserved local beer.
Once back at our cottage and still feeling surprised by the possibility of falling that the mountain had offered, I decided to google Striding Edge deaths to see if anyone had actually fallen off. In fact five people had fallen off and died in 2016 alone, six the year before, either off Striding or Swirral Edge and they had mostly been experienced climbers. The deaths had sparked safety calls for guided walks only or warning signs to be erected as every year people slip and fall. I can’t say I would want to be ‘guided’ or have a load of signs everywhere but it was rather sobering to read and I was glad I read it after and not before and I honestly don’t think I would take a young child up there. That’s just me though and no children appear to have fallen off so perhaps I am being a bit over protective. The Kanken backpack though was a great asset, working for wet and windy hiking as well as the urban commute – result.