The Fjällräven Rucksack No21 looks like a classic canvas backpack from decades ago. However it is a modern pack. The base material is G-1000, a combination of 35 % cotton and 65 % polyester. The water resistance can be improved by waxing it. Fjällräven sells his own wax product for this: Greenland Wax. This is made from a mixture of beeswax and paraffin.
Just like old school classic backpacks it doesn’t have zippers. It’s drawstrings and buckles only. The front pocket and side pockets don’t have any closure at all. However the top of each pocket is somewhat tighter than the rest of the pocket. This will keep your stuff clamped inside the pack.
The main compartment can be closed with a drawstring to make sure that everything stays in the pack. It also makes it possible to overload the pack a little bit.
The shape of the pack is maintained by a rubber insert mat. This is the same principle that is done with the Dutch army daypack. However this mat is more luxury.
The model 21 is available in 3 different sizes: Small (15 L), Medium (20 L) and Large (30 L).
For the Medium model the shoulder straps are 6,5 cm × 37 cm. They are not extremely padded but due to the width it spreads the load and gives comfort. The attachment to the pack and the adjustment in length is a little different from most modern backpacks.
At the top are small leather straps. Disadvantage of this is that the straps are easily twisted in the wrong way. At the bottom is a classic buckle for the adjustment of the length of the shoulder straps. While this system doesn’t allow you to tighten the pack to you body while wearing it, it also makes sure that there is no annoying buckle poking under your armpit.
The side pockets are a little bit hidden inside the pack instead of real outer pockets. They are big enough for a water bottle, small foldable umbrella, small camera tripod etc.
With a depth of 23 cm of the side pockets most water bottles can be stowed away completely.
The Dutch Army used and uses modern backpacks that all have in common that they have detachable side pouches These pouches (aka rocket pouches) can be zipped together into a improvised small backpack. After years of using the Berghaus Vulcan backpack the the Dutch army switched to several models and sizes of Lowe Alpine backpacks. The sizes are 40 liter, 55 liter and 130 liter. They all come with 10 liter side pouches. The 40 liter backpack has a minimalistic hip belt and static shoulder straps. The bigger models have a padded hip-belt and shoulder straps that can be adjusted according to the user length.
Initially they were made by renowned backpack manufacturer Lowe Alpine. Later the Dutch army ordered copies of these backpacks at the Belgian company ARWY. Also the Army ordered copies of the backpacks without a brand in countries like Vietnam. A real Lowe Alpine version of these backpacks can be recognized through the label under the cover lid and the Lowe Alpine logo on the metal button clasps that keep the aluminum frame inside its sleeves.
The fast majority of the produced backpacks has Dutch DPM camouflage. Smaller quantities are made in US Woodland camouflage for the Marine Corps and in black for the Military Police. Lowe Alpine itself produced the backpacks also in Olive Green for the civilian market.
During the 80’s the Austrian army had a load carrying system that consisted of a large backpack that looked like a US army Alice Pack and a smaller bag that could be carried as a front pack or as a butt pack. Alternately the small bag could also be worn as a shoulder bag or a small backpack on it’s own. The bags are made from Nylon (Polyamide) and usually carried in combination with a pistol belt.
The idea from a front pack was copied in later years by the Dutch army. They had a small duffel generally known as the Rotota bag or soldiers handbag. This was also attached to the shoulder straps of a backpack. However the Dutch used plastic fast release buckles while the Austrian pack system uses metal hooks. Another difference is that the Dutch front-pack is carried on the chest while the Austrian front-pack is carried a little lower, on your belly. Perhaps this was done so the soldier has more space to handle a rifle.
Travel equipment doesn’t have to be expensive and complex. Quechua, the home brand of Decathlon sports and outdoor shop, makes very simple and therefore lightweight and cheap backpacks. The Arpenaz backpacks don’t have side pockets. They consist of just one large main compartment with a additional 2nd compartment. The bags are padded with a small layer of foam on the back and made out of water repelling fabrics. On top is a small loop for hanging your bag on a hook in a public toilet or so. Unfortunately there is no large grip handle on top to pick up your bag easily. The Arpenaz backpack series has a 10, 20, 30 and 40 liter variants and is available in all kind of colors.
For the 10 and 20 liter the 2nd compartment is a front pocket. For the 30 and 40 liter variants the 2nd compartment is located in the cover lid. Al the variants except the 10 liter have mesh pockets on both sides. All backpacks except the 10 liter variant have a minimalistic hip belt. Since the volume of all these backpacks are not that big and there is no option for adjusting the shoulder straps at a different hight you might not using it at all.
Soldiers in the army have usually something like a kit-bag, see sack, weekend bag or duffel bag. This not to use in the combat field but to take all their clothing and gear from army base to army base or from their barracks to home during weekends. These bags are usually very simple. In case of a duffel bag it is usually a one compartment bag with rings and a clip to close it instead of zippers. Most duffel bags have just one strap to throw over your shoulders. The US army duffel bag however is one of the few designs with two straps so that it can be worn as a (improvised) backpack. To improve the possibility of carrying the duffel bag as a backpack the bag has a rectangular shape instead of a cylindrical shape. A round shape will flip sidewards all the time when you have it on your back. A flat shape will be much more stable.
Theft from your luggage is unfortunately a thing that can happen. Just like in daily life there are criminals that want to steal what belongs to you. This can surely happen by fellow travelers but also by people who work as luggage handlers in airports, buses or ferry boats. Thailand has seen both arrests of foreign travelers being caught for stealing as well as local employees who work as a luggage handler.
The Dutch army daypack aka KL daypack or KLu daypack is a small backpack but equipped with foam-padded shoulder straps like it is a full size backpack. The bag has a main compartment with an internal divider and two side pockets. The weigh is about 1,35 kg and measurements are 45 x 28 x 18cm for the main compartment and 7 x 15 x 25 cm for each of the side pockets. This gives the backpack a total volume of 28 liters. However, on online army shops and second hand trading websites the volume is very often stated as 35 liters. The outside contains two attaching belts for extra equipment like a water bottle or first aid pouch. These items can be attached with alice-clips, but also the old Dutch/British webbing system hooks. This backpack was made during the 90’s in 3 colours; Woodland (Dutch DPM), Dessert (Dutch CDU) and olive green. The olive green one was only issued to the Dutch Airforce (KLu) and therefore harder to find nowadays. Big advantage of this last one is that the camouflage pattern will not fade out after years of usage. Also the color is more neutral and suitable for urban traveling.
The Rucksack Other Arms from the British army and the Osprey Porter are both “single” compartment backpacks where you can hide the shoulder straps. This allows you to use it as a hand carrying bag. Both the backpacks are not very high compared to their width.
The Osprey Porter. Source: expertworldtravel.com/osprey-porter-vs-farpoint-backpack-travel
If you spend most of your time carrying your luggage at your back when hiking or going to the woods and mountains, then a real backpack is most suitable. If your backpack spends most of its time in a luggage compartment of a bus, train, air-plane, mini van, taxi etc. then a single compartment bag with no extra straps or side pockets is more suitable. This setup comes close to a suitcase that you carry on your back.
The Polish WZ89 army backpack (aka Frog or Puma camouflage) is a cheap and simple backpack. Just a big sack with two straps on it. It was in use in the Polish army from 1989 and until 1993. The typical camouflage pattern is called the Zába Pattern, which in polish for Frog. On military surplus store websites it is also called the Polish Puma camouflage pattern. In Germany this camouflage pattern is often referred as Pumatarn.
The bottom is protected with a rubber (PVC) coating. So when you place your bag in a small puddle of water or in some wet grass not all your stuff is totally soaked. For a better protection it is wise to use a big plastic bag inside the backpack itself since the fabric is very thin and not very water resistant. In military surplus stores you can also buy special water resistant laundry bags.
The top side of the pack has two drawstrings, one on the very top and one a bit lower down the body. The lower drawstring allows for loading to regular capacity, similar to a normal rucksack. The top drawstring allows you to expand (overload) the pack to the size of a big backpack. Keep in mind that there is no padding on the shoulder straps. So if you you load up on weight it’s going to cut into your shoulders and may hurt. The big top flap can be closed in two different heights; two triglides on the bottom or two triglides half way the pack.
The rucksack is constructed of very flexible material and doesn’t have a rigid frame. This simple construction gives very little wearing comfort. However this also makes it ideal for packing and compressing your luggage down to a small package and in the same time it also allows you to expand the bag to carry a much larger load. It is also possible to fold the bag down and take it with you as an extra bag in your main luggage. Since the weight of the pack is only 0,75 Kg it is not that much extra.
Other comparable designs.
There is also an improved version of this backpack with a different camouflage pattern (WZ93 Pantera) and stronger materials. The M93 Pantera camouflage backpack. The fabric of the M93 backpack is waterproof and the name tag is stronger and equipped with a better plastic window.
The much bigger and heavier French F1 65 liter military backpack might have been the inspiration for this design. That bag is also more like a duffel bag, comes also with a rubberized bottom, and is also closable at two different heights. But that bag is made of much heavier canvas and the rubber is thicker and comes higher from the ground. This makes the weight of this pack going up to 2,15 Kg. The backside of the pack has a padded back support in a triangle form, the shoulder straps are padded and the pack has a simple belt to let the weight rest at your hips. These features makes this backpack / duffel bag quite comfortable to wear. More info in this special blog about the French army F1 backpack.
Many people regard a soft backpack without any back support or padded shoulder straps as a ridiculous idea and the worst design ever. However the famous (military) backpack company Berghaus made a similar backpack The Berghaus MMPS Grab Bag. This bag has also one main compartment without side pouches. Only the cover lid is a little more sophisticated with a pouch behind a zipper and some webbing for attaching extra gear. This bag is also meant as an extra light weight bag that you can take with you in your main luggage.
Tortuga Backpacks are designed by two travel veterans. After a backpack journey they noticed that all backpacks and other bags and suitcases have their own advantages and their own disadvantages. They decided to develop their own backpack. Main feature is that you can open the backpack in the same way as a suitcase. This makes the backpack more suitable for travelling. Most backpacks are designed more for hiking than for travelling and open therefore from the top.
They don’t sell their products in physical shops but on-line only.
After a little research it turned out that Osprey also has a backpack what can be opened from the front instead of the top. Their backpack is called the Osprey Porter 46. The following youtube movie compares these two.