With its patinaed Vinlyon and subtle details, Kajka at first glance is a seemingly modest trekking backpack. Look deeper (ideally into its front-opening main compartment), and you’ll realise it’s an advanced product loaded full of innovative functionality. Including a frame with a carbon footprint considerably lower than its aluminium counterparts. It’s proof that looks can be deceiving. Which, according to its designer Henrik Andersson, is exactly the point.
In 2006, Fjällräven Global Creative Director Henrik Andersson was a master’s student in Design at Lund University. Passionate about board sports, he was happiest outdoors and interested in sustainability. Looking for ways to merge his personal interests and education, his master’s thesis felt like a good place to start. He was unimpressed with what he saw:
“Outdoor equipment was over-designed at that time. I suppose the goal was to make everything feel ‘high tech’, but all the straps, buckles and colours made the gear look overdone. These days if you see a backpack made in 2006 it generally looks like it’s from 2006.”
A vision began to form, and Henrik called our design team at the time with his concept: a small, 40-litre backpack suitable for trekking and travelling.
“I grew up with Fjällräven and had a Kånken as a child,” he reminisces. “As a design student I loved the simplicity of the brand, but when I looked at the backpacks I saw room for improvement. Simplicity was missing. There was an opportunity to make something very ‘Fjällräven’.”
Intrigued, Åke Nordin, founder of Fjällräven, agreed to support his thesis project with the caveat to update the concept of Fjällräven's larger trekking backpacks instead. Together, we’d create one versatile enough for travel on and off the trail.
A fresh take on Fjällräven
When reaching out to Fjällräven, Henrik craved a real-world product development experience, and he got one! Though enriching, he soon learned about the reality of what goes into conceptualising and manufacturing a new product from scratch:
“We did a lot of concepts and prototypes, which was so cool for me at that time. I also learned how long the process takes! It was challenging for an impatient student (like me) to wait. All I wanted was the samples I needed to graduate. The final product was worth it though.”
It was also a good experience for us at Fjällräven. After seeing Henrik in action, he was hired! He joined in 2007 as a Hardware Product Developer and has been on the team ever since. Eventually, he became our Hardware Manager, then our Head of Innovation & Design. Now he’s our Global Creative Director.
Henrik Andersson, Fjällräven Global Creative Director.
Go deep for innovation
In 2008, about two years after Henrik’s called our studio, Kajka was launched. A technical trekking backpack that didn’t look especially high tech, Kajka’s form and function perfectly suited its purpose: to carry heavy loads comfortably for extended periods of time.
In fact, the straightforward approach inspired Henrik to pick the name “Kajka”:
Like Kånken, in Swedish Kajka also refers to carrying something. Though it’s an obscure, seldom-used word, it’s easy for anyone to say. No tricky pronunciation. The word is what it is. Like the backpack.
Despite its “is what it is” appearance, Kajka was launched with its fair share of industry-leading innovations.
Storage was optimised in several ways. The main compartment opened from the front rather than the top, allowing travellers and beginner trekkers who load from the bottom to easily view their things. The top lid was removable and easily attached to the chest strap for access to snacks and essentials. It could also be worn as a hip sack or shoulder bag. In honour of his love for board sports, Henrik made sure there was a separate bottom compartment to store wet and dirty clothes. Made with an interior mesh layer, it could be used as a packing capsule or opened for air drying.
In terms of carrying personalisation, the Perfect Fit Adjustment System made adjusting Kajka to different back lengths and shoulder widths quick and easy. It could also be compressed evenly with the aid of two compression rods, which were a significant innovation at the time. While most other compression systems used lots of external straps, Kajka only needed two.
Finally, Kajka’s “non-design design” was completely new for the market. At a time when outdoor equipment was overdone and trend-dependent, Kajka’s uncomplicated construction, uncluttered surfaces, reliable Vinlyon fabric and classic colour palette were timeless.
“When it comes to getting out into nature, we all start somewhere,” says Henrik. “If you’re new to trekking, Kajka’s ease-of-use lowers the entry threshold. When you eventually gain more experience, its functionality will continue impressing you. From first glance, people knew Kajka would age well, and appreciated Fjällräven for it.”
10 innovative things you (probably) don’t know about Kajka
- It was originally a master’s thesis.
- The original pitch was a 40-litre travel backpack.
- The designer Henrik Andersson is now our Global Brand Director.
- The word “kajka” is an obscure Swedish word for “carry”.
- It was our first front-opening trekking backpack.
- Upon its launch, its compression system was the first of its kind.
- The wooden frame’s carbon footprint is considerably lower than aluminium.
- It’s sold over 200,000 worldwide.
- It’s an award-winning product.
- Its “non-design” design has become an outdoor industry touchstone.
Back to the future
In 2013, five years after its original release, Kajka was once again at the forefront of trekking backpack innovation. With it, we (re)introduced wooden frames. We’d been using aluminium for our frames since 1960. Though revolutionary in their time, we learned that with wood we could lower the carbon footprint of our frames considerably.
Made with FSC-Certified birch grown using responsible foresting methods, the new wooden frames were laminated layer upon layer with water-resistant and environmentally friendly glue, then treated with linseed oil. Comprehensive laboratory tests confirmed that they were at least strong as aluminium and endured all sorts of conditions and climates.
The wooden frames lowered Kajka’s total carbon footprint. Paired with about 20 other practical updates, the backpack was better than ever – and stayed that way for a decade.
When progress is the process
Kajka has proven to be a defining product for Fjällräven. It’s sold over 200,000 worldwide. An impressive number for the outdoor industry. It’s also won its fair share of awards.
So, where does Kajka go from here?
There are two sides to innovation at Fjällräven. On the one hand, the drive to improve our gear is enduring. If that means updating a product which is already well liked to make it better, we do. On the other hand, we’re uninterested in updating products for the sake of getting something new on the market. We’re happier when products feel relevant for a decade. Hopefully longer.
“You never know if this will happen until later of course,” says Henrik. “But the philosophy behind it ensures we get there.”