Based in England, Salkan are a new brand making gear for travellers. Their first release is actually a pair of bags, intended for longer-duration trips. Consisting of the large Mainpack and smaller Daypack, these can function apart or fit together, combining as a unit Salkan have named The Backpacker.
Salkan’s idea is grounded in a kind of travel that soaks in its destination – rather than zipping through airports and bouncing between hotspots, their users might pack a little extra, and take the time to see what’s around the corner. Their Mainpack holds the real luggage, but can be stowed away in the plane’s cargo or a hotel room while the Daypack peels off to carry essentials. This system is one used by backpacking travellers all over the world already, but isn’t always baked directly into the design like Salkan have done here.
|Capacity||2746 cu. in.||45L|
|Capacity||1220 cu. in.||20L|
Primary Fabric: COTNA 900d PolyCotton with Wax Finish
Specifications provided by Salkan
Quality and Comfort
The first impression of the Salkan Backpacker puts it into a funny bracket. The bags’ exterior is made from a curious fabric, softer to the touch than a crisp ripstop or even a dense waxed canvas. The greenish-grey colouring is remarkably subtle, pleasantly blending into a wide range of backgrounds, rather than sticking out as tourist fare might often. The lining is a lovely burnt-orange tone, contrasting against the exterior in a way that’s visible but not glaring against the eyes. The top-loading design complements the classic styling, resulting in a look that’s neither ‘technical mountain gear’ nor ‘suit-and-tie business luggage,’ but is instead relaxed and versatile, perfect for travel. So much of the Backpacker speaks to this small-touch quality: it’s a rare thing to comment on, but even the box the bag was delivered in was gorgeously printed. Salkan’s first run of bags are even individually hand-numbered, which really conveys the heart that’s been put into them.
Despite this, the Backpacker resists some of the trappings of the common ‘heritage’ brand. The same fabric is more water resistant than its tactile quality might first suggest – it handled rain and eventually heavy snow reasonably well, the exterior soaking slightly after hours of exposure, but keeping the contents dry. For heavier weather Salkan include a raincover that also zips fully closed, concealing the Mainpack’s prominent harness, which otherwise risks all kinds of damage when checked for flight.
Salkan have done their homework when it comes to this harness, drawing from the technical end of the spectrum. The straps adjust to fit the height of the wearer and are backed up by a sturdy belt. The bag came with simple instructions on fitting, which I was able to figure out pretty easily, and found the bag adequate for a day’s hiking in the hills – it’s more than comfortable enough for the trek from bus station to hostel, or for an overnight camping trip, even with the Daypack mounted outside.
I’ve used other ‘piggyback’ designs in the past and will admit to some concern seeing this appear on The Backpacker. Often, the smaller bag will pull away from the wearer, upsetting their balance and bumping into anything they walk past. However, the slim profile of both Salkan’s bags helps keep the combo stable, with the weight directed into the load-bearing belt. There was no bouncing as I walked, or swinging action as I turned. More impressively, I was still able to spin inside hotel corridors and train station ticket-barriers without knocking pictures off the walls. The Daypack mounts by clipping into the Mainpack’s compression straps, holding it tight and secure against the load – alternatively, wearers can hook the bag around their front, though that felt less useful to me, and actually cumbersome at times.
Would-be hikers do need to mind a couple of points, though: first off, the bag is heavy, even for its size. The Mainpack is nearly double the weight of Bergans’ Helium Pro 40, the bulk coming as the trade-off to the velvety COTNA material. Secondly, the straps come up a little shorter than I’d like, even when properly adjusted to my torso length. I’m far from the most muscle-bound and I can imagine folks with bigger chests struggling to get a perfect fit.
My concern about the straps carries over to Salkan’s Daypack, which has slender, minimalist straps to reduce bulk for mounting. They’re fine, it’s just that I could walk all day with the Mainpack on my back, whereas I wouldn’t want to do the same with the smaller bag. That said, for light loads and quick strolls, it’s no problem at all. The Daypack has been great for a day on the beach or dotting around cafes and museums, just nothing too strenuous.
Another way in which Salkan have blended traditional styling with a modern function is in the interior layouts of their Backpacker set; a number of small details mark these bags as being well thought out in their use. One solid example is the bottle pockets on the bags’ sides, which are gusseted on their rear side, and held tight with elastic. The Mainpack’s bottle pockets are big enough for a full size Nalgene, whereas the Daypack pockets are a little slimmer, but work fine with a narrow Hydroflask for example. I’m always impressed by external pockets which lie flat when empty but don’t steal volume from the bag’s inside, and that’s something Salkan have nailed here.
The Daypack’s layout seems minimal, mostly comprising one open space under a drawstring and lid, but it has plenty going on. A high quality laptop sleeve is built into the back wall, bringing the Backpacker up to speed with modern travel requirements all by itself, as well as enabling the Daypack to be used for actual daily working use when at home. The same laptop protection is built into the Mainpack, but feels less useful – I wouldn’t want to put such a sensitive (and expensive) thing as my computer into an aircraft hold, or carry the Mainpack to a cafe to work, for example.
There are other pockets – one ‘hidden’ zip-up built into the back panels both packs, which is secure when the bag is worn normally but easy to reach into without taking the bag off. Curiously, the Daypack’s compression strap finishes behind a seam that I’d initially assumed to be an open stash pocket but is sewn almost closed – I was a little disappointed by that, since it would have been a great place to throw a wooly hat or a snack. I realised it’s only open at all to allow users to remove and switch out the strap for a different colour (which is also possible with the Mainpack’s straps), which is admittedly a cool option, but feels like a missed opportunity for the bag.
Another couple of small pockets can be found elsewhere – one is zipped into the lid of the Daypack making it quick to access, and is fleece lined (to avoid scratching sunglasses or electronics). Another rests just inside the bag’s drawstring, this one having a water resistant zip and built in lanyard to secure keys. They’re well sized for their uses, but personally I’d like to see these features reversed – having a tether inside a small internal pocket feels redundant, not to mention making that pocket water resistant, but no others, leaves me bemused. If anything, I’d want to maximise the functionality of the external pockets, since the central space is sealed away behind the drawstring baffle and g-hook closed lid.
At first glance, the use of g-hooks across the Backpacker comes across as a nice design note, accenting the soft fabric with bright metal hardware. In use however, I found the hooks fiddly and slow, especially when my hands were cold or wet. As a negative this is pretty significant, since there’s no way to get into either the Daypack or Mainpack without playing with them. The closures on both bags’ lids use them, as well as the Mainpack’s compression system, which runs over the front opening panel.
The Mainpack, once it’s open, is well laid out, demonstrating the same kind of thought I praised Salkan for earlier. The first thing to note is that this space is big – there’s enough room here to pack for weeks, or months, away. Salkan sent me a set of their simple packing cubes with the Backpacker and they fit perfectly into this big compartment, making great use of the capacity. Another included extra is Salkan’s Laundry Sling, a small rolltop pouch which suspends just below the Mainpack’s drawstring opening by use of toggles, which I thought was a seriously innovative way to rig up an internal module. The pouch isn’t a true drybag as such but it offers some extra separation for dirty clothes, or anything else that might need to be wrapped away. The pack will compress nicely thanks to the (customisable) straps, and if any more volume is needed, the Mainpack’s lid floats upwards, which I find is the best direction to expand without upsetting the bag’s balance or comfort.
It’s common to see some kind of mesh pocket on the inside of a panel opening, but Salkan have skipped that here, instead fitting a selection of internal pockets into the side walls of the bag, as well as the laptop sleeve in the back. These are asymmetric (one side being one long pouch and the other having two, smaller) but my favourite detail is the two-way zips, which mean they can be opened from their bottoms, perfect when delving in through the front panel zip, or from the top when the lid and drawstring are open. The fleece-lined lid pocket is also present here, as is a small pocket in the reinforced bottom for the pack cover, which keeps it handy but out of the way.
- Shallow profile makes ‘piggyback’ very effective.
- Design blends traditional look with modern functionality
- Rich features provide a lot of options for organisation.
- Short straps limit comfort for certain wearers
- G-hooks inhibit quick access to contents
- Fabric and is heavier and less water-resistant than many modern alternatives.
The Backpacker’s approach runs contrary to the ‘fast and light’ mentality that’s gained ground over the past few years, taking the longer route instead. And while one-bag evangelists may find things to dislike, that’s not everyone. Past that, this is the best dedicated two-bag travel combo I’ve ever used, just for the fact that it’s comfortable to use, even with the smaller bag latched on.
Salkan’s release retails a £250 which, for a high-quality, Vietnam-made bag is about right – getting two bags at that price is very good value indeed, especially if you happen to live within their free-shipping region. Furthermore, with a little compromise, it’s conceivable that this pair of bags would justifiably cover every use a person might come across. They’re not perfect, but this is the first release from a brand new studio, with a lot more of the world to see.
Disclaimer: The Backpacker used was provided by Salkan for this review. The content of this review was not shared with Salkan before publishing. Our reviews are unbiased and never modified to keep a brand happy.