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In our Knack Pack review we examine the ins and outs of this promising and creative expandable backpack that is designed with the One-Bag life in mind. As readers well know, there are no shortage of One-Bag-Life products hitting the market these days and some (many!?) leave quite a bit to be desired (zipper madness anyone!?!). But, the Knack Pack is the most promising option I’ve seen to date. Learn more about this intriguing option in our Knack Bag review.
Updated 1/21/20: We’ve updated this article to reflect a huge sale that KnackBags is having on their older model (featured in this review). With limited quantities that Knack Pack is on sale for 25% off as they cull through their remaining older inventory.
While the newer model is pretty nice, I use the older model EVERY single day and find it to be pretty solid. In fact I just did a two day / one night trip in last week and am heading out on another one today. No. Suitcase. Needed. Snag this bag for a great deal! And read my full review, below. Despite a few minor misgivings this is my daily bag.
Knack Pack Review – Overview
We cover a lot of ground in this Knack Pack review including the Knack story, the Knack Pack Specs, our experience with the bag (from two different trips). We also provide a buying recommendation at the end.
Note: We were provided a free version of the Knack Pack to review from Knack Bags. However, no guarantee of positive or negative review was provided. As always we provide a truthful review of any product we examine.
The Knack Story
Like many recent luggage / bag companies, Knack is a company that embraces the “One Bag Life” as they call it.
Check out our Onli Travel Bag Review – Onli also embraces the one bag life, but in a totally different way than Knack
A small team of pros (some who have worked at prestigious bag companies like Tumi and Samsonite) recognized the challenge many people have when traveling. Too much stuff. Too many bags. Too few hands.
Enter the Knack Pack. A single, expandable backpack designed to simplify your travel experience.
Their website proudly states: “…we hope it [the Knack Pack] will make it a bit easier to help you get out your front door more often so you can discover new places, meet new people, and enjoy all that’s around you.”
Personally, I am not a huge fan, per se, of the One-Bag Life. For a business traveler carrying two bags instead of one heavier bag isn’t that big of a deal. Especially when we usually board first and are seldom fighting for overhead bin space.
That said, I do understand and appreciate the One-Bag Life and it’s intent and there’s definitely a place for it. For example, a quick 2 day trip is perfect for a single bag. Bringing a suitcase that would basically be empty just doesn’t make sense. Enter bags like the Knack Pack which, with its expandable features, is a compelling entrant onto the One-Bag Life scene.
It’s also a pretty darn reasonable backpack for everyday use (e.g. commuting to the office, etc). Keep reading to find out what I liked and didn’t like about the Knack Pack.
Key features and specs of the Knack Pack
Here are the key specifications of the Knack Pack Medium Expandable Backpack (as noted earlier, we reviewed the Medium Expandable Backpack from Knack).
Medium Knack Bag:
- Size: 19″ (tall) x 12″ (wide) x 4.5 (deep; un-expanded). When expanded it’s 9.5″ deep.
- Total Storage Capacity: 17 Liters, un-expanded. 31 liters, expanded.
- Weight: 2 lbs 11 oz (unpacked)
- Material: Custom-developed, water-resistant body fabric
- Padded Laptop Pocket: Yes, 15″ laptop
- Airplane Fit claims: Claims to fit under all airline seats (expanded) and in all overhead bins (expanded).
- Note: while we did not review the Large knack pack here, they do note that the LARGE bag will not fit under airline seats WHEN EXPANDED. This is not an issue with the Medium bag though.
- Size of Water Bottle Pocket: 17″
- Colors: 4; Savile Gray, Loden Green (the model we reviewed was green), Stealth Black, Burnt Orange (Limited Edition)
- Total # of Pockets / Compartments: 9
- Main Compartment (includes a tablet pocket or, as I used it, a small laptop pocket)
- Phone Pocket
- Passport, Pen & ID Holder Pocket
- Cord Compartment
- Sunglasses Pocket
- Computer Side Pocket
- Water Bottle Compartment
- Hidden Suitcase Compartment (expandable)
- 15″ Laptop Compartment
Other specifications as noted by the Manufacturer:
- Spacious main compartment with organization pockets, fleece-lined tablet pocket and key leash
- Hidden, zip-away side water bottle pocket
- Separate, patent-pending, expandable packing compartment holds 2 to 3 changes of clothes
- Packing compartment with easy-access suitcase lid
- Molded, comfort-cool foam back panel
- Water-resistant zipper with custom-designed pullers
- Stowable Backpack straps
- Cool internal lining color / design
Our Knack bag review
During my review of the Knack Bag I took it on two different trips. The first trip was a longer trip – 5 days – and so I did NOT take advantage of the “suitcase style” expandable portions of the bag, instead using it simply as a traditional backpack to store my laptops, pens, power supplies, chargers, notepads, etc.
The 2nd trip was a 4 day trip and decided to try to use the expandable suitcase portion of the backpack and ONLY travel with the Knack Bag. I brought with me 3.5 days of clothes (I reused one pair of jeans, hence the .5 day of clothes).
We reviewed a medium Knack Bag in Loden Green (like a forest green, see above pic). The medium sized knack bag is one of three Knack Bag options – two of which are available for purchase at the time of this review: the medium and large. It appears that Knack is working on a smaller version as well, however, it’s not presently for sale.
In the next few sections of our Knack Bag Review we look look at the following:
- Examination of key features in detail (e.g. laptop compartment, expandable features, sternum strap, etc). We compare the claims to the experience.
- What we loved / liked about the Knack Pack
- What we didn’t like about the bag
The laptop compartment(s)
- Claims: 15″ Laptop
- I have a 14″ Dell Latitude E7450 Laptop that’s my primary work laptop. It fit into the space, BUT, while the pocket easily fits a 15″ laptop, the actual zippered hole is functionally smaller. What I mean by that is the connection point for the backpack strap slightly overlaps the zippered laptop hole. It folds out of the way easy enough, but you do have to move it slightly or it offers the slightest bit of resistance. Not a huge deal but I did observe it.
- I also tried my smaller Dell Latitude E7240 which is a 12.5″ laptop. It EASILY slid in and out of the pocket with absolutely no resistance.
- As an aside, I also used the Tablet Compartment to store this laptop and it fit PERFECTLY. This is good, because I travel with two laptops. One for work…and one for blogging. #GottaKeepEmSeparate. I don’t travel with a tablet.
- Getting a little greedy I decided to try my larger Dell Inspiron 15 7000 7568 2-in-1 Laptop which is 15.6″ – slightly above the pocket size for the Knack Pack. NO DICE. I tried a few different angles, but it would NOT accept this laptop despite it being a mere .6″ over the limit. TO BE FAIR: They said it supported 15″ laptops…not 15.6″ laptops. 🙂
- In case you are curious, this laptop is also a total piece of crap.
- Opinion: As advertised. The compartment is also padded. My laptop traveled nicely in the compartment and was pretty easy to get in and out.
Tablet / Small Laptop Compartment
- Claims: There’s no size limation offered by Knack other than it’s a “tablet pocket”
- Experience: I don’t have a tablet…I do have a small laptop and I travel with two laptops (one for work…and one for blogging). My Dell Latitude E7240 12.5″ laptop easily fit in and out of this pocket.
- Opinion: Unless your tablet is a small coffee table it will fit just fine here and be easily accessed.
- Claims: Expandable hidden suitcase compartment for 2-3 days of travel.
- Experience: During my second trip I took 3.5 days of clothing with me…really pushing the limits of the One Bag Life (I reused a pair of jeans…hence the .5 days). The result? The Knack Pack held up fine, but it was a little tight and a little heavy. 2-3 days is better and I could see a 2 day stint being “just right.” Moreover, accessing the expandable suitcase compartment was pretty easy. One zipper and boom, it’s expanded. It was also easy to re-compress as well (a common flaw in One-Bag offers). The sides of the expandable compartment were a little floppier than the sides of the main compartment of the backpack itself, but that’s to be expected because it has to squish/fold up when not in use. It was not an issue.
- Opinion: Worked as advertised, easy to put into use and fold up. 3 days clothes is the max unless you are a child.
What I liked about the Knack Bag
There was a LOT to like about the Knack Pack. Thus far, the Knack Pack is the most promising expandable back pack on the market (that I’ve seen anyway). Here’s what I loved / liked about it:
What I loved the most about the Knack Pack was it’s overarching design principle with regard to shape. Most backpacks leverage a more triangular design with the larger pockets / storage areas at the bottom of the pack. The Knack Pack employs a more rectangular approach. See the image below for a more dramatic example of what I mean (and an oversimplification).
It’s this rectangular shape that makes the Knack Pack stand out from other backpacks. It takes a page out of suitcase design while still allowing you to get the benefits that backpacks provide (portability, soft side, etc).
The chief benefit of this design approach (which I love) is that it really fits nicely into storage compartments like under your seat in an airplane (see pic, below) and in the overhead bin. When stored in an overhead bin its fit is much more compact and it uses the space more efficiently saving other space laterally for more bags.
The Knack Bag stored under the seat back in front of me:
I will say it again…I really really love the cubular (is that a word…lol) design of the Knack Pack.
The Cavernous Main Pocket
As a consequence of the cubular design, the Knack Pack features a cavernous main compartment and it’s delightful. Most Backpacks have a big compartment but it’s floppy and misshapen. Not so with the Knack Pack main compartment. It’s rectangular shape (and sturdy sides) allow for easy and compact storage of items.
The main pocket, in addition to being attractive to look at, is wildly functional. In fact, it could be the 2nd best thing about the Knack Bag, IMO (the first being the overall rectangular shape of the bag).
The Top External Pocket
I liked the placement of the top, front and external pocket (Sunglasses pocket, I guess…but I don’t use sunglasses). Good location for access, properly sized with well made zippers. I used this pocket extensively during my review for things like my keys, or a vape pen, or a thumb drive, even a compact phone charger.
Expandable Suitcase Features Worked Really Well
Often, One-Bag style suitcases feature zipping madness…unzip this, stand on your head, then attach this, rotate your body 194 degree, solve for the meaning of life, then unzip 14 more things.
NONE OF THAT HERE.
It was one simple zipper that easily and smoothly unzipped…the bag expanded nicely creating a “deep enough” space to store my 3.5 days of clothes. 3 Days would have been better…3.5 was a little tight, but that was on me, not Knack.
Any bag needs good zippers. And any bag that expands or transforms needs really good zippers. The Knack Bag zippers were high end, IMO. They appeared durable
The Adjustable Sternum Strap
After spending years in the Marine Corps I know how to carry a backpack for a long time. There are a few things you need to know to be able to carry a large load for a long time:
- Pack it correctly
- Good footwear
- A good stride
- Sternum strap
With a sternum strap (or what I jokingly call a sway bar) you can take some of the tension off your back / shoulder by distributing the load to your chest. A good sternum strap can make a heavy pack seem much lighter allowing you to carry it farther.
When using a single bag like the Knack Pack your bag will be heavier as was the case with my review – especially the 2nd trip. The bag, which contained quite a bit of clothing and gear was, in fact, much heavier. Thus, a sternum strap matters.
At first when I tried to use the sternum strap I thought it was in the wrong spot…way too high…to the point of it choking me. Then I realized it was adjustable. By sliding each side of the strap up or down you can customize the fit. After getting it to where it felt right for me I employed a few times while lugging my bag through the airport. It made an immediate difference.
Many bags do not have a sternum strap and those that do they are either poorly made or not adjustable. Not the case with the Knack Bag at all.
What I didn’t love
As with any product, there’s always a few things you don’t love. That, of course, was the case with the Knack Bag. The good news is that most of them were fairly minor or subjective.
Can only buy it direct from Knack (versus popular retailers like Amazon) [Minor]
- Can’t buy it on Amazon which is irritating. I like to shop on Amazon. I suspect Knack will sort this out soon and I hope they do. (check the price!)
Top Handle Placement [Minor to Medium]
- The placement of the top handle is a bit farther forward on the bag than I’d have liked. This makes it nearly impossible to set the (un-expanded) bag on top of my suitcase and hold both the bag handle and my suitcase handle simultaneously. The root cause of this problem is likely due to the very nature of the Knack Bag and one of it’s key features: the location of the expandable compartment towards the middle rear of the bag.
- This can be rectified by reversing the bag so that the back of the Knack Pack is facing outwards. See images, below.
- When the backpack was expanded (on my 2nd trip) the issue was exacerbated making the top handle in an even more awkward position. When expanded it also felt a little lopsided when I was carrying it by the handle.
The front pouch (minor)
The front pouch of the Knack Back is this modern sort of pouch that is likely inspired by Knack Bag Logo itself (see image, below). And while it does look cool, it’s function is not ideal (and the design is really not necessary).
Because each side of the pouch features it’s own independent zipper you have two things to unzip to get into the pouch (a minor annoyance), but the flap also has a small flap at the very top which is meant to be tucked under the Knack Bag logo.
Cool looking idea…not functional. What happened during my test was that it basically was perpetually OUT of the flap thus forcing me to tuck it back under (see image, below).
Again, this is a minor detail, but totally unnecessary. A more traditional pouch would have been totally sufficient.
Reverse the Water Bottle Zipper (minor)
I didn’t care for the direction the water bottle pocket zipped. It seemed unusual. If they simply reversed it I feel it’d have been more practical. Also, and this is just me, I usually use the water bottle pockets of backpacks to store my laptops power cord. This pocket really wasn’t suited for that. Instead I stored my pain killers there.
Add another external side pouch (minor)
I usually carry a few bottles of Advil or Aleve with me, sometimes Tylenol PM. I like to keep them externally accessible in case I need to quickly grab them while on a plane. The Knack Bag has few externally located pockets (I assume this is in an intentional design), but it made it a little trick to find a good spot for them.
A small external pocket on the opposite side of the water bottle pocket would have been perfect and I think it could easily be added.
The clothing strap left black residue on my shirts (major, but easily avoided)
As I was dressing for the office I noticed some black inky sort of residue on my white shirt. Puzzled…I thought, at first, that maybe my dry cleaner goofed on something or that maybe the iron had something on it. I scrubbed it off and forgot about it.
The next day I pulled my purple shirt out of the bag and as I was doing so I realized the black inky marks were coming from the clothing straps in the bag. I confirmed the marks exactly matched the position of the straps over the shirts. SUPER irritating, although the residue cleaned off ok.
This is probably just some residue left over from when the bag was made…but note to buyers…wipe them down before use! After I wiped them down, no more residue showed up on any of my clothing.
If I could change two things…
I like to hypothesize about what would make a product the “perfect product” in my reviews by picking 1 or 2 things I could change that would make it even better than it might already be.
In the case of the Knack Bag it would be these two things:
- Move the top handle backwards to improve functionality
- Flip the zipper on the water bottle storage
The rest are minor and subjective nits on what is a pretty solid product. And while the inky residue is irritating it’s something that can be avoided if buyers know to expect it.
Buying Recommendation – should you buy the Knack Pack?
The million dollar question!? Should you buy the Knack Pack? Is it worth the money?
Listen, with most products there’s a fair amount of subjectivity involved. Your personal preferences or bias. That’s certainly the case here. And while there were a few things I didn’t love about the Knack Pack there was more to like than not.
My buying recommendation?
It’s a buy, but before you rip the tags off…pack it and use it (carefully) around your house in case you don’t like it and might want to return it. With these sorts of bags, some / much of it can be subjective.
I think that with a few minor improvements the Knack Pack could actually become a powerhouse bag in the business traveler space. I intend to use it as my primary backpack for the next few trips (my Ogio Metro is a little tired anyway…and I am getting tired of swapping my gear back and forth).
I liked the Knack Pack…and I think most people will to…and some won’t.
As an aside, I received numerous comments from employees, colleagues and even fellow travelers about the back pack. “Where’d you get that bag, man?” or “Nice bag, dude.” Didn’t surprise me. It’s a NICE looking bag!
Where to buy
Presently Knack Bag buyers can only purchase the Knack Pack directly from Knack themselves:
We hope that Knack decides to offer this product on Amazon.com along with other popular One-Bag options (Like the Onli Travel Bag).
Does the Knack Bag really support the One Bag Life?
I, for one, am not a huge fan of the One Bag Life, per se. I don’t think it’s necessary or practical for the business traveler in many cases (we always board first anyway so we are seldom fighting for space).
That said, I do very much like the idea of a back pack that is perfectly suited for a 1 or 2 night trip that I can easily toss some clothes in and where a full blown suitcase would basically be mostly empty.
The Knack Bag satisfies this requirement VERY NICELY. During my One-Bag trip it worked pretty well, overall. I just don’t *need* to only travel with one bag whenever possible. The nice thing about the Knack Bag is that if you don’t need the “suitcase storage” compartment it can stay zipped…and you can use it as simply a great backpack.
Corporate Ideas for the Knack Bag
I suspect the brilliant minds at Knack Packs are already exploring this idea, but these bags seem liked a great corporate gift sort of bag. The kind of thing you could slap a logo on and give it to customers or as part of some employee swag.
Final thoughts on the Knack Pack Review
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