In a break from my tradition of complaining about things, a positive post and a recommendation – and about a corporation, no less!
Savotta of Finland is one of my favorite companies these days. They make my life better, easier and less stressful by taking away one of the worries of traveling: the fear that I’m in some foreign country and my backpack gives up the ghost. Since I go to great lengths to travel with carry-on backpack only (another habit that makes travel much more enjoyable; heartily recommended), whether my backpack holds up to the stresses of travel is of major concern to me. And considering my luck, should a backpack fail, it would most likely do so just when I’m rushing to the airport or otherwise in a desperate need to move. (This is actually the likely scenario: when we’re in a hurry and stressed out, we tend to make all sorts of stupid mistakes and abuse our equipment.)
There are many good travel backpacks I’ve tried over the years, and I have mostly positive things to say about the MEI Voyageur, for example. But after two decades of backpacking, I’ve come to the conclusion that when you absolutely, positively do not want to live in a fear of failure, you buy Savotta.
This small company has been making ridiculously durable, well-designed outdoors gear in a small village in the middle of
nowhere Finland since 1955. Their forte is in backpacks of all sizes: while the ergonomics and the looks are sometimes couple of decades behind the latest crazes (although both are always good enough) their products are cleverly designed for serious use and built to last. The TL;DR version of this post is that Savotta is to backpacks what Nokia 3310 is to mobile phones: the one thing you just can’t seem to be able to break. In fact, Savotta’s marketing slogan could well be “the user will always fail first.”
I’m not affiiated with them in any way, except having been a satisfied user for 17 years now. I bought my first Savotta rucksack, the venerable classic 906, for a serious need. The reconnaissance platoon I was assigned to had lost all the long range patrol rucksacks we were supposed to be issued with, as they had been needed by troops deployed to Kosovo. As a consequence, we were instructed to bring our own rucksacks instead. The 80-liter, external frame rucksack I eventually bought held up admirably throughout the reconnaissance/ranger training, even after being run over by an armored personnel carrier. This durability was no wonder, as the 906 is close cousin to the military issue “LJK” long range patrol pack, also designed and built by Savotta. The rumor is that in testing, the prototype pack was accidentally airdropped without a parachute; even though the contents were somewhat battered, the pack survived in perfectly usable condition. When Savotta brought out the latest iteration, it was, of course, tested in this fashion. The pack survived 350 meters of freefall without issue, as can be seen in this video.
In this world where most things just aren’t built to last, any exceptions to the rule are heart-warming. That bruised and battered but still surprisingly good-looking 906 is with me still, and I won’t be giving it up before I’m terminally ill and too weak to walk. There are more modern backpacks, and there are lighter backpacks (the 906 weighs about 2.8 kg, which isn’t that bad, all things considered), but there are none that could beat the 906 in durability and versatility. Even though it gets little use these days, as I somehow seem to be too busy to take longer hikes and its 80 liters are overkill for shorter jaunts, the fact that it’s there in the basement storage gives me a sense of freedom: if need be, I could carry everything I need to wherever I have to. They say it’s foolish to own more than you can carry, because then the things you own end up owning you, but with my 906, I can carry more than without.
However, for some time now my go-to pack has been a slightly smaller pack, Rajapartio (Border Patrol). This pack was originally designed for the Finnish Border Guard officers, who patrol the 1300-kilometer long border with Russia. It’s small and simple enough to serve admirably as a carry-on backpack as well (provided one doesn’t go overboard when packing), yet its suspension system is superb and the internal aluminium frame gives it rigidity most other similarly sized packs lack. (Note: I had to hammer the frame a bit to make it fit me better.) In its job as a travel backpack, it could have more pockets, and I’ve added some for extra ease of use, but the basic design is very sound. Now I have a carry-on pack that can truly serve as a serious hiking backpack as well – and take on whatever outrages and indignities the life of traveling academic can possibly throw at it.
Besides making great backpacks, including some truly classic items (where else could you buy a classic Bergen like Savotta 323, or that simple yet excruciatingly useful daypack Savotta 123?), another thing in favor of Savotta is their customer service. In fact, this post was inspired by their recent Facebook update, where they recalled a batch of backpacks with a possible hidden manufacturing flaw that had slipped through quality control. The post is in Finnish, but for those who can read it – this is how you do customer service. Savotta is also known for supporting the users with spare parts when they are (rarely) needed: combined with the fact that the company is already more than half a century old and looks set to continue being in business (they still make most of the Finnish Defence Forces load-bearing gear, for example), Savotta could well be the last backpack you need to buy.
Sadly, there is one thing I need to mention: even though whatever Savotta manufactures in Finland or in its subsidiary in Estonia simply will refuse to fail, the company has outsourced some cheaper items to China. These are at best of variable and often of poor quality, and best avoided altogether. I hope the company has learned its lesson, and focuses on what makes it the company I and many, many others love: the quality that gives its users one thing less to worry about. (Here might be another marketing slogan in the making.)
Savotta packs are not cheap, but as so often in this world, you gets what you pays for. It’s telling something that the main problem for many long-time users is that it’s so very hard to justify shelling out cash for that shiny, new backpack, since that 20-year old Savotta is still going so strong…