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Reviewing JanSport’s Air Kirkwood (Day) Backpack

Anything that can last through two and a half months of rigorous travel, changing climates, and the constant use of the World Traveler Internship deserves some feedback on its performance. Since my bag from the Big Journey ripped at the seams, I was out a day pack until JanSport sent the top ten finalists a set of three luggage pieces. Included was the pictured Air Kirkwood Backpack with all sorts of snazzy elements. I’d used JanSport’s classic backpacks in grade school but had yet to use their more specialized models.

JanSport describes itself as “the Original Outdoor Gear Brand that embodies a culture of fun and discovery. We equip people globally with quality, enduring and reliable products that enable the freedom to experience life’s adventures.” I’m here to tell you if they delivered on this promise.

The Bag – Air Kirkwood (TQK1)

“Our goal at JanSport is to design, engineer, manufacture and market products that can help you get from point A to point B, wherever that may be.”

My points A and B were the same place: home. The route between them was one heading westward across the Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and America. The Kirkwood bag needed to last those 38,322 miles and still make me look stunning. The bag functioned as a laptop case, a camera case, a filing cabinet, a plane nighttime bag, a library, and oh so much more. It was always my carry-on piece and was able to carry nicely the 10 pound maximum sometimes enforced on certain airlines.

Let’s take a look at the details, shall we?

AirLift™ shoulder straps

Padded by a solid gel-like matter, referred to by JanSport as AirLift, the straps held the loads nicely by distributing the weight across their wide surface. Curving and contouring to the body, they didn’t cut into my underarms or back of the neck.

One large main compartment

In this middle, main pocket, I normally held my books, DSLR and HD cameras, clothing, or larger items purchased out and about. I always had to be careful setting it down because the bottom isn’t padded at all, but I don’t suspect many backpacks have this feature. I often filled this, as well as all, compartments to the brim and never did the zippers snag or malfunction in any way.

Organizer compartment with dual accessory pockets

The dual accessory pockets were great for pens or an old school Nokia phone, but I especially liked the central zip pocket perfect for storing extra coins from world currencies. They didn’t clutter up the floor of my bag, and I believe me when I say nothing gets me more urked than reaching into my bag and fingering through undergrowth of pen caps, food, coins, and gum onto get a rogue crumb lodged under my finger nail. Pure hell.

Quilted sleeve fits 15″ laptop

The laptop(s) always slept soundly in this rear compartment, which obviously had adequate padding (though I sometimes worried about the bottom of the bag and the impact of placing it on the ground. It’s also a nice place for folders and papers.

Fully padded back panel with ventilation channel

The center of the backpack’s back has a little air canal amidst mounds of padding for your left and right shoulder/lat areas.

Tricot lined V-loft pocket

I don’t know what that description is really talking about, but I enjoyed the soft lining and convenient positioning of the pocket on top. Quite shallow and easy to access, this was perfect for ear plugs, eye cover, aspirin, and anything else I utilized on transportation. Large enough to hold iPods and decks of cards, I really appreciate any bag with a little specialized pocket, for which you can apply a much-needed purpose.

Side water bottle pocket

Also good for catching dirty tissues when your hiking with the swine flu, roll of toilet paper in hand.

Reflective details for nighttime visibility

Yes, this bag can see in the dark.

Side compression straps keep pack close to the body and manage the load

These straps certainly keep the load to the body for enhanced movement, and they also create instant cleavage.

Padded grab handle

When this bag is packed to it’s 30.32L capacity, it can be a little too much load for one feeble and travel-weary back. That’s when having a padded grab handle comes in handy. Without cutting into your hand as you walk around the airport or museum, you can only blame your discomfort on your poor upper-arm strength.

The Pro/Con Balance

How many runway models, jet-setters, and local inhabitants do you see wandering around cities with backpacks on if they’re not business men who bike or obviously going/coming from school? Not many. In certain destinations, backpacks are incredibly vulnerable to petty crime (e.g. bag slashing in Zanzibar’s Stone Town). In others, it’s just an easy indicator of an out-of-towner, and this sometimes-unavoidable distinction can create more difficulties for the toter.

However, wandering Kata Tjuta’s massive, red formations is a perfect opportunity to utilize a bag like the Air Kirkwood. And what was beneficial for me, someone who likes having all their valuables and entertainment nearby, was the fact that the two straps put the load across my entire back and not on one shoulder (like a messenger bag would). Not to say this bag didn’t add stress to my frame, but evening out the load makes things much easier on an already fatigued back.

A backpack is, well…to put it brilliantly, a backpack: it must be taken off to be inspected; it can never come across as a purse or a man bag; it immediately makes any ensemble look sporty or ultra-casual. It all depends on how you function on your travels. If you’re always running across rocks and plains, hiking up clay-like mud heaps and carrying heavy loads, the Air Kirkwood would fit your needs quite well. However, it’s no fun placing your backpack on your front when walking through a crowd or a notorious area for petty crime. Museums hate backpacks and make you store it or hold it at your side.

It’s also something to think about how your day pack is carried when you wear your large backpack. I found my combined JanSport Klamath and Air Kirkwood duo was quite uncomfortable while in transit, and I wouldn’t want to walk around a city or even an airport too long like this.

The Real Travel Situations

Even fully loaded, this bag fit in every overhead compartment and under every seat in front of me.

The lack of accessories on the front of the pack enable this surface, as well as the padded back, to be used as an impromptu pillow while waiting for transportation or trying to sleep on a plane.

A travel partner in South Africa, to put it nicely, blew chunks (maybe that wasn’t such a nice way to put it) all over this fully packed bag. It came out victorious, barely soaking in any of the moisture and keeping my articles dry.

After washing the bag for the first time in the washer, it came out smelling like dirty feet. I don’t know what that was about…

Bottom Line

JanSport delivers on their product mission of designing, engineering, manufacturing and marketing products that get you from A to B, accentuating quality, endurance and reliability, and they certainly do “equip people globally,” as I’ve seen children across India, Africa and America carrying their classic backpacks. When this item was put to the test this summer, it proved victorious on virtually all accounts, except for maybe a versatility factor. You definitely can’t seamlessly go from the farm to a chic club with this bad boy.

Leaving Indy with my JanSport Klamath and Air Kirkwood bags

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  • http://amandasfulbright.blogspot.com amanda

    I was just about to brag about my backpack – but I found out that it's no longer made. But still, my beats yours because it has everything that you mentioned PLUS is WATERPROOF and had a thermal section to keep some food cool.

    I mean, you can't go swimming with it – but it's saved my camera and laptop from sudden rain or accidental spills of water. I've had it for three years and it's backpacked through India, Nepal, Mexico, Bangladesh and throughout Asia — and I used it frequently when going to work and class in New York. It's just bad-ass, man! I wish they still made it — but waterproof is something to look into for sure — Under Armour makes a bunch.