- Buyer's Guide
Knack Bags Expandable Knack Pack Review
One bag that can adapt to a multitude of uses and situations. EDC and travel. Work and gym. A driving design principle behind the Knack Pack, an expandable backpack which will work for most folks looking for a functional ‘every backpack.’
Let’s look at some of the details that make the Knack Pack so intriguing:
Medium (17L to 31L), Large (22L to 37L)
Medium (15″ Laptop), Large (17″ Laptop)
YKK water-resistant zippers
150D Nylon inner lining
The Cool Stuff
Comfortable, sturdy handle
Molded foam back panel
Comfortable shoulder straps
Unique & bright inner lining
Tons of pockets
The Wow Stuff
Professional, sophisticated aesthetic
Custom water-resistant 1200D two-tone fabric
Isolated laptop compartment
Stowable shoulder and hip straps
Hidden zip-away water bottle pocket
Expandable suitcase-style luggage compartment w/ compression strap
The Knack was my companion for over two months; every day to work, for volunteer service, on numerous trips, and for speaking engagements. It served as a backpack, and for one-bag travel. I also gave it to my wife to use on several occasions to get her thoughts.
Here are the takeaways:
Who Is It For?
The Knack Pack’s design and functionality serve a spectrum of people: The commuter, the professional, the traveler, the entrepreneur, the day hiker, the city explorer, the vacationer, the parent, the gym rat, etc. – male or female.
It’s for those who want a bag that doesn’t scream for attention, but rather subtly suggests they’re professionals who appreciate good design.
It’s for the minimalist who wants to one-bag travel but longs for adaptability.
Who Should Pass?
A technical pack this is not.
If you want gear loops, Hypalon straps, external compression or any of the major features you’d expect from a more rugged, or outdoorsy bag, look elsewhere. If what you’re seeking is more of a military-style bag akin to GORUCK, EVERGOODS, or Triple Aught Design, the Knack Pack is not for you. Lastly, if you plan to go on multi-day hikes, pass on the Knack.
Additionally, the Knack Pack isn’t high fashion; it’s not going to call a lot of attention to itself or be on the cutting edge of style. So if you care about having the latest bag design, or want people to notice you or win with style points, the Knack’s look may not impress you.
First and foremost, you can take this bag just about anywhere. The Knack’s aesthetics mold it to a myriad of scenarios. In the time I was reviewing it, I was in professional settings, construction sites, the beach, on a cruise, on hikes, at museums, walking around the city, and on vacation and getaways. It became automatic which bag I was reaching for as I prepared for whatever I was going to do. I felt entirely at ease taking the Knack with me wherever I went. A lot of this has to do with the sophisticated look of the fabric. Described as ‘suiting-inspired’, which I find to be silly marketing-speak, the custom-made and water-resistant polyester strikes a balance between elegance and pragmatic functionality – it’s durable, easy to clean, stain resistant and often looks like it belongs. Lastly, in regards to looks, the Knack is unisex. On a couple of trips my wife used the bag, and she thoroughly enjoyed it and commented on wanting one for herself.
Let’s talk about compartments and pockets. With seven(!) separate areas to store items, the Knack has loads of customization and organization. While in “EDC mode” the main compartment offers a ton of storage space, including a felt tablet pocket, and multiple zippered mesh dividers. This particular compartment has a pseudo-clamshell opening, where expandable fabric keeps the front panel from collapsing completely; it’s a thoughtful touch. The main compartment is so well designed I was often able to find what I needed in the dark, or by only needing to open the zip slightly and doing so solely by touch.
The additional compartments are equally well designed. The hidden zip-away water bottle pocket is inspired, accommodating a variety of bottle sizes. I enjoyed being able to stash my Hydro Flask inside and zip it up out of sight; not only did this keep the silhouette of the bag clean, but it kept my bottle away from the sun. Unless the pack was fully loaded, I had no issues fitting the bottle inside. The Knack includes a bottom pocket, a definite call-back to some of their eBags roots. This pocket is generally advertised as a spot to store cables and chargers, which it can, but I just used it for snacks. Still, that’s part of the appeal of this bag; it gives you the options, and however you use it, it’s functional, efficient, and easy to access. The quick-access pocket includes a partition where one side is nylon and the other is soft felt – with enough space to put a couple of pairs of glasses, some earbuds, keys, and maybe a phone.
Now, the elephant in the room is the two-zippered, triangular pocket that is prominently displayed on the front of the bag. This pocket is useful, and not as annoying as one would think. Here you’ll find two areas to store and quickly access more items, as well as elastic loops to hold pens or small cables. I’d often store my battery pack here and my phone, along with a couple of pens and any documents I didn’t mind folding up. And with the dual-zipper configuration, regardless of how I swung the bag around, I had quick access to my stuff. Lastly, the isolated laptop compartment fits snugly against the foam back panel, offering a level of protection on either side. On the large Knack Pack, a 17-inch laptop will slip right in. For me, though, using a Surface Pro, I had a ton of space left, which allowed me to store flat documents without a problem. A great thing about this configuration is that I could grab my Surface and never disturb anything else in my pack; my device was always a quick one-handed zip away.
Lastly, the inclusion of a luggage compartment is the big differentiator. In “EDC mode” the luggage compartment is compressed and out of the way, but when traveling, a simple unzipping expands it out, increasing the capacity by about 15L – you’re now in “travel mode.” On a cruise, I was able to fit a Large Knack Packing Cube, a Medium Knack Packing Cube, and an Eagle Creek packing cube along with my Sea to Summit toiletry kit, and Xero Prio shoes. The compartment includes a cinch strap that kept everything in place, another thoughtful touch. This area of the pack completely opens up, luggage-style, to give you full access to both sides, including a zippered mesh pocket. On a shorter trip, I didn’t even expand out the luggage portion and was still able to pack both Knack Packing Cubes and a toiletry kit. On both occasions, I was able to fit the Knack underneath my airplane seat, which was an absolute delight. When it’s expanded out though, it may be a bit too big, and you’ll be at the mercy of how ornery your flight attendant is.
Yes, the bag can hold a lot of stuff, but how does it feel? The shoulder straps distribute weight adequately. They’re a decent thickness and density, not incredible, but good. With heavier loads, I found myself reaching for the sternum strap to distribute the weight of the pack better. To be honest, I sometimes longed for the shoulder straps of the WANDRD PRVKE. That being said, I still found the straps to be enough, especially considering that the bag won’t always be in “travel mode” or loaded down. Both shoulder straps are stowable, which is slightly superfluous, but it’s possible if you need to do so for some reason.
In terms of comfort, the back panel is comfortable and sturdy. The material reminds me of memory foam, so it will sink into you a little. Thus, the bag always feels in place and stable when walking, hiking, or running to catch a plane. In hot and humid spots (I live in Miami), it took a long time with some exertion to get a sweaty back. The panel’s air channels and materials do a nice job of keeping you fresh, although other bags will perform better in this regard.
The last thing I’d like to mention is the bright inner lining of the Knack. This is a welcome trend in the carry world, especially in higher-end bags; instead of a dark cavernous bag where you can’t see the bottom, it reflects light adequately, giving you the ability to see all your items. Knack took this one step further; instead of just a solid color, they included a pattern with their logo in bright orange. Personally, I think it’s classy, albeit busy – I can see this chafing some people. In my experience, though, anyone around me who saw the bag commented on the design and said it reminded them of a luxury brand.
The Not So Good
There is a lot to like about this bag, yet there are some nagging issues that can be improved on.
For instance, aside from the top handle, there is nowhere else to affix anything to the outside of the bag. Some would see this as a plus because it does produce clean lines and a sleek silhouette, but because of my various activities, I often need to bring something extra that wouldn’t necessarily fit in the bag, or make it cumbersome to retrieve such as a hard hat, tripod, or rain jacket. I resorted to using a Heroclip hooked from the top handle. It’s an inelegant solution, but a solution nonetheless.
The Knack Pack is a professional-looking bag, but a bit of that professionalism goes out the window when I have two overly-long straps dangling below and swaying in the wind. I understand Knack is allowing for a diverse number of individuals to feel comfortable wearing their product, but the amount of extra slack on the straps is a little exaggerated. I’ve even toyed with the thought of cutting them to an appropriate length. It’s a small detail, but for a bag that is meant to take me anywhere, including the boardroom, the dangly straps are woefully out of place. As an example, I was in a crowded convention, and wanted to walk with the bag at my side, held up by the top handle. If I had done so, the straps would have dragged along the floor the entire time. It’s possible to clip them along with the shoulder strap into the bottom D-ring, but again, it’s an inelegant solution. I’ve tried tucking them into the back panel where the hip straps are stowed, but they inevitably fall out. I wish Knack would include an elastic loop to keep the straps together and out of the way, or just shorten the straps.
When the pack is loaded out, especially the main compartment, some of the auxiliary pockets and compartments become difficult to utilize. On the bright side, loading the luggage compartment doesn’t produce this issue. Thus, if the main compartment is packed out, fitting a water bottle becomes untenable, I’d caution putting food in the bottom pocket as it would get crushed, the triangular front pocket would fit only flat objects, and even storing a Surface Pro became cumbersome. This is inherent to most carry options out there, but it’s still worth noting since the Knack Pack has so many excellent and mention-worthy pockets and compartments.
When using the triangular front pocket, it was annoying to have to unzip both zippers to get to what I needed sometimes. I suppose there is a small give-and-take, since having dual zippers made it easier to retrieve items in certain circumstances as noted above. The one thing that was always a hassle is when zipping this pocket back up, the top flap of the triangle stays tucked out, requiring me to tuck it in manually, or else this little sliver of fabrics would allow water to get in, and make it easier for someone else to open it without me knowing.
Several mesh pockets allow for a bit of organization. Unfortunately, these pockets are not 3D, only allowing for smaller items. This includes the luggage compartment, where even a rolled-up belt pushed against the limits of the mesh. This issue is further exacerbated when the pack is loaded up. Perhaps in a future revision, Knack could add at least one 3D mesh pocket.
After two months of near-constant use, the Knack has held up well, but starting in week one I noticed little loose threads, and some fuzzy fabric ends sticking out of the top handle and other areas. Initially, this concerned me, as it foretold possible durability issues going forward. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but it’s still relatively early days. It’s just slightly jarring to see such manufacturing and quality control hiccups in what is otherwise a quality bag.
The Knack includes stowable hip straps, a thoughtful touch given that they’re not completely necessary for the primary use case of this bag. Unfortunately, they are inadequate and don’t offer much in the way of support, making them more trouble than they are worth. Rather than make them stowable, I wish Knack would produce beefier hip straps that were later attachable if needed. This would reduce the weight of the pack but allow for greater distribution of weight when required.
When comparing the Knack Pack to other bags like the WANDRD PRVKE, the Aer Travel Pack, Peak Design Travel Backpack, Tortuga Outbreaker, etc. one can look at the exterior materials and conclude that the Knack looks and feels cheap. The unique exterior fabric is a victim of comparison because it’s different from what is usually used. Additionally, the material does make certain sounds, especially when constricting and expanding the luggage compartment that makes it seem cheap. Of course, this is entirely subjective, as multiple non-bag-enthusiast friends and colleagues commented on how “fancy” my bag is after I gave them a tour of it.
With those issues mentioned and understood, this is the closest I’ve come to having a bag that’s met my minimalist and one-bag travel needs without breaking the bank. The strength of the Knack Pack is its mix of everyday carry features with travel features; it’s about adaptability. If all you want is something for everyday carry, there are better options out there. If all you want is something for travel, there are better options out there. But if you want something that strikes a delicate balance between the two at the cost of specialization, the Knack Pack is worth your time – it excels at being adaptable while only sacrificing some finer features and polish. At $195, the price point is a little high, but not terrible within the product category it’s contending in. Its materials, aesthetics, design, and functions are solid.
All this being said, if what you’re seeking is an adaptable, versatile, and professional-looking bag that can take you from the boardroom to adventure and back, the Knack deserves your attention.
This article was written by Jovanni Bello. Renaissance man, adventurer and cell phone photographer.