Gear Reviews

Review: Expandable Knack Pack – Medium and Large

Overall Rating: 8/10

Introduction

Knack Bags Founder and CEO, Chad Mellen, was inspired to create the Knack Pack after a trip to Costa Rica, where he found himself fumbling with a duffel bag, backpack, cup of coffee, and a cell phone. He noticed that many other travelers shared his plight:

He saw lots of people struggling at airports, train stations and subway stops. Walking around the city, it seemed like everyone was juggling two bags.

Mellen collaborated with friends at TUMI, The North Face, Coach, and eBags, to develop the Knack Pack – a backpack with an expandable luggage compartment meant to fill the role of a briefcase, luggage, daypack, or whatever else you may be hefting around.

After trying out the Knack Pack for myself, the best way I can describe it is a jack of all trades, master of none. Travelers who make frequent, short trips will get the biggest benefit from this multitasking pack.

It scores high points for durability and practical features, but its obtuse appearance is not going to dazzle anyone, especially not in a professional setting. The expandable compartment is an excellent feature which makes it an ideal travel bag, but it doesn’t quite hit all the marks of a hiking daypack.

View on Knack Bags

Using the Knack Pack as a daypack in Southern Utah
Using the Knack Pack as a daypack at Hellhole Canyon

Methods

Knack Bags reached out to us in February 2020 offering Max and I two backpacks to trial and review. Marketing Manager Melanie wrote:

Our bag is designed first to be an everyday carry bag while also becoming your work bag, travel bag, hiking bag, camera bag, and the list goes on!

Max was initially reluctant to accept a product that fell somewhat outside of our outdoorsy niche, but I saw how the Knack Pack could fit into our lives perfectly: As a diaper bag I could also hike with. We agreed to try out the Medium Knack Pack in Indigo Blue and the Large in Savile Gray.

The packs have seen a fair amount of use and abuse over the past few months. I have been using mine while shopping, hiking, and spelunking in Pinnacles National Park.

It has been splashed with water, scraped along low rocky tunnels, and squeezed between red rock slot canyons while carrying Maia’s diapers and my hiking gear. Max has used his for clothing and camera gear on short and long overnight trips away from our trailer.

Hiking with the Knack Pack at Little Black Mountain Petroglyph Site
Hiking with the Knack Pack at Little Black Mountain Petroglyph Site
The Medium Expandable Pack in Indigo Blue next to the Large Expandable Knack Pack in Savile Gray
The Medium Expandable Pack in Indigo Blue next to the Large Expandable Knack Pack in Savile Gray

Features

Rating: 8/10

I love the way the pockets are organized in the Knack Pack. Maia’s diapers, wipes, change of clothes, snacks, and toys all have their own compartments, and there is still plenty of room for my hiking gear and water. I don’t have to dig around and search for things anymore like I had to with our old diaper bag. Everything stays neatly in place.

The interior fabric is easy to wipe down, keeps odors to a minimum, and makes it easy to spot things due to the high contrast orange.

Medium Expandable Pack with interior compartment open

As a hiking bag, the Knack is missing a few key features. The medium size does not include a hip belt to help distribute weight. The shoulder straps start out comfortable, but after a few miles with the pack fully loaded, I begin wishing I could transfer a little bit of the weight to my hips. The sternum strap is adjustable and removable, but also a bit difficult to tighten.

Closeup of the removable sternum strap on the Medium Expandable Knack Pack
Closeup of the removable sternum strap on the Medium Expandable Knack Pack

The back panel performs poorly in hot weather. A traditional hiking pack has mesh and foam panels in the back to circulate air and keep you cool, but the back of the Knack is heavy polyester, which is uncomfortably hot on days over 75° F.

A closeup of the straps and back panel of the Large Expandable Knack Pack
A closeup of the straps and back panel of the Large Expandable Knack Pack

Here is a breakdown of the bag’s features:

Medium Expandable Knack Pack

Capacity: 17 L compressed and 31 L expanded

Materials: Water-resistant 1200 denier polyester body, antimicrobial 150 D Nylon interior in a friendly orange pattern

Compartments: Main compartment with lockable zippers, 15″ laptop compartment, fleece lined tablet pocket, fleece lined sunglass pocket, triangular exterior pocket with credit card and passport sleeves, organizer pocket with 2 interior mesh pockets, exterior charger pocket, exterior water bottle pocket, 14 L expandable compartment with separate opening

Color selection: Standard colors are gray, black, blue, red, also available in limited edition orange and white, and black leather

Other features: Removable key leash, tuck-away back storage pocket for shoulder straps, hidden trolley sleeve to attach the pack to luggage

Large Expandable Knack Pack

Capacity: 22 L compressed and 37 L expanded, tested for loads up to 40 lbs

Materials: Water-resistant 1200 denier polyester body, antimicrobial 150 D Nylon interior in a friendly orange pattern

Compartments: Main compartment with lockable zippers, 17″ laptop compartment, fleece lined tablet pocket, fleece lined sunglass pocket, triangular exterior pocket with credit card and passport sleeves, organizer pocket with 2 interior mesh pockets, exterior charger pocket, exterior water bottle pocket, 15 L expandable compartment with separate opening

Color selection: Gray, black

Other features: Removable key leash, tuck-away back storage pocket for shoulder straps, hidden trolley sleeve to attach the pack to luggage

The Medium Expandable Knack Pack next to the Large Expandable Pack with interior compartment open
The Medium Expandable Pack next to the Large Expandable Knack Pack with interior compartment open
The triangular front pocket of the Medium Expandable Knack Pack makes it easy to access your credit cards and passport
The triangular front pocket of the Medium Expandable Knack Pack makes it easy to access your credit cards and passport
The Medium Knack Pack's expandable luggage compartment
The Medium Knack Pack’s expandable luggage compartment
A closeup look at the Medium Expandable Knack Pack's bottle pocket unzipped
A closeup look at the Medium Expandable Knack Pack’s bottle pocket unzipped

Durability

Rating: 10/10

The water-resistant exterior fabric has excelled at repelling dirt, moisture, and stains.

On one occasion, I had to squeeze through a very narrow dark tunnel in a cave in Pinnacles National Park. I felt the pack scraping against the rock above me and thought, “Welp, now it’s going to have scratches all over it,” but to my surprise, when we entered the light of day again, it didn’t have a scratch on it.

After several other messy expeditions, it still looks sharp. The pack’s durability has been one of its best features.

This Knack Pack still looks great after taking a beating
This Knack Pack still looks great after taking a beating

Style

Rating: 7/10

This is the most subjective category in the review, and no doubt opinions will differ. Max rates the appearance of the Knack Pack at a 9, while I give it a 5, so we’ll have to meet in the middle.

With clean lines, slim profile, and neat fabric, the Knack Pack is certainly not ugly, but I wouldn’t hesitate to call it boring, and there is something stiff and ungainly about the way it looks when it is expanded.

Right out of the gate, I found the color selection unexciting. Traditional hues of gray, black, red, and blue don’t really help the Knack break out of the conventional luggage aesthetic that the company is trying to stand out from.

The polyester exterior is meant to be “suiting inspired,” but I thought they missed the mark there. You’d be hard pressed to find a backpack that actually looks good with a business suit, and the Knack Pack is no exception.

I would have been happy to see the inclusion of some clean leather detailing, or at least the removal of the two large, technical looking logos on the front. The pack’s style is also undeniably masculine, and female shoppers are unlikely to find any appeal here (perhaps that explains the difference in opinion between Max and I).

Although I like the large X on the front of the pack, the lines become a little bulgy when the backpack is loaded, and I found that the water bottle compartment makes the pack look especially awkward when it’s carrying a bottle.

The Medium Expandable Knack Pack with water bottle holder in use - Pinnacles National Park
The Medium Expandable Knack Pack with water bottle holder in use – Pinnacles National Park

Value

Rating: 7/10

There is no doubt that Max and I have enjoyed our Knack Packs. Max has been especially enthusiastic about his because, in his words, “I finally have a pack that holds all my stuff!”

With their expandable compartments and loads of convenient features, the Knacks are a handy companion in our hectic, travel-heavy lives.

There is also no question of its durability and craftsmanship. It excels as a diaper bag, despite its unfeminine appearance. That being said, I still find the price point a bit high for a polyester backpack, even one that is meant to replace luggage.

The Knack fills a niche that hasn’t been fully discovered yet, so it doesn’t have many serious rivals. A lack of competition means you may be paying a bit more for the convenience of an expandable backpack.

Knack Pack - Pinnacles National Park

The Knack Pack has no lack of snack storage
The Knack Pack has no lack of snack storage

Knack Pack

$195.00
8

Overall

8.0/10

Features

8.0/10

Durability

10.0/10

Style Value

7.0/10

Value

7.0/10
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