I have a long and storied history in collecting bags. Not just backpacks, but also briefcases, messenger bags, ditty bags, and even pouches to help organize the contents of my bags. I’ve previously written about assault packs as a very helpful way to organize your gear while keeping things light and nimble. For years, I was on a quest to find the one that is “just right.”
Today I want to talk about the one that I settled on as checking off most of the boxes. The Jaakari S from Savotta is my go-to pack these days for range trips and most jaunts into the woods.
The bottom line is that it’s a fantastic as an assault pack or even a rucksack for a day or two adventure. They are a little difficult to find, and there aren’t a lot of reviews out there for them- which is why I think they aren’t more popular.
But I’ll get there.
I purchased my Jaakari S with my own funds at the end of 2018, and have been using it as a range bag, rucking tool, camera bag, and EDC for day-to-day stuff. I just wanted to get that out of the way to let you know this post isn’t sponsored or anything.
Let’s get started.
Finn-Savotta began in 1955 as Pylkönmäen Nahkatyö producing bags, gloves, and backpacks for Finnish lumberjacks and emphasized their product toughness. By the 1960s, they changed their name to “Savotta-Retkeilyväline and became well known for their steel-framed backpacks. Later, the Finnish Defense Forces contracted with the company to produce tents and bread bags.
In the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, they changed their name to Finn-Savotta Ltd and continued expanding their work for the Finnish government. Product lines included flack jackets, combat vests, more load carriage equipment, and sleeping equipment. Their reputation for tough gear designed to withstand harsh Finnish winters endured.
Savotta produced many legendary packs, with the Light Patrol Back they designed for the Finnish Border Guard being considered one of the best designs of all time. They eventually brought the design to the civilian side of the market under the label of Jaakari, the Finnish word for Jaeger (another way of saying “Hunter”).
The Jaakari series includes four sizes. The largest, XL, is a version of the Finnish Paratrooper Rucksack. The L and M models are large and normal versions of the Border Patrol Pack. The S model, and the one I’m reviewing, is the smallest of the bunch and fits into the daypack category.
Assault Pack Requirements: Or, Why the Jaakari S
Before I get to the pack itself, let’s talk about my requirements for an assault pack and why they drove me to try this pack out.
If you recall my article on assault packs, I laid out the history and ideal specifications. The modern assault pack has a long lineage, but it’s closely related to the small packs SOF troops attached to the back of their plate carriers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The goal is a pack large enough to carry “nice to have” items that don’t fit elsewhere, but small enough that it doesn’t hinder mobility.
The end goal is a pack that stays with you even when you get into a firefight. The simple truth is that some of the 45L+ rucks out there get loaded down too much and become a liability. The lightweight assault pack does not.
Of course, that depends on the contents. Smaller packs mean you simply can’t be tempted into carrying more stuff.
There isn’t a consensus on the ideal size of an assault pack, though. Some guys say it should be a glorified general purpose pouch in the realm of 15L. A lot of other infantry types prefer a range between 20 to 25L. In all cases, it’s way smaller than your average 3-day pack.
Personally, I like the 20 to 25L range.
My 26L GoRuck GR1 was my first go-to for this role, but it lacked other features that desired.
- Horizontal cinching straps for load compression
- External MOLLE up the sides for lashing
- Tie-off points on the top and bottom for attaching other miscellaneous gear
- Some kind of frame system to help distribute the load
I scoured the web looking for a pack that met my requirements without totally breaking the bank. I came across Savotta’s packs one day while browsing Varusteleka’s website. It looked to hit all of the boxes, and I thought their advertising campaigns were hilarious.
The theme they go for is all about the toughness and durability of their gear. Their recent marketing videos and Instagram stories tell clearly send that message.
So I bought one from Scandinavian Outdoor and waited for it to come from Finland. I also opted to buy the internal frame sheet, which doubles as a sit pad for outdoors use.
Savotta makes the Jaakari S from 1000D Cordura. The backside of the material has a polyurethane coating to assist with weather resistance. Dimensionally, the pack is about 17.75” tall, 10” wide, and 6.3” deep. Those are estimates, of course, as the actual specs are listed in centimeters (45 cm, 25cm, and 16cm respectively). The nominal volume is 20 liters, though you can overstuff it to 25L if you need to.
I’ll get to that in a second.
Unloaded, the pack weighs 27.3 oz, or 1.7 lbs. That’s 1.5 lbs less than my 26L GR1 and still over a pound less than my 21L GR1 without sacrificing much volume.
The Jaakari S features a top flap closure rather than zippers that we’ve all grown accustomed to on our day packs. This was actually important to me, as it allows overstuffing the pack interior when needed, or placing items like tripods under the lid and securing it down with the pack’s contents.
No zippers also means that it’s more easily repaired in the field by the end-user in case the buckles fail.
The front of the pack has four rows of MOLLE six columns wide. Each side five rows and four columns worth, so there is plenty of room to mount exterior pouches.
The lid features a velcro patch as well as an additional two rows of MOLLE six columns wide.
Each side has a horizontal cinching strap used to compress the contents as well as serve to lash other objects against the side of the pack. Two more vertical cinching straps run from the bottom rear through bottom loops and then onto the front where they buckle into the lid. There is plenty of adjustment, which allows for attaching bedrolls or other items to the top or bottom as needed.
Savotta also included hydration ports on both sides of the pack using a folded elastic patch of material.
The shoulder straps are unpadded, with a single row of MOLLE running down them. The bottom loop is much larger, and suited to attaching carabiners or other items.The adjustment is a little different than most backpacks, as the adjustment buckle is actually attached to the pack body rather than the bottom of the strap. To tighten the straps, you pull upwards on the loose ends.
All of the Delrin buckles and adjusters are stamped ITW. Savotta includes elastic strap keepers to manage excess webbing on the cinching straps.
On the inside, there is a sleeve against the back for placing the sit pad/frame sheet. Savotta included a loop for hanging hydration bladders. The remainder of the interior is one big open space to configure as you see fit.
As with my GR1 review, this kind of open space has pros and cons. The benefit is that you have a lot of flexibility to use it however you want, the downside is that it’s easy for small items to filter their way down to the bottom.
To help, the Jaakari S features a small zippered pouch up by the top for quick access to small items like keys, lip balm, snacks, etc.
To help keep the mouth of the pack open as you dig around, Savotta sewed a 1/16” thick piece of plastic on the inside front of the pack mouth. In addition to helping keep it open, it also helps with folding the mouth closed.
In a word, the Savotta Jaakari S is overbuilt. It uses quality Cordura material, and the stitching is straight and uses a heavy thread size. The whole pack is covered in bar tacks and reinforcement points where there will be stress, such as where the shoulder straps connect to the upper back.
Despite the heavy stitching, the pack doesn’t actually feel all that heavy, especially compared to something like my GoRuck packs. I think a big part of that is the complete lack of padding.
I’ll come back to the padding in a minute.
To keep things short, the pack appears very well made and durable. I would have no reservations about this thing putting up with abuse in the field.
Putting it to Use
So aside from the design specs, how does this thing actually perform?
Since I bought it in December 2018, it’s been my primary back for the range and outdoor jaunts. I’ve used it for photography sessions, a work bag, and even a few rucking sessions where I wanted to see how comfortable the padless straps were compared to my GR1.
I’d love to tell you that I’ve taken it to training courses and matches, and I did, but it really didn’t get a lot of use. It was more of a range bag than anything.
After all of that, it still looks practically new. So that speaks to the durability of it. The design is very simple and very comfortable for regular use. It rides nice and high on the back, which is great for staying clear of belt pouches or riding on top of an H-Harness.
The big question here is the rucking, I think. I used it a few times back when I did the 30-for-30 ruck challenge, and it worked just fine. The lack of padding on the shoulders definitely made itself known, but that’s going to happen with 35 lbs of dead weight sitting on your back. It was still comfortable enough to finish the ruck.
With more realistic daypack loads for jackets, blankets, spare ammo, and the like, I think it carries it all perfectly well. If you really want padding, though, you can buy some slide-on shoulder pads from Sarma that fit right over the straps and don’t add too much bulk.
Bulk is important here. One of the reasons I chose this pack was the minimal shoulder straps. If I’m wearing one of my load-bearing harnesses, especially my heavy rig, extra padding on the pack interferes on top of the padding of the harness creates a lot of bulk and puts me in strap hell.
Sometimes, going lighter and minimal is better.
One of the benefits is that you can compress and roll up the pack into a tight little bundle. This is a really neat option if you are carrying a larger ruck for most things, and then wanted to detach and use the Jaakari S for smaller jobs and daypack use. This system works a lot better than the way the US military ruck and 3-day bag combo work.
The Bottom Line: Should You Buy It?
If you’re in the market for a small to medium-sized assault pack or day pack, definitely give the Savotta Jaakari S a look. There are a lot of great packs on the market that do this job well, but I don’t know of many that are this flexible while also keeping durability high and costs down.
That said, I wouldn’t expect to use it for heavy loads. The lack of a waist belt or any padding on the shoulders will definitely wear on you. If that’s something you’re interested in, consider something more purpose-built for load carriage.
I’m going to keep running this pack for a long time and see how it all shakes out. I have a suspicion that it’s going to take everything I throw at it without breaking a sweat.