A Brief History of the Modern Backpack
Jan 01, 2018
For centuries, people have always carried stuff on their backs. One would think that the backpack is such a simple design that it had also been around forever. Unlike ancient tools for hunting and gathering, the modern backpack has really only been around since the 1880s.
In Norway around 1880, the “Sekk Med Meis” was developed. This translates to a “bag with a frame,” This backpack is essentially a wooden frame to which a sack was tied. It’s simple, one compartment, and it marks the true beginning of travel transport that’s still going on today. As much as this backpack kicked off modern backpack design, it was a unique item and didn’t translate much further than a trapper or woodsman at the time.
The first patented framed backpack design came out of this Norwegian style. In 1886 Colonel Merriam modified the design and it showed a transfer of weight off of the shoulders to the hips. This was a first and an innovation.
The next big progression in backpacks came after the turn of the century with the global militarization of World War I. This event set the stage for backpacks as they’re used today, providing a way for one person to carry everything they need.
The “Haversack” did have a heavy frame and, with full load, weighed as much as 70 lbs. on soldiers’ backs.
The next phase of backpacks came directly after the War. The military frame backpack led to innovation with “Trapper Nelson” packs, developed by Lord Nelson in 1922. This followed the outdoor and hiking movement that was popular at the time.
There were smaller innovations in World War II and it was standard-issue by many countries to have backpacks. At the same time these Alpine-style backpacks became popular by citizens outside of the military also. Surplus product became used by many people at the time and thereafter.
It wasn’t It wasn’t then until 1952 that the modern backpack took a leap way forward. The lightweight durable materials that were in surplus since the war were utilized by Dick Kelty in California to create a lighter and more functional backpack. Using parachute packcloth, aluminum and even carpet for shoulder strap padding all contributed to his progressive development.
The 1960’s and 70’s led to further innovation and refinement. A major independent movement of hikers and outdoor enthusiasts were leaping backpack design forward by leaps and bounds. The removal of frames and development of soft, smaller backpacks was happening, along with improved materials, comfort and strap innovations. Many brands popped up and specialized in this progressive movement of product. Independent retailers grew at the same time and the backpack became more than a specific niche item.
After the outdoor movement of the 1970’s, the backpack fast became a staple item of students and everyday folks. From bookbags to urban transport, the backpack has been spending the last 30-years driving all across the world as a global staple item to accompany anyone mobile and to support their daily needs.