A backpack in its simplest frameless form, a fabric sack carried on one’s back and secured with two straps that go over the shoulders, but it can have an external frame, internal frame, and there are bodypacks.
It is also called knapsack, rucksack, rucksac, pack, sackpack, booksack, bookbag or backsack.
The word “backpack” was coined in the United States in the 1910s. Moneybag and packsack were used prior, and now occur mainlyas regionalisms.
The word “rucksack” is a German loanword mainly used in the UK, US and in other Western military forces. In Middle High German ruck(e) means “back” (dorsum), which led to the Upper German and Swiss word ruggsack. In modern German the word “der Rucksack” is commonly used. The name rucksack is cognate with the Danish rygsæk, Norwegian ryggsekk, Dutch rugzak, Afrikaans rugsak, Swedish ryggsäck, and Russian рюкзак (rjukzak).
The word “knapsack” was the usual name for a rucksack or backpack up until the middle of the 20th century. This is commonly used in Canada.
Backpacks are a staple for many types of people: working professionals, travelers, hikers and, most of all, students.
Evidence for early backpacks is scarce, perhaps because the materials from which they were made are those prone to decay. The earliest possible contender dates from 3300 BC. The mummified remains of Otzi the Iceman were found in the Alps in 1991 by two Italian tourists, amongst the extraordinary collection of artefacts are the remains of what may well constitute the world’s oldest backpack: a U shaped hazel rod, two metres in length and two wooden boards about forty centimetres in length. It is suggested that these components were tied together by string and used to support a hide bag, thus creating a framed backpack. Wooden framed backpacks, used for carrying firewood, have a long tradition in the Alps.
The modern student backpack is quite young and has seen many new fads and changes in a short amount of time.
The first step towards the modern backpack and came from a man named Henry Merriam. His design fused the two most common designs of the era: the wood frame and the soft canvas rucksack. He called his design a knapsack and had it patented in 1878. His design, while imperfect and uncomfortable, showed the flaws of the bags of the day.
Norwegian inventor, Ole Bergan, had a eureka moment while out hunting in 1908. His soft sack wasn’t exactly uncomfortable, but it put a great deal of strain on his shoulders. By bending a piece of juniper wood into a keyhole shape that followed the contours of his back, Bergan could hang his soft bag on his back, while maintaining a more comfortable and ergonomic design. Eventually, he transitioned to using light tubular steel, which remained popular for the next 25 years.
In 1938, when Gerry Outdoors invented the first backpack with a zipper, backpacks were still primarily in use for hiking, camping and alpine recreation.
Between the 1930s and ‘60s, some kids also made use of canvas or leather bags with a single strap, miniature briefcases that were usually called satchels, for trips to and from school. Some students could also be seen carrying their academic luggage on their backs in squared leather bags, fastened shut with buckles.
In 1950, Åke Nordin, the founder of Fjällräven, was trekking in the mountains with a good friend and got sick of carrying his gear low and far from his back. Soon after returning home, he sat down at his mother’s
treadle sewing machine and sewed a cotton bag. He next fashioned a wooden frame that would keep the load high and close to his back, and then fastened the bag to the frame with leather straps. This pack is what inspired Nordin to found his now-famous company.
Dick and Nena Kelty began handcrafting external-frame backpacks that brought the pack into the modern era. Using parachute fabric, buckles and other items leftover from World War II, the pair transformed the industry.
Everything changed when the first lightweight nylon daypack was invented, blowing the door wide open for backpack redesign. Gerry Outdoors claims to have created the very first “modern nylon backpack in existence” in 1967 (the same year JanSport opened up shop). The smaller and lighter backpack caught on among other gear brands, and became immensely popular among outdoor enthusiasts.
Greg Lowe is responsible for the first internal frame backpack. It was created in his garage in 1967. He recognised that the unstructured backpacks were not stable enough for large roads and rocky terrain. He
created a pack flexible enough to contour and tough enough to carry heavy load. His product shifted the weight of the contents to the hip belt. Additionally, side compression straps and a sternum strap was added. This was the early image of what a modern backpack looks like.
Also in 1967, Gerry Cunningham produced the Teardrop backpack. This was a never-seen-before lightweight nylon bag. Only 3 years later, popular brand Jansport came out with the ‘Ski and Hike’ bag (another lightweight nylon daypack). It not only appealed to the adrenaline junkies, but also the everyday person.
JanSport, the world’s largest backpack maker, created their own lightweight nylon daypacks around this same time, designs that eventually evolved into the student backpacks we know today.
The longest line of backpacks is 3,318 backpacks and was achieved by Rick Breon (USA) at the Spectrum Health Medical Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, on 11 September 2015. After the record attempt, the backpacks were donated to local public schools.
The largest/rucksack measured 12.12 m (39 ft 9.16 in) in height, 9.28 m (30 ft 5.35 in) in width, 5.12 m (16 ft 9.57 in) in depth and was manufactured by Mega Adygea-Kuban (Russia), in Krasnodar, Russia, on 6 August 2015. The backpack was unveiled in front of the Mega Adygea-Kuban.