The Evolution Of Backpacks And How To Pick The Right One For Your Next Adventure
Picking the right company is paramount for any adventure, but picking the right backpack may be just as important. Both need to be reliable, dependable and fun to travel with.
Yes, a backpack is an essential travel companion, but it should be stylish and reflect your personality. So, from the first backpack that looked nothing like those we have today, to the contemporary models, we'll tell you all about the evolution of backpacks.
Then we'll teach you exactly what to pay attention to when choosing the right backpack for your next adventure, and we will wrap it up with a section on the essentials you need to bring with you on different kinds of trips.
Join us on a trip back in time to browse through the iconic backpack models that marked history!
The Evolution Of Backpacks
The 1910s: The beginning of the 20th century brought the war with it, and with the war, the need for a backpack. With the idea that no solider should wear more than one-third of his body weight on his back, the U.S. Army designed the WWI Haversack. The idea was great. The end result - not so much.
First of all, the Haversack came with a four-page instruction manual. The main compartment wasn't an enclosed space; it was a rectangular canvas closed by the straps. If a soldier wanted to get one thing from the bad, he had to unfurl the whole canvas. It was terrible for soldiers' mobility, and it significantly aggravated their situation.
The 1920s: Although Haversack wasn't much of a success, it signified the beginning of backpacks. The idea was born, and other manufacturers saw the opportunity to improve and upgrade it.
In 1922, the first hiking backpack was designed. Trapper Nelson backpack had a detachable frame and two straps. It sure was an innovative approach, but it was still quite uncomfortable to wear. The whole weight was placed on the shoulders, and the wooden frame wasn't exactly easy on the back. At least the gear was better protected inside the pack, and it was easier to access.
The 1930s: In the 1930s, the shift happened, and backpacks slowly started resembling those we know and wear today. They also moved from being used exclusively by the working class. School children wore leather straps that held their books with the strap over one shoulder. But army and expedition backpacks were already being made from materials we see today - leather, nylon, and canvas.
The age of backpack wearers started dropping, and they rapidly became popular with children; not only in schools but also Boy Scouts who had special Diamond Brand backpacks made for them.
The 1940s:The new style of backpack with two straps takes over in this period, and it gets multiple purposes. WWII pulled the need to carry a lot of weight around, which made backpacks and rucksacks extremely useful in this decade.
When it comes to the schoolbags, fashion started sneaking into the design. In the 40s, plaid was wildly popular, and the backpacks start getting the shape they have today.
At the beginning of the decade, zippers started changing the game. Zippers made it easier to create backpacks with compartments and disperse the weight around the backpack. This was especially useful during the WWII, and it signified the beginning of a modern backpack.
The 1950s: In 1952, the legendary Kelty backpack first saw the light of day. A husband and wife from California, Dick and Nena Kelty, started designing and producing the durable backpacks ideal for adventurers.
These backpacks were mostly made from the surplus of the army supplies from WWII. Each one was made using army parachute pack fabric; it had an aluminum frame and wool-padded shoulder straps.
The Kelty backpack has been improved over the next decade, and the brand received the ultimate honor to be used on the first summit of Mt. Everest in 1963. The brand continued upgrading their backpacks, and they exist even today.
The 1960s: The masters of innovation, Kelty, brought something we can't imagine our backpacking without today - the hip belt. It took them almost two decades to come up with the idea, but by the end of the 60s, Kelty backpacks had padded hip belts that distributed the weight from the shoulders to the hip.
When it comes to the school backpacks, the design mostly consisted of leather and short handles. It later served as an inspiration to modern handbags and purses.
Military backpacks kept the rugged but evergreen look - salt and pepper canvas with leather buckle straps.
The 1970s: Hippie, free-spirited culture left its mark even on the backpacks of the decade. The point was to create light, simple and inexpensive backpacks easily available to everyone.
And so the daypack was born. All the manufacturers started mass producing the daypacks and everybody wanted one. Daypacks weren't just something for hikers or soldiers; they were a part of the everyday gear.
The most common materials used were nylon, vinyl, and leather. But apart from cheap materials and practical use, the 70s backpacks were a fashion statement that everyone wanted to be a part of. Regardless of status and gender, everybody wore a backpack.
The 1980s and 1990s: By the 80s, backpacks were an inevitable part of any student's school supplies. No matter how old they were, from children to college students, everybody had backpacks. And, ever since then, the backpack started turning into an accessory more than a necessity.
Even though the original backpack was created as a response to actual students' needs, now it was all about esthetics. Popular brands started making trendy backpacks and "cool kids" in high school wore backpacks with two straps.
Backpacks with popular motifs from cartoons and children's favorite TV characters became best-sellers. The manufacturers commercialized the back-to-school period and turned it into something fun. With this, the backpack became a part of students' identity.
Today: Since its creation, the backpack really changed a lot. But, one thing is for certain - it's still as popular as ever. Now, you can find all shapes, colors, and sizes of backpacks for all sorts of purposes.
Backpacks are still students' faithful companions during the school days, but due to their practicality, they have become an everyday accessory to young people all over the world. They are made from waterproof fabrics, have padded laptop compartments and even feature charger ports and similar details.
Patagonia Arbor Pack is a stylish example of a modern backpack. With its padded laptop compartment, it's perfect for a daily commute as well as a hiking trip.
But, vintage backpacks are making a comeback, too. They feature the materials and are created with hand-made techniques used in the past. But, apart from being stylish, these backpacks are made to last.
Picking The Right Backpack
The styles have changed, but the backpack is here to stay. So, how do you choose the right one for your next adventure? Here are the factors to consider when making the decision.
Trip Length: First, you need to consider how long you're planning to stay. Of course, it's not the same if you're going on a weekend field trip, or if you're going camping for a week. This is where you need to think about the capacity of your backpack, which signifies the amount of luggage it can carry and it's marked in liters.
If you’re embarking on a day trip, the perfect size is between 20 and 50 liters, and we suggest bringing The North Face Borealis Backpack so you can be both stylish and organized on your trip.
Here are all of the guidelines:
- Day trip (1-2 days) - 20 - 50 liters
- Weekend trip (2-3 days) - 30 - 60 liters
- Multi-day trip (3-5 days) - 50 - 80 liters
- Long trip (5+ days) - 70+ liters
The idea is to bring along a backpack that can fit all the necessary luggage for the trip, but one that's not too big to burden you and make traveling uncomfortable. When choosing the backpack (especially online), pay attention to its name because the capacity is usually indicated in the name, especially with bigger models.
You can always combine functionality with style and pick Herschel Little America Backpack that is just as perfect for an overnight adventure as for a short business trip.
Trip Type: Next, you need to bear in mind the type of trip you're taking. Are you sightseeing in Europe or climbing Mt. Everest? Are you surfing in Cape Town or camping in Yosemite? Is it a winter or a summer trip? The place you're going to and the conditions you're expecting should greatly influence your choice of a backpack.
Both capacity and durability are the factors to consider here. Even though we already talked about capacity, this factor can also vary depending on the type of the trip. If you're traveling during the colder months, you will need a larger-capacity backpack that can hold the clothing layers and the winter equipment you might need.
When it comes to durability, you need to choose a strong, enduring backpack for a hiking or a rock-climbing trip. Make sure to get one that is made from resistant and waterproof materials if you're planning to spend a lot of time in nature. But, you can just as well choose a lightweight pack for a beach holiday.
Here's an example of a powerful, almost bulletproof surf backpack: Channel Islands 42l Surf Backpack is the ultimate surf companion and one of the strongest backpacks on the planet.
Torso Length: Choosing the right capacity is important, but you need to make sure your new backpack fits your body. There are different sizes of backpacks suitable for different body types, and you need to measure your torso length to determine which one will suit you.
You might think that height plays the most important role in choosing the right backpack size, but it's actually your torso length. Here's how you measure it.
You will need a measuring tape and help from a friend. First, tilt your head forward and feel along the base of your neck until you find a bony lump. This is your C7 vertebra, and it's the top of your torso length.
You will find the bottom by resting your hands on your hips. The distance between your thumbs in that position is your torso bottom. Now have a friend measure the length and there you have it - your torso length.
Here are the most common backpack sizes:
Extra Small: up to 15.5”
Small: 16″ to 17.5”
Medium/Regular: 18″ to 19.5”
Large: 20″ and up
Weight: We're not talking about the backpack capacity here. We're talking about the actual weight of the backpack itself. You may overlook this factor, but it's also super important when choosing the perfect backpack for your adventure.
Yes, you need to pay attention not to choose something heavy and bulky that in itself is a burden to carry. But, be careful when trying to cut weight on the weight of the backpack. It often happens that the manufacturers try to make the backpacks lighter by sacrificing the comfort.
The results are usually thinner straps and a more flexible frame. But instead of making the backpack easier to carry, these modifications will just make the trip uncomfortable. The straps will cut into your shoulders while the frame will make the backpack ride against your back.
Finding the balance between weight and comfort all comes down to the design of the backpack. The North Face Vault Backpack boasts top-of-the-line shoulder straps and bottom layer, guaranteed to make even long wear extra-comfortable.
Women and Youth: Even though most backpacks are unisex and women can carry them without problems, some manufacturers have created women-specific backpacks. These are smaller in size, designed to fit shorter torso lengths and smaller shoulder widths. They also have narrower hip belts that make these backpacks much more comfortable and fitting for women.
Herschel Little America Backpack is an awesome backpack that perfectly fits both men and women and has that timeless, slim silhouette.
When it comes to children, make sure to find an appropriate, youth specific backpack. These are usually smaller in size and capacity, and they can be adjusted to fit as the child grows. But if you don't want to buy a new backpack, the women's backpacks usually work well with children's smaller frames.
Materials - Backpack materials vary from rugged and heavy to thin, light-weight fabric. Your ideal choice should be a resistant, medium-weight fabric. Whatever you choose, make sure your backpack is waterproof at least to some extent. A lot of backpacks today come with a rain cover that comes in handy if you're going on an unpredictable hike or a trek.
Frame - Backpacks can have internal and external frames, or they can be frameless. Most backpacks today have the internal frame that keeps the load in check and transfers it to the hips. These body-hugging frames also serve to keep you stable on uneven terrains. External frames are rare in modern backpacks, but they can come in handy with an especially heavy load. Frameless backpacks are for those that want to cut weight and travel as lightly as possible.
Compartments - Accessing your gear is just as important as storing it. That's why the top-notch backpacks have multiple compartments that allow for easy access to anything you might need during the trip. A good backpack should have a main compartment, pockets, side and front zippers, a top lid and a sleeping bag compartment.
Patagonia Refugio 28L Backpack is a versatile smaller-size backpack that has a water repellant finish and three main compartments that help you stay organized at all times.
Zippers - Zippers are not just extremely handy when it comes to gear storage and access, they are also there to protect your stuff. Make sure each compartment comes with two zippers that can be locked together.
Ventilation - Lower-quality backpack might ride directly on your back and cut off the air flow, causing you to sweat. This might turn into a big problem, especially during the summer trips. To battle this issue, some backpacks have the suspended mesh back panel that ensures your back rests against the breathable mesh instead of the backpack frame directly.
The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist
Now that you have your perfect backpack, let's see what you need to pack for a carefree adventure. Of course, the checklist depends on the type of the trip. Still, there are some essentials you should never travel without.
- ID, passport, plane tickets, and other travel documents
- Cell phone
- Digital camera
- Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo, deodorant, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, etc.)
- Prescription medicine/Painkillers
- Walking shoes
- Tent (with setup gear)
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad or mattress
- Insect repellant
- Warm clothes
- Trash bags
- Eating utensils
- Pocket knife
- Insect repellant
- Hiking boots
Next time you take a trip, be grateful for your comfy, spacious, zipped, padded and waterproof backpack. Backpacks weren't always this great but nowadays, our adventures wouldn't be half as awesome without them.