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What’s in a Backpack? History and Inspiration | More than a backpack

What’s in a Backpack? History and Inspiration

A backpack is one of those inventions that are so iconic and yet, at the same time, so mundane and so standard today that we don’t pay them any thought at all. Much like a pair of shoes or a knife or a basket, it is impossible to imagine a time when they didn’t exist, in some form or another. Nowadays, almost everyone has a backpack (if you don’t, however, you’re in the right place). Everyone needs a backpack. Be it for a trip to school, to the shops, or for climbing Mount Everest, the chances are, you’ll need to bring something with you. We think of a backpack as a thing of convenience, but there was a time, far back in human history, when a backpack was the difference between life and death.

The Inuit people of Northern America were famed for their nomadic lifestyle in harsh, cold temperatures and therefore needed the ability to carry great weights for long distances. Seal blubber was sturdy, and furs provided a great deal of warmth, but both proved heavy on top of what provisions they already needed to carry, so backpacks were vital. Likewise, Vikings, those fabled voyagers from Scandinavia, were among the first recorded to have carried important items in a sling-like bag on their backs. Those “important items” ranged from goods, plundered or traded, to food, to their own children. The Vikings were, coincidentally, among the first people ever recorded as having used skis to travel cross-country. On long journeys across land, when travelling at the pace of a young child proved inconvenient or dangerous, they would bundle the child up in a package, along with food and supplies and carry them on their backs, while flying along on two pieces of wood strapped to their feet. Try that without a backpack!

The first baby steps toward the modern backpack came in 1878 when army general Henry Clay Merriam invented what he called a “knapsack” and had it patented as such. He combined the highly uncomfortable wooden pack that was standard issue in the military with the canvas satchels that were also used. A metal frame was used to keep the wooden backing away from the body, in the hope that it would alleviate some strain. I don’t imagine that this was a whole lot more comfortable than a wooden block strapped to your shoulder, but it sparked the next wave of developers and pioneers. Little more than a century later, Ski company JanSport released the first ever nylon backpack. It was a bit more comfortable than canvas and a lot more comfortable than metal and wood. It took off, big-time. The transport of goods was now easy and comfy, and things have only gotten better since. Check out our range to see how much further things have come!

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