from the ice age to the present day

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From ancient times…

If we talk about the time of the appearance of the first backpack, then experts are unanimous in their opinion: it can only be installed approximately. Of course, the backpack in the form in which we know it appeared relatively recently, only a hundred — one hundred and fifty years ago. But if we proceed from the essence and remember that a backpack is a shoulder bag for carrying many things, then its history can be counted from 2700 BC. As scientists managed to establish, already then people began to put things in leather bags, which were fastened on wooden bars with horizontal bars. They wore such a bag behind their backs, and the indigenous people of North America also equipped it with a special belt that had to be worn on the forehead.

How is this known? An important role in the research process was played by archaeological excavations and expeditions of climbers. A widely known find was made by anthropologists in the Alps, in the area of ​​the Similaun glacier, in 1992. There, during the intense melting of alpine ice, the remains of a man with a kind of backpack were found frozen into the ice. It was a leather bag on an arcuate frame made of hazel, with additional stiffening ribs made of larch bars. Thanks to the glacier, the remains were well preserved, and scientists were able to establish the approximate age of the find: this man, who was given the name Ertsi, lived about five thousand years ago. The find also received a second name — «a man with a backpack.» Today, the remains of Erzi are in the Romano-Germanic Museum of the German city of Mainz.


… Until the Middle Ages …

Let’s step over the millennium and move from the time when Ertzi was alive to the era of the crusades and the birth of knightly orders. Warriors, as you know, at all times had to take a lot of things with them on campaigns: weapons, utensils, food, horse harness, and so on. All the most important things had to be always with you, while the hands had to remain free so that the warrior had the opportunity to join the battle at any moment.

It is known that primitive backpacks, the forerunners of modern army backpacks, were part of the equipment of Roman legionnaires. Leather shoulder bags were also popular with the Templars: the leather was practical and behaved well in the harshest conditions, in the scorching sun and sweltering heat.

The pilgrims also contributed to the history of the backpack. These eternal wanderers, who earned their living by singing and tales of the great deeds of the knights, were constantly on the move. Among other things, one could find musical instruments in their backpacks. In the Middle Ages, merchants of all sorts of small things used backpacks, walking with their goods along the city streets.

…To industrial production

The industrial production of backpacks began at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1904, the first patent for the production of backpacks was registered by Ole Bergans. This resident of Norway became a «pioneer» in the production of backpacks for the army of his country. The uniqueness of his invention was that he used a lightweight aluminum frame as a frame for a backpack. The rucksack itself was made of durable fabric, most likely canvas, the forerunner of tarpaulin.

Almost at the same time overseas, in the United States, Lloyd Nels registered a patent for the production of backpacks. The American took as a model the backpacks used by the Indians — the same leather bags on wooden frames with forehead straps. Nels sewed his first backpack from leather, using a wooden frame as a frame. The backpack had strong leather puffs.

Kelty: Unpatented Success

Despite the fact that Bergans and Nels patented backpacks at the beginning of the century, for some reason the most famous «inventors» of the backpack are the Kelties, who lived in the United States. Asher and Nena Kelty were ardent climbers and hikers in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is worth noting that in 1952, when this story took place, the American army was actively getting rid of excess equipment left after the war. The stores sold army backpacks on U-shaped frames. It was them that the Kelties used when they went camping.

It is quite understandable that one fine day Asher and Nena thought about how to make carrying things as convenient as possible. The impetus for this was an accident: during one of the campaigns, Kelty and his friend accidentally put the ends of the frames of backpacks into the pockets of their trousers. It turned out that this completely redistributes the load, and it becomes much easier to carry even a heavy backpack.

Inspired by this discovery, the Kelties began to work on the invention of the classic hiking backpack — such as it has survived to this day. They opened production in their garage. The “chip” was the use of an aluminum frame (rather than wooden, as was the case in old military backpacks) and a belt that distributes weight evenly on the back and hips. Kelty sold the first three dozen backpacks for $24, and the buyers were friends of the couple who were also enthusiastic tourists. Over time, Kelty improved his backpack: he added roomy outer pockets and made the straps as soft as possible, while maintaining their strength. Later, their Kelty backpacks began to be sewn from nylon.

In the mid-50s, hiking was not yet very popular, so the company’s business went without much financial outbursts. But by the early 1960s, hiking had become fashionable, and Kelty’s circle of clients expanded considerably. Interestingly, it was their backpack that Jim Whittaker took with him when climbing Everest in 1963. Of course, this added popularity to the company and attracted massive interest to it, despite the fact that the spouses had not registered a patent for the production of backpacks at that time.

By the early 1970s, when the healthy lifestyle and closeness to nature began to boom in society, the Kelties were already absolutely ready to meet the massive demand for travel backpacks. A couple of years later, the annual sales of their products amounted to billions of dollars.

Different directions — different backpacks

Depending on the area in which the backpack was used, its appearance underwent various changes. Today, companies that specialize in the production of backpacks are guided by the needs of their target audience. For example, in mountaineering, an avalanche backpack has gained wide popularity. A person with such a backpack in an extreme situation (during an avalanche) launches a special mechanism that instantly inflates a pillow around his head and shoulders, similar to a car airbag. This helps, firstly, to protect the head, and secondly, to stay as close to the surface as possible, which makes it easier to search or makes it possible to get out of the snow on your own.

Avalanche Backpack.jpg

In the fashion industry, Mucia Prada gave fame to the backpack. The fashion designer released her models on the catwalk with small backpacks instead of the usual bags. This happened in 1985, and since then the backpack has triumphantly walked the catwalks of fashion houses. Since the mid-90s, the backpack has become what is called a must-have for a city dweller.

Fashion does not get tired of experimenting, and today the world’s leading designers offer exclusive models of backpacks at sky-high prices for the average person. For example, a Valentino lambskin backpack costs $3,000. A faux fur backpack with genuine leather inserts from Brunello Cucinelli will set you back $8,000. And Karl Lagerfeld came up with a graffiti-printed textile backpack for the Chanel fashion house, which, by the way, costs the same as a Valentino leather one. The creators of The Row fashion brand, the Ashley sisters, went the furthest: they offered fashionistas a black crocodile skin backpack for … $ 34,000! Moreover, after the start of sales on the Internet, all models were sold out within 20 minutes.

Backpack by Valentino.jpg Backpack by Brunello Cucinelli.jpg Backpack by The Row.jpg Backpack by Chanel.png

Cycling, climbing, tourist, freeride, military, urban — a variety of backpacks today find their adherents. Scientists continue to work on improving fabrics, fashion designers come up with incredible shapes and accessories. One thing remains unchanged: whatever the backpack, it should be worn behind the shoulders. It is no coincidence that this capacious bag has such a name: from the German “rucksack” is translated as “a bag behind the back”.

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