Everything You Need to Know About When the Backpack Was Invented

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Have you ever asked yourself, “When was the backpack invented?” Not a specific backpack brand in particular but the birth of “backpack” itself. You’re probably guessing the first backpack was created in the 17th century. But nah! The invention of backpacks go way beyond that era.

As per recorded history, the first backpack, known as a rucksack at the time, was discovered in 3300BC, long before civilization revolved in its grandness. However, it wasn’t called a backpack at that time as mentioned above. The word “backpack” wasn’t used until the middle of the First World War. It was around that time when the true functionality and use of a backpack were recognized by the military.

Want to know more about when the backpack invented? Stay glued. Because there’s more where that came from. We bring to you the ultimate guide that will help you understand everything about the discovery and invention of ancient to modern backpacks.

The First Discovery of the Backpack

Back in 3300BC, a man named Otzi the Iceman was traveling through Italy, during which he was unfortunately killed en route. Sad! However, something really interesting happened. His remains, along with his traveling gear, were preserved in the glaciers. It was centuries later, in September 1991, that a group of German hikers stumbled upon his remains in the Otztal Alps. And BOOM! He became the first natural human mummy in the world. On finding his belongings, the researchers discovered hard evidence that humans have been carrying backpacks since 3300BC.

The Ever-changing Purpose of Backpacks

When you think about it, a backpack can seem so much like just some bag now, but it hadn’t always been like that. It’s gone through several reiterations. Since the beginning of time, bags have been serving the purpose of transporting materials from place to place. But bags in the olden days were not as comfortable as we get them today. And of course, even then, innovators were always on a quest to create a bag that was both comfortable and functional. There was a need for a bag for different purposes such as for traveling, for kids, shopping, etc. Therefore, you see how much backpacks were required for different purposes. It’s all these things that led to the invention of modern packs.

Who invented the backpack, and when was the backpack invented?

Like all those myths you read and their many variations, there are several stories about the invention of backpacks. This is mostly because the backpack has seen several contributions. It’s, therefore, difficult to pinpoint a period when it was invented. But, you know, people have tried. For instance, Gerry Cunningham invented the zippered backpack in 1938. Dick Kelty was said to have invented the packsack, rucksack, and knapsack in 1952. In 1963, Greg Lowe created packs with internal frames. His invention dates back to 3300BC. I can’t tell you everything that happened in that time (More like it would take all day to talk about it). But I can tell you of each man’s contribution to improving the world of backpacks. You know, there’s that thing with the science of invention where the new creations owe their development to the previous iterations. That is precisely what happened with backpacks.

Who invented the modern backpack?

The credit of creation of the modern backpack goes to only one of the men I have mentioned in the previous section. Can you guess who it was? His name was Asher Dick Kelty. He invented the backpack in 1952 and since then has been dubbed the “Henry Ford of Backpacks.” Kelty, in those days, like many of those that came before him, loved to hike. He frequented the Sierra Nevada regions. In his journeys, he had to make do with largely uncomfortable backpacks. At one point in his journey though, he decided he had had enough. That’s it! He was tired of all those ill-fitting backpacks.

Together with his wife, a pretty lady named Nena, he began to design his own bags from what remained from the Second World War. He, like many others, was trying to pick the world from shambles. But just how did Kelty garner enough experience to make these bags?

Source: Carryology

Quick Timelines: An overview of the evolution of backpacks

3300BC: A group of German hikers discovers the earliest known backpack in the world.
1870: Bindles, a bag made with canvas clothes and sticks, was used during the American Civil War.
1877: Henry Miriam develops a knapsack with sheet metal for the U.S. military.
1882: Camille Poirier creates the Duluth Pack. This pack had head straps that were secured by buckles and straps.
1908: Ole F. Bergman creates backpacks with wooden frames. These bags were made from birch barks. It also featured a soft material that made the bags easy to compress.
1914: Upper and lower strapped bags were invented.
1922: Lloyd F. Nelson designs the Trapper Nelson. The Trapper Nelson was a backpack with a rigid frame.
1938: Gerry Cunningham creates the first zippered backpack.
The late 1940s: Backpacks for kids was invented.
1952: Modern backpacks were invented.
1959: Plastisol ink creates backpacks with prints.
1960s: Transparent, see-through backpacks became popular.
1967: Greg Lowe creates the first internal-frame backpack.
1989: Michael Eidson creates the world’s first Camelback Hydration Pack.
2014: Fashion backpacks start to trend.

Dick Kelty creates the first modern backpack

Kelty had been a Navy veteran and aircraft engineer. This experience contributed significantly to the design of his backpacks. Also, his expertise in engineering allowed him to easily handle the construction of the frames for his backpacks. His wife, Nena, handled the sewing of the backpack. She used material from a military parachute. She also added some different material for the shoulder straps- wool carpeting. At the very beginning, less than 30 of these bags were sold. However, the backpacks grew increasingly popular. Dick Kelty and Nena then opened a small store where they made more backpacks and sold these backpacks to everyone willing to buy. Nena would eventually go on to publish a book titled, The Kelty Way. You can learn more about how and when the backpack was invented in that remarkable book.

Why was the backpack invented?

Before the backpack was invented, a lot of people had to rely on other means to transport their materials. For instance, in Africa, Europe, and most of the Middle East, they used leather satchels. There were several reasons for which the backpack was required. Apart from the fact that a new and modernized design for bags was needed, there was also the need for bags to be more comfortable and easier to carry around. Some particular sets of people needed bags for most of their daily activities. Some of these people included:

1. School Children
Years before the backpack was invented, school children went to school with satchels and unwieldy book straps. Mostly, that did the job. However, it was mostly uncomfortable. Children had to stack their books in these bags and hoist it on their shoulders, then begin their journey to school. That was if they had bags at all. Students that had no bags carried their books- notebooks and textbooks- around the school throughout the day. For students that had bags, the bags were mostly too large for the purpose for which they were needed. They were not the easiest things to carry around as well. Yes, they served the function for which they were required. But there was the need for something better.

2. Business Travelers
It was not strange for people to travel even then. For some, it’s a way of life. They chose never to fully settle in a place. For others, business took them from place to place. The nature of their businesses was somewhat dynamic. The moment they were getting comfortable, they would, dutifully, pack their stuff and move on to the next location. If anyone needed the backpacks at all, it was them.

3. Campers and Hikers
These people were different kinds of travelers. They were like business travelers, but they were also unlike them in several regards. For instance, after they arrived at a destination with all of their properties, they needed to pack a certain kind of gear to exploit the places they had reached. There was a need for a bag to contain their essential equipment and gear to make their journey smoother. Like new boots and a pack of cards to play on top of the hill. Their luggage also included the food and the drinks they would sustain them on their adventures. These men, and women, hoisted the available bags they had then up the mountains and into their camps. But they needed something more comfortable- something with which they could climb more easily.

It was clear that these people needed something more comfortable- even if they did not know it at that time. But certain men saw this need and rose to create the solution to what could have easily been described as a universal problem.

The Evolution of Backpacks

In the beginning, humans from the Stone Age started with basic attempts at understanding the world they lived in. What worked? What did not? The world continued to advance, and man continued in his evolution. Soon enough, he discovered that he could use some materials to improve his living conditions. Stones, sticks, and especially furs from animals made great equipment.

Bags of the Bronze Age

At around 3300BC, man had discovered that he could carry this equipment around wherever he needed it. He created his first bag from animal fur. That was the first bag available. It was some group of hikers in Italy that would eventually discover this. They uncovered a mummy that held a rucksack. This rucksack was discovered along with some other bags and items. It informs our earliest discoveries of the rucksack.

The 1800s

Fast-forward to several years later, we had become more of an advanced species. We had created a more complex environment. We had gone through a complete phase of evolution. We had developed a language with which we could speak to ourselves and communicate ideas in our heads. There were workers, businessmen women who moved from place to place to exchange their products. They needed containers to pack them to the points of exchange. With this complexity, the initial fur design had to be reviewed. Another bag had already been created. This bag was called the Bindle, and it used by Americans during the American Civil war that ended in 1865. This bag was made from canvas cloths and sticks.

Henry Miriam ups the game

In 1877, Henry Miriam came up with a solid structure for the backpack. He called his design the rucksack. This design would eventually go on to inspire the backpack design in years to come. Mind-blowing ain’t it! Henry Merriam had discovered that it was possible to create something more handy and comfortable for travelers. He undertook a process of conceiving the idea for the backpack and structuring it into a solid design. This design included wood, iron frames for a more rigid structure, and some soft rucksack. He called it the knapsack. The bag was adopted by the US Military. Henry’s key objectives then were very clear. He aimed at creating a more comfortable bag that was not too heavy or stiff. Most of the bags made in those times weighed a great deal. They also had this way of causing pain to the shoulders and to the back in general. The strategy of Henry’s design was to implement a small sheet of metal to reduce the pain and the strain on the shoulders. His design was a huge success. The backpack was widely received by a great number. It also eventually set the pace for what was to come. Henry Miriam had created something remarkable, but that was not to be the end of it.

Further improvements to the knapsack

In 1882, a man named Camille Poirier pushed out a new and developed backpack. He had apparently studied Henry’s model, examined the complexities of the structure and then went on to create his own improved design. This bag featured an additional buckle. It also featured some added straps which improve the firmness of the backpack on the body.

The 1900s: The Birth of the New Century

The 1900s witnessed the most notable revolution of backpacks. Companies that provide the best backpacks now had their beginnings in this century, and they owed their quick progress to the designs that hd already been made in the previous century. Among the men that made the most notable impact on the backpack was Ole F. Bergman. Bergman called his backpack the Sekk Med Meis. Pretty strange name, yeah? Anyway, he introduced a new and dynamic property to his bags- the option to compress them on long journeys. Travel was getting really easier.

World War I begins

When the First World War was about to start, the United States military began its search for anything that could put them ahead in the war. They already had the firepower. They had an army that was willing to fight to the death. But they were still on the lookout for more. This more came in the form of more advanced designs to the backpacks. These backpacks were modified to hold supplies like ammo and other vital equipment. As small as that might seem, it gave the army an advantage over the rest of the world. They were more mobile than the rest.

After the World War I

When the world war had passed, there was relative peace. With no need for more military backpacks, a man named Lloyd F. Nelson was able to create something casual- for hikers. He, like Bergman, found an interesting and personal name for his backpack. The Trapper Nelson, he called them.

1938: The Introduction of Zippers on Backpacks

When a majority of people are asked, “When was the backpack created?” They are quick to mention this period, but it is not entirely true. It was only when the first zippered backpack was created- in Colorado. Gerry Cunningham, like every other creator before him, had believed that things could be different in terms of structure. He didn’t like the fact that his backpacks did not hold still around his back every time he moved. He, therefore, decided to create his own nylon bags and implement zippers into the design.

The Birth of Modern Backpacks

Things became peaceful after the world war, and the world began to develop at a rapid rate. There was room for recreation. More use for the backpacks. Schools were being built. Students needed the backpack to hold all of their textbooks and notebooks. Travelers needed backpacks to explore the new world. Archeologists wanted to uncover what had been buried in the old. It was more demand everywhere. A lot of updated designs for the backpacks emerged. Ake Nordin came up with the cotton bag with wooden frames. Dick and Nena Kelty, the pioneers of the modern backpack, went on to create a new and improved design for the backpack. By 1958, the world had become a completely different place. New Age technology was growing. There was also a growing synergy between manufacturing industries. For instance, only a year after, Plastisol was able to create a new backpack with prints of decorated cartoon characters for school children. Backpacks could be sewn faster and mass-produced to anywhere in the world. Even better, more kind of backpacks could be produced. In 1960, a tough and durable backpack called ALICE was an evidence of this production power. It was made for the Vietnam War. Greg Lowe also made his own contribution from his garage in Colorado. His bags were more suited for business trips and vacations. Backpacks for heavy books and computers started to emerge in the 70s and the 80s. Today, more backpacks continue to emerge. The journey stretches on. I know that we’ve not yet reached the destination. The world of backpacks has evolved, and will continue in its evolution. In truth, it’s been one hell of a journey- a journey of a thousand miles- in this case, with several reiterations and updated designs. The great part is it’s been worth it every step of the way.

Origination of the word “backpack”

The word backpack appeared in print for the first time in 1910. Before this time, “Knapsack” was used to describe a similar bag. Knapsack had been in use since 1603 and had its origins in Germany. But Knapp meant “food,” and I think the world finally came to understand that it was not the most appropriate word to describe the functions of the backpack. Backpacks carried more than food. Eventually, in 1910, the word was adopted to describe any bag with a shoulder strap carried on a person’s back. The word has become most popular since then.

Two kinds of Backpacks

What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when I say “backpacks“? Outdoors? Camp and Hiking trips? Well, that’s pretty much how most of us think of backpacks. However, backpacks mean more than that. Updates in recent years have seen backpacks classified into two categories:

  • Outdoor backpacks
  • Academic backpacks

Outdoor backpacks are those backpacks you take on all your fun and wild trips. These bags sport a lightweight and stable design. Academic backpacks, on the other hand, are designed for students- to see them through the various stages of their academic careers.


Backpacks have evolved over the years, but in no way have they reached their destination. Backpack makers from all around the world are working very hard to improve the quality of the backpacks they provide. When was the backpack invented? In 1952! How far have backpacks come? A really long way.

I hope you can see like I can that it’ll only continue to get better from here. Seriously, it won’t be out of place to expect more favorable evolutions within the world of backpacks. I’m banking on that!

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