Backpacks: Fads and Features

Backpacks are bags that are designed with two shoulder straps so they can be carried on the back over the shoulders. Today, backpacks are a staple for most people who are always on the move. Commuters, tourists, hikers, students and athletes are among the biggest buyers of backpacks over the world. Backpacks have become so popular over the past three decades that there’s even a word coined for travellers who use them: Backpackers!

A History of Backpacks

Backpacks have been around for centuries, only the word backpack wasn’t coined until the early 1900s. Before this, these bags were known as moneybags or packsacks. According to historians, backpacks were initially used by hunters many centuries ago for carrying meat and produce. Freaky fact: In those times, these were made of bark and sown together using animal intestines.

Since backpacks are a global phenomenon, there are called by different names all over. Some of these include haversacks, rucksacks and knapsacks. Over the years, backpacks have evolved in all aspects: functionality, durability, design and use. Today, there are a few distinct designs that all backpacks share, although these still keep evolving with time and technology.

Backpack Designs

If you’re into sports, you might want to go for a light-weight backpack with more room for movement. However, if you’re climbing Everest, you want to have a bag that can carry all the equipment you need for a technical climb. This is where backpack designs come into the picture. There are various designs on the market today, which encompass the integrated bearer (internal-frame) backpack, the external-frame backpack, the frame-less backpack and the body-pack.

Frame-less BackpacksFrameless backpacks are ideal for lower amounts of weight and higher range of motion. These backpacks usually have a single pocket, lean straps and sit closer to the body. There are thousands of frameless backpack designs in use today from the simple to the sophisticated. With hip straps and waist straps for uniform body support, frameless backpacks are ideal for many purposes such as trekking, hiking, mountaineering, commuting and schooling too.

Internal-Framed Backpacks – These are ideal for heavier loads since the frame enables the weight to be distributed across the body thus reducing tension at the shoulders. Internal-framed backpacks sit close to the body and lie across the back. They are designed to transfer the load to the hips and legs, which leads to better posture and less exhaustion from carrying the weight. These bags were first created by Greg Lowe in 1967 and are the mainstay of Lowepro and Lowe Alpine. The internal frame is usually created using titanium or plastic, although some may also use aluminium.

External Framed Backpacks – External frame backpacks are a very old invention, with some history buffs maintaining that they were used in the Copper Age. They can carry loads greater than twenty kilograms and are ideal for military use as well as mountaineering. In such backpacks, the frame is external with the compartment material being stretches across the frame and pinned in place. These backpacks are also known as cooling backpacks, since they have a space between the back and the bag, thus making them more comfortable for the wearer. Also, these can carry unevenly-shaped loads due to the extra fabric overlapping the frame.

With new research, these backpacks are made with a type of composite plastic with additional features to ease the load for longer periods of walking, due to the special structure conforming to the spine as well as the extra layer of white-glass wool which absorbs the force produced by walking.

Body-packs –Like its name suggests, a bodypack is a backpack with a frontal-carrying section that lies on the chest. Bodypacks have hip-belts to balance the load at the front and back, but are not very popular with travellers because manoeuvring with them is a task and a half!

Applications of Backpacks

Military Use Backpacks – These are backpacks which are generally used by soldiers in the infantry. These backpacks have a sturdy, might-weight frame and increased load-bearing capacity. While most of these have internal frames, others such as the ILBE pack have an external-frame, to which the pack is attached. Military backpacks are also used by wildfire-fighters, professional chefs and search-and-rescue personnel, and can carry up to 100lbs worth of equipment. They comprise of many pockets which can store ammunition, guns and temporary fire-shelters, to mention a few.Some common military backpacks include the PLCE rucksack which is used by the British Army and the ALICE, which is used by the US Army.

Sport Backpacks –Backpacks that are used by athletes, hikers and cyclists are often known as hydration backpacks, mostly because they are ideal for carrying water. These are frame-less backpacks and are specially designed for increased functionality and movement. A sport backpack lies low on the back and can carry between two to six litres of liquid. These backpacks tend to have both hip belts as well as compression straps that are strapped in place across the body to reduce movement of the pack with dynamic body shifts. Among the best hydration backpacks on the market today are designed and produced by Camelbak, while other quality sporty backpacks are from Swiss Gear.

Laptop Backpacks –A laptop backpack is technically a daypack with an additional feature: a padded pocket where your laptop can rest in comfort. Laptop backpacks are among the most popular types of backpacks all across the globe and tend to be mostly black in colour. These bags are multi-purpose with other pockets for storage of cables and power supply, and can also be used for trekking, hiking and business travel. Newer laptop bags also come with solar panels that can be used to charge the electronics!

Student Backpacks –Buying a student backpack before heading back to school after summer is a ritual almost every schoolkid goes through. From elementary to high school to university, student backpacks are a standard. These backpacks tend to have one main compartment for books and three to five other compartments at the front and sides for storing stationery. They may even have a different side-compartment for a water bottle.

Travel Backpacks – Travel backpacks feature a huge number of pockets and zips and have a large carrying capacity of 40 to 50 litres. These backpacks are light-weight to help backpackers move around and comprise of hip-belts and adjustable, padded shoulder-pads. Travel backpacks are either frameless or have an interior frame. The also come with multiple zippers and additional safety features.

How to pick a backpack

When it comes to buying backpacks, the one major question you need to ask yourself is: What do I need it for? Are you planning to go backpacking across Europe for a year? Do you need to get in shape and have signed up for a hiking trip? Once you’ve decided on what you’re doing to do with your backpack, you can now sit down and do some research on the type of backpack you’re looking for.

When it comes to buying a backpack, there are four important considerations: Size, quality, budget and design. The size should be right, so you’re not left floundering with things you have no space for. Quality is another very important consideration: you don’t want your backpack falling apart if you’ve stuffed it with one too many items. Your budget should be fixed, depending on what you plan to do with your backpack. If it’s light carrying, you can opt to get something cheaper as long as the job gets done. But for the long haul, you might want to opt for something that is worth the higher price in terms of quality. As far as design is concerned, it’s important to opt for what you feel is right for you.

A good place to begin is at any departmental store, since these often carry the latest designs in specific brands. You can also check out what your friends have and see if it’s a right fit for you. With so many thousands of backpacks available today, you can’t miss getting one that’s completely perfect for you!

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