When Were Backpacks Invented? | Who Invented Modern Backpacks?

History of Backpack

It may come as a surprise, but backpacks were not always associated with modernity. The term didn't even exist until the early 20th century, amidst the first world war. The military began to grasp the complete practicality and usage of a backpack around this period. Backpacks which were known by other names then, are an invention of ancient travelers. According to documented history, the first bag was unearthed about 3300 BC. But of course, there's a lot more to where backpacks came from. Below, we've gathered a timeline guide to share all that there is to know about the evolution of backpacks. 

The First Discovery of Backpack

Otzi, the Iceman, tragically passed away while traveling across Italy in 3300 BC. His physical remains and travel luggage were buried in the glaciers of the Otztal Alps. Several centuries later, a group of German hikers discovered his remains in September 1991. Today, Otzi is the world's first natural human mummy, his possessions revealing strong evidence of people wearing backpacks since 3300 BC. 

Backpack Evolution: A Brief Look At The Timeline Of Backpacks

When Were Backpacks Invented?

  • A group of German hikers discover the world's earliest backpack— 3300BC 
  • Bindles or canvas bags attached to a stick during the American Civil War— 1870.
  • Henry Miriam designed a knapsack made of sheet metal for the US military— 1877.
  • Camille Poirier recreated Henry Miriam's model and established the Duluth Pack brand, which still runs today— 1882. 
  • Ole F. Bergman's invention of wooden-framed backpacks made of birch barks with a soft material body, making it easily compressible— 1908. 
  • The invention of Haversacks with upper and lower strapped bags during WW1— 1914.
  • The Trapper Nelson backpack with a rigid frame by Lloyd F. Nelson— 1922.
  • The first zippered backpack by Gerry Cunningham— 1938. 
  • Backpacks for youngsters— late 1940s. 
  • The first modern backpacks by Dick and Nena Kelty— 1952 
  • Plastisol ink printed backpacks themed with popular characters of the time such as The Flintstones, Mickey Mouse, etc— 1959. 
  • Transparent fashion backpacks— the 1960s. 
  • The first internal-frame backpack with rolling wheels by Greg Lowe. It is said to be the first rolling backpack— 1967.
  • The creation of the wen-known JanSport backpacks by a college student from Seattle, Washington, named Skip Yowell, with his cousins— 1967 
  • The first Camelbak Hydration Pack by Michael Eidson— 1989. 
  • Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment or MOLLIE backpack with sturdy nylon straps for the military doing the Iraq War— the mid-2000s 
  • The rise of various modern backpack designs and styles— late 2000 onwards. 

Who Was The First Person To Craft The Modern Backpack?

Dick Kelty is credited with inventing the first modern backpack in 1952. It has earned him the title of Henry Ford of Backpacking. Kelty served in the Navy as an aircraft engineer, greatly influencing his backpack designs. Being an outdoor person who enjoyed hiking, he executed his excursions carrying uncomfortable bags. Eventually, he reached a point in his travels where he decided to do something about it. Kelty used his technical background to map his backpack design, and his wife, Nena, took care of the stitching. She used the leftovers from WWII— military parachute material for the body and wool carpeting for the shoulder straps. The couple established a local shop where they sold backpacks to anyone interested in buying. The bags initially sold only about 30 pieces, but eventually, they became increasingly popular. And viola— this marked the beginning of modern backpacks! 

PS: Nena Kelty wrote and published a book called Backpacking the Kelty Way. The book talks about their backpack journey. If you're interested to learn more about the lifesaver utility bag that we know and love today, you can get your copy here

The Motivation Behind Backpack Invention

Transporting belongings to places was a challenge before the introduction of the backpack. People had to depend on satchels and bindles. However, as the need for bags to be more comfortable and easy to carry around became a requirement, it led to new and modernized backpack designs. Amongst the group of people who required bags for the majority of their daily activities including—

  • School Children

Children carried satchels with uncomfortable book straps to school before the arrival of backpacks. It sufficed only for the minimal part, with most of the time spent in discomfort. The old mediums for carrying books fulfilled the purpose up to a certain extent, leading to the need for something better. 

Terra Thread sustainable black backpack for school

Terra Thread Sustainable Black Backpack for school

  • Work Travelers

Traveling for work is as old as time. It was not unusual for people to travel to conduct business even back then. It was a common way of life for many. Some travelers never opted to settle in a location truly. At the same time, others were compelled to move from place to place because of their fairly fluid jobs. They would pack their belongings and move on to the next area as soon as they were comfortable. They were the ones that needed the backpacks the most.

  • Hikers and Campers

This group of individuals resembled travelers, yet they differed in several ways. Unlike people who travel for work, campers arrive at a destination to settle for a reasonable amount of time. They carried specific equipment to make a home out of the newly discovered location. Hikers and campers carried whatever bags they could find up the slopes and into their camps. However, they required something more comfortable, allowing them to ascend and descend more effortlessly. A sturdy backpack that can hold vital camping equipment and supplies, while enabling a smooth hiking or camping experience. 

People clearly needed something comfier. Fortunately, masterminds of the time recognized the problem and stood to remedy an issue that impacted the majority population around the world. 

Two Types Of Backpacks

What are the types of backpacks?

In recent years, backpacks have been divided into two categories: outdoor backpacks and school or academic backpacks.

  • Outdoor Backpacks

Outdoor backpacks are designed for recreational activities. The design of outdoor backpacks is lightweight and stable. 

  • Academic Backpacks

Academic backpacks are made for students and learners and are intended to accompany them throughout their educational endeavors. 

The Origin of Backpack Term

Before the term backpack was used, utility bags were known as knapsacks. Knapsack originated in Germany and has been around since 1603. It wasn't until 1910 that the term "backpack" gained its first printed attention. Soon, the term began to designate any bag worn on a person's back with a shoulder strap. Today, the word has grown in massive popularity.

The Constantly Evolving Role of Backpacks

A backpack now seems like yet another bag, but as we can see, that wasn't always the case— it's been modified over the centuries.

Bags have been used to transfer items from one location to another since the dawn of humanity. Of course, bags in the past were not as comfortable or convenient as they are today. But even back then, innovators were always on the lookout for creating a bag with practicality and versatility. 

Owing to the demand for bags tailoring various functions, including shopping, travel, school activities, camping, hiking, etc., today we have ample modern backpacks designed for different purposes. 


Backpacks have significantly progressed since then, constantly improving and evolving over the years. But they are not quite done yet. Backpack brands and manufacturers worldwide are making efforts further to boost the performance and quality of their backpack offerings. 

The backpacking world has evolved and will continue to evolve. In reality, it's been one long no-end journey with numerous design retakes and innovative solutions. The beautiful thing is that it's been well worth it all along. 

We can take away from the history of backpacks and their evolution that things only keep improving. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising to see more positive changes in the realm of backpacks— well, that's what we are hoping for!

Terra Thread drives towards bringing a positive change in the world with sustainable, eco-friendly backpacks and more. All our products are manufactured with rain-fed organic cotton. Our sustainable backpacks are GOTS and Fairtrade Certified. 



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