The History of the Backpack: A Journey on Our Shoulders

The history of the backpack is a remarkable tale that spans centuries, traversing cultures and continents. From its humble beginnings as a simple bag for carrying essentials to its modern-day incarnation as a fashion statement and practical accessory, the backpack has evolved alongside human civilization. In this article, we will embark on a fascinating journey through time, exploring the origins, transformations, and significance of the backpack.

The Early Beginnings

The history of the backpack can be traced back to ancient times, when humans first discovered the need to transport belongings. In early civilizations, such as Egypt and Rome, people utilized simple bags made from animal skins or woven materials to carry their possessions during long journeys. These rudimentary backpacks were often slung over the shoulder or attached to a stick, providing a means of transportation that distributed the weight evenly.

The Birth of the Modern Backpack

Fast forward to the Middle Ages, and we find the emergence of the modern backpack. During this period, backpacks took on a more structured form and were used primarily by soldiers and hunters. These backpacks, often referred to as “haversacks,” were crafted from sturdy materials like leather and featured multiple compartments for organizing various items.

However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that the backpack truly underwent a revolutionary transformation. In 1938, Gerry Outdoors invented the first backpack with a zipper, which allowed for easier access to the contents inside. This innovation marked a turning point in the history of the backpack, as it introduced a new level of convenience and practicality.

The Rise of the Backpack in the Modern Era

As the 20th century progressed, the backpack continued to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of society. In the 1960s and 1970s, the counterculture movement and the rise of outdoor recreation activities, such as hiking and camping, propelled the backpack into the mainstream. Backpacks became a symbol of adventure, freedom, and self-expression.

During this time, outdoor gear companies like The North Face and Jansport emerged, offering a wide range of backpack options designed specifically for outdoor enthusiasts. These backpacks featured advanced suspension systems, ergonomic designs, and durable materials, making them ideal for extended outdoor excursions.

The modern backpack was invented in the early 20th century. It was designed by a Swiss mountaineer named Hans Fischer. Fischer’s backpack was made of canvas and had a padded back and shoulder straps. It was a significant improvement over earlier backpacks, and it quickly became popular among mountaineers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

— History of the Backpack

The Backpack Goes to School

In the 1980s, the backpack underwent another significant transformation as it made its way into schools and classrooms. The need for students to carry heavy textbooks, notebooks, and other school supplies prompted the adaptation of backpacks for academic purposes.

With this shift, backpacks became an essential part of student life, offering a practical and efficient means of transporting books and personal belongings. Backpacks designed for students began to feature additional compartments, padded straps, and ergonomic designs to ensure comfort and minimize strain on young shoulders.

Fashion and Function: The Backpack in the 21st Century

In recent years, the backpack has transcended its utilitarian roots and become a fashion statement in its own right. Designers and brands have recognized the demand for stylish backpacks that not only serve a practical purpose but also complement personal style.

Today, backpacks come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, catering to diverse preferences and lifestyles. Whether it’s a sleek leather backpack for a professional setting or a vibrant, patterned backpack for a casual outing, there is a backpack to suit every individual’s needs and fashion sensibilities.

The Backpack’s Enduring Significance

Throughout its history, the backpack has maintained its significance as a symbol of mobility, versatility, and self-sufficiency. From soldiers to students, hikers to urban dwellers, the backpack remains an essential companion in our daily lives.

Its ability to distribute weight evenly across the shoulders and back makes it a practical choice for carrying heavy loads, while its hands-free design allows for increased freedom of movement. Moreover, the backpack’s capacity to hold our personal belongings securely makes it an invaluable tool for modern living.

Important milestones in the history of the Backpack

  • 15th century: The earliest known backpacks were made of animal skins and were used by hunters and gatherers.
  • 17th century: Backpacks became more complex and decorative. They were often made of leather and were decorated with metal studs or other embellishments.
  • 19th century: Backpacks became more popular among travelers and hikers. They were made of canvas or other durable materials, and they were designed to be comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
  • 1907: The modern backpack was invented by Hans Fischer, a Swiss mountaineer.
  • 1970s: Backpacks became popular among college students and other young people. They were seen as a symbol of youth and rebellion, and they were often decorated with peace signs or other counterculture symbols.
  • Present day: Backpacks are one of the most popular types of bags in the world. They are used by people of all ages for a variety of purposes.


As we reflect on the history of the backpack, we are reminded of the remarkable journey it has undertaken. From its humble beginnings as a basic bag to its evolution as a fashionable accessory, the backpack has proven its endurance and adaptability.

Today, as we navigate our fast-paced and ever-changing world, the backpack continues to serve as a trusted companion, accompanying us on our journeys both big and small. Its enduring significance and utility ensure that the history of the backpack is an ongoing narrative, constantly adapting to meet the needs and desires of generations to come.

So, the next time you sling a backpack over your shoulder, take a moment to appreciate the centuries of innovation and human ingenuity that have brought us to this point. The history of the backpack is a testament to our collective quest for convenience, efficiency, and style—a journey that continues to unfold with each new step we take.

Earliest known backpacksMade of animal skins and used by hunters and gatherers in the 15th century
Most popular backpack materials in the 19th centuryCanvas and other durable materials
Year the modern backpack was invented1907, by Hans Fischer, a Swiss mountaineer
Year backpacks became popular among college students1970s
Today’s most popular backpack materialsNylon, polyester, and other synthetic materials
Today’s most popular backpack featuresPadded back and shoulder straps, multiple compartments, and water-resistant materials
Global backpack market size$18 billion in 2019, expected to reach $29 billion by 2030
Number of backpacks sold in the United States each yearOver 100 million
Average price of a backpack$50


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