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Who Invented Backpacks: Uncovering the Origins and Innovations

Backpacks have become an essential part of our daily lives, allowing us to carry our belongings comfortably and efficiently. But Who Invented Backpacks? In this article, we will explore the history of backpacks, focusing on notable inventors and their contributions to the evolution of this versatile carryall.

Who Invented Backpacks?

The invention of backpacks does not have a single attributed inventor. The concept of carrying goods on the back dates back to prehistoric times, where early humans likely used animal skins, woven plant fibers, or simple wooden frames as makeshift backpacks.

Indigenous cultures and ancient civilizations further developed backpack-like carrying devices for various purposes.

Who Invented Backpacks

However, notable contributions to backpack innovation include the invention of the internal frame backpack by Greg Lowe in 1967, the introduction of the first modern backpack by Dick Kelty in 1952, and Gerry Outdoors’ invention of the first backpack with a zipper in 1938.

These inventors played significant roles in shaping the functionality, comfort, and convenience of backpacks as we know them today. Check out 7 Best Black Backpack Bags Under $50

The Early Days: Frame and External Backpacks

The concept of the backpack has roots in ancient times, but the innovations in frame and external backpacks came much later. According to historical sources¹, the internal frame backpack, as we know it today, was invented in 1967 by Greg Lowe, who later founded Lowe Alpine and Lowepro, specialized backpack companies. Lowe’s invention revolutionized backpack design by incorporating an internal frame that provided better weight distribution and improved stability.

Henry Clay Merriam, a U.S. Army officer in the late 19th century, is credited with patenting the first external frame rucksack in 1887¹. Merriam’s creation featured a light steel frame with drab duck canvas attached to it. This innovative design laid the foundation for the external frame backpacks that followed.

The Kelty Pack: A Modern Backpack Pioneer

Dick Kelty, an aircraft engineer who served in the Navy, is recognized for inventing the first modern backpack in 1952². Kelty’s expertise and experience in engineering influenced his backpack designs, which incorporated new materials and thoughtful features. His backpacks gained popularity among outdoor enthusiasts, earning him the title of the “Henry Ford of Backpacking.”

The Rise of Nylon Backpacks and Zippered Compartments

In 1938, Gerry Outdoors made a significant contribution to backpack history by inventing the first backpack with a zipper³. This innovation brought added convenience and security to backpacks, making them more suitable for various outdoor activities.

Gerry Outdoors claims to have created the first “modern nylon backpack” in 1967, the same year JanSport also entered the market³. The lightweight and durable nature of nylon made backpacks even more practical and popular.

The Evolution of Backpacks for School and Everyday Use

In the 1930s and ’60s, canvas or leather bags with a single strap, commonly known as satchels, were popular among schoolchildren for daily use³. However, backpacks gradually gained popularity due to their increased comfort and capacity. The smaller and lighter backpacks made of nylon gained traction and became the preferred choice for students and everyday use.

Who Invented Backpacks? Final Thoughts

The invention and evolution of backpacks have been shaped by numerous innovators throughout history. From Greg Lowe’s introduction of the internal frame backpack to Henry Clay Merriam’s patent of the external frame rucksack, and Dick Kelty’s pioneering modern backpack designs, each inventor played a crucial role in improving the functionality, comfort, and convenience of backpacks.

Additionally, the innovations brought by Gerry Outdoors, including the introduction of zippers and the development of nylon backpacks, further propelled the popularity and practicality of backpacks in various settings.

Today, we owe a debt of gratitude to these inventors whose creativity and ingenuity have transformed backpacks into indispensable companions for our everyday adventures. Whether for hiking, camping, school, or daily use, backpacks continue to evolve, incorporating new materials, features, and designs to meet the diverse needs of users around the world.


A Brief Timeline of Backpack Invention and Evolution.

Back to School: A Brief History of the Backpack | Time.

Getty Images. (Image source)