Long before the sleek and fashionable designs of modern backpacks, knapsacks and rucksacks were the only way to transport materials over long distances. As recorded by Alyssa Mertes, a writer at Quality Logo Products, Ötzi the Iceman, a mummy preserved from the Copper Age, was the holder of the first backpack made out of animal fur.
Backpacks continued to evolve over the years, from a small bundle thrown over the shoulder in the Civil War, also called a bindle, to a military backpack that made use of a head strap to keep it on the wearer. Backpacks soon began to boast sleek wooden frames that not only helped keep the pack light but also easy to compress during a long voyage.
The first modern backpack was created in 1938 by Colorado resident Gerry Cunningman, who created the bag after discovering his displeasure at how the rucksack slid across his back as he wore it. And so, taking his father’s sewing machine, some scraps of nylon and a couple of zippers, the modern backpack was born.
Since then, backpacks have evolved as fast as the times have changed. New styles, shapes and capabilities emerged all in the span of less than a hundred years. Today, there are as many types of backpacks as there are people. But in all of these different types of backpacks, challenges arise, namely posture and back problems which can form from a backpack with improperly distributed weight.
“I think the best thing you can do is just find a bag that is comfortable for you to wear across both shoulders so that you’re able to distribute that weight optimally, and then also just doing your best to lighten your load, whether that be making more trips to your car or to your dorm room between classes to switch out books or anything else,” said Sydney Leisz, kinesiology professor.
Liesz said that if bad posture caused by an uneven distribution of weight is left unchecked, the body’s normal posture will change.
“Following that pattern over an extended period of time, your body is going to adapt that new posture as normal, so the same with a backpack,” Liesz said. “If you carry it on one side, you’re going to hike your shoulder up to support the load, and over time, if you’ve always had a saddlebag and always carried it on your right side, you might experience tightness in your upper back or in your neck.”
A 2017 study that looked into the consequences of heavy backpacks on students said that the weight of backpacks can lead to spinal consequences.
“It can not only affect a child in the present but also have long-term effects on their body and render their spine vulnerable to injuries,” the study said. “Therefore the solutions can be either to decrease their workload, that is, decrease the weight of their backpack, or to constantly guide them to a better posture for the betterment of their spinal shape and thus their health.”
Kylie Schreiber, senior liberal studies major, has a specific bag that she favors based on factors such as size and durability.
“The backpack I use now is a black and grey Dakine backpack that I obviously use for school, so it’s a good size and quite durable,” Schreiber said. “I personally do not like the Fjällräven backpacks that are very popular among many due to the durability of these bags and their size.”
Looking back at the history and invention of backpacks, it is a stark contrast against what backpacks once were, what they are now, and what they will one day become.