How the Backpack Came to Be


Staff Writer

We all use backpacks at San Marcos. They are convenient and have more space than most handbags. However, not many are aware of the history of backpacks and how they were invented.

In the past, hunters were the only people who used backpacks. They were made out of animal skins sewn together with animal intestines and held the hunter’s tools and their dinner. The term backpack was created in the United States in the early 1900s. People also called them packs but this led to confusion because some may have wondered whether they were referring to a backpack or a bodypack. Bodypacks and backpacks are not the same; bodypacks fall on the chest and back of a person and have pockets. Backpacks are simply for carrying weight on the back with no pockets at the front.

Dick Kelty was an outdoorsman who loved to hike the Sierra Mountains. He did not have an efficient way to carry his hiking gear and wanted to make something better than the heavy gear at military surplus stores. In 1951, Kelty was hiking with his friend, Clay Sherman, and the two experimented with the positioning of their packboards, a fabric-covered wood or metal frame with straps so equipment could be carried. They found that by sliding the ends of their packboards into the back pockets of their jeans and resting the load from their shoulders to their hips, they could travel more comfortably. This idea motivated Kelty to experiment more. At home, his wife would sew together lighter materials such as nylon and aluminum, replacing the heavy materials with lighter materials. After making a modest sum off of his new creation, he added shoulder straps, padded waist, and zipper pockets on the outside of the backpack. Hiking in the 70s expanded and more people were enjoying hiking with the new, lighter bag on their shoulders. According to, by 1956, Kelty quit his old job as a carpenter and opened his first retail store and factory in Glendale, California. He went even further and fours years before he died in 2004, he achieved creating his own clothing line. His accomplishments live on through today’s modern Kelty backpacks.

Jansport followed in the footsteps of Kelty’s work 16 years later in 1967. In 1975, Murray Pletz, founder of Jansport, introduced it’s first backpack that they wanted it to specifically be used for a daypack. This is when it became a classic for students to carry their books and binder from home to school. It has had many changes in ownership since then but continues with the same classic design.

I love my backpack,” said Olivia Seoane. “I don’t have to worry about carrying all my books in my arms. I can keep all my binders and textbooks in there without having to go to the locker room.”

Students use their backpacks every day at San Marcos for transporting textbooks, binders, lunches, and more. It is, unquestionably, an essential item for school. Actually, if anything, it is the only thing that you need to take with you out the door in the morning.


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