Carry-on: Backpacks

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It’s hard to believe the pretty pink princess and primary-colored superhero backpacks elementary schoolers cart to and from school were originally used to transport hunks of game meat by hunters hundreds of years ago.

Hunters originally used the humble backpacks to travel long distances while tracking prey and, when they were successful, to transport large prey from the kill site back to the homestead. Hunters would dismember the carcass, wrap the meat, and store it in animal hide sacks strapped on their backs.

Fast forward a few centuries: explorers and military forcesused backpacks, also known as rucksacks from German ruck meaning “back,” to lighten their loads. Designers take fabrics like wood, canvas and leather to make packs that travel easier and that distribute weight more efficiently, but they’re still quite rough and rudimentary.

Enter American Sierra mountain hiker, carpenter and outdoorsman Dick Kelty. Kelty’s heyday was the 1950s, when backpacks weren’t quite as comfortable or back-friendly as they are today. Kelty wanted to make a sturdier, lightweight, more compact backpack to take with him on hikes. He researched materials and procured some nylon and aluminum for frames, drew up designs, and asked him wife to sew a few together. Additionally, he decided to move the main load-bearing area from the shoulders closer to the hips. Next, he came up with the idea of adding a hip belt or strap for added comfort and security. The modern-day backpack was born.

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