I first started hiking with a Boy Scout knapsack. Heavy canvas, no frame, canvas straps. It was suitable for carrying your lunch and a canteen. This thing:
For reasons I can't explain, I have a nostalgic attachment. Stuff a change of clothes, your food, a canteen, and coat in there. Then, since it's full, tie your sleeping bag (an upcoming post) to the outside and go on that first 5 mile hike. You would lift the pack, hold the straps in your hands, anything to try to get the weight off your shoulders and collarbones. It hurt. It hurt more the further you went.
Time marched on. In this case, it's the first changes that were revolutionary. Later changes are more incremental. I'm going to quote the Kelty website:
The biggest leap in backpack development probably began in 1952 when Asher “Dick” Kelty and his wife Nena started the Kelty brand from their garage in Glendale, California. One of the biggest innovators in backpack design, Dick was not only one of the first to produce and market external frame backpacks specifically for civilian use, but Kelty is also considered to be the inventor of the rectangular aluminium framed backpack, the hip belt, using nylon, adding zippers to the pack pockets and the padded shoulder straps.The packs looked like this. Larger, but very similar models, were used everywhere up to and including Everest expeditions. I coveted one.
In 1952 after several years of making packs in his home garage for friends, Dick sold 29 packs in his first year of business for 24 dollars each. Dick hand-formed and welded each of the frames, and his wife, Nena, sewed each of the pack bags using WW II leftover parachute pack fabric. Kelty packs first include aircraft-aluminum contoured frames, padded shoulder straps, waist belts, clevis-pin attachment of pack bags, nylon pack cloth, zippered pockets, hold-open frames, and nylon back bands. The first shoulder straps were produced using wool carpeting for padding. The original clevis pins were made from aircraft rivets.
Once I finally got one, I used an external frame pack for decades. I was still using one in 2005, as evidenced in this picture of me on the Appalachian Trail on the 4th of July.
The newer designs had internal frames, a molded waistband, ergonomic straps. When I experienced some material failure that I didn't want to repair, I bought a modern one by 2008.
Great name for a gap, by the way.
It was a great pack. Used it year after year. It would carry a good load, put most of the weight on my hips, didn't hurt. It was a Gregory, with a lifetime warranty. If I could have given a smaller version to my 12 year old self in 1969, it would have been seen as miraculous.
It had a catastrophic failure last week. Gregory honored the warranty. It remains to be seen what they send, although I have confirmation that they shipped a replacement.
Now there are ultra light packs, packs for rock climbing, packs for 2-3 day trips, expedition packs, women's packs, packs for short, medium, and tall torsos, and so on. As technology changes, and overall weight of your full gear drops, the issue of what the pack itself weighs has become more important. 3 to 4 pounds seems to be the sweet spot.
The total weight you carry still matters the most, but being able to carry it balanced and comfortable means an old man can still do more miles with more gear.