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Make a good choice!
Aside from boots, the other item essential to your back country traveling comfort is a good pack. While boots carry you into the back country, you're the one that ends up carrying the gear. A well-designed pack containing the features that appeal to you will help you maximize your enjoyment and traveling comfort as you make your way into the back country.

Always improving
Over the past twenty years, packs have undergone an evolution, and some might say, revolution in design. Looking back to the earliest days, personal items were often carried by pack animals, or wrapped in blankets fashioned into a sling and thrown over the shoulder. Later, the military took an interest in designing a more efficient means of carrying personal equipment into the field. This interest increased in the late 1800's as soldiers were required to carry heavy ammunition with metal cartridges, which decreased the amount of personal items that could be carried. As late as the mid-1900's, "pack boards" using wooden frames, or cotton canvas rucksacks were the preferred method of carrying gear into the back country, and the military led the way in design evolution. In the 1950's, the most readily available and most cost effective way of acquiring a backpack was to purchase one at a military surplus store.

Modern Backpacks
Dick Kelty is generally credited with taking the first step towards creating a commercial backpack design. His backpacks were built for recreational use and utilized a compartmented pack constructed of nylon (created in the 1930's by DuPont and commercially produced in the late'30's and early '40's) and mounted on an aluminum (which became commercially viable in 1888, but not used extensively until the creation of aluminum alloys) frame. Kelty packs also utilized an integral hip belt, which allowed much of the weight of the pack to be carried on the hips, opposed to the shoulders. Prior to that time, the "tump" line (a strap that ran over the top of the forehead) was the primary method used to ease the weight on the shoulders.

Kelty packs were light in weight, more comfortable to carry than the earlier military "rucksacks" or pack boards, and were an instant success. It might interest readers to know that there was initially some resistance to using coated nylon in the pack material. The urethane rubber coatings made the pack waterproof at the expense of breathability. At the time, some backpackers were concerned that the lack of breathability would lead to mildewed clothing. So for a number of years, Kelty produced packs in both coated and uncoated configurations. Today, shoppers will have a hard time locating a pack without a waterproof coating. However, with the evolution of synthetics in clothing design, mildewed clothing is no longer a primary concern.

Some Thoughts on the Body and the Act of Walking
If only the body moved in one direction when we walked....pack design would be easy. While there are some that think that the body does only move in one direction while walking - forward- there are in fact a number of dynamics happening all at once. For one, the shoulders make a gentle front to back motion as weight is transferred from one leg to another. Meanwhile, feet and legs are lifted so that an individual may stride forward. A part of this movement occurs at the sides of the hips. And the middle portion of the torso twists slightly in response to shoulder movement and compresses slightly in response to hip movement. How do you physically attach all these moving points together, add a large weight to the formula, and maintain a modicum of comfort? Manufacturers have risen to this challenge in a variety of ways. Some have succeeded. Some are still trying.

Once you're home
When you get your pack home, we would highly recommend that you load it up with your equipment and go for a stroll in a local park - preferably a park with some hills. The best way to ensure you have a comfortable fit is to give the pack a try, fully loaded before your next big trip into the back country. You and your pack will be on "intimate terms" over many miles of trail. That "little spot that doesn't feel just right" can become a major problem five miles into your first day.



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Updated January 20, 2003

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