The use of backpacks has been around long before Americans coined the term “backpack” in the early 1900s. Initially used by hunters to carry their gear or gatherers to carry their harvest, backpacks have always been an integral tool to humans. Military backpacks began appearing in the US in the mid 1800s, and from that began the integration of military grade textiles and tactical backpack development.
The original military backpack was called a “rucksack”, and appeared around the time of the American Civil War to aid infantrymen in the transportation of bulky weaponry and medical supplies. While they were effective, many soldiers often opted to roll their objects in a blanket that they threw over their shoulder, as it was far softer on their upper body than the backpacks were. Stiff wooden support backing that was integrated into the packs often caused extensive back damage due to the lack of padding and the weight of supplies, and therefore resulted in hindered performance of soldiers due to aches they left. These backpacks were also ineffective for organization of supplies or proper weight distribution, as it had a single pocket for all rations and weaponry.
The US development of rucksacks did not change much until about 1941 when a new design that included not one, but two khaki pockets emerged; one to conveniently store food, water, and any other objects that had to be easily accessible, and the other for weaponry. These were “Field Packs”, and were used through the end of WWII and through the Vietnam War, during which they were dyed green so as better to camouflage soldiers. The canvas’ durability was effective enough, but it was mainly chosen as the rucksack fabric because it was easy and fairly inexpensive to mass-produce.
Tactical style backpacks are a more recent development than people tend to think – military grade textiles and fabrics are being researched and stronger, more durable (and even self healing!) fabrics are being developed all the time. Tactical textiles are textiles that are manufactured exclusively using high performing materials that will enhance performance and provide industrial-grade durability to the backpack. The influence of tactical backpacks can be seen in even the development of standard grade backpacks – durability is held to an extremely high standard.
MOLLE, or Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, is the most recent standard for tactical troops equipment. While initially criticized for its fragility, MOLLE is an effective and customizable tactical standard that allows troops to be ready for anything. Working to MOLLE standards is something we are no strangers to – our tactical backpacks are equipped with PALS webbing (durable nylon straps webbed across the outside of the pack that allow for connection of other MOLLE compatible cases and accessories).
To learn more about our Custom Military Sewing, Berry Compliance, and MOLLE compatible Tactical Backpacks and Pouches, Click here.
Knowing the history of military rucksacks and packs is important in that it formulates a standard that modern tactical backpacks must live up to; being aware of what works and what does not work can fully change the design of a pack and allow for exploration into the future of tactical backpacks.