Different Backpack Materials
Below, you’ll find a list of common backpack materials; keep in mind that backpacks often contain a mix of these fabrics and materials, each of which have their own properties (tensile strength, water-resistance, and weight).
Cotton canvas was once one of the most popular materials for backpacks, as well as one of the oldest known backpack fabrics. To this day, cotton canvas is often treated with wax to make the material waterproof. Waterproof canvas bags are often very heavy, and also present the potential of rotting and spoiling if improperly cared for.
Nylon is now the primary material for making backpacks. Nylon is a plastic-like polymer that can be shaped in countless ways. While it’s substantially more waterproof than cotton and most other natural fibers, it lacks the tensile strength and is prone to punctures and ripping; this is avoidable with proper sewing patterns, though.
When it comes to hiking and camping, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better backpack material than ripstop nylon. This style of nylon is strengthened by thicker threads, making it much stronger than nylon alone. In addition, this material is common in parachutes, sails, and even hot air balloons.
Polyester is also known as “pack cloth,” a very fitting term for such a great backpack material. This fiber is durable, inexpensive, and holds its color very well, making it an excellent choice for children’s backpacks.
Another plastic-like polymer, polypropylene is a widely used fabric that resists water and dries very quickly. It’s an excellent insulator and doesn’t transfer much heat, both of which are good traits in a backpack material. Polypropylene isn’t as strong when it comes to resisting ultraviolet (UV) rays; as such, color fades quickly and the material may break down with consistent exposure.
Backpacks come in all shapes and sizes; design is one of the biggest factors in deciding the right pack for your needs. From simple, one-compartment bags with a zipper, to endlessly expandable packs with special pouches for everything, design is important.
Most backpacks have at least two zippered compartments–the primary storage area and a smaller zippered area for things you want to keep separate and safe (cell phone, wallet, etc.).
Constructing a Backpack
A backpack is typically constructed in layers, similar to a sandwich. To continue the simile, the “bread” of the backpack is the outer layer of fabric. The “meat” is the various storage compartments. Backpacks are nearly always sewn together, as opposed to glued; DIY backpacks are possible to make, but they require plenty of sewing knowledge.
Once the design has been finalized, the backpack maker must determine in what order they will sew things together. Then, the real fun begins: cutting fabric to the proper dimensions and sewing them together. This is also when zippers, velcro, and other materials are integrated into the bag. Most modern backpacks are designed with a pouch to accommodate a laptop, which is also completed in this phase of construction.
Once the bag itself is constructed, straps and external pouches are sewn on. On fancier backpacks, padding is often added to the area that will touch your back. This is a very difficult process to do by hand–an industrial sewing machine makes the job a lot easier.
Notes on Different Backpack Varieties
There are countless varieties of backpacks, ranging from fashion-oriented bags (often constructed from leather or other “luxury” materials) to camping-oriented bags that aim to be lightweight, waterproof, and to offer maximum storage space.
Bookbags for School
Chances are, your first backpack was designed to hold your school books. This means that it was likely designed from one of the stronger polymer fabrics, to hold a maximum amount of weight. It was also likely designed to be inexpensive, as most people wouldn’t shell out hundreds of dollars to allow junior to carry his school papers in high-style.
These bags are designed to a very high standard, with a lot of consideration put into the overall weight. They must be able to take a lot of punishment, withstanding UV rays, abrasions from branches and rocks, and rain/snow. Canvas used to be the material “du jour” for these packs, but nylon, Goretex, and other laminated fabrics have overtaken waterproof cotton due to weight and water-resistance.
Even wildly different backpacks are usually constructed in the same manner–they are stitched together in a manner that gives them maximum durability. Choosing the right backpack for you is a matter of assessing your needs, your budget, and your personal taste as far as style/color/design.
We appreciate you reading this guide to backpack design and construction. Feel free to let us know if you have any questions about backpack construction, choosing a pack, or any other backpack related issues. Best of luck!