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What type of backpack do you need and what are they made of?

A backpack goes by many names such as pack, knapsack, bookbag, rucksack, backsack, rucksac, sackpack, haversack (German) and kitbag.

For the most part, it is a cloth bag or sack that is carried on the back and fastened down with two straps, one for each shoulder. However, backpacks come in many forms with a variety of designs. For instance, lightweight backpacks are often designed with one shoulder strap and, at the other end of the spectrum, some large backpacks can carry loads over 22 pounds (10kg).

Different Uses and Designs

Backpacks are designed for a large variety of uses like hiking, cycling, jogging and hydration. They are also devised for students of all ages. Up to 90% of the weight of larger backpacks is sometimes offloaded with hip belts. That way there is less strain on the back and you have better balance with increased agility.

The majority of backpacks are built with a zipper, buckle or drawstring that gives you the ability to open and close it. As with the drawstring type, there is generally a cord lock so that it is secured. In addition, most backpacks are equipped with numerous pockets that help you organize belongings and enable you to carry more.

Basically, there are four backpack types: frameless, internal frame, external frame and bodypack. If there is a frame, it is intended to distribute the weight more proportionately and evenly by transferring the weight to the legs and hips. Otherwise, the weight is transferred to the shoulders if there is no frame.

1. Frameless

The most straightforward and simple backpack design is one that is frameless. It is also one of the more cost effective styles.

This type of backpack is used for carrying basic items. As well, it has a wide range of capacities. For instance, the basic design typically has just one pocket with cordage or webbing straps. The more stylish models may have:

  • Chest straps
  • Waist straps
  • Padded backs
  • Additional pockets
  • Padded should straps for comfort
  • Made of reflective material for night travel

2. Internal Frame Packs

This type of backpack was developed by Greg Lowe in 1967. It is a very innovative pack that has a considerable fabric placement around an internal frame made of durable plastic, titanium or aluminum.

At times, there are extra metal stays for additional reinforcement. With an internal frame there is a bigger storage area plus other extras like sleeping bags straps and webbing loops. However, with an integrated frame there is little room for larger items to fit securely. As well, the tight fit for items does not allow for good air ventilation.

One advantage of this type of backpack is that it fits closely to the back and drastically reduces shifting the load. Although this type of backpack is associated with a smaller load capacity, the newer models have greatly advanced and are now often preferred over external frame backpacks for numerous activities.

Sport and hydration packs are considered internal frame packs. They are a little smaller and fit closer to the body. Likewise, they have wider straps and come with hip belts and water bladders for hiking, running and bicycling.

3. External Frame Packs

This type of backpack is constructed for carrying heavier loads (>40 pounds or 20kg).

Compared to a frameless pack, an external frame pack allows the wearer better weight distribution and extra support. Although wooden frames have been used for centuries, today’s version is a lot more cumbersome.

The modern external frame pack is usually constructed of aluminium or other alloy metal that is lightweight and sturdy. The frame is also reinforced with durable plastic or synthetic polymers.

To prevent contact or rubbing between a wearers back and the frame, there is tightly-stretched netting plus an arrangement of straps. This type of backpack also has a smaller fabric sack area and bared frame above and below the pack to enable the attachment of bigger items.

A good example of an external frame pack is a military pack. They are known for their capacity of carrying loads of diverse weights, sizes and shapes.

4. Bodypack

This type of backpack is the most uncommon and odd looking. It is composed of various pockets both in the front and sides for even weight distribution. The design also features the distribution of weight on the hips as opposed to the shoulders. Although odd looking, they are quite stylish.

Fabric Features

Backpacks are composed of mainly fabric. The type of fabric also determines the quality of the pack and for what purpose it serves. As well, backpack fabric is continuously evolving and changing.

There are also a variety of factors that determine how the backpack’s fabric will function. For instance, there is weight, tensile strength, tenacity and water resistance.


Backpack fabric comes in a diversity of weights. Generally, the weight is in reference to the durability of the fabric. It is measured by weight per unit area (denier). Mainly, the unit of the yarn’s fineness is equal to 1g per 9000 meters of yarn. The higher the denier indicates fabric that is stronger and heavier.

Tensile Strength

Tensile strength varies greatly. Determining factors of tensile strength include weave, denier, construction and material utilized.


This is in reference to the capacity of the fabric to resist tearing. To measure the tenacity; tensile strength is divided by the threads thickness.

Water Resistance

Generally a pack that is water resistant has a coating that makes it water resistant. As well, type of weave that is used will affect the fabric’s capacity to resist water.

Types of Fabric

The type of fabric used for backpacks greatly. The most common fabric for a framed pack is cotton canvas, cordura nylon, rip-stop nylon and pack cloth nylon.

Cotton Canvas

One of the first types of fabric used for backpacks due to its durability and strength. However, this type of material was not able to compete with the newer types of innovative fabric. Compared to newer fabric options, cotton canvas was not water resistant or impervious to abrasions. As well, the fabric is heavy and has a tendency to mold and rot.

Cordura Nylon

This type of fabric is one of the most durable. It is an air treated fabric renowned for its water resistance, durability and anti-abrasive qualities. It is the most sought after fabric for backpacks. As well, cordura nylon is often used by the military and for heavy duty luggage.


This fabric is one of the most popular because of its waterproof features. Generally, the nylon fabric is treated with polyurethane or silicon for added protection from moisture. However, due to the waterproofing treatment, the backpack does not have good air circulation.


This type of fabric is quite resilient and strong. Although not as durable as nylon or rip-stop nylon, it is resistant to the breakdown of fabric and UV rays. In addition, it is rarely affected by cracks.

Pack-Cloth Nylon

This fabric is smooth and glossy. It is known for its water resistant abilities, high abrasive qualities and puncture resistance. However, it is heavier than other nylon fabrics.

Rip-Stop Nylon

This backpack fabric is one of the most evolving materials on the market. It is renowned for its grid pattern that features strong heavy thread and toughness. The term “rip-stop” is from its ability to stop rips where they occur because the threads are interwoven.

PVC Fabric

A multipurpose fabric that is waterproof, durable and sturdy. As well, the fabric can be flame retardant and rear resistant.


This fabric is most likely one of the first used for backpacks. Although it can be expensive, is very stylish and will last for years if properly maintained.


This fabric is one of the strongest and most durable on the market. Generally, it is used for fishing nets, bullet-proof vests, safety gloves, ropes and cables. It is rare to find this fabric used for backpacks because of the high cost. However, it is sometimes used as a rip stop nylon for exclusive and custom backpack brands.


An extremely strong fabric composed of high molecular weight polyethylene fiber. It is renowned for its high resistance to abrasion and large weight to strength ratio. As well, it is UV resistant and waterproof. However, because of its high cost, it is rarely used to make backpacks.

Selecting the Best Type of Backpack

Choosing the right type of backpack may be a challenge. On the other hand, each type of fabric has its features. Deciding which type fabric is best will all depend on your individual needs. Aside from style and design, base your decision on the type of fabric used compared to your lifestyle.

If you love to hike or cycle, then a backpack made of waterproof material is probably the best. If you need a pack to carry school books, then a heavy-duty backpack is the ideal choice.