Dick Kelty is the man accredited for inventing the hiking back pack we know and love today. Dick Kelty was an avid outdoors man. Hiking and backpacking in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s was a hobby that had few supporters and even fewer hiking gear manufacturers. Hiking equipment of the day was largely army surplus and packs were no more than crude boards or loose canvas rucksacks.
As the story goes, during one of their summer treks in 1951, Dick and Clay experimented with shifting the weight of their packs from their shoulders to their hips. Sliding the ends of their pack boards in the rear pockets of their jeans, they were able to reduce the amount of load directly on their shoulders by placing some of it on their hips. The idea stayed with Dick and he continued to perfect it.
The original design just added a hip belt to a conventional wooden frame and it worked wonderfully. They were able to carry more weight and carry it more comfortably, but Dick wasn’t satisfied.
The pack board material went from wood to lightweight welded aluminum tubing, and the rucksacks became nylon and were custom sewn to fit the frames by his wife Nina. By the end of 1952 Dick was able to produce 29 backpacks that he sold for $24.00. He guaranteed them for life. Over the next few years more improvements were implemented, such as padded waist and shoulder straps. Convenience features such as exterior zipper pockets were also incorporated.
By Lou Catalano
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