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Biomechanics and Backpacks: The Problem

by , July 31, 2012

Biomechanics and Backpacks: The Problem

A guest post about backpacks

Johannes Flem designs backpacks for Bergans of Norway. Despite Bergans having a crazy long history of designing interesting backpacks, Johannes and the team haven’t stopped trying to progress things. This is the first of two posts where we will get taken through a recent project the team has tackled, and hopefully learn a little about better backpack design in the process. We hope you enjoy…

Johannes: There are many unanswered questions in the world… did the chicken or the egg come first?… was there really an Atlantis? But none of these are really going to affect your daily living if you never find out the answer to such questions.

However, there is one question that demanding backpack users around the world should want the answer to, which would have a significant impact on their carry activities – why are backpacks designed in a manner that results in such restriction to the body’s natural movements? And following on from that, is there a design out there that could solve this problem?

In order to understand the problem better, it’s useful to go into a bit of motion detail right about now…

Biomechanics and Backpacks: The Problem

The act of walking involves numerous movements but as soon as you put on a backpack designed for some serious outdoor adventuring, your body movement becomes restricted.

Sometimes when walking in rugged terrain it is necessary to slacken the pack’s hip belt in order to prevent it moving around excessively through large hip movements.  These kinds of movements can be better allowed for through a variety of pivoting hip belts that are available, but the problem is that the back involves many other movements as well.  The spine does not rotate around a single point (like these hip belts) and there are all sorts of motions such as bending, twisting, displacement, as well as motion from the shoulders thrown into the mix.

If you want an awesome way to picture these motions, you can have a play here. It’s a super cool site that lets you play around with character traits that highlight how the human body moves with regards to a range of factors.

Biomechanics and Backpacks: The Problem

As you might notice when playing with the link,  shoulder and hip joints describe a kind of ellipsoid path in space (for example, imagine what a person walking on a treadmill looks like), and that means that in addition to going up and down, they are designed to move forwards and backwards.

To make the backpack problem even more complicated to solve, the majority of people swing their right hand forwards as they put their left leg forwards, which effectively twists the body.

Biomechanics and Backpacks: The Problem

You thought that was the extent of the problem?  Well think again.  When people bend forwards whilst wearing a backpack (for instance when walking uphill or bending to pick something off the ground), the back is stretched somewhat.  However, generally there isn’t much extension available with a backpack, so again, the body ends up fighting the pack.

Biomechanics and Backpacks: The Problem

To crown it all, many packs don’t offer any form of shock absorption and when you’re out and about scrambling up and down mountains, this kind of thing could come in pretty handy.

So what’s the solution, you ask?  Well suffice it to say you’re going to have to stay tuned to find out via the next post in this series.

Oh alright, we’ll give you a teaser…(and yes, the seal was totally instrumental by contributing to an awesome testing ground).

Biomechanics and Backpacks: The Problem


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