Modern materials have revolutionized backpack construction, utility, and capacity.
The earliest packs were made from canvas, which, while strong and durable, added considerable weight for the backpacker to manage and lacked resistance to the elements. Today’s packs are constructed of nylon or similar lightweight materials and are usually at least partially waterproof.
Clothing is weatherproof and insulating, including shell parkas, insulating underwear, down clothing, windpants, ponchos, sturdy waterproof boots with soles designed for maximum traction, and heavy socks. Tents may be a simple tarpaulin, a plastic sheeting tube, or a two-person nylon mountain tent. Sleeping bags of foam, dacron, or down and air mattresses or foam pads may be carried. Lightweight pots and pans and stoves are specially designed for backpacking; dehydrated food provides stew-type one-pot dishes.
Backpackers must be able to read topographic maps and use a compass; they must also carry emergency food and first-aid equipment and be acquainted with survival techniques.
In the later 20th century, backpacking became associated with travel, especially by students, outside the wilderness.
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