Thursday, December 19, 2013

3 of a kind - Scandinavian steel frame backpacks

I'd like to share, again, someone else's hard work; this time about external frame backpacks. It is an article by a guy named Markus and I found it on 74 footwear design consulting. I figured it'd make a great introduction to what I actually wanted to show; my Scandinavian external frame backpacks.

Learning from the past is important and I sometimes think about this from a design perspective. Can we learn from old traditional designs, or techniques and apply them to modern design? Is all primitive design and technology inferior?
I believe that at the very least learning about old ways can provide us with food for thought, a comparison to our new directions and if necessary can inform any necessary adjustments to our course and design thinking.
External frame backpacks are interesting not only of their more versatile modularity, but also because the structural component of the pack is clearly visible and offers a great opportunity to any designer wanting to explore structural innovation. Designing compelling structural elements from diverse materials such as wood, aluminium, or even carbon fiber is something I think most designers live to do.

Here's the link to the full article. I suggest you read that too, if this matter is of interest to you!

On to my backpacks. I have gathered three of these so far; a Haglöfsbackpack, a Swedish army M39 and a Savotta saddlesack 339.
First a little information on the packs.
The Haglöfs; back from the days they were still producing backpacks in Torsång, a village about 30km from here, so a local product. Searching the net I ended up with an image of a ryggsäck m/1935, which resembles mine a great deal, including the single leather attachmentstraps on the backpack. (source; digitalt The label says:" Haglöfs mesryggsäck W.Haglöfs ryggsäckfabrik Torsång." All this indeed indicates a 1930's-1940's origin! Now that's one sweet "inheritance"!
The m39 is a former swedish army backack, vintage unknown and the Savotta most likely an surplus Finnish army backpack from the 60's, according to the Savotta companyperson that replied to my mail.

The m39 has all its attachmentpoints securely rivetted by double rivets with a thick leather backing. You will not tear up this pack that easy! It also has a smaller, simple pouch on the front inside. The Haglöfs has a similar pouch, but to the back of the pack. The single strap of the lid means it can not be loaded up as much as the m39 or the Savotta.

 An additional benefit of the m39 are the 2 straps to the bottom, where you could attach a blanket, shelterhalf or a jacket. There are also 2 small straps to one side. At first I thought these were for skis, but turnes out there was a shoval planned on the side. I could not date this backpack, though, but it is in new shape.


You can see the similarity in design of the frame, but the savotta is much wider in the shoulderarea. This gives the backpach itself much more stability, when standing on the ground. Thus the interior is a lot easier to access. It also has a rubberised lining in the main compartment, making it waterresistant, whereas the other 2 are not. It is also a lot less old, probably as much as 2 decades. The function of the strings at the sides is not really know, since the internal space of the pack is not greatly enhanced when loosening them.
Big let down are the incredibly narrow sidepockets. I do not have large hands, but they hardly fit into them!

Looking at them I'd say the Savotta is the biggest of them all, the Haglöfs the smallest, but it has the largest and most usefull outerpockets. The savotta is, as said, waterresistent and the m39 has a handy set of attachmentsstraps. The Haglöfs has the most emotional appeal, since it is so old and used. It would make a great restaurationproject. I think it would also be the most userfriendly of this trio, due to the outerpockets. T

Over time I have really developped a soft spot for backpacks like these, but it is obvious I can not wear them all. So some will have to go. Question is which ones...
I actually had thought of donating the Haglöfs to the company for display in a companymuseum or something like that, but looking at their internetsite I can not help but feel that they do not really care about their heritage and history.


  1. Nice write up Ron. I have and like the M39 pack. Though I did mod mine a little by taking out the frame and using different shoulder straps. It's a tough pack though and pretty good for a range of occasions. The straps on the bottom are very handy.

  2. Nice packs, Ron. I have a soft spot for them as well. :) I find the M39 to be a nice daypack or short overnighter bag. I've been using the LK-35 and LK-70 lately. Not as "vintage", but good nonetheless.


  3. Nice article. I've somehow accumulated more than my share of old backpacks, some of which are just as comfortable as brand new ones. They tend to be heavier, I will admit, however, and not all of the old ones are all that comfortable. One, for instance, is an almost perfect replica of an original Bergan. It's Norwegian, too, but made probably in the 1950s. It's, oh, medium size and easy to pack but it tends to pull the shoulders back.

    Like you mentioned, I also think the spacing of the shoulder straps is critical for comfort but is probably going to be different from person to person. I don't think padding the straps helps that much but wider ones are certainly more comfortable. Outside pockets are definitely handy. I have seven or eight different backpacks and one packboard. I try to use all of them over the course of a year and see no reason to keep them all.