Vintage Backpacks


Two major outdoors-products companies, Kelty and JanSport, are taking a retro tilt with backpacks for 2011. This month, both companies unveiled backpacks for next year’s line that look like models as seen on the Appalachian Trail circa 1964.

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JanSport and Kelty retro backpacks

The JanSport D2 is an external-frame pack based on the company’s original backpacking model from the 1960s. The company is marketing it as “tried and true old school with new school innovation baked in.”

Enormous capacity to the tune of about 5,200 cubic inches of space is a main feature. It can haul enough equipment for a week in the woods. Set the D2 on the ground and it’ll stay freestanding, its compartments and square pockets accessible like drawers in a chest.

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JanSport D2

The D2 has a big external frame that can adjust to fit adult backpackers of most heights and body types. Despite its overgrown size, the D2 weighs just less than 6 pounds, which is only a bit heavier than modern-day, internal-frame packs of the same capacity.

The D2, one of several retro models JanSport now sells, will cost $275 when it ships to stores this winter.

Kelty’s to-be-released Vintage line includes five retro backpacks and a duffel bag. The company’s product developers drew inspiration from classic ’60s and ’70s designs to build the Vintage line, which, like the JanSport models, is touted to blend old-school looks with modern functionality.

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Kelty Mockingbird

The Kelty Mockingbird model is a stand-out. It has leather accents, metal hardware and exposed zippers. A classic 500D Cordura fabric is employed for the 1,700-cubic-inch pack.

Modern touches on the Mockingbird include cell phone sleeves and laptop-friendly sizing. The side pockets are removable on this top-loading pack, which is made for outdoors or everyday use. The Mockingbird will cost $124.95 when it comes out in early 2011.

“There is a world-wide vintage trend going on,” said Sue Edmiston, a marketing director at Kelty. JanSport and Kelty know that even backpacks are not spared from the trend of borrowing looks from decades past and making them new again.

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of

Posted by brett - 08/19/2010 06:22 AM

Oh God! can we just let the external frame pack go! please! What’s next, bell bottoms? there is a reason the vast majority of the market is using internals. Next year at Philmont these packs will be all the rage.

Posted by RSumicad - 08/19/2010 08:06 AM

Ext frame load carrying physics actually works very well. I have been carrying a hybrid for years with my McHale pack. Very retro!

Posted by Derek (100 Peaks) - 08/19/2010 08:12 AM

I still use an external frame backpack. It feels more comfortable to me. I’ve tried internal frame packs, but they don’t fit as well. I like the higher center of gravity and air flow of the external. To each their own!

Posted by t.c. worley - 08/19/2010 10:07 AM

I’ve seen the smaller, retro day-packs that JanSport sells and I seriously want one. They remind me of hiking with my dad, riding on his shoulders. Not sure I’ll be trading my internal for one of the above bags though.

Posted by Kelly - 08/19/2010 09:20 PM

I carried an original D2 for nearly 35 years and would be using it today had it not been destroyed in a fire last year. I’ve been looking for a replacement on the used market since.

All I wanna know is where can I buy one of these now ones, and when.

Never been anything quite like’em

Posted by Scott - 08/20/2010 10:09 AM

Wow – the D2 was my very first backpack….

Posted by Brian - 08/20/2010 10:51 AM

I managed an outdoor store during the transition years from external to internal packs and actively sold and recommended both styles depending on a customer’s stated uses. Jansport’s external frames were and still are good viable packs for heavy loads. Internal frames definitely have some advantages, but for big loads, non-technical trails (AT, for example) or hot weather external packs are great. I think their demise was largely one of “coolness factor” and the industry finding a way to sell new packs at premium price points. Many younger folks (I’m 42) only think of them as antiquated technology, having never carried one. That’s a shame. I still have an old D2 as well as newer internal frames by Gregory and Osprey. All are good for specific trails.

Posted by Kid Riemer - 08/20/2010 01:58 PM

Nothing wrong with a well-designed external. To each his/her own I say. I’ve seen plenty of internal packs with so much stuff strapped onto the outsides that they might as well have been external packs to start with.

Posted by Joe3 - 08/21/2010 03:09 AM

Call me old school (I’m 64), but I like an external frame. Like Brian says, different frames work well for different venues. I built my first external out of wood using copper rivets and army surplus webbing 50 years ago….I don’t buy into advertisings “ gotta buy it because it’s NEW or the latest TREND “ I’m all for getoutandjustdoit, that’s what counts !!

Posted by Steven Chain - 08/25/2010 03:28 PM

I owned one of the original D2’s. Great pack with great support. I remember wearing is as a emergency back brace once when my back went out while camping. I wore it empty of course.

Posted by John - 01/18/2011 01:43 PM

Unbelievable…my old D2 is still hanging in my garage. I have refused to part with it, but it is very well used. I will run (not walk) to get one of these new packs!!

Posted by Randy - 01/26/2011 06:02 AM

I can’t wait to get one. I have been backpacking on the AT for over twenty five years. I too got on the “cool” band wagon and own two high end internal frames that I have never really been comfortable with. There are times when one design is better over the other but for general backpacking on trails like the AT, the external frame is more comfortable and much easier to organize. I have an old external frame pack that I use regularly and always get laughed at by my cool hiking buddies. It’s good to hear externals might be making a comeback.

Posted by Mick Homer - 03/15/2011 09:53 PM

I bought my Jansport D2 in 1975 when they introduced it a year or two earlier. I use it to this day (2011)! It is great for extended trips (most for me was 5 days & nights on a 35 mile trek without reloading). I even slid it down steep slopes in the Grand Canyon. I especially love the horseshoe handles for lifting the pack for back-relief and free standing the pack where there is nothing to lean it, and the ease of getting to my gear because of the external frame. I have two D5 packs (smaller version of the D2)from the same era as well! I am so tickled to see the 2011 D2. It looks exactly like mine!!! 36 years old and still going!

Posted by Rebo - 06/27/2011 01:12 AM

Go Jansport! Bring back the quality and workmenship that will allways outlast its name.

Posted by Jer - 09/20/2013 04:48 PM

I used my Kelty pack on the John Muir Trail this summer. I bought it in 1968 to do a winter ascent of Whitney as a lark in 1969. After 200 miles I was sold on the external frame pack for its simplicity and comfort. I have three Ospreys which I love when I am log diving under blow downs in the Cascades. This month I loaded up the Kelty for some Marmot survey work in the Olympics and was pleased with the performance. I think we have been sold on the latest greatest illusion for a long time. That said, what ever gets you out there is the right choice.

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