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A Classic German Rucksack in Paper

In 2018, I began developing a new backpack based on the Gebirgsjäger military rucksack. This new version was re-envisioned, of course, in kraft paper.

Designed for German alpine troops, the original Gebirgsjäger is recognized as a classic bit of military gear. In recent years, it’s been replicated and manufactured in China, with original packs harder to find.

Gebirgsjäger Bundeswehr German Alpine Military Rucksack
An original Gebirgsjäger rucksack (photo courtesy of kommandostore.com).

 

replica german rucksack made in china
One of many replica packs manufactured in China.

I bought my first Gebirgsjäger rucksack as an undergraduate art student, and then sold it nearly two decades later to a mate in Sydney after traveling with it all over the world. It had barely aged.

About a year ago, I purchased a second from (the famous) Jim Korn of Kaufman’s Army & Navy in Hell’s Kitchen. This one became the source material for my re-envisioning process.

Why is the Bundeswehr rucksack a classic? Here are three of my favorite features:

Firstly, (thanks to some clever stitching) the side pouches allow for skis or poles to be inserted vertically behind them. Not a common feature on a civilian pack, but maybe it would be of use when returning from the Home Depot with a pair of baseboards.

 

Image result for gi joe snow job cartoon
G.I. Joe’s “Snow Job” snatching some style points.

Secondly, the internal sleeve at the rear of the pack accepts a folding sleeping mat which also doubles as back support when inserted. This seems a spiritual predecessor to the now hip FjällRäven Kånken, which was originally designed for students. The Kånken No.2 includes a siting pad placed in a similar position.

 

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The quite popular Kånken No.2 backpack by FjällRäven (www.fjallraven.com).

 

Image result for german alpine rucksack mat
A solid review of the Gebirgsjäger by the Wisconsin Woodsman showing the inserted sleeping mat (click on the image above to watch on YouTube).

Thirdly, the overall style is similar to the packs my G.I. Joes used to hump around the battlefield of my bedroom floor in the eighties. And that’s pretty dope.

 

GIJoe General Hawk Figure Backpack
General Hawk’s ruck (photo courtesy of Michael Sheridan at joesreassembled.com)

In July of 2018 I took the first prototype of a paper version with me to Bali for a bit of field testing.

 

It was a good first outing, and provided some useful insights. My plan is to refine the pack in the next few months, and then give it a second field test over four weeks in August while patrolling on my Santa Cruz Chameleon in SE Asia.

I also drafted four lines that explain what the pack ultimately represents in its re-envisioning:

It’s not about what you have, but what you leave behind.
It’s not about seeking comfort, but embracing the tension.
It’s not about getting somewhere else, but being where you are.
It’s not about what’s currently trending; it’s about what is ultimately timeless.

Updates to come.

santa cruz chameleon in thailand
Trail-riding above Chiang Mai, Thailand.

 

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What is Paper-Leather?

When I was a kid, my mom packed a homemade version of Fruit Roll-Ups in my paper lunch sack. It was called Fruit Leather. It seemed about five times as thick as a Fruit Roll-Up and you could probably knock someone out with it if you were to whip them in the back of the head hard enough.

Fruit Leather. Nutritious yet deadly.

The paper from which the DrawBag is made is also pretty tough. It’s tear-proof, won’t easily break under load, looks great, and with a good soak in water and a drip-dry, it’s back to its original shape and look. Technically, it’s called kraft paper, and the process by which it’s made was invented by a German named Carl F. Dahl back in 1879.

No, I don’t REALLY know what Carl Dahl looked like…

All variations of kraft paper are remarkably strong, with elasticity and tear-resistance thanks to the process by which it’s made. Due to its versatility, kraft paper has a number of applications, such as the packaging of deli meat, providing a base for sandpapers, and lining cartridges for hunting ammunition.

It should be mentioned as well that kraft paper is eco-friendly.

Not all wood can be used for traditional paper-making, although the kraft process allows for some wood that can’t be used otherwise, including bamboo and resinous pine. Almost all of the chemicals used to produce kraft paper are recovered and reused in the same process, and the two main byproducts which are not recycled (turpentine and tall oil) can be reused in other manufacturing processes. Kraft paper is not extensively bleached, which maintains its strength and decreases manufacturing costs. And, being a mono-material, kraft paper is bio-based and bio-degradable, and is easily recycled.

What a champ, right?

Superpaper.

Most papers are made from wood, although they can be made from other fibers, too. Wood is composed of lignin and cellulose. Lignin isn’t very good for making paper, so it has to be removed during the paper-making process while the cellulose is preserved. However, during Dahl’s kraft process, the way in which these two are separated is unique and leads to the special properties of the paper.

Kraft paper begins as long-fibered softwood which is shredded into chips. These wood chips are steamed and then boiled in a mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide which chemically break down the bonds of the wood. Once these bonds are broken, the lignin can be separated from the cellulose. However, this particular chemical breakdown is slow enough that it maintains the strength of the wood’s connective fibers and helps to create a very strong and durable paper at the end of the process.

Sprechen zie Chinese? niu pi zhi... bull-skin paper.

Kraft means strong in German, and that’s why the paper was originally given the name. In China (where I currently live), I found that kraft paper is called niu pi zhi or “bull-skin paper” because of its natural brown color as well as its toughness. But I felt it still needed another common name that conveyed its character and qualities when used for the purposes of fashion.

Introducing… Paper-Leather.