The Enduring Appeal of the Duluth Pack

What's A Duluth Pack?

Duluth Pack

The name "Duluth" comes from Duluth, Minnesota where this bag was invented.

As you can see, a Duluth Pack is a type of backpack. It uses classic materials like combed cotton canvas, leather straps and reinforcements, nickel- plated metal for the roller buckles, and copper rivets. It's basically a huge canvas envelope or pillowcase, with a flap. The side pockets in the example above is a modern addition, the first Duluth Packs only had this one, big, useful space.

The shape, size and features of the Duluth Pack is dictated by design considerations meant for canoe portages.

A portage describes the short land excursions undertaken by canoeist when they transfer from one river, lake or creek to the next. During a portage, canoeists typically carry the canoe over their heads. A portage is also typically a relatively short walk when compared to a hike. This activity is the specific undertaking that the specialty backpack known as the Duluth Pack was made for.

The Origin of the Duluth Pack

It all started with Camille Poirier. This French-Canadian arrived in Minnesota in 1870. Poirier had skills as a shoemaker, a few tools, and some material to work with. He quickly set up shop.

The shoemaking business might have been good, or not, but Duluth was a frontier town during the late nineteenth century and most men made their living off the land. Poirier saw a veritable parade of hunters, miners, trappers, and mountain men. More than that, he saw them hauling their gear by horse, wagon and canoe. Putting their stuff inside barrels, baskets and slipshod pieces of tough cloth. In time, a new idea began to dawn on this intrepid shoemaker.

Poirier started with 15-ounce water resistant canvas - tough material for tough work. He cut this material into a simple, huge, rectangular shape with a provision for a generous flap.

From this material he creates a spacious envelope shape.

To this canvas body is attached rivets for strength.

duluth pack

Next, the shoulder straps.

Lastly, a tumpline. A tumpline is a wondrous thing. If you don't know what it is exactly, don't worrry. We'll discuss it extensively later.

And so there you have it. The first Duluth Pack - invented and created by Camille Poirier.

So how successful was it? It is so succesful that the Duluth Pack is still bought and used to this day. The trappers, hunters, fishermen and mountain men of the Northern Minnesota and Canada of Poirier's day quickly adopted it as part of their standard gear. Think about that: These men aren't fashionistas or poseurs. These are rugged men who make there living wrestling with the oftimes brutal North American wilds. That kind of life puts a premium on toughness, reliability and utility. The Duluth Path is equipment that has passed all these tests.

A Closer Look At The Duluth Pack

Designed for Short Land Excursions

Hardcore hikers be warned. the Duluth Pack is designed to be a portage pack. Most of the time it sits in a canoe with occasional land treks as the canoe transfers from one body of water to the other.

Keeping this in mind, let's take a closer look at what it's like inside a canoe.

The floor of the canoe is wet - covered in bilge water. The Duluth Pack is designed to sit upright in the canoe bottom. The height of the Duluth Pack is just right for "peering" over the sidewalls of a canoe.

The envelope shape presents a canoeists with convenient canvas "ears" by which to lift the bag from the canoe.


The canoeists of Poirier's day weren't recreational canoeists. These men went off to the wilds to earn a living. They needed a lot of gear, and they needed serious hauling space from their bags.

To this day, users of the Duluth Pack comment on the amount of stuff the bag can accomodate. More than that, it seems that the Duluth Pack's simple design give the experience that the bag seems to always have the space for one more item. This is probably because of the large flap that allows the contents of the bag to be covered even as users pack in more items.

Quick Access

The simple flap and strap design can be set up to keep a tight hold on belongings but loosening the straps a bit allows the the woodsman of Poirier's day quick access to a knife or modern users can quickly grab a flashlight from under the covering flap - without needing to unbuckle anything.

Fast Drying

Being made of canvas, the Duluth Pack isn't waterproof. Neither is it water resistant. That's the good news. That's also the bad news.

First, the bad news. If you don't take precautions to insulate the contents of your Duluth Pack and the bag falls in the water or gets drenched by the rain, well, let's just hope you didn't have any electronic gear in there, or if you did, I hope it wasn't expensive. The thing to do is put your items in a zip lockplastic bag or something equally waterproof but tougher and then place it inside your Duluth Pack.

duluth pack

Then the good news. Assuming that you did waterproof your items and the Duluth Pack came in for a dousing, you don't even have to empty your Duluth Pack to dry it. The naturally breathable canvas will air dry by itself.

Aha! You say, the modern waterproof packs are better! Yes, and no. If the water gets inside a waterproof modern pack, the contents are wet and you have to take everything out. If the contents of the modern pack has been insulated against water you still have to take the contents out and turn the bag inside out because the waterproof material isn't breathable and the inside will have to be exposed to the air. Contrast that with the "hang till dry" convenience of the Duluth Pack


What the heck is a tumpline?

This is a tumpline.

A tumpline is a strap that goes from a bag hanging from your back to wrap around your forehead. The tumpline distributes the weight from your back and shoulders to the powerful muscles of your neck. It sounds crazy, but this is a classic proven way to carry more gear with less strain.

A tumpline is specially helpful when your going up steep terrain - terrain which characterizes huge swaths of the world's wild places. When you are going up an incline using a traditional backpack strap, the bag tends to pull you back. With a tumpline, your leaning forward, keeping the weight of your pack resting on your back rather than hanging out and straining you.


The Duluth Path adheres to the philosophy that the less parts your bag has the less parts there are to break. You've got the canvas body, the backstraps, the tumpline, the buckled strap, some rivets. That's it.

Duluth Packs have been around enough for their toughness to be tested again and again. These are working packs that have gone through a hundred or so trips. Old Duluth Packs look absolutely worn but they keep on working.


Duluth Packs have toughness as Plan A. But they have a backup plan. Plan B is repairability.

Take a look at the Duluth Pack strap - a simple leather piece with a metal buckle. Contrast this with the plastic FASTEX spring buckles of modern packs. If that complicated plastic buckle breaks on you, how do you put together a broken piece of plastic while your out on the wilds? If the leather strap of a Duluth Pack breaks, experience says its going to be a buckle hole, in which case, you can either punch a new hole, rivet a new strap, or tie the strap to the buckle - all of these options you can do while you're out there on the field.

The fact that the bag can be easily repaired on one hand, and that there are a limited number of bag parts that could break in the first place, is a design consideration from the very earliest days of the bag. Camille Poirier's combination of minimizing failure points and ensuring on-field repairability makes theDuluth Pack extremely practical.

The Duluth Pack Today

The shoemaker became a bag maker - and a successful one at that. Mr. Poirier made and sold Duluth Packs for the next forty years - by all measures a successful career based on a winning product.

By 1911 Camille Poirier decided to retire and sold his Duluth Pack business to a Company called Duluth Tent and Awning, thus ensuring the continued availability of the Duluth Pack.

Today, Duluth Tent and Awning is known as Duluth Pack.

They still sell the original patented design (including the tumpline) with a bit of innovation here and there.

the latest Duluth Pack products in Amazon.

Why Should You Get A Duluth Pack?

For the time tested and proven design

It's going to be very hard for an organized corporate research and development process to beat the natural R&D provided by actual usage of thousands of hunters, miners, trappers and woodsmen going about their business in the woods of Minnesota and Canada. This is exactly the tough environment that the Duluth Pack had to hurdle in order to be accepted. It looks unbelievably simple when you hold it in your hands and when you look at the picture, but the Duluth Pack is no poseur - this is the real thing. Time tested and proven by actual use. The trusted gear of of those old mountain men is still here.

For the classic old tyme appeal.

That's right, "old tyme" appeal.

Mountain man? I'm no mountain man, you say? I'm just considering the Duluth Pack for, you know, If I want to go up to the mountains or do a bit of backcountry sightseeing. Ok, I hear you. You'll basically be sitting in Starbucks and staying on paved roads with your SUV. No problem. Not an issue. Really. The Duluth Pack sitting beside you on the coffee shop, on your back as you go around the mall, in college to carry your books. This bag is so unpretentious, its stylish.

Check the brand new takes on the old Duluth Pack available in Amazon.

Thanks for reading the article! Catch you later!

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