Some bags are all about luxury, others about practicality. And both kinds, despite the now tired Modernist mantra ‘form follows function, can be excellent examples of design. When it comes to practicality, little can beat the US Army’s M-1910 haversack.

Introduced in 1910 and used in World War I, it was to remain standard equipment for American infrantrymen, with only slight changes after 1928, until the very end of World War II. In essence, the M-1910 was simple sheet of khaki-colored canvas that folded around its contents, with a buttoned flap to close it and two broad shoulder straps, which for stability also attached to a web belt worn around the waist.

The bag carried everything the soldier needed for life out in the field. Inside were his bedding, clothing and personal effects, while outside, attached by a system of loops and rings, were the tools of his trade – a bayonet sheath and a short, squat shovel for digging trenches. At the back of the pack was a buttoned-down ‘meat-can pouch’ to hold the soldier’s rations.

A standard issue haversack

The origins of the haversack itself are less than glamorous, but just as down to earth. The German dialect word Habersack referred to the feeding bags cavalrymen carried for their horses, although by the late eighteenth century the word had come to be used for soldiers’ kitbags as well.