The Blanket Backpack

The preferred backpack of the Peruvian Andes is a blanket folded into a triangle, wrapped around the shoulders and tied in front of the chest. This backpack is simply called “manta” (ie blanket) by the Peruvians and is used to carrying things as varied as babies, five gallon buckets, and huge loads of sticks and straw. This versatility is the blanket backpack’s greatest advantage. The expandable bags of bicycle messengers in San Francisco don’t even come close.
Blanket backpack being used to carry 5 gallon buckets of chicha morada. Half full, a bucket this size weighs 20lbs.
I tried out the blanket backpack and found it workable but with a few drawbacks. For example:
  • It is not particularly comfortable for heavy loads because all of the weight is placed on the shoulders and not on the waist. I observed the locals trying to compensate for this by spreading out the blanket to form wide shoulder straps and doubling over at the hips so the weight rests more on their back.
  • The second drawback is that the bag is not particularly secure; a little too much jostling and your baby may fall through the bottom.
  • A third limitation is that it has no organization. This could be solved by sewing some pockets on the inside, or by carrying small items in a separate waist pack or purse.
  • Finally the blanket bag is not easy to open and close quickly; things are likely to fall out in the process.
It is perhaps not fair to take the blanket backpack out of context and describe these characteristics as drawbacks or limitations. The blanket backpack is perfectly suited for the job it is used for: carrying oddly shaped objects (including babies) around the farm. It does not seem like a good solution for carrying a laptop around San Francisco on a bicycle. But there is one situation in my life in California in which I think the blanket backpack would be perfect: the picnic. You could throw a firmly shut cooler and some water bottles in the blanket and carry it to your picnic location. When you arrive you can use the blanket to sit on, or more likely in San Francisco, to wrap around your body and protect you from the chilling fog.
A wide swath of the blanket is used as the shoulder strap which spreads out the pressure. This woman has placed the load in the arch of her back.  This is upright posture with arched back is more common for a mid to light weight load.
 Blanket placed very high with no load.
Blanket used to carry a child. I have seen the blanket used to carry children as old as 4.
Me learning to don the blanket from a textile vendor in the market. You put your load in the blanket (in this case a yoga mat) and fold the bottom corner over the load. To make it more secure you make a deeper folding taking up more of the corner. You then sling it around to your back and tie in front.

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