This pack floats on your back

A physiologist came up with a travel backpack with a pulley system that he's saying can reduce impact and strain by 86 percent.

Posted: Aug 25, 2018 6:27 PM
Updated: Aug 25, 2018 6:29 PM

Here's some news to lighten the load -- a new "floating" backpack is being developed that could soon ease the burden of shouldering heavy bags.

The HoverGlide uses bungee cords and pulleys to cushion downward jerks felt when heavy backpacks bounce. The result is a bag that appears to levitate while its carrier hikes, runs or climbs.

Although yet to go on sale -- a Kickstarter campaign by manufacturer Lightning Packs launches in September 2018 -- the backpack is already causing a stir, likely appealing to travelers who yearn for the simplicity of strapping on their luggage, but loathe the pain it can bring.

The pack is the brainchild of Lawrence Rome, a physiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who has specialized in the movement of fish. Rome initially worked on a concept that tried to harness backpack movement to generate electricity. While waiting for potential military procurement, he transformed his idea into the HoverGlide.

Rome says his creation can cut the risk of spinal injury by drastically reducing the downward force created when moving with a pack. Each step can make a load feel nearly a third heavier, straining muscles and joints with every jolt.

Schoolkids, the military and middle-aged people, all prone to injury from carrying heavy loads, could benefit, he says. Back, neck, knees and ankles will take up to 86% less punishment, likewise the cardiovascular systems of those who might otherwise be discouraged from shouldering a pack and hitting the trails.

Feeling the difference

"It's very hard to explain until you try it," Rome tells CNN Travel, attempting to describe the sensation of walking with the HoverGlide. Promotional videos show how the pack glides fluidly up and down on shoulder-mounted runners, absorbing the carrier's rhythmic body movements with apparent ease.

HoverGlide's chief tester says it improves the experience of almost every conceivable backpacking scenario.

"When adjusted, you don't feel it move," he says. "We have people walk and then try a slow jog and they feel nothing. But when they lock the pack, then they really feel the difference and they much prefer it suspended."

The suspension lockout converts the luggage into a standard pack -- albeit a slightly heavier one, due to the one-kilogram or so weight of the mechanism.

Rome's concept seems so simple, it's a wonder no one has come up with it before.

Actually, they have, says Rome. In Asia, people have traditionally used long bamboo poles to carry heavy burdens. The flexibility of the bamboo absorbs the up and down movement of the person while the load stays at a constant height, making it easier to carry.

"It's the same principle," says Rome.

Luggage innovation

The HoverGlide is expected to launch in four versions when it goes into production. A 25-kilogram capacity Trekker is aimed at hikers and campers. There's 11.3-kilogram capacity Commuter and Hiker editions for students and day-trippers, plus a Tactical option with webbing and a protective cover, for tougher expeditions.

Info on pricing is expected in September.

The HoverGlide will make an interesting addition to the increasingly creative world of backpacks at a time when rising airline baggage charges are making portable luggage more attractive.

Numerous start-ups and crowdfunded ventures -- among them emerging US backpack producer Tortuga and luggage innovator Nomatic -- are taking on bigger names to create products designed by and aimed at hardcore travelers.

Rome sees his creation going far beyond the world of basic luggage-toting though, with possible other uses including porting gear to tackle tough-to-reach forest fires.

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