How Marilyn's experience in Nepal inspired her creation of BackTpack.

My Inspiration for Creating BackTpack

Sarah Semans and Marilyn Von Forester in the midst of their Himalayan trek.In 1985, while still mourning the passing of my father, I had an opportunity to trek Nepal in the company of an inspiring physical therapist colleague.

Sarah Semans was a Professor of Physical Therapy at Stanford University. She had recently been awarded the prestigious American Physical Therapy Association's Florence Kendall Award and had donated it to the training of Physical Therapists in Nepal. She was 80 years old at the time.

Early during our trek I adopted the carrying system of that culture called a "doko", a funnel-shaped basket with an attached strap "namlo" worn over the head. It is a tumpline system that loads the spine axially from the head down. With initial instruction from our porters, I wore the doko for the duration of the trek, carrying my backpack and supplies within it. To my surprise, my knee pain which had required the use of a walking stick, disappeared within the first day of switching to the doko. I remained free of pain throughout the trek!

Meeting Dr. Ashok Banskota

After the trek, I had the pleasure to meet a Nepalese orthopeadic surgeon, Dr. Ashok Banskota. We discussed my experience trekking with the doko and namlo. He agreed with my assessment that this and other axial-loading carrying systems used in Nepal were a chief reason that the Nepali people did not have the back problems seen in our society, in spite of the fact that many carry their body weight for days, trekking from village to village. 

Marilyn meeting with Dr. Banskota to discuss back health and carrying systems of Nepal

I realized that if the carrying system of a culture was a central factor in that culture’s back health, we with our epidemic of back pain must have a healthy axial-loading carrying system available, especially for our schoolchildren. Thus my work began, first on a head strap to attach to the common backpack, but then to the BackTpack, since I realized that the head strap was too big of a cultural stretch for our school children who most urgently needed a remedy for their daily backpack use.  The bilateral carrying system of BackTpack provides the axial loading system without including the head.


Reconnecting After a Great Tragedy

Over the years, and after my development of the BackTpack, I tried many times to reconnect with Dr. Banskota, without success. The day after Nepal's devastating earthquake of April 25, 2015, I tried once more.

Devastation from Nepal's earthquakeAn internet search produced an email contact to a hospital where Dr. Banskota was on staff. I immediately sent an email directed to Dr. Banskota, in which I asked how I could help the earthquake relief efforts. I offered a portion of BackTpack sales and donations from our community, and asked his advice about where the money could best be used. The next day, miraculously, I received an email from Dr. Banskota's son, also an orthopaedic surgeon at the same hospital with his father. Dr. A. Banskota had founded a Children’s Hospital the year I met with him, the Hospital & Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled Children. And in 2011, Dr. Banskota received the World of Children Award, the equivalent to the Nobel Prize for child advocacy. It was decided that the donated funds from BackTpack sales would be provided to Hospital & Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled Children.

Currently HRDC's greatest need is for more mobile clinics in rural areas of Nepal, since rural villages are a 4 to 5 day walk to reach even a road. Transporting a disabled person is done on the back of another, using the tumpline system. Each such clinic costs around 10,000 US dollars which can serve 350-450 children with disability. The average cost of surgical treatment for a child with disability is around 1000 US dollars.

Doctors Ashok and son Bibek BanskotaIt is fitting that a portion of profits from the BackTpack carrying system support the Nepalese culture and people who inspired its design, especially in this time of great need. Your purchases of BackTpack have contributed to that effort through Drs. Banskota and the Hospital & Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled Children. Thank you.

BackTpack is proud to have donated a monetary portion of retail sales and some actual BackTpacks for relief efforts in Nepal.

Carrying Systems of Nepal

Marilyn learns to use her new doko, which she will now use for the rest of the 10 day trek, carrying all of her supplies

Marilyn just purchased her doko from a villager who was making some for his family.

My doko and the boys doko, twice the size, are resting on the stone shelf along the trail, giving the wearers a break from their loads

A resting area where the wearer backs up to stone shelf to remove the doko for awhile.

Villagers carrying loads that require baskets on either side joined together by a pole across the shoulders, providing and axial loading system

A bilateral carrying system is an alternative for axial loading that does not involve the namlo head carrying tumpline.

Two Napali villagers, one carrying the doko with lamlo over the head, the other with a different shaped load still using the tumpline head strap system

Nepalis use many types of loads with the namlo tumpline head strap system.

Gardener in Nepal using bilateral carrying system, straight back and excellent body mechanics

Gardener at our hotel in Kathmandu, with excellent body mechanics using a bilateral carrying system.

Physician in Nepal using BackTpack as he assesses patients in villages

Physician wearing BackTpack to do assessments in Nepal villages