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WaterWear backpack eases the strain of water transport


June 15, 2012

The WaterWear pack allows those in developing countries to more easily transport water

The WaterWear pack allows those in developing countries to more easily transport water

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For most of us, access to clean water is just a turn of the tap away, but in many developing countries women and children are often tasked with fetching water and carrying it considerable distances in containers - often on their heads. Aside from the strain this places on the neck and back, these containers can be discarded jerry cans and buckets that originally carried fuel, oils, pesticides, paints and other chemicals that you wouldn’t want mixed with your drinking water. The WaterWear is a collapsible backpack designed to overcome these problems.

The result of a partnership between Greif, a manufacturer of industrial packaging products, and Impact Economics, the WaterWear pack holds up to 20 liters (5.3 US gal) of water. While this is much less than the 75.7 liter (20 gal) capacity Hipporoller, the collapsible backpack form factor makes the WaterWear pack easier to store and transport over uneven terrain.

Constructed from lightweight and durable industrial grade woven polypropylene, it features adjustable straps, a base that allows it to stand on its own while being filled, and a roll top that makes it easy to remove the liner for cleaning. There is also a protected spout on the rear of the pack to keep the water clean for drinking and hand washing.

According to Greif, women and children in developing countries travel an average of 3.5 miles (5.6 km) a day collecting water and carrying it to their homes. With a design that allows it to be worn like a backpack, the WaterWear provides a faster and more ergonomic way to transport water, while also keeping it clean. There is also a 15-liter hybrid WaterWear pack that can be worn as a backpack or carried on the head. It is hoped that assembly and decoration of the packs and distribution and sales of liners could also provide business opportunities in communities in which they are used.

Aside from the obvious benefits for those in developing countries, the WaterWear packs can also be distributed quickly in the event of disasters. Some 2,000 WaterWear packs have already been distributed in Haiti as part of on-site field-testing and there are plans for wider distribution in developing countries in the future.

The Back the Pack initiative hopes to distribute 100,000 packs by September 3, 2012 and you can help them realize that goal by donating via the Back the Pack website.

The video below highlights the benefits of the WaterWear pack.

Source: Greif via Co.Exist

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

This sounds great, but while bringing in water supplies by pipe and pump is the obvious long-term solution, I wonder if the same amount of water could be transported with fewer backpacks and a lot of bicycles.

Todd Edelman

I can't honestly understand how is this helping the developing world. I think installing a pump and piping system would be a viable solution, because it eliminates back breaking labour. This is like saying " see you can continue carrying water on your backs, but use this product, it's less back breaking." And I believe, more than products, services are that they require.


This is not the first "good" solution for the water-carrying problem. Have seen several over the years. The problem is affordability. If you supply a whole village with these, most of the villagers will sell them or swop it for food, and continue carrying a bucket on their heads. Been there seen it happen repeatedly. Africa do not need solutions, they need someone to teach them how to solve their problems in a Africa-friendly , cost-effective way.

A little research of the literature will show that the Army's 10th Mountain Div. re-visited research on carrying loads 'on the head ' as compared to on the back w/ and w/out Tromp lines , all 3 times ( over nearly 80 yrs ) the Army determined that loads where carried on the head best , increasing amount of work done , material moved , the author should look for a bias in this piece ! Allen Lumley

I agree with the other posters, the ultimate solution for Africa is Democracy and the rule of law. The water back pack is just a stop-gap until the real solution happens. Actually that raises the question, just how hard is it to set up a Democratic government? It seems most of the work is already done and freely accessible, for example I can look up any Canadian law I want online at a moment's notice or download the whole shot and have an instant Parliamentary government. Obviously I'm being simplistic, but then again: what if it actually could be that simple?


The reason for not having empty soda and mineral water containers sent out instead is ?. My recylers collect at least 3 from me every week, they also drop off containers on Chinese freighters full of Computer parts in Africa - Why not send intact empty's ?.

After all, if you cannot afford a clay pot to carry your water, how can you afford a nice modern backpack ?.

Sorry, articles like this only make me question human stupidity more than usual.


I hope that theses bags are available here in the states too. These would be great in an emergency too. But hey, I'm one of those crazy prepper people. As to fixing the problem by pipeline, needs unavaiable money, or bringing democracy, you need to wake up. Bring democracy to Iraq and afganistan has worked how well? Start with small solutions that will help, then you can deal with corrupt governments. As for them selling them for food, give thm food to may help, you cn only try.

Ken Lowder

Pumps/pipes/water treatment are unaffordable. These are villages with machetes.

If you look at the load carrying research, the answer is.... the wheel.

The first order of business at the tactical level is a taxonomy of what a successful paleo level village needs to be healthy. Giving them the internet sounds nice, but it's not the computer but the infrastructure that dooms the idea. Historically, the AID has given countries bulldozers, proving that bulldozers rust nicely sitting in the jungle. Bulldozers need supplies, fuel, roads, mechanics, etc.

So, what they really need are local skills and materials they can turn into local cottage industries (which create a skills/craftsmen class which creates marketable products which creates...). So, how can they make a water cart from local materials?

Giving them 21st century solutions just creates failure. Shipping food from the US means most of the budget is spent on shipping. Then cheap/free food destroys the local farm economy. And the free food is not nutritious and doesn't grow locally.

And so it goes.

JA Larson

Solutions are easy in an idealistic frame of mind, but if some of these people choose to use this resource, then it's a good thing. If some of them revert to the old ways, it means that they want to do that. If you will excuse the analogy, you can bring the horse to water, but you can't force it to drink!

The idea of piping in water is part of this solution. They pipe the water to a central point but because people live in their own villages and don't want to move house, they come to collect the water. Think of how far 4 miles is in reference to how far you go to get groceries in the suburbs! Would you move just to get closer to the grocery store and would you want a Safeway at the end of your street if you prefer to live in the country?

Africa's needs and solutions lie in its leadership. And leaders are the rarest of commodities and cannot be found by digging!

Nic Meredith

Piping water need not be too expensive if irrigation tubing is used. Here in the US, 500 feet of 1/2" black irrigation tubing costs about $50 or $.10/foot. I have been using 500 feet of it for a solar water heater and it has lasted for over 4 years without any problems.

Adrian Akau


"The Back the Pack initiative hopes to distribute 100,000 packs by September 3, 2012 and you can help them realize that goal by donating via the Back the Pack website."

They don't have to buy them. These are being given out.

As for the WaterWear, I'm not thrilled about having the load on the back. That still stresses the spine. It would be better to have two bladders, one on the front and one on the back, so the load is balanced on the spine.


Why not split the system into two smaller bags, one in front and one on the back, with a hose joining the two? That way the mass will be distributed so as to reduce the need to lean forward and hold the two hand straps. The distribution of water could be adjusted by the user opening the tap until water is "balanced" front to rear.

I think the Hipporoller mentioned in the article is a better value though since (a) more water can be carried with less strain and (b) with a bit of bit of "urban planning" the rollers could be used to compact a road base network which might be progressively lightly macadamised or similar, and encourage the use of bicycles towing rollers. This sort of road would be less likely to cause tyre punctures and bicycle damage, further encouraging their use.

This may not be a complete solution but it's a start.


"Let them eat cake" This is a question of time vs. $. When you are time rich and cash poor, you use your feet. If you want them to run pipe, eliminate subsidies on food in rich parts of the world and they will do it themselves... when their time is worth more for doing something other than carrying water.

Tom Silverstrim

The real solution is to find a profitable alternative activity for the water carriers and provide a large wheeled cart so that they have the time.


There's a charity you can contribute to who drills wells in places that can't afford to pay for their own, Samaritan's Purse. If I were in that spot, I'd find a broken bicycle and make a 1 or 2 wheeled cart to haul things. I hate carrying things. In the end tho, I don't understand why certain parts of the world are so poor. I'm not rich by American standards, but I'm filthy rich compared to billions of people on this planet. All I can figure is my good fortune is due to a stable, relatively honest government that controls most crime, decent sanitation and medical resources, good infrastructure and freedom to engage in trade. None of that is simple, and little of it is cheap.


The design can be greatly improved: it is clear that the weight is unbalanced, much more than the old "over head" method. Recipient must be doubled, so that half of the water is backing, half is facing. For giving this improvement idea I just ask the price to be lowered accordingly.


@ Gadgeteer

Oddley enough I expect the backpacks will be given out then immediately sold by the recipients because as desirable items in poverty stricken Africa they will be stolen from them which is why I chose using emptys as an alternative as 'Appropriate Gifting' - giving something the recipient would not be immediately killed, robbed and maimed for by the normal social rules in Africa.

We also once had a send a cow scheme, restoring that makes a lot more sense - cows are money in that continent. You could strap water containers on the back of one as you herd it to drink and bring it back, Hefiers currently are near the $300 mark. Another thing overlooked is that the recipient could get as good a water container from a goatskin bladder. Send everyone some goats and show them how to make one, goats are a renewable resource.

The problem being that in Africa people like the taste of water even though it has Typhus and Cholera. The dangers of what water was carried in pales to insignificance to what is in the water already.


To further reduce stress on the spine, what about an additional belt around the hips, as opposed to the waist? A rigid back frame (made of locally acquired wood?) would sit in pockets on the hip belt, and the user could adjust the vertical mass distribution by loosening or tightening straps over the shoulders. This way some of the mass would be carried lower down on the body, which also would assist with balancing the body.


To all the 'pipe the water' proponents - how do you get the water from a well or a river up and into the pipe? Pumps cost money and need energy to operate. They are also a theft target. How do you ensure that the one tap at the end of that pipeline isn't monopolised by some petty official? How do you ensure that the pipes are not stolen and used for tent poles?

Marc 1

Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, created the Slingshot water purifier which would be a fantastic solution for the water problem in some of these places. It is supposed to work on combustible fuels including cow dung and can purify 1000 liters (265 US gallons) of water a day from sources such as: polluted water, ocean water or sewage.


@ daguy

Totally with you, make the water safe first - let the locals sort out how best to get it home with their own methods.


LATE COMMENT - Having once spent some 30 years in Central Africa, observations were often made to me about the exceptionally good spinal condition and alignment of those (generally females) carrying loads on their heads; essentially the load is "vertical down" according to gravity and is then minimally balance compensated by the muscles of the individual carrier. Any back or front carrying sack or pouch needs a compensator which is very difficult to get active feedback from, especially if the load bounces or varies from front to back. The quasi horizontal carved yoke beams for carrying milk pails in Central and Northern Europe where the load is not directly on the head but is still 'balanced' laterally across the spine was possibly an improvement over head carriage when earlier ex-African migrations moved into Europe? [In NATURE (millions of years of adaptive development) load bearing mammaries are equidistant either side of a load bearing structure--THE SPINE!!!]

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