The Journey of my beloved backpack

The flame patches sewn over the front zipper on my backpack. I got to leave these on when I sent it for repair.

The flame patches sewn over the front zipper on my backpack. I got to leave these on when I sent it for repair.

I have had the same red Jansport backpack since I was about 14 years old. It had taken a good two years for me to convince my mom that it was worth it to invest $40 in a backpack, particularly when every other backpack my younger sister or I had ever used lasted for a maximum of two years. From her vantage point, it made sense. If you don’t spend more than $15 or $20 on a backpack, and it lasts two years, it’s more cost-effective than spending $40 on a backpack that lasts two years. However, I had a lot of friends with Jansport bags. Most of them had been using the same one for at least two years already at that point, and they were all still in really good condition. And as I already mentioned, I was 14, and all my friends had them.

When the backpack I’d been using at the time gave out after its requisite 2 years (the bottom fell out, if I recall, despite being heavy nylon reinforced with leather) I had finally convinced my mother to let me give that long-coveted Jansport backpack a try. Being a highly industrious 14-year-old that was probably too smart for her own good, I presented my mother with my calculations of cost-per-year for the backpack that had just failed ($12.50 per year) and the projected cost-per-year of the Jansport. I told her that if the backpack had to be replaced before its cost-per-year reached less than $12.50 (a little less than 4 years), that I would pay her the difference. At that point, it was probably unnecessary for me to do that, as in retrospect, I think she’d already decided to give in and get me the backpack.

I noted the “lifetime warranty” guarantee when I removed the tags from the bag, and immediately forgot about it. In my experience to that point (and even my experience up to now), a “lifetime warranty” is rarely that — it only covers their estimate of the lifetime of the product, or it only covers the product while the company still makes it. So while I figured the backpack would last me through high school, I figured I’d have to retire it after graduation. I had a few moments of private surprise in my last year of high school that my bag had survived all that it had and was still intact. I’d sewn decorative patches on it, caught it in lockers, closed it in car doors, taken it on numerous trips and concerts and urban camping trips, yet the only damage it had suffered was one of the zipper pulls breaking off (which I remedied with a key ring attached to the zipper and the non-broken side of the pull) and a tiny bit of the stitching in the leather bottom coming unraveled, which I fixed with a needle and deep-sea fishing line (and has endured as a repair for about 7 years). While I’ve given it a rest a few times since graduating high school, I seem to keep pulling it back out and using it for travel, toting notebooks and textbooks, and more recently, hauling my laptop the 1.5 miles between my house and my department’s building.

Using my backpack at the end of 2007.

Using my backpack at the end of 2007, about 6 months after my initial inquiry about repairs, and more than 8 years after purchase.

The trouble is, I’ve been in denial about the state of my backpack for about the last five years. The zipper had become unreliable, and the foam padding in the straps had become so squashed, that it might as well have not been there. Even after a zipper failure resulted in my laptop tumbling down the sidewalk and the lack of padding left nearly permanent bruises in my shoulders, I continued to carry it, modified with a couple of large safety pins that helped keep the sides of the bag together in case of zipper failure. I lived with the discomfort from the shoulder straps.

About a year and a half ago, I decided to look into Jansport’s warranty and repair service for their backpacks after reading a comment thread on about the death of the president of Jansport. Several people talked about how Jansport repaired their decade-plus-old bags or made repairs to damage typically referred to as “normal wear-and-tear,” which most “lifetime warranties” won’t cover. I thought back to my immediate discounting of the lifetime guarantee on the tag that I removed from my backpack when I first brought it home, and decided that I’d look up the warranty on their website to see if I could get my backpack fixed. It seemed that I could, but I had a question: since I’d sewn patches on my bag, did I need to remove them all before sending it in, or could I just remove the ones that would be in the way of the repairs? I sent that question to their warranty department back in the summer of 2007, and I never got a response. I gave up on trying to get my backpack fixed for another year and a half, when I figured I’d try sending my question again. The padding had gotten worse (it had almost become anti-padding at this point), and the safety pins that were acting as a failsafe for the zipper proved to be less effective than I’d hoped. This time, I got a response.

“You may want to remove the patches that are in the area of the zipper. The other patches can be left on,” was the response I received, along with some boilerplate information about what the warranty covered, how to send your backpack and the address of their repair center.  Finally. Some progress. While I was a little unhappy that I had to remove some of the patches (they were really hard to sew on in the first place, and one of them was really on there), I was glad that I didn’t have to remove them all, and I was willing to do anything that would let me keep carrying my trusty red backpack for another decade. I washed and dried my backpack, removed the patches, and packed it up with a brief note including my contact information and a description of the repairs that the bag reqired, as the Jansport warranty representative said I should do. I mailed it off on Wednesday, and now I’m thinking I should have invested the extra $2 for tracking on the package, because I feel strangely empty and nervous not having any contact with my backpack and not knowing exactly where it is. I’ll feel much better once I hear from Jansport that they’ve received it.

From the time of receipt to the time they send it back to me should be about two weeks, so including time for shipping I should likely be without my backpack for about a month. This will likely be a nerve-wracking experience for me — I’m VERY attached to my backpack. (Like, really…you have no idea.) However, I really hope that Jansport still does this when a backpack is sent in for repair (as described by Lintacious in the aforementioned Fark thread):

The first time I sent it in, I received a little postcard that was written as though my bag went to camp! it was so darn cute! then when they were sending it back I received another postcard saying my bag had so much fun in the zipper pull races. it was the cleverest thing i’ve seen a company do in a while!

Now I’m trying to imagine what a zipper pull race would entail. Hmm. Anyway, I shall certainly post an update as to my satisfaction (or not) with the end product of all of this. Provided that the USPS doesn’t lose my backpack, I’d imagine that this should all go pretty smoothly.

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1 Response

  1. Laura Madere says:

    Hi Hillary,
    I loved reading your story about your red backpack with flames, it was exciting until I got to the end and there was no ending. What happened to the backpack? Did it make it home safely? I started to feel nervous and sad for the red backpack. ha ha The reason I even found your blog was looking for pictures or info on what Jansport would take back. My daughter is 17 in the 11th grand and just LOVES her back pack it has drawing and writing all over it. She is an artist so you can imagine how much drawing it has on it. The problem with her backpack is it has a few holes in the bottom so she is losing things out of it. Now she is carrying an extra bag with her to hold things she don’t want to lose or that are small enough to fall through. Anyway.. she isn’t wanting me to send it in to be fixed because she don’t think they will cover it since she has draw all over it. From the looks of your writing it should be fine, right? I loved that they seem to be very fun and down to earth the way they sent you the cute post cards. If you would please send me updates on your back pack I will be able to sleep at night. Well that’s a lie I don’t sleep well at night I am better at sleeping in the day, but any who.. I’ll be able to breath knowing the red back pack made it back safely to his home sweet home. 🙂
    Thank you have a great day,