Dave C said,
"Beyond RayWay the trail gets very diffuse, and the print evidence even thinner. That '82 Backpacker article is about the only thing I could dig up from that decade. It would be great to tell the tale of how those products lost favor, but I couldn't get enough sources. It doesn't help that my own recollection of gear trends begin in the early 90s."
Tony has really helped fill in some of the blanks. For all things backpacking in the U.S. in the past 50+ years, it seems the trail constantly crosses the path of Colin Fletcher, which I will explain.
In 1959 he published the 1,000 Mile Summer, a book that slowly gained popularity over the years. A few years after the book was published, the 60's Counter-culture Revolution and a quasi back-to-nature movement saw backpacking gain popularity. Then in 1968 Fletcher published the first Complete Walker book, which (with subsequent revised editions) influenced most modern backpackers directly or indirectly.
Then in the early 70's we see a covey of frameless packs hit the market, all under 3 lbs and some close to 2 lbs. The 3 most popular brands were owned or influenced by Don Wittenberger, whose designs morphed the alpine rucksack into a larger frameless packs suitable for backpacking. The 3 packs were the Rivendell Jensen, Yakworks Yakpak, and the Pacific Ironworks (Chouinard) Ultimate Thule. Now 2-3 lbs may seem heavy, but keep in mind that materials were limited and these packs were built by climbers with an eye towards durability. I remember seeing ads for all 3 packs and availability in mail order catalogs. I never owned any of them, but saw a few in the backcountry. I seem to remember some of them even had "load lifters."
Like we are seeing today, with a decline in frameless packs and movement to UL framed-packs, a lot of people modified these Wittenberger packs by adding internal stays or other kinds of suspension upgrades. The biggest problem for these 3 early companies was the lack of an economical method to market to the mainstream backpacker -- there was no Internet and they could not produce the quantities needed to attract a mainstream retailer.
So what killed these 3 packs for backpacking? Two things:
The first was that without a frame they didn't do the job for long trips, and it seems that people did more longer trips back then, than today -- that is -- not a lot of overnighters or short trips like a lot of people do today; but more trips in the 5 - 7 day range. A we certainly weren't doing boutique hiking by dropping into a trail town every 3-5 days on our big long hikes of several weeks or several months.
The 2nd thing that killed the Jensen and it's brethren was Fletcher's Complete Walker II (1974), a book that really started driving the popularity of backpacking and the sales of external frame packs, which became easily available from the large mail order companies like REI and large retailers. If Fletcher used an external, then that is what you should buy.
Now we head into the early 80's with the AlpenLITE and many other similar light packs. Along with this next generation/iteration of frameless packs, articles are written about lightweight backpacking, and many people start hiking with lighter gear, but it was still a niche just as it is today. Many people "embraced" lightness, myself included, and lots of us continued to do so over the decades.
Things have gotten lighter over the years mostly due to the innovation in materials, not design.
Tony mentioned Kennedy and Williams. It is also interesting that in The Complete Walker III (1984), Fletcher also mentions them, calling it the New Wave. Fletcher doesn't necessarily endorse it, he calls it evolution, casts a hopeful eye to what may be possible, and reiterates that New Wave Lightness Skills are needed... he uses the metaphor of an Indy race car driver versus the normal person driving a Chevy.
What Fletcher does do in this 3rd edition is kill the external frame pack and the second generation of (1980's) commercial frameless packs.
He also killed Gregory's super light packs, which Wayne Gregory knows is the reason they didn't sell.
How did Fletcher do this?
Well after 26 years of the Fletcher minions emulating him with their external frame packs (Fletcher had a Trailwise, but Kelty had the market share), Fletcher drops a bombshell by abandoning his external and extolling the virtues of the Gregory Cassin -- a really heavy internal frame pack. Cassin sales go through the roof, Gregory gets rich and owes his success to Fletcher, sales of internal packs by all the other brands go crazy, and the externals & frameless packs die. No one holds a funeral because the internals are more expensive and retailers hold good gross on sales.
But some folks didn't go the Fletcher Way, especially for shorter trips. In the backcountry there was a minority with rucksacks, or even those who just removed their internal frames. Instead, I kept my light external and reduced the weight of everything I carried in it.
So, there isn't a Ray Way -- it exists only in Jardine's mind.
Yes, he help popularize this next iteration of lightweight backpacking, but he surely didn't invent it or the Stuff Sack with Straps. The Internet popularized the "new" fad. Ray happened to publish at the beginning of the Internet age. To be honest, Ryan Jordan probably has had the biggest impact popularizing lightweight backpacking by starting BPL.