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Evolution of the trapper keeper

How the trapper keeper was created and why it’s still relevant today

Like scrunchies and crushed velvet, trapper keepers aren’t just a fad of the ’90s anymore. Trapper keepers are making a comeback, and there’s a good reason why: they’re one of the most well-researched and useful school supplies of all time. First created in the late ‘70s, the practical organization and brightly colored patterns attracted students all over the country. 

The trapper keeper was designed to be the perfect product for kids of all grade levels. Not only did they save space in small lockers, but the unique designs on the cover were the first school supplies that let students express themselves. Trapper keepers also saved students the stress of trying to find the right notebook in the short periods between classes. 

What exactly is a trapper keeper?

Trapper keepers organized multiple folders with vertical pockets (or trappers) in one large notebook that was easy to carry around. The creator of the trapper keeper, E. Bryant Crutchfield, chose vertical pockets because papers were known to fall out of horizontal ones. The combination of the two ideas perfectly holds all of your notes in place no matter what happens. 

The idea is to switch out the trappers between classes, so you don’t have to lug multiple spiral notebooks around all day. They saved time, stress and locker space. Most Trapper Keepers come with a pad of paper and a clip for a pencil. In their heyday, they were available in dozens of designs and colors. 

How were trapper keepers developed?

The trapper keeper was developed over a number of years and went through several iterations before it was perfected. One notable thing about its creation was the feedback Crutchfield received from students. Focus groups were a major part of the finer details included in the iconic tool. With help from the masses, features like the snap closure and space for paper and pens were added to the final product. 

The trapper keeper was officially rolled out nationally in 1981. After the release, the creators quickly realized it wasn’t only appealing to school kids. Adults from all over the country were buying them to stay organized as well, and demand only rose. 

But the development of the trapper keeper didn’t stop there. After several years, more changes were made to accommodate student and teacher concerns. The metal snap became a velcro strap and more designs were released every year. 

Later, after teachers complained about the distracting sound of the velcro, they switched back to snap closures. Educators were also concerned about the size, as Trapper Keepers were often confused for large, clunky knockoffs. 

Why were trapper keepers so popular?

Aside from the innovative organization, Trapper Keepers gave students something rare in public schools at the time — a way to express themselves. There were more patterns and designs available than any other school supply at the time. Some photos were taken by the creator, while others he took himself. The iconic style of the original trapper keeper is still well-known today and is frequently featured in shows and movies. 

Where did trapper keepers go?

After more than a decade of reigning supreme in school supplies, the trapper keeper fell out of style in the late ‘90s. Whether this was because of teacher complaints or new trends is unknown. Regardless, they became a lost relic of public school history. That is, until recently. 

Like many fads of the ‘80s and ‘90s, trapper keepers are coming back. Mead, the company that produces Trapper Keepers, currently has three different styles available. They’re made for the modern age, with enough room to fit a standard tablet, but still have nostalgic abstract designs. 

Even though the trapper keeper became less popular, other companies like Five Star and Case-it noticed the benefits and made their own. Zipper and velcro binders are easy to find on websites like Amazon and Staples. You can also find original vintage trapper keepers on secondhand sites, though they tend to be more expensive because of their rarity. 

This nostalgia-inspired comeback is taking the young and old by storm. Even though many notebooks and folders allow students to express themselves, their versatility and durability make them a must-have. Most modern trapper keepers cost less than $20 and include at least one portfolio.

What you need to buy for your trapper keeper

If you’ve found yourself with a trapper keeper from Amazon, Staples or anywhere else, there are several ways to maximize your use. Accessories like pencil pouches, dividers and even shoulder straps can help you further personalize your all-in-one. 

Cardinal Expanding Plastic Binder Dividers

These dividers have brightly colored tabs for even more organization in your Trapper Keeper. Keep in mind they aren’t the most durable folders, so heavy use might damage them. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon 

Mead Trapper Keeper 2-Pocket Portfolio 

It never hurts to have extra folders for your trapper keeper. While some customers have noted these aren’t as sturdy as the original, they’re still the perfect fit for your all-in-one school tool. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon 

C Line Binder Pockets 

The five transparent binder pockets in this pack have blank tabs you can customize to your work or school needs. The outside edges are colored for added style and efficiency. 

Where to buy: Sold by Staples and Amazon

CoolBELL Adjustable Shoulder Strap 

Many modern trapper keepers have a place to add a shoulder strap to make the convenient tool even easier to transport. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Zipper Pencil Pouch

To get even more use out of your Trapper Keeper, you can add a three-ring zip-up pouch to carry all of your writing utensils and accessories. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Anabelle Weissinger writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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