Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Making an Improvised Pack – The Roycroft Pack

In recent weeks there have been several videos released on YouTube about an improvised pack design, usually attributed to Tom Roycroft. Both Mors Kochanski and Dave Canterbury put out such videos recently. It reminded me of a guest post I had done about two years ago for Brian’s Backpacking Blog. I thought I would share the post here with you. I also encourage you to visit Brian’s blog for additional valuable information.

Backpacking technology has come a very long way in a short period of time. It wasn’t too long ago that most of use were dragging around packs with frames made out of steel tubing and a main compartment made of 1/8 inch thick, just short of bullet-proof, material.

In a matter of a few decades, our packs have become exponentially lighter, allowing us to move faster, go deeper into the woods, and visit locations previously unthinkable.

So, you find yourself on one such adventure. For the past three days you have been pushing into the forest, with each day setting a new personal best for the number of miles traveled. The trail is becoming less and less noticeable with each mile traveled. And of course, that is when it happens; a rock gives way under your foot, you loose your balance, and tumble down the side of the road, right into a patch of huckleberry bushes. You get up and dust yourself off. Luckily you are just fine, but you can’t say the same for your pack. The bushes have ripped it to shreds; the contents of your pack littering the hill. For a moment you start to miss your pack from your glory days as a boy scout-the one with the triple reinforced external frame that weighed 8lb.

You quickly shake those thoughts out of your head. There is no need for such drastic measures. A little bit of improvisation will do just fine. After all, worse case scenario, you can just gather the contents of your pack into your poncho or tarp, and sling it over your shoulder. There is however a way that you can make the trip back home a little bit easier. With just some minimal effort, you can put together a very serviceable backpack for the trip home.

Gather three branches. They should be just thick enough so they don’t bend too easily. Arrange them in a triangle on the ground. The triangle should be large enough so that when the bottom side is placed at hip level, the top corner sticks just over your shoulders, and the remaining two corners protrude on either side of your hips. Mors Kochanski recommends that the two long pieces measure from the tip of your fingers to your armpit, and the short piece from your fingertips to your elbow. That will vary depending on you and the type of load you have. I like the bottom piece to be a little longer than that so that the intersections between the pieces, which can be uncomfortable, are away from my body.


Make some crude notches at the places where the branches meet.


Using some string, or even remains from your pack, lash the branches together. You should now have a strong triangular frame.


Take the shoulder straps from your, now retired, pack. If they are sawn together at a central point, do not try to separate them. If they are independent straps, tie them together. Place the tied shoulder straps over the top corner of the triangle.


Then wrap them around the two branches and pull them through the frame. That way they will hold the weight of the pack without you having to tie them individually to the frame. Then tie the bottom part of each strap to the corresponding corner of the frame.


The result is a pack frame, ready for use. This is a good time to adjust it for fit. Loosen and tighten the straps until they feel comfortable. Some basic knowledge of friction knots will go a long way here.



Now that the frame is ready, we can start working on the pack itself. Pull out your poncho or tarp, and place it on the ground. Arrange your gear on top of the poncho.


Now, fold the bottom of the poncho over the gear.


Then fold the sides, and then the top. We are now ready to connect the pack to the frame.


For a small pack, one that is going to be somewhat smaller than the frame, I like to create a net on the frame so the pack is supported. To do that I simply tie a rope in the center of the bottom branch, and then do a cris-cross pattern going up the frame. The exact design, or for that matter how you tie it makes no difference. As long as there are ropes going back and forth, it will work just fine.


Then place the pack on the frame and repeat the same tying process over the pack, lashing it to the frame. Again, the exact pattern does not matter.


The one thing I like to do is to not tie the top of the pack, but rather simply tuck in the top flap under some of the ropes. That will allow the pack to be opened so you can get to the contents while you are making your way back home.


And here is the finished pack.


If you take some time and adjust the straps, it will be almost as comfortable as an old ALICE pack. Let’s not fool ourselves here. We tend to be very trend sensitive, and there has been talk about this type of pack in recent weeks as if though it is the next great innovation in backpacking technology. It is not. I would never consider heading out into the woods with this type of pack instead of a proper modern pack. For me this is an emergency technology to be used when the need arises.

As they say, knowledge weighs nothing, but a pack with a steel frame weights 8lb. Well, they don’t say that, but they should. Some know how and improvisation can allow you to leave the weight of that bomb-proof pack behind, and trust that on the rare occasion where the need arose, you would be equal to the task.

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