Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Improvised Pack Frames

At one of Mors Kochanski's wilderness skills courses some years ago, I made an improvised pack frame from three sticks. Such a frame is an ancient concept that was re-invented by Mors' friend and mentor Tom Roycroft, who was an instructor at a Canadian Department of National Defense survival school.

'Ötzi the Iceman', the 5,300 year-old copper-age man who popped out of a glacier in the Italian alps in 1991, had something similar. His was a U-shaped rod of hazel with two cross-pieces of larch, bound together with grass string and with a hide sack attached.

This one's made from three Moosewood, or Striped Maple sticks. They're easy to work when green, and become quite strong when dry. You can see how the rope is routed to form shoulder straps and then hooked around the bottom corners to form a waist belt. This frame worked pretty well, but I thought it could be improved.

Here's version two. I found a nicely-curved persimmon branch (one of my favorite woods, beautiful as it ages and darkens) and a couple straight black spruce saplings. When I lashed them together with constrictor knots, I left the ends long to facilitate lashing on loads. The side sticks protrude enough beyond their lashing at the top to hang a canteen, pot or jacket from. A small crosspiece allows some adjustment for the shoulder 'straps' and adds strength and rigidity. My hiking staff (or any stick) fits in the small triangle it creates for carrying over-the-shoulder like a hobo's bindle-stick for variety. Haven't tried a tump-line, but that would undoubtedly work, too.

Here it is with my hiking staff run through the top triangle and propped up on a tree branch, ready to have a tarp thrown over it for a very quick shelter. Between the carrying rope and the lashing lines, there's plenty of cordage to secure things.

Ready for a hike with a wool blanket, Tyvek ground cloth, and an aluminized G.I. casualty blanket wrapped up in a canvas 'Zeltbahn', and with a teapot hanging on top. (A Zeltbahn is a triangular German shelter quarter that also serves as a poncho.)

If you load it so that a soft "bubble" protrudes on the inside, it's more comfortable against your back than just the sticks. Padding under the shoulder ropes also helps - I used an extra pair of socks on this hike.

I'm pleased with this, although I may make a third one just to refine the dimensions a bit more and to shave off a few more ounces with smaller-diameter sticks. The frame, groundcloth, tarp, wool blanket and aluminized blanket all together don't weigh much more than my winter hiking boots, and with a few Balsam tips as a mattress and a fire in front would make a very cozy shelter. I'll do an overnight in the near future and report back.

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