primitive ultralight – the roycroft packframe

One of the last ‘gadgets’ a traveller can surrender is the backpack. It is considered by some as one of the last bastions of kit self-reliance. But lets face it, its pretty crucial when it comes to packing things over any distance.

However the back-pack is a bit of one-trick pony. It carries stuff, yes. But it does not really have any other purpose. Often its a heavy bit of kit too: using up precious energy carrying it before you get to fill it with neccessities.

the roycroft packframe
Let me introduce you to the Roycroft Packframe. Weighing in at 300gms there really is nothing to it. Just three sticks and some cordage. The rest of it doubles up as part of my shelter and kip-kit. It takes up hardly any space. And it can carry remarkably big loads, stably, over pretty decent distances.

off for an overnighter

Oh yes, and it only takes a few minutes to make from things around you in the woodland. Eat your heart out all you ultra-light-kit-junkies.

Here is a step-by-step pictoral guide to making one.

Cut three sticks for the frame. Each should be about as thick as your thumb. The length of the bottom, horizontal piece should be just greater than the width of your hips. In an ideal world you should try and get a piece with a slight curve that fits around your back. It will help against chaffing. But failing that, straight will do.

The two vertical side sticks should be about the length from the top of your neck to the top of your bum.

Although the sticks can be lashed together straight away the frame can be made more rigid and durable by using’ lap joints’ at each of the intersections. A knife and a small amount of batonning should be possible in a couple of minutes and enables the round sticks to sit flush against each other. The lashing then just keeps the sticks together, the joint does the job of stopping the frame joints moving. It helps doing it this way if you are carrying heavier loads.

A set of simple square or diagonal lashings will secure the frame. You could use natural cordage, even spruce roots.

Packing the frame is a simple task. Here I used a rug but usually I use a tarp or poncho that doubles as my shelter. Place the tarp or rug over the top of the pack and ‘swaddle’ your kit. The aim is to secure the base first, then the sides and then lastly the top or lid (so you can access your kit without having to undo the whole pack). One good tip is to try and ensure your kit pushes through the back of the frame to pad your back and keeps the frame away from your back.

Securing the pack to the frame is a bit like tying string on a parcel the traditional way. Here I have used the rope I use for my hammock. Another dual purpose item.

Finally, using the other hammock rope, I do a lark’s head knot that passes over the top of the frame, tensions the pack rope in the process, passes under the top of the triangle, loops around the two other corners of the frame to form the shoulder straps and then comes round the front to tie off as a waist belt. Simple once you have practiced it.

In the pictures here I have packed a tarp, bivy, foam under mat, hammock, sleeping bag and some overnight provisions, firelighting kit all wrapped in a warm, wool rug. If it was raining the tarp would have swapped places with the rug.

This is a basic pack but can be improved in a number of ways – padding can be used for the frame (especially the bottom bar), straps or padding can be used for the shoulders, leather or sinew could be used for the lashings.

Not only is this pack stable, and if properly made, comfortable, it is very versatile in the size of load it takes. Once the roycroft pack frame has been mastered then you can leave your pack behind and head for the hills with an ultralight pack made of a few sticks and string. Happy hiking!

If after you have read the guide below then to see the same packframe that has been ‘accessorised’ then click here

step 1: making the frame

three sticks

three sticks

example lap joint

example lap joint

joints made with batonning a knife

joints made with batonning a knife

finished lap joint

finished lap joint

clove or timber hitch

clove or timber hitch

square lashing secures joint

square lashing secures joint

finished frame

finished frame

step 2: packing the frame

place rug 'diagonally' over frame

place rug ‘diagonally’ over frame

place kit on rug in centre of frame

place kit on rug in centre of frame

pull up base

pull up base

take right and wrap it firmly over

take right and wrap it firmly over

take left and wrap it firmly over

take left and wrap it firmly over

lastly, pull top or 'lid' down and tuck it under

lastly, pull top or ‘lid’ down and tuck it under

step 3: attaching the pack and straps

start by attaching to bottom of frame

start by attaching to bottom of frame

goes from bottom to left side of frame

goes from bottom to left side of frame

goes from left to right side of frame

goes from left to right side of frame

last bit tensions whole ensemble and fixes to apex

last bit tensions whole ensemble and fixes to apex

showing how the pack straps loop around the frame

showing how the pack straps loop around the frame

finished pack straps - secured at top of frame

finished pack straps – secured at top of frame

9

lark's head knot also tensions the packing strap that attaches to the top of the frame

lark’s head knot also tensions the packing strap that attaches to the top of the frame

lark's head goes under apex to great shoulder straps and around corners to create waist-belt

lark’s head goes under apex to great shoulder straps and around corners to create waist-belt

note how pack pushes through frame for comfort

note how pack pushes through frame for comfort

finished pack

the finished pack

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