On many of my hiking trips I've witnessed first-hand how reliant people have become on their gadgets and gear, to the point where they often carry things they are "supposed" to carry, but have little or no experience of how to properly use them. Of course this is not true of everyone or even most people (thank goodness), but I experience it often enough to be of concern.
Don't get me wrong, I love gear as much as the next person, but I want to re-introduce the concept of learning and practicing core outdoor skills for simple tasks such as fire starting, knot tying, knife safety and other basic outdoor skills. I'm not getting all bushcrafty on you I promise (not yet), but the underlying premise of the growing bushcraft movement is the fundamental understanding of how to survive and even thrive in the outdoors with the most basic of gear, harnessing what nature has provided, and leveraging your skills - with an emphasis on developing your skills. After all, knowledge weighs nothing and you carry it with you wherever you go.
Ross Gilmore, of Wood Trekker, is one of my favorite outdoor bloggers. He is a perfect example of someone who takes great pride in practicing and fine-tuning his core outdoor skills and sharing them with us via his blog. If you're not already subscribed to his blog you're missing out on a treasure trove of outdoor information and knowledge. And if you like knives and axes then his blog is a must read!
Ross was kind enough to write a guest post for Brian's Backpacking Blog to kick off the series that I am in the process of writing, focusing on developing outdoor skills and learning to improvise rather than a reliance on gear and gadgets. Carry less and do more - hmm, that sounds familiar.
What better piece of gear to start with than the trusty backpack. It is without a doubt one of the most important pieces of gear that we carry, and one of the big three. But what would you do if it got ripped or badly damaged while on the trail? Ross has the answer...
An Improvised Backpack by Ross Gilmore
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.
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 about as comfortable as an old ALICE pack.
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.
Thanks again to Ross for writing this guest post to kick of my series focusing on developing skills. Be sure to check out Ross' Wood Trekker blog for lots of other great outdoor blog posts and a wealth of bushcraft information.
Brian is a Charlotte based backpacker, gear junkie, runner, and CrossFit(er). Originally from Southampton, England, Brian has lived in the US for over 20 years, finally settling in North Carolina. He spends as much time backpacking as his busy work schedule and family life will allow.