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Roycraft Pack

As long as you have your bushcraft knife and a bit of string it should be fairly strait forward for you to make whatever you need from what you find around you in the countryside. For example a simple pack frame to allow you to carry almost anything, from some coppiced hazel rods, like in the picture above to a large jerry can or even an entire roe deer like in the picture below.

The Roycraft pack is a simple frame made of three sticks which can be fitted with improvised straps which is named after legendary woodsman Thomas Roycraft who designed it based on packs he was familiar with that he had seen Korean farmers use to carry their wares to market. During the 1960’s Tom Roycraft was a civilian instructor at a Canadian Department of National Defence Survival School when he met and became mentor to Mors Kochanski who later became one of the best know bushcraft and survival instructors of the 20th Century. 

Tom Roycraft and Mors Kochanski will feature in a new series we are starting on this blog and a topic we have briefly touched on in the past; that is bushcraft heroes. We will be starting that off in a few weeks time with a post about Thor Heyerdhal who has been mentioned on the blog before. 

Back on the topic of the Roycraft pack though, being able to carry a load in the wilderness is an absolutely essential skill of bushcraft, I would call you unprepared if you headed out into the woods without a pack but that doesn't mean being able to make a pack frame is a redundant skill. A frame like this is much more comfortable to carry an uneven load on than a normal rucksack and in an emergency it may be your only option. Additionally packframes are a traditional piece of equipment amongst many native peoples too and maintaining the skill and tradition of making them is important too. 

This kind of pack, named for Tom Roycraft, is one of the very simplest and therefore one of the very best pack frames which we can make out of doors. 

To make one you will need three green sticks, these need to be strong so picking up dead wood from the ground is not advisable, you can easily find hazel or willow stems of the right size and shape. If they are cut fresh and dry as you use your pack they will stay strong enough for your pack but if they are collected damp and old from the ground they will likely already have rotted slightly and won’t be very strong. 

Each of the sticks for your pack will need to be roughly thumb thickness, one will need to be about the length from elbow to finger tips and the other two from armpit to finger tips. 

The three sticks cut to length with the CRKT Saker, a knife which you will see a review of here on the blog on the 5th of July. You can cut these sticks with a folding saw or to do it with just your knife gradually cut around the stick using your thumb to support and apply pressure to the spine of the knife, eventually you will cut all the way through, perhaps after two rotations of the stick, or be able to break the stick relatively cleanly without it splitting or splintering.

Once you have collected your sticks trim off any twigs, lumps and bumps which might rub or irritate you when you are carrying your finished pack. The pack will be a rough triangle with the bottom being slightly shorter than the two other sides. Where the sticks join together they should be allowed to overlap slightly, with an inch or two protruding where they cross over, this allows you to lash them more securely and gives you something extra to attach your load to. 



Where the longer sticks join the bottom stick the notches shown in the picture above will allow the joins between your sticks to hold together more securely and if your lashing and knots are a little loose these joints will allow the pack to hold together a little more securely. The joints need to be square sided to allow one stick to hook over the other and then as weight is placed on the frame these joints will squeeze together rather than pulling apart. The string that you use to lash them together then adds to the strength of the pack rather than being the only thing that secures it together.  

To cut these square sided joints with your bushcraft knife you will need to use stop cuts, these are cuts directly against the grain of the wood which you will then carve towards as you remove material making a square sided joint in the stick, as you go deeper you will need to make the stop cut gradually deeper, if you don’t you will end up cutting off the end of the stick and you will need to start again. You will also need to square off the bottom of the stick which will be the bottom of your pack so that the joint in the upper stick will hook on to it rather than rolling off the originally curved surface. These joints will also have to be carved so that they will fit together at an angle otherwise you will be making a square instead of a triangle.


Once the joints that will secure the bottom of the pack are complete you can lash them together, I tend to trap one end of the cord in the joint between the sticks and then securely lash around the joint then extend that piece of string over to the other joint leaving a loop of string between the two lashing points, this gives an additional feature of the pack to secure your load with. Once the two lashings are made the top of the triangle can be secured. The joint between the top two pieces of wood can be much simpler just a rounded notch on one of the sticks which the other can fit into. 

I then secure this with the same piece of string that will become the straps for the pack, find the middle of the cord you will use as straps and form two loops in it, both big enough to fit over the top of the pack, cross the second loop behind the first and put them both over the top of the pack, you’ve just tied a clove hitch which will secure the top of your pack. Take the two ends and tie them to the points where the bottom of your triangle, where it crosses over. You can use clove hitches again or any other knot that you know. These will then be the straps of your pack, stiff webbing straps would be an upgrade but I have often carried whole deer strapped to these packs just with string straps and haven’t been uncomfortable. 

At this stage your pack is finished and can be used for many years to come or you can make a new one whenever you suddenly need to carry or drag something; this pack also allows you to spread the weight of something that you might need to drag behind you, a larger deer carcass for example.

For further information on how to build a roycraft pack who better to show you how than Mors Kochanski himself in this video from the Karamat Wilderness Ways YouTube channel;

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