How to Improvise and Use a Three Stick Roycroft Pack Frame

by Todd Walker

How to Improvise and Use a Three Stick Roycroft Pack Frame -

Debates happen from time to time over which is more important for self-reliance… gear or skills?

With our emphasis on developing Doing the Stuff skills here, you probably already know my position. But, then again, you may be surprised.

Here’s my take…

Both skills and gear are essential to self-reliant living! Modern gear is not evil. Neither are primitive tools.

Every primitive skills practitioner, prepper, homesteader, and woodsman needs tools. It has something to do with opposable thumbs. Tools wrapped by skilled thumbs are capable of making gear.

For instance, take the modern backpack. They’re constructed with state of the art material and built with internal frames. They’re designed to haul loads comfortably over long distances. My Osprey pack has many convenient pockets, pouches, and bells and whistles. But what kind of burdens can you carry with modern internal frame packs? Clothing and camping stuff mostly.

Here’s the thing though…

Try carrying a load of firewood back to camp or a quartered deer with an internal frame pack. They’re pretty one-dimensional.

How to Improvise and Use a Three Stick Roycroft Pack Frame -

Camp Chuck Box strapped to the Roycroft

People all over the world have been using crude A-frame packs to carry heavy burdens for thousands of years. Otzi The Ice Man used an external frame pack over 5,000 years ago made of a bent sapling. Though his was not an A-frame style pack, an external frame can carry odd-shaped loads that modern internal frame packs can’t.

Let’s get started. You’ll get to use knife skills, knots, and lashings to make your own.

Roycroft Pack Frame

The Roycroft pack frame was named (not self-named, btw) after Mors Kochanski’s friend, Tom Roycroft. Mr. Roycroft, a survival instructor in the Canadian military in the 1960’s, used the time-tested idea of using 3 sticks and cordage to teach downed pilots how to construct a pack. The simple idea was adopted and used successfully.

Material List

  • Three sticks
  • Cordage
  • Cutting tool

Knots and Lashing

  • Trucker’s Hitch
  • Bowline
  • Blood Knot
  • Clove Hitch
  • Lark’s Head

Step #1 ~ Harvest Three Sticks

Upright Poles: Harvest saplings that are straight and thumb-size in diameter. For the uprights, cut two sticks that measure from arm pit to finger tip in length. Stripping the bark from the poles will help preserve the wood but isn’t necessary.

Lumbar Pole: This stick should measure from elbow to finger tip. Try to find a stick that is slightly curved to conform to your belt line. However, a straight stick will work.

Step #2 ~ Lashing Uprights

Start by using a tripod lashing on the two uprights. Place the two uprights together with the bottoms even. Begin lashing about three inches from the top of the poles. When done, spread the two apart to form the A-frame.

Lashing at the top of the A-frame

Lashing at the top of the A-frame

Check out our video tutorial on how to lash a tripod. You’ll only lash two sticks though.

Lashing with natural cordage may require a butterfly notch at each intersection.

Step #3 ~ Lash the Lumbar Pole

[Edit – 10/20/15: After publication, Chris Noble, a friend and writer/owner of Master Woodsman, noticed something about my frame. My lumbar pole is to the inside of the frame. By lashing this piece to the outside of the upright poles, a small shelf is created which would offer a ledge for loads like a camping chuck box to rest upon. Thanks for suggesting this Mors Kochanski modification and your attention to detail.]

Place the lumbar stick on top of the uprights so that the bend is protruding between the two uprights. Make sure you have about an inch and half of overhang at each intersection of the lumbar and uprights.

Diagonal lashing holding the lumbar support securely to the upright

Diagonal lashing holding the lumbar support securely to the upright

The intersections will not be perpendicular. Use a square lashing or diagonal lashing to secure the lumbar section to the upright poles. I used a square lash on one and a diagonal on the other just for practice.

Learn to tie a square lashing here. I’ll have to do a diagonal lashing tutorial soon.

Step #4 ~ Attach Loops to Frame

Loops of cordage are multifunctional. Besides being handy tie-outs to secure loads on the frame, the loops can be used to set up a tarp shelter. You can check out my first video how I set up an emergency 5 minute shelter.

To make quick-release loops, cut six pieces of cordage 18 inches long. Tie a blood knot in each piece of cordage. This knot is easy to untie after being cinched tight.

These 6 loops are also used to set up my tarp system

These 6 loops are also used to set up my tarp system

Attach each loop with a larks head knot; one on the lumbar pole, two on one upright, and the remaining three on the other upright. The larks head knot is easy to adjust on the poles depending on where you want the loops placed.

Step #5 ~ Add Shoulder/Belt Straps

Cut a piece a rope three double arm-lengths (from outstretched finger tip to your other outstretched finger tip). One of my outstretched double arm-length is about 6 foot – X3 – equals about 18 feet. I used a piece of 3/8 inch rope from my strap/rope box in my shop which measured about 16 feet.

Note: If you use natural rope like hemp or manila, you’ll need to add whipping to the cut ends to prevent fraying.

Double the rope evenly to form a loop in one end. Thread the loop under the top A-frame intersection from the inside of the frame. Tie a larks head by inserting the working ends of the rope through the loop. Work the knot tight so that the two loose ends are going through the top of the “V” on the pack frame.

Simple lark's head knot

Simple lark’s head knot

Lift the empty pack frame onto your back with the lumbar support at or slightly above belt height with the ropes over each shoulder. Reach back and wrap one rope around the upright and lumbar intersection on the same side of the shoulder strap. Repeat the process for the other shoulder strap. Pull the pack tight to your back.

Now you can secure the remaining rope around your waist as a belt. To make a quick-release waist belt, tie a trucker’s hitch (watch our video of a trucker’s hitch here at 2:30 mins.) on the belt portion of the rope. Once secured, tuck any remaining rope behind the pack frame.

Step #6 ~ Load the Frame

Use your shelter system (tarp, poncho, or other waterproof cover) as the shell. I used my homemade Oil Skin Bed Sheet Tarp. Lay the frame on the ground with the outside facing up. Make sure the loops are to the outside of the frame for easy access.

Place the tarp on top of the frame. Here’s the key to packing a comfortable Roycroft frame…

My favorite Alpaca wool sweater

My favorite Alpaca wool sweater

Cushion required to carry the pack comfortably

Cushion required to carry the pack comfortably

Stuff a sweater or other soft material (sleeping bag) in the triangle so that it protrudes past the frame as a cushion for your back. Now you can add your other items on top of that layer. I pack a dry bag with items I won’t need until setting up camp.

Dry bag with stuff I'll need once I set up camp

My dry bag which will be rolled into the wool blanket

Once your load is ready on top the tarp and frame, wrap the sides of the tarp over the burden. Wrap the bottom of the tarp up and over the sides. The top of the tarp folds over last like an envelope to shed rain.

Sides of tarp wrapped over the burden first

Sides of tarp wrapped over the load first

Bottom of tarp folded over next

Bottom of tarp folded over next

Top of tarp folded down to form a waterproof envelop for the contents

Top of tarp folded down to waterproof the contents

My shelter uses a 25 foot piece of paracord as the ridge line. Double this cord to form a loop. Place the loop end over one of the upright poles at the top of the A-frame. Run the working end through the loop on the lumbar pole and back around the upright pole. Cinch tight. Begin threading the cordage through the side loops in a crossing fashion to alternate sides of the pack frame, cinching tight on each loop.

Cinched and secured pack

Cinched and secured pack

You may not use all six loops. For larger loads, don’t double the 25 foot section of paracord. Simply tie a bowline knot on one end and slip over an upright to give you more cordage to secure the load.

To terminate the cordage, tie a trucker’s hitch after going through the last loop. This allows a quick release while tightening the load.

Trucker's Hitch or Hillbilly Come-Along

Trucker’s Hitch – aka: Hillbilly Come-Along

Step #7 ~ Mount the Pack

For a light load, stand behind the upright frame on the ground with the shoulder straps in each hand. Lift the pack up and around your body so that the shoulder straps are in place. Secure the bottom two corners as described in Step #5 above. Tie off the belt securely.

You’ll notice that the rope will dig into your shoulder and trapezium muscles. To distribute the load, slide a thin piece of wood under each rope to bridge the gap between your pectoral muscles and shoulders. Prepare these pieces before you lift the pack on your back.

How to Improvise and Use a Three Stick Roycroft Pack Frame -

Simple wood strips disperse weight when carrying heavy loads

Sherpa Style

External pack frames have played a key role in conveying heavy loads over long distance. The Roycroft frame offers a lightweight option for anyone needing an improvised backpack.

All I need for a weekend in the woods

All I need for a weekend in the woods

I’m planning to modify my Roycroft frame with padded shoulder straps from an old ALICE pack to be my go-to backpack. Why not? I’ll be able to carry the large stones my rock-loving Dirt Road Girl picks out for her yard collection. Yep, I’m her beast of burden!

If you’ve ever built and used a Roycroft pack frame, we’re always interested in learning new tips and tricks to make ours better. Share your knowledge in the comment section or social media.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Frugal Preps, Gear, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “How to Improvise and Use a Three Stick Roycroft Pack Frame

  1. Pingback: How to Improvise and Use a Three Stick Roycroft Pack Frame - Survivalot

  2. Pingback: How to Improvise and Use a Three Stick Roycroft Pack Frame | Paleotool's Weblog

  3. Great Article! You never know when you need a ruck, and this is a great way to get you through whatever.


  4. Great article, Todd! I’ve seen them used before, but you made it easy to learn HOW to do! Thanks, bud!😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Un post spettacolare! Thank you again and again Todd! Why don’t write an handbook ?


  6. animatio

    why not add a pair of broad hard leather patches with holes for the rope at the ends to put through for the shoulder supports. (similar to the ones you will find on phoot/camera shoulder bags)


  7. Pingback: Prepper News Watch for October 19, 2015 | The Preparedness Podcast

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  9. Pingback: 27 Basecamp Projects Guaranteed to Elevate Skills and Fun in the Woods | Survival Sherpa

  10. Pingback: 27 Basecamp Projects Guaranteed to Elevate Skills and Fun in the Woods | Survival Sherpa

  11. Pingback: 27 Basecamp Projects Guaranteed to Elevate Skills and Fun in the Woods | Prepper's Survival Homestead

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