Bushcraft expert John Fenna shows us how to create an improvised backpack out of salvaged kit

a simple shiralee


If you’re forced to abandon your bike while travelling, you may have to move out on foot with any kit you can salvage. Without a purpose-built carrying system, struggling with essentials can prove difficult, but a bit of ingenuity can make things a lot more comfortable and efficient, says Bushcraft expert John Fenna

Don’t call me shiralee

A simple shiralee made from a tarp

The distance you need to travel, and how much you have to carry, will play a big part in how elaborate your improvisation needs to be. The simplest load carrier is a version of the old Australian ‘shiralee’, also known as a swag.

This is made by simply placing your gear in the middle of your blanket and folding the sides in to cover it, then rolling it up to form a ‘Swiss roll’. A carrying strap made from a braided cord or rope can then be fastened with a slip knot about a quarter-way in from each end, to allow the shiralee to be slung over your shoulder. A sleeping bag can be rigged as a shiralee. Simply stuff the sleeping bag with your kit, zip it up, roll it up and sling it as before. Tarps and groundsheets wrapped around your shiralee will keep out the weather and the wider you can make the shoulder strap, the more comfortable it will be to carry.

Get the sack

If you have a sack or decent-sized drybag, you can turn it into an improvised rucksack by adding shoulder straps from rope or cord. One way of doing this is to stuff the bottom corners of the sack with something soft and roundish – balled up socks, pine cones and acorns all work well – then fix the end of the rope around this object using a slip knot.

drybag rucksack 3 slipknot lower fastening

Tie the centre of the rope around the neck of the sack with another slip knot or a clove hitch – you’ll need to adjust the length of the rope to get the most comfortable carry – and finally, tie the remaining end to the other corner of the sack. You could make a framed rucksack known as a Roycraft pack (below).

1 Roycraft packframe

For the triangular frame you’ll need three broomhandle thick sticks, one about as long as your arm from fingertip to elbow and two that are a full arm’s length. Position them on the ground to form a triangle, mark and notch each pole where they cross and lash them in place. A rope harness can be formed to attach your pack of carry items to the frame, and individual shoulder straps can also be fitted to the Roycraft pack.

4 Roycraft packframe load wrapped in a groundsheet messy

I’ve found that a pair of socks, lightly padded with other spare clothing or grass and tied onto the top crossbar, make good load-spreading straps. to do this, tie the socks to the bottom of the sack and to the lower end of the side poles of the frame with a clove hitch at one end and a slip knot or a fixed loop at the other. Loose kit, panniers and bags can then be tied onto the frame. Roycroft packs are also a comfortable and efficient way of carrying hard panniers with sharp edges over long distances.