How to Make a Backpack: The Alaskan Packboard And All-Purpose Packsack

Diagrams and instructions on how to make a backpack from canvas and wood.

  • Packsack
    Construct the packsack companion to the packboard.
    Illustration by Russ Mohney
  • Alaskan Packboard
    Make a backpack with this Alaskan packboard construction diagram.
    Illustration by Russ Mohney

  • Packsack
  • Alaskan Packboard

It seems only a few years ago that the famous Trapper Nelson pack (or Alaskan board) was the only kind of pack you would ever see in the woods. Before the advent of the aluminum-magnesium frame and the whisper-light nylon pack, it was the toughest, strongest, most practical rig to be found.

You'd think that the coming of the lightweights would bring about the demise of the old boards, but in the miner's camp or the trophy hunter's bivouac the Alaskan pack is as important as ever. Granted, it's no fun to wander down the trail with 300 pounds of supplies strapped to the old-fashioned board, but it's a darned sight better than trying it with one of the modern, tubular-frame packs!

You construct the pack's frame out of hardwood stock, the straps out of nylon webbing, and the cover portion out of heavy cotton canvas. When installing the straps, remember that the crossmembers eventually will be situated away from the wearer's back. When completed, the canvas cover will be stretched tight across the open part of the frame as a back support.

The Alaskan packboard may not be as sleek or comfortable as the modern frame pack, but if the load is large — or if tradition is your forte — it's a heavyweight classic of the wilderness trail. (My father, for example, once packed a cast-iron stove into a lookout shack with one of these contraptions, and other equally stalwart outdoor people have performed similar feats for generations. It certainly illustrates the enormous capacity of this marvelous packboard!)

Packboard Construction

First, make the frame members out of 3/4" thick hardwood strips, about 3" wide (3/4" X 3" maple or ash is commonly used), cutting the strips to the lengths shown in Fig. A in the Image Gallery. Now, carefully fit both the upper and lower crossmembers into the notched uprights for a smooth, flush finish, as detailed in Fig. B in the Image Gallery. It's a good idea to glue the joints carefully before setting the screws. 

Next, make the straps out of 2 1/2" wide nylon webbing, cutting to the dimensions shown in Fig. C in the Image Gallery. Sew leather or nylon straps (with buckles) to the webbing so that the straps will be adjustable. (You may also wish to pad them for comfort.) Wrap the upper straps around the upper crossmember, and secure them with a piece of aluminum or tin cut from a can, and drilled or punched for four 3/4" long screws, as in Fig. D in the Image Gallery. Remember that the crossmembers and lacing will be on the outside of the pack, and the solid canvas directly against your back.

Leon Williams_1
1/12/2009 5:48:38 PM

I am interested in making the all-purpose packsack but can't find the diagram. The picture seems to be missing. Could you e-mail it ato me?

Leon Williams_1
1/12/2009 5:44:59 PM

I am interested in making the All-purpose packsack but can't find the diagram that you refer to. It seems to be missing from the article.

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