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From the beginning of time mankind has needed something in which to carry the stuff he has collected, from berries in the bush to spare meat on a trek. While the container may not be as important at home or in camp, it becomes immediately important once you hit the trail.

Backpacks, daypacks and fannypacks are ubiquitous at the discount stores, backpacking stores, yard sales and sporting goods stores. You should have several and keep at least one loaded with a survival kit so you just grab it and go if it ever becomes necessary.

You don’t want to be running down the trail or evacuating the city with your most important possessions in paper or plastic bags. In cases where there is urban unrest, you might not get very far with a pack on your back either, since it makes you a target. The looters will say, “Hey, there are some supplies on that guy’s back I could use.” In some cases, a pack would therefore be useless, and you’d need to carry whatever gear you could in an inconspicuous way: in vest pockets, pants pockets, around your neck, strapped to your leg, or via inconspicuous fanny packs, etc.

PANTS PACK

This is one of the easiest make-shift packs. It is easiest done with pants. First, tie off the legs, then fill the legs with things you need to carry – ideally soft things, since the legs will be your pack straps. Then fill the rest of the pants with your gear. Use a belt or cord to tie up the waist, and tie the end of each pant leg to the waist. You can adjust the straps as needed, but otherwise you’re ready to go.

You can also use a long sleeve sweat shirt for this. Even a button-up shirt will work, though there are a lot more holes where you might lose small things. I’ve done this when I needed a pack and I made one from my buttonup long-sleeved shirt. I stripped pieces of yucca leaves to make the string to tie it all together.

AGAVE AND YUCCA CONTAINERS

The best time to gather and use agave and yucca plants to make containers is after they have died and dried.

The best time to gather and use agave and yucca plants to make containers is after they have died and dried.

Agave and yucca plants grow throughout the entire western half of the U.S., and their many relatives can be found throughout most of the world as well.

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My first exposure to one of these quiver-like containers was a night in Temple City, California, when I was teaching a survival skills course at the Deer Tribe dojo run by Harley Swift-Deer. After the class, Harley brought me a quiver with some weapons to look at. He said the container came from Africa, and by the vascular bundles on the outside, it was clearly a relative of either the agave or yucca plants. I was fascinated by it because it was such an obvious use for a very common material in the wild, and I’d never seen a quiver made from it before.

I then began to gather agave and yucca flowering stalks after they died and dried, and hollowed them out. I found that these stalks were easiest to hollow out by simply using a knife and a straightened-out metal clothes hanger. I worked a little at each end of the yucca or agave stalk, until I had an opening all the way through, and then I just continued to remove the soft insides. Once most of the soft pithy inside was out, I would continue to work the inside with a long stick to get it as clean as possible.

There are many possible ways to add a strap to such a container, depending on your available supplies and how you intend to carry it. Most of my carrying straps were very simple. I’d drill two small holes into one side of the tubular container, one towards the top and one closer to the bottom. Then, I took a suitable length of leather cord and tied a large knot on one end. I then ran the cord through the hole closest to the bottom, from the inside and pulled it out. The knot would keep the cord in place. I then put the cord into the upper hole from the outside, and from the inside I would tie another knot. This secured the cord to the agave container and the strap was done.

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Hollowing out a yucca stalk is relatively easy.

Finally, I would tie a piece of leather to the bottom. Any other suitable material would work for a bottom. These days, I just carefully cut a smaller piece of the yucca stalk, and plug the bottom of the quiver that way. Usually, if my measuring is right, I don’t even need to use any glue.

When I have taught others how to make such a container during some of our field trips, a few guys always wonder if they can avoid having to make a bottom by simply hollowing out the agave (or yucca) stalk from one end. Yes, it can be done, but it takes so much longer to hollow out the tube. If you only intend to use such a container for arrows, then this works fine since you can stick your arrows, points down, into the thick fibrous material of the inner agave stalk. In fact, I have seen some old authentic yucca quivers made just this way. But for general purposes, I recommend you hollow the stalks out from both ends and then add a bottom.

BIRCH BARK DESIGN

If you live in an area where you can obtain birch bark, here is a simple design for making a bowl, or even a pack. You will need a knife, and probably scissors, thread, and a needle to do this well. Remember, you can also use the bark from fallen birch trees as it “keeps” for a long time after it has fallen. Birch bark lasts a long time, and if you work it carefully, you can bend and fold it into the shape of your bowl or pack.

The African Bag is nothing more than a piece of leather sewn up on the sides without a top flap.

The African Bag is nothing more than a piece of leather sewn up on the sides without a top flap.

AFRICAN BAG

Here’s a simple bag design that I first saw in the pages of Wilderness Way magazine years ago. It was described as a man’s bag from a certain tribe in Africa. Its beauty is in its simplicity: One piece of leather sewn up by the sides. There is no top flap, just one piece of leather folded in half with a slit for entry. I use bags like this on the trail for collecting mug-wort leaves for tinder and for other trail needs.

Simple pouches can be made from cloth or leather.

At some of our weaving classes we have students make one of these from old canvas, pants fabric or leather (rawhide or tanned). Each student first makes a pattern from paper and then traces the pattern onto the fabric or leather and then cuts it out. The sides are sewn up, and the carrying strap can be shoestrings, parachute cord, leather, braided fiber, etc.

SIMPLE ROUND POUCH

Cups can be made by scraping and burning out the wood from a fallen tree.

This is a simple carrying device for tobacco, seeds, coins, or other small items. It can probably be made large enough to carry something the bulk of a basketball, but this design seems to be best for smaller loads.

Begin by cutting a round piece of fabric or leather. The simplest form of this pouch involves gathering the edges up and tying it with a cord. Or, you can punch holes around the edge, and string it with a cord. This secures the cord to the pouch, and allows you to have a way to open the pouch only as much as needed.

THE WORLD IS FULL OF CONTAINERS

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Wood can be used for a variety of packs, bowls, cups and canoes.

Obviously, you need something in which to carry your gear when you’re on the road, and on the move. If you hadn’t taken the time to purchase a fine pack or other container, remember that nature provides well, assuming you take the time to learn the required skills.

Besides the ideas for containers already mentioned, wood, clay and gourds are three more raw materials that have been used for millennia.

Wood can be used for packs, bowls, cups, canoes and dozens (if not hundreds) of other possibilities. In the photos you can see a large wooden slab which I carved and burned into a salad bowl. I always look for the desired shape in wood first and then I just carve away everything that doesn’t look like a salad bowl, or a cup, or whatever it is that I “see” in the wood. Note the oak cup and alder bowl in the foreground, both made by burning and carving a burl.

Once hollowed out, the yucca stalk is capable of carrying a wide variety of items. Inset: It is recommended both ends of the stalk be hollowed out and a cap added to one end.

Once hollowed out, the yucca stalk is capable of carrying a wide variety of
items. Inset: It is recommended both ends of the stalk be hollowed out and a cap
added to one end.

Burls are very common, and you can always find one on a fallen tree. I never cut them off live trees because that might harm the tree. I then scrape and burn and scrape and burn, sometimes carefully doing this for hours until I have my bowl or cup.

Working with clay does not provide a “quickie” container, but clay has provided generations of people with all the bowls, cups and cookware they needed. You need to locate the clay, clean it of all foreign matter and then make your pots and bowls. You then dry it thoroughly, and then fire it in any of the variations of primitive kiln. The details of this have been widely published in such journals as the Bulletin of Primitive Technology, and such books as Earth Knack: Stone Age Skills for the 21st Century by Bart and Robin Blankenship (Gibbs- Smith, Utah, 1996). Additionally, nearly every ceramics teacher in every high school and college can tell you about how to make pots and bowls “from scratch.” Use your local resources.

“IF YOU HADN’T TAKEN THE TIME TO PURCHASE A FINE PACK OR OTHER CONTAINER, REMEMBER THAT NATURE PROVIDES WELL, ASSUMING YOU TAKE THE TIME TO LEARN THE REQUIRED SKILLS.”

Gourds have also been used for millennia as water containers, bowls, cups, scoops and more. Perhaps the easiest way to introduce yourself to the art of gourdcraft is to purchase several of the hard-shelled gourds from a farmer’s market and simply experiment with making large spoons, cups and bowls. Though this has been widely discussed in craft and survival books, one of my favorite references is Ellsworth Jaeger’s Nature Crafts (Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, 1949).

 

Editors Note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.