What happens if you forget your equipment or you find yourself in a situation where you have been separated from your pack and you’ve still got gear to carry? You’ll have to get creative and find a makeshift solution by converting a few common items into a pack. For this, you can use a pair of pants, a sweatshirt, or even a button-up shirt and turn it into a day pack. It’s really simple, and all you’ll need is some rope or cordage. Let’s use a pair of pants as our example.
With a bit of twine, tie off the end of each pant leg. You should tie it tight. Pull up the zipper and button the top.
Now fill the pants with whatever you need to carry. Fill the legs with soft material first, since the legs will become your pack straps. Next, fill up the upper part of the pants with whatever it is you need to carry. Try to balance the weight, and don’t have any sharp object jutting into the back, just like you do with a normal backpack or day pack.
Next, put a length of twine through the belt loops and cinch it up, and tie it well. Then bring each pant leg up to the waist, and secure the bottom of each pant leg to the waist.
Go ahead and see how it fits. If the pack straps are too tight, you need to let out a bit of the cord on the pant legs and re-tie the pant legs to the waist.
From this explanation, you can see how easy it would be to turn a sweatshirt into a pack. With the sweatshirt, it’s all the same except you begin by taking a bit of cord and tying off the neck. You need to do this very securely, otherwise you will lose things on the trail.
An emergency pack like this can be a savior in a time of need. Although there have been many variations of this idea presented over the years, one of the first times it ever appeared in print was in Ellsworth Jaeger’s 1945 book, Wildwood Wisdom.
There was one time when I actually needed a pack, and the only extra clothing item was my long sleeved shirt. I took off my shirt and buttoned up the front. I stripped some fiber from some yucca leaves, and tied off the neck. Next, I tied off each cuff. Since I was using this “pack” to collect acorns and pine cones, I first filled the arms with acorns, which I put into a few paper bags to keep them contained. Then I filled the remainder of the shirt with pine cones. I tied off the cuffs, and tied the cuffs to the waist of the shirt, securing it all together. It fit well, but was a bit uncomfortable because of the pine cones. Still, I got home okay and didn’t lose any acorns or pine cones. Since it was already dark by the time I’d hiked home, I was a bit cold wearing only my t-shirt, but not too uncomfortable.
What to Carry in Your Pack
Though the items you can carry in your pack will be mostly dictated by the situation you are in (remember, you’re wearing your pants as a backpack, so there has been an emergency of some sort), but mostly consider the essentials: food, water, shelter, ability to make fire and find your direction. Gathered berries and larger fruit are a lot easier to transport in greater number with a pants pack, giving you the ability to move more freely and unencumbered by the load. As well, an armful of loose gear is unwieldy, keeping you from travelling quickly and potentially causing some of the gear to be inadvertently lost along the way.
Editors Note: A version of this article first appeared in the May 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.