Primary Blog/Skills/A Student’s Journey – BlanketPacks

Friday, January 20, 2023

A Student’s Journey – BlanketPacks

Eric Johnson

In this guest post from one of our students, Eric Johnson, Eric reflects on lessons learned from the Essential Primitive Wilderness Survival course, and puts the skills to the test!

During the Basic Course at Primitive Wilderness Survival, Phillip explained all about BlanketPacks, their use, and their limitations. After a brief discussion, we jumped right in and started building our own BlanketPacks. There were blankets and cordage everywhere and Phillip wove himself through the class, helping each student with their packs. With each tuck, twist and tie we were getting feedback about how to build a better pack. When I was done, my pack looked pretty good, but deep-down, I really didn’t know if it would hold-up on a long hike.

And it wouldn’t take long to find out...

The BlanketPack was a completely new experience. Sure, I understood the principle and I’ve even seen other people use them, but honestly, I just dismissed the idea. I mean, if I have enough forethought to bring a blanket and lashing to make a backpack…wouldn’t I have just brought a backpack?

But that’s not the point. It’s not just about having a way to transport equipment; it’s about having an experience. It’s about learning new methods, techniques, and principles. It’s about trying alternative things and embracing the process. It’s about being self-sufficient. It’s about learning ways to improvise and being confident that you can make-do in less-than-ideal circumstances. Sure, anyone can carry a backpack, but in a pinch, can you create one? I wasn’t sure and this experience was enlightening, and the process was satisfying.

A few weeks after the Basic Class, I found myself out in the canyons of West Texas and I decided I was going to ditch the store-bought backpack and use the blanket method. I had a six-mile hike planned and this seemed like a great time for a real-world test. Sure, six miles isn’t that far, but this wasn’t going to be a simple walk on flat terrain. Hiking through the canyons on a trail isn’t the hardest, but there would be plenty of twisting, jumping and uneven surfaces which would give the BlanketPack a good test.

I knew that if this thing fell apart while I was trekking through the canyon, miles away from camp, that there was no one to blame except for the student! My pack was relatively light; it held some basic necessities.

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Here are a few tips from my six-mile canyon trip with a BlanketPack:

  • Fold your BlanketPack tight. When packaging items inside the blanket and you start that first fold, make sure that it is tight…then tuck and tighten some more! A tight pack looks good, but it’s more than just looks. As you are scurrying up rocks and cliffs like a lost mountain goat, a loose blanket backpack will be a mess. So, take your time and make it tight.
  • ​Lash your BlanketPack tight. And then tighten it some more. If you’re just walking on flat ground, you might be fine with your lashing snug, but after traveling 6 miles, going up and down canyons, you need to have a pack lashed tightly.
  • Secure your knots well. A basic understanding of knots is fine and there is no need to go overboard with creative nautical knots. Basic knots, when tied well, will do the job.
  • Lash with small cordage. When tying the pack together, use small cordage; paracord works well. Small cordage is light weight, sufficiently strong and it gives a good bight into the blanket bedroll backpack. To create a secure backpack, you want the external lashings to bight and grab the blanket. If your blanket happens to be of a slick material, then this is especially important.
  • Use webbing for shoulder straps. This won’t give you the same comfort as a purpose-made backpack straps, but it’s much better than paracord. While the paracord will make do in a pinch, it is far from ideal. In fact, if you use paracord for the pack strap, given enough time, no matter how light the pack is, it will start to dig into your shoulders. A pack of substantial weight, when carried with paracord shoulder straps, will be an irritation and source of discomfort.
  • Select the right blanket. Wool is a great choice, not just because of its warming properties, but because it is sturdy, robust and has a texture that helps the lashings bight into the blanket. Blankets made from materials that are synthetic and tightly woven are usable, but they are less than ideal for a backpack. It seems like the lashings don’t grab this type of material as well as a woolen blanket. Without the surface friction of the wool, the lashings are likely to shift and slip under a working load, which will ultimately lead to an uncomfortable experience…or a backpack that falls apart!
  • Secure the top and bottom of the pack. When lashing the BlanketPack, I found that lashing the bottom as well as the top helps to keep the pack secured. Having the backpack compressed from all directions minimized the shifting of the items nestled inside. By compressing and tensioning from all sides (front, back, sides, top and bottom), this made the pack secure, and it retained its original shape for the entire trip.
  • Lash in thirds. Lashing the pack so that it is evenly divided into thirds evenly disperses the pressure and friction that is holding the pack together. Equally spacing the lashings will help ensure the tension from the cordage is distributed across the pack, and this means the contents stay in place. If the lashings are too close together, then there is unequal distribution of force and the pack can collapse, causing the contents to spill. Pay special attention to the top and bottom lashings. If the lashings are too close to the edges, there is a possibility that, with enough movement, the lashings can slip off the pack causing a mess.
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Overall, the BlanketPack trek went well and was a good experience. It was a great reminder to take your time to build the pack right the first time. Over the course of six miles, I experienced a pack that wasn’t packed right (too much weight was on one side) and I realized the importance of double checking the balance of the load before hitting the trails. This is the reason it’s so important to go out and practice. Sure, anyone can learn about BlanketPacks, but you don’t really get the experience until you use a BlanketPack.

- Eric Johnson

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