How to Make Your External Frame for the Alice Pack

Written by doug munson
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How to Make Your External Frame for the Alice Pack
This homemade ALICE backpack frame is designed for strength and comfort. (backpacking image by Galyna Andrushko from Fotolia.com)

The Native Americans were the first to use the backpack, a woven basket strapped on the back. According to Skip Yowell in The Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder and other Mountains, Lloyd Nelson is credited with patenting the first modern external backpack frame in 1929. The military employed plywood packboards in the Vietnam era, then later devised the ALICE Pack (All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) in 1973. The backpack frame continued to evolve to the high-tech lightweights on the trails today. This homemade ALICE pack frame, however, is a nostalgic amalgam of styles designed for strength and comfort.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • 18-inch wide by 30-inch long by .25 inch thick sheet of plywood
  • Ruler
  • Bottle cap
  • Power drill
  • Sabre saw
  • Two pieces of 1-inch by 2-inch maple, ash, or pine, 30 inches long
  • Eight 1.5-inch wood screws
  • Screwdriver
  • Two 30-inch side release buckle straps with 2 inch flat nylon
  • Two 2-inch D-rings with mounts
  • Tin snips
  • Two 2-inch by 1-inch pieces of aluminium or tin cut from a can lid
  • Eight brads
  • 26.5-inch by 37.5-inch piece of canvas
  • Sewing machine or heavy duty needle and thread
  • Grommet punch
  • 16 small brass grommets
  • 72 inches of rawhide or nylon cord
  • Eight eyed screws

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Measure in and mark with a pencil 4 inches from each side of the length of the plywood, then draw a line top to bottom. Measure and mark 2.5 inches down each vertical line from the top of the board and draw a horizontal line connecting the two vertical lines you've just drawn. Continue measuring down 2 inches along the verticals and draw another horizontal line connecting them. In the 2 by 10 inch box you've drawn, mark an inch in from each side of the box, making a new box 2 by 8 inches.

  2. 2

    Measure down another 4 inches along the verticals, then mark and draw another horizontal line connecting them. Measure down 2.5 inches along the verticals and draw another horizontal line connecting them. Beneath this line, measure down 4 inches along the verticals and draw another horizontal line connecting them. Measure down 4 inches along the verticals and draw another horizontal line connecting them. Measure down 4 inches along the verticals and draw another horizontal line connecting them. Measure down 4 inches along the verticals and draw another horizontal line connecting them. Draw a rounded corner inside each box using the bottle cap as the rounded edge.

  3. 3

    Drill starter holes in the 2 by 8 inch box and, with the Saber saw, cut out the opening with rounded corners. Drill starter holes 4 inches below that and use the Saber saw to open a box 2.5 by 10 inches. Drill starter holes 4 inches below that and use the Saber saw to open a box 4 by 10 inches. Drill starter holes 4 inches below that use the Saber saw to and open one last box 4 by 10 inches, each with rounded corners.

  4. 4

    Fasten the two pieces of hardwood near the edge of each side of the sheet of plywood, pre-drilling and inserting the wight wood screws, equally spaced, four on each side to make a shallow "u" shaped backpack frame. Sand the entire frame, smoothing all edges. If desired, stain and finish the frame for protection.

  5. 5

    Fasten the ends of the nylon shoulder straps to the inside of the frame, the side with the wooden sides, using the brads and small pieces of metal, making sure that the adjustable portion with the release buckles is facing the bottom of the pack frame on each side. Insert the round sides of the D-rings into the loop of the adjustable portion and fasten the rings with their mounts to each side of each piece of hardwood.

  6. 6

    Fold over a .5 inch hem on each side of the canvas and stitch it with a sewing machine or needle and thread. Punch and fasten eight grommets along each hem of the (now) 25.5 inch side of the canvas, starting .5 inch down from the left hem and 1 inch down from the right hem, equidistantly spaced. Wrap the canvas around the pack frame so the sides with the grommets are on the side opposite the side with the shoulder straps. Lace the rawhide or nylon cord through the grommet holes and tie it off, making sure the canvas is taut. This will provide your back with a relatively comfortable cushion.

  7. 7

    Insert the eight eyed screws, four to a side, near the outside edge of the pack frame on the laced side. These will serve as fasteners for your pack and gear.

Tips and warnings

  • You can find hardware and straps at your local military surplus store or at the links accompanying this article. For additional comfort you can attach a kidney pad.
  • This pack frame will accommodate small, medium, or large ALICE packs, but it is homemade. It is not a lightweight. If the weight is an issue for you, visit your local military surplus store or the online resources suggested below.

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