Jerry Carry

Carrying Water in Regions of Drought

gracewalking copy.jpg

The Jerry Carry is a pack board designed to ease the physical burden of carrying water long distances in regions of drought. In sub-Saharan Africa where water is scarce, jerry cans that arrived as vessels for cooking oil are repurposed to carry water long distances over rough terrain. Struck by the bodily strain of this endeavor⏤ but inspired by the industrious spirit of prolonging the jerry can's useful life⏤my team set out to build a weight-bearing system that adapts to current water carrying practices. 

After designing the pack board, we sought to build a resilient product system that engages the user in creation, repair, and future modifications to the design.


Collaboration on all design


Pack board build collaboration

Shoulder strap sewing


Leah Bertuccelli

Grace Budgett


6.5 weeks, Winter 2018



Behind the Design


Water is heavy

A full jerry can weighs 40 pounds. If carried improperly, this amount of weight can cause permanent damage to the body resulting in life-long chronic pain conditions.


Inequality is a Cycle

Children will begin carrying water for their families at an average age of 11 years old. Women and children who are injured or fatigued from carrying water have less time and energy to devote to education and career-building, reinforcing cycles of poverty.

Carrying Methods

Current and Historical Water-Carrying Techniques

Head Carry

The weight is balanced entirely upon the weight-bearer's head. This causes direct spinal compression and requires immense stabilizing efforts.

Shoulder Pole

Weight is balanced on either end of a pole that sits on the shoulders behind the head. This position strains the neck and falling could cause injury.

Forehead Sling

A piece of rope or fabric is positioned across the forehead to support the jerry can on the back. Most of the strain is placed on the neck.

Makeshift Backpack​

Using found materials like rope and fabric, the jerry can is carried as a makeshift backpack. The load is supported entirely by the shoulders.

Existing Solutions

Competing Products on the Market

WaterWear Backpack

The WaterWear backpack is intended to be filled with water and worn on one's back. It's soft construction does not account for load-bearing for long distances.

A rigid frame is required to balance heavy weight and distribute the stress properly. The material is also susceptible to wear and would be difficult to repair were it torn. 

Hippo Roller

The Hippo Roller has been widely advertised as a solution to the duress of water carrying. The water container remains on the ground and is rolled with an elevated handle.

However, this design does not take into account the rough terrain that travelers must often traverse in order to transport water to their homes. Many users have cited this as a deterrent to the use of this product.

Analogous Research

Tips from a Pro Backpacker



Since we couldn't travel to meet the women we were designing for, we looked for inspiration closer to home. Backpacking is a similar long-distance weight-bearing exercise over rough terrain. A backpack is used to distribute the weight to reduce negative impact on the body and to allow for dynamic, hands-free movement.

Annika, 20 years old, frequent backpacker:

"As a woman, I need to get the right weight distribution across my shoulders and hips."


Women rely on lower body strength much more than men and curvier body shapes can make it hard to find a comfortable hip belt fit.

Key Insights

⏤women need adjustable hip belt options

⏤a chest strap and hip belt balance the weight so your shoulders don't have to do extra work

⏤neck mobility is important

⏤maximize shoulder mobility 

⏤curved shoulder straps are comfortable for a woman's chest

⏤a rigid frame improves weight distribution

⏤a pack needs to be easy to swing onto your back from the ground

Design Criteria

To Measure the Outcome's Success



to withstand heavy loads and rough terrain



to minimize the weight our users carry



to adapt to a variety of objects and needs


Long Lifecycle

replaceable parts to prolong useful life



to fit a variety of body shapes and sizes


Dhakiya, Mother of 4, Northern Kenya


She walks 6 kilometers a day with a jerry can.

Dhakiya has made straps out of canvas to carry the 5 gallon container, but despite this she has chronic neck and back pain.

Her children help with chores, taking them away from education and social activities.

Brightly Colored






Initial Sketches

sketches all together.jpg

Prototypes 1

Testing Initial Concepts


shoulder clearance

aeration through slots


too flexible - lacks support

needs more back protection


good lower back support


not flexible enough

no air flowing to back


slots for lashing

flexible trampoline

rigid frame


needs more shoulder clearance

Prototypes 2

Testing Weight-Bearing Frames


trampoline back


complex design

shelf held weight too low


supports curve of the back

held up to weight test


not enough aeration

needs more shoulder clearance

blocks neck movement


flexible trampoline

held up to weight test

offset for weight and aeration


too tall

Frame Refinement

Testing Variations of a Bent Pack Board

Jerry Carry Frame Evolution-01.png

Final To-Do's

We laser cut a cardboard version of our design to check for final changes that needed to be made. We had a hard time pulling the trampoline taught, so decided to add metal posts for an even stretch. When trying it on, we also found that we needed to taper the pack board a bit more in the shoulder area for better freedom of movement.

Final Form

Functional Prototype


replaceable straps

durable materials

minimal design

many lashing configurations

adjustable straps


dual hip adjustment

replaceable straps

jerrycan 4_edited.jpg

Building a System

We were inspired by projects like Precious Plastic, an open source plastic manufacturing and workspace blueprint that encourages recycling and participation in the creation of new things.

Screen Shot 2019-10-25 at

The Machines

Precious Plastic's open source plans and instructional video library allow people all over the world to create their own maker spaces and build modular machines with basic tools and materials. 

Shredder Machine

Extrusion Machine

Injection Machine

Compression Machine

More to come!

Stay tuned :)