How to DIY a Backpack part one – The Outline.

This is my third time sewing a DIY Backpack, and I’ve learned some things. Mainly I learned that none of the how-to articles I found online are exhaustive enough. So this will be exhaustive. Let’s Start.

First you need to know what size you are aiming for. This is a 30ish liter pack, you can increase the size if you need it bigger, just add more inches to the templates. This will also be a framed pack, if you want it to be frameless, simply skip the frame installation.

DIY Backpack
My First DIY UL Pack

I bought all the fabric from Here is the list of ingredients I used to make the pack.

1 yard of 420d Robic fabric.

.5 yards of pocket mesh. I could have used less.

.5 yards of 3d mesh. I could have used way less.

You will also need: buckles for the belt, roll top, and shoulder straps (4), shock cord (1/8th and 1 Section) , and webbing (1 section). I hit up my local thrift store for this stuff.  Just find a 7 dollar backpack with 4 buckles and a waist belt. If you do it right you might even get one with straps and a belt you like, then you can just pull those off and use them on this pack.

Side Note: If you want to use a wider webbing than 1/2 inch for the waist belt, you will need to order a different buckle for that belt. You should use a wider webbing if you are sensitive in the waist, or if you are going to have a load over 20lbs. You don’t need wider webbing if you are putting hip belt pads on though.

I also recommend some power stretch Lycra if you want some stretchy pockets. You can find this online here or, if you want to be thrifty, use an old pair of stretchy boxer briefs or a stretchy dress. Wash them first.

I’m also going to save wight by using Zing-It (1 section), to make the bottom of my shoulder straps, but this is optional.

From Wal-Mart I bought this:

2 carbon fiber arrows,  the Allen Eliminator model. (This Amazon link is a better deal per shaft.)

A roll of green foam camping mattress.

A universal Zipper.

Things I already had:

Camouflage and blue Hexxon fabric. 

If you don’t have a Sewing Machine I recommend this one very highly, It’s a great value for what you will be doing, and handles fabric from the heavier main body of this pack to the super light stuff I am using on my tarps with no issues.

Also you will need a Dremel or an Angle Grinder with a cut off wheel to cut the arrows to length.

When Sewing a pack there are really only a couple of ways to put it together. You can sew everything on a flat section of cloth, sew the two ends together to create a tube, and then seal the bottom and create some type of opening seal on the top. Or you can create the sides, front, back and bottom in what I’m calling panels, and then attach them together.

This series of how-to posts will show you the panel method, and later I’ll do a tube method. Maybe. Now the panel method is most common, and has a million way you can vary the size, shape and number of panels as well. I will use 5 panels. Two sides, a front, back and bottom because it’s easy.

In order to make this pack you need to know what you want out of it.

I want it to have a roll top closure, because it can add compression, and it is a better seal against rain than a drawstring. I also want to have a long side pocket, an under pocket, a big back pocket, a mesh web on the lower back  for wet things, and hip belt with a square zip pocket on one side, and a dump tube on the other. Lastly I want it to have mesh water bottle holders sewn into the shoulder straps, and I want the water bottle holder to have built in stretch pockets. Oh and a super light frame. Oh and it needs to be waterproof.

This is a beautiful thing. I know of no manufacturer that makes a pack like this. I know of a few that would make one, but it would be hundreds of dollars, and if something wasn’t quite right you would have to send it back to get it fixed. That is why I’m making my own.

Part Two will talk fabrics, then we will move on to making templates.



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GoLite Poncho Tarp Long term review

I have had this GoLite poncho tarp made of silnylon since I started backpacking. It weighs in at 9 oz and has been a staple of mine while backpacking here in Colorado for a while. I only this last year got into a rain jacket (this one) and I find that that works well for my hammock setup. I am still chasing elusive 5 pound base weight dragon though and a 14 oz tarp, and 10 oz hammock are too heavy.

I’m finding that integration is the key to reduce your weight. Dual use or triple use items are where its at in regards to extreme weight reduction. So I’m back to my poncho tarp.

GoLite Poncho TarpThe poncho tarp setup as a quick shelter from the rain while eating lunch.

I’ve came close to that 5lbs dragon with my current setup, I’m down to 6.88 lbs.  This poncho tarp is an integral part of the system.  I’m still working on it to customize it for me, it’s a small shelter, and my current backyard tests aren’t yielding great results on windy stormy nights. You really need to know where the storm is coming from and which direction the wind is blowing to make sure that the opening isn’t facing into the wind.

When in poncho mode, it has snaps up the sides that will keep it closed, but it will still billow due to the fact that it’s really wide. It’s a very good solution here in Colorado although it wouldn’t be quite the same, or I suspect as good, in places like Pacific Northwest. I can also use this as an asymmetrical hammock tarp, or if it’s hot and a little rainy, I can roll up the front and I get a great breeze, while keeping my pack dry.

GoLite Poncho Tarp
The GoLite Poncho Tarp as an asym hammock tarp.

Current issues with a ground tarp setup:

  1. I’m 6’3” and 220LBS. So I’m really big for this shelter type.  This leaves my head or feet exposed to the wind and rain.
  2. Using an umbrella or rain jacket to seal one side won’t fix the issue if the rain is coming on the diagonal, or doesn’t fix the issue of setup in precipitation.
  3. The outside pole needed to seal the hood and pull it from my face to create room means I WILL get wet if I use this as my only rain wear.


Current Pros:

  1. Its super light at 9 OZ.
  2. As a dual use piece of equipment, it saves the weight of taking a separate shelter and rain gear. Depending on the rain gear, it could be from 4 to 12 OZ or so.
  3. With only slight modification, it could be a great three season shelter.

My plans moving forward are to modify the side of the tarp so that it can become an effective shelter for someone my size.  And I’ll post that up when I get it done.

But the poncho tarp is great for people that are under 6 foot, and setup in the half-mid pitch it would work really well. Since I’m bigger I need to use the pitch in the picture.


This is a great product for use in areas with low humidity, and has served me well for about 5 years on the trail. Not many things will last that long with as much trail use as this sees. If you can find one, get it.




Appalachian Ultralight Thru-hiker’s pack Medium Term Review

Hey all, I think the winter season is done here in beautiful and sunny Colorado, so I wanted to take the time to review the Appalachian Ultralight Thru Hiker’s pack with an eye towards the medium term.

First off, I’m selling my ULA CDT. So that should tell you something.

Appalachian Ultralight
The Appalachian Ultralight out on a 10 degree night.

First I find that the pack can comfortably hold upwards of 25 pounds! That’s on the higher side for a frameless pack. On this trip, I had packed heavy on purpose, and included a car camping 0 degree full synthetic sleeping bag. It weighs in at 5 lbs. Plus my Whisperlite with a full bottle of fuel and this 3 pound tent and the pack held 26 lbs with food and water comfortably.  Not that the CDT didn’t, but one of the real selling points here is the customizable nature of Cody’s packs.

Appalachian Ultralight
A better lit pic from an warmer day.

The elastic straps on the back are supremely useful. From stowing your poles, to a wrap for a wet tarp or tent, I haven’t had an outing where I haven’t used them. The back pocket I thought would be too small but it’s plenty big. The straps are comfy for even long days.

The Thru-Hiker’s pack on a cold winter morning.

That said I do have couple things I wish were changed.

  1. The sternum strap is hard to unclasp. A single line with big knots would be easier.
  2. The compression lines on the side are in the side pockets, I would prefer them on the outside. Really this is just a preference. But if you put loose things in those pockets the strings can get very caught up in them.
  3. Hip belt pockets. I miss them and I have sewn my own that can go on any belt. I should note that Cody will put a pair on if you ask him.
  4. I wish it had one of the new under pockets. That would probably eliminate the need for hip belt pockets.

Criticism aside this is a great pack that I would (and have) recommend to any of my friends, or passersby.