How to DIY a backpack part 2 – The Begining

In the last part I talked over planning the DIY Backpack in your head and the materials I used to make the pack. But I want you to know that materials are TOTALLY SUBJECTIVE AND SHOULD BE BASED ON THE PACKS INTENDED USE. You don’t want to make a pack out of 1.1 rip stop nylon and then take it on a bushwhacking adventure, similarly don’t make one out of cotton and then go on an extended backpacking trip in the Pacific Northwest.

The material you use warrants some thought. There are several good all-around fabrics, and a few specific ones, and I’ll be covering what my thought process is/was.

The first and most glaring choice is “Do I spring for DCF(Cuban Fiber) or not?” DCF in the weight and durability I wanted is available from ZPacks, and its about $15 per half yard. $30 isn’t much for a Cuban pack, but I’m not super confident dealing with it yet. And the robic was only $12.

The other option besides the Robic I finally went with is X-Pack, and while this would have been just as good in my opinion, it isn’t available through I didn’t want to make more than one order, and it was a little more expensive if I recall correctly.

The Robic was what I went with. Its a good price for the material, and it’s very durable. I think as far as a starter fabric it’s very forgiving, inexpensive and waterproof. Exactly what I wanted. Later I can play with DCF, but I want to get this pack down.

Making the templates. 

From here it’s time to make the plan. First, we need to know how big the pack going to be. I’m aiming at around 30 liters without accounting for the outside pockets. So to do that I found a bag that I like and I copied the dimensions.

The Gossamer Gear Kumo is the pack I modeled this one after. I like it because it’s a great platform for a UL to SUL pack. Anyway the Specs for the main body are:

  • 22″ tall
  • 11″ wide
  • 4.5″ deep

Add a half inch to each side for hems and we get:

  • 23″ Tall
  • 12″ wide
  • 5.5″ deep

This means that the front and back need to be around 23″ tall by 12″ wide if you are doing a drawstring, velcro, or button closure. If you are doing a roll top like me you will need to add somewhere around 5″ to the height of each of these. One important thing to remember is that this is for me, and if you are shorter or taller than me (I’m 6’3″) you should measure the distance from the top of your shoulder to the crest of your hip. This will tell you how long the pack body should be. Another option is to go to an REI and get yourself fitted. If you are shorter and want the same overall volume, just make the pack deeper. Take a look around for a pack that would fit you in the volume you want and use those dimensions. The overall themes here will still suffice to allow you to make the pack.

The bottom panel is easy, just a 12″ wide by 5.5″ rectangle.

I like to use cardboard for my templates, I feel it’s easier to hold in place than a cloth one, and I can find it easily. Others like paper bags, or even Tyvek.

DIY Backpack
The Template for the back/front panel I made.

This part is on you. Decide what you can get your hands on easiest and use that for the template. In the above picture I have laid out the plan on the panel. Since the Back and front are the same size I only made one template and then I planned out the pockets and straps using the folds of the cardboard, and a maker to label what went where. This is where you can see your pack start to take shape.

DIY Backpack

Next post is going to cover cutting out the templates, and then sewing basics for this and most outdoor projects.

Past Articles in this series:
Part One   Part Two

Is the BeFree a better filter than the Saywer?


EDIT: In a recent trip, the BeFree totally stopped filtering even though it was clean and well taken care of. I cannot endorse this filter, as a few others have had this same problem, so I know it’s not just me.

Long story short, maybe in the next iteration.

I recently purchased two Katadyn BeFree filters from REI when they were on sale, thinking that hey, they might be cool and they are only $20 at the time.


I have been a fan of gravity filters for a while due to the set it and forget it factor, but the flow of cheap ones left me with something to be desired for quick stops, and the high cost of the Platypus Gravity left me saying no thanks.  So I have been using the BeFree, modified pretty heavily, but it works soo well. EDIT: No it doesn’t.

First some practicalities.

  • The BeFree filters do not use standard threading like the Sawyer line does. I dislike this. The bottle openings are much bigger and allow for a high flow rate to but the filter, enhancing its already amazing flow rate, but it can’t use any other bottles than the soft bottle it comes with. So you can either use this with the soft bottle, or try to find something that the filter portion can fit on. I didn’t find anything, and I went to King Soopers one day to just try it out. NOTHING fit. And I tried everything, even pancake mix bottles. So that is an issue if you are wanting to hook it up to some smart water bottles or to use it as an inline filter. If that’s the case, you should just stick with the Sawyer which fits nearly everything. EDIT: it fits on a Hydrapak Seeker Water Bottle. Which is an issue because if the bottle pops, leaks or is damaged in any way you are hosed until you can order a new one.
  • The next issue is that damn soft bottle. I get that it’s supposed to be easier to carry, and it can pack down small but I just hate them. They are good on some running vests where they need to conform to a certain shape that doesn’t work for a rigid bottle. But for backpacking, I hate them.
  • Third I don’t really get the idea here. When on a run there aren’t really times when I need to stop to refill my water supply, and for most trail runners I imagine this is true. Ultra Runners might need it to go light and just refill as needed, but even then a bladder would work better I think. If you are running 50 miles unsupported and on your own, most runners carry what they need.

Why I like the BeFree:

  • Using the BeFree after the Squeeze is night and day. It’s like just pouring water from the bottle.
  • When it’s dirty just put some clean water in the bag and shake it. BAM! It’s clean again. So the need to back flush is gone. Thus no need to carry a syringe. There really is no need anyway, just use a Smartwater bottle cap. The blue one with the flip lid.
  • The entire filter is exposed to the water, verses just the end in a Sawyer. This makes it able to filter faster due to the greater surface area and easier to clean as well.

So I modified it this way:

  • I cut the hard top of the soft bottle off and set it aside.
  • I had a dry sack from Mountain Hardware that is now discontinued (but this will work) and I cut a 1.5” line in the bottom.
  • Then I pulled the bag through the hard top of the bottle and screwed the filter on.

It works so well.

EDIT: It worked well until I tried it with some lake water. It didn’t perform then. The filter clogged and wouldn’t let more than a trickle out. It was filtering much slower than the Sawyer.



Best DIY $7 Bladder Dryer

I recently got a new to me running pack for my as yet budding trail running fun, and it has a unique feature: a bladder sewn to the waist belt. Now I need a bladder dryer.

Bladder Dryer

Innov8 gave it a wordy title: The RacePro X Extreme 4. The whole thing weighs 6.7 oz and is a blast to run with. But after I used it the first time, I realized I had an issue. How do I dry the bladder? My inner DIY came out and I made this bladder dryer setup. Now it’s not pretty, but it works.bladder dryerbladder dryer

Here’s what you will need:

  • A pack with a bladder attached, or just a bladder.
  • A child’s cup from a restaurant. I used a PF Chang’s cup. Any small cup or thing you can make into an air funnel will work, but it needs to have two wide openings.
  • A razor blade. You probably have these just lying around.
  • A small fan, to provide the drying action. I bought this one because the USB will run off a battery pack, meaning I can leave it anywhere there is room.
  • A thick book. I used The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.
bladder dryer
The Way of Kings is a very cutting commentary on war.

I placed the razor 1/4″ up, and began to cut the bottom of the kid’s cup off to make the exit of the funnel to the bladder dryer.bladder dryerbladder dryerbladder dryerFrom there insert the cup into the bladder like so:bladder dryer

Then set up the fan in front, and maybe use an old GoPro to prop up the funnel.bladder dryer

It will take a few hours to completely dry, but it’s pretty fast. A better fan would be faster. You want to have the fan a few inches away in order to maximize the air flow by the bladder dryer. Having it a few inches away allows the funnel to utilize the Bernoulli Principle. This is the same principle behind the Thermarest Speed Valve, that pulls more air from the surrounding atmosphere into the funnel as the air from the fan goes into the funnel. I have no way of testing this other than to put my hand by the side of the fan to feel the airflow, but it felt like it was working. After a couple of hours the bladder will be dry.