Lightweight Multi-Day Pack
This was my first full-on backpack project. I'm not really new to sewing but this was definitely one of the more complicated builds I've done. I took some pictures along the way in the hope that others who may be interested will have some useful tips to go off. The whole project took around 30 hours (although if I made another pack this time would probably be cut in half) and cost approx. $80 (US) in materials.
DISCLAIMER: This is by no means a "beginner" level project and should only be attempted by those with competent sewing skills, a good understanding of how to create shapes with fabric, and a strong awareness of "what to sew when" while putting complex projects together. This writeup does not provide enough information to serve as a step-by-step guide and if using it as such, crucial steps in the build process will invariably be missed.
The rough outline of steps I followed is this:
1. Planning, concept drawing, coming up with measurements (it helps to use an existing pack that fits well for these)
2. Creating stencils with the appropriate measurements, transferring these to fabric, cutting out the fabric
3. Construct the shoulder straps, hip belt, and back panel
4. Construct each of the side panels and the front panel
5. Assemble the back, bottom, front, and 2 side panels
6. Measure the circumference of the main compartment, construct an appropriately sized roll top
7. Attach the roll top
Step 1 involved coming up with the right shape and dimensions. I designed the main compartment to gently taper towards the bottom so the pack would be easier to pack/unpack and the weight would be distributed more towards the top of the pack (this improves stability/wearability when hiking in my experience).
Then its time for some more planning. I wanted to make sure I had a list of all the features I wanted to add before I started working. This allowed me to order the right quantity of materials from the get go and is also very useful to refer to when sewing to make sure you don't miss things. I ended up deciding on the following features:
- waterproof rolltop closure
- all seams sealed for waterproofing
- removable internal frame sheet
- top compression strap
- haul loop
- load lifters
- lightweight anodized aluminium cinch buckles for shoulder straps and waist belt (do not crack or lose strength in the extreme cold, are unaffected by DEET or other chemicals)
- bungee grid on front panel
- bungee grids on hip belt
- interior loop velcro strips for attaching/organizing small pouches and gadgets
- 2x slanted bungee-top side pockets
- 1x waterproof zip pocket
- 1x large mesh pocket
- 4x side compression straps
- 2x bottom stow straps
- 2x tool loops
- 3x loops on left side of back panel for routing hydration bladder tubing
Like I mentioned before, I find that one of the trickiest parts of making your own patterns is knowing "what to sew when". This is a concept drawing for the back panel to remind myself of the order that all pieces need to go on. Many times if you forget to attach a loop or strap at the crucial time you will not have an opportunity to do so later without scrapping your work or undoing seams.
Ok, so after much deliberation it is now time to start. I started with the shoulder straps but this is relatively arbitrary. Realistically one can start with any major part of the bag so long as it is done in the right order (i.e. don't stitch up the main compartment before adding exterior pockets and compression straps, etc.). If you have read this far you should make sure you are comfortable enough with your sewing skills that you can figure out "what to sew when" on your own.
For the shape of the shoulder straps I simply copied the ones on my trusty Deuter Aircontact. I thought it would be a good idea to copy the existing straps on a pack I already find incredibly comfortable rather than designing the shape from scratch.
I stitched the two pieces together by following the contours I drew before trimming off excess material. In contrast to cutting out the shape first and then stitching the pieces together, this leaves you more fabric to manipulate as it goes through the machine and results in better looking seams that stay true to the shape you drew.
Turning the straps inside out after stitching. All structural seams are double stitched. In the background is my trusty Sears Kenmore model 148.19371.
Completed shoulder straps. Bar tacking through the foam can be tough to do with most machines and I did have a few timing issues when I wasn't careful, but I felt it was necessary in order to prevent the foam from rolling inside the straps. It also provides a bit of structural integrity, allowed me to attach the load lifters, and makes for a more finished look.
I drew the shapes for all pieces onto thick construction paper and cut them out before tracing onto the fabric. The hip belt uses one continuous piece of 3D mesh in the front and two pieces of gridstop dyneema fabric on the back. The two pieces meet in the middle which provides an opening where the foam padding can be inserted. The belt is then stitched to the back panel, which effectively closes the opening.
The foam pieces for the back panel were designed to ride along my upper back on either side of my spine with a channel in the middle for some airflow. I used 10mm closed cell EVA foam inside the shoulder straps, hip belt, and back panel. For the panel pieces I doubled up the foam and used double sided tape to hold it in place prior to stitching down the 3D mesh.
The back panel with all major pieces attached.
All seams are liberally sealed using a silicone based seam sealant that I thinned with mineral spirits so it would penetrate deeply.
Cutting out shapes for the front, bottom, and side panels. I used two layers of VX21 for the bottom piece. Probably overkill but I wanted the peace of mind if I'm placing the pack down on sharp stones, etc.
Making the shape for the zipper pocket that sits on the front panel. I wanted this pocket to hold small items that get used frequently on the trail such as a bugnet, lip balm, bandaids, headlamp, etc.
Pre-bending the paper shape to visualize how it will all come together is a huge help. There are lots of small tricky seams with a pocket like this.
All body pieces attached and seam sealed, just prior to completion. The side pockets use dyneema gridstop because I was told that VX21 is too stiff for this application. Ditto for the shoulder straps and waist belt of course.
Just a useless wind instrument that likes to sew a bit from time to time