Contributed by: Steve Steury, 1998
"Making A Backpack"....
Hmmm. Where to begin? Well, I can say that I had only the most rudimentary idea of how to use a sewing machine before I started, and I have a pretty fair idea now.
First, I made something that was entirely off-the-cuff. It evolved as I made it.
I was going for something that would tote about ten days worth of three-season gear; up to about 30 lbs. I believe the finished product is about 3500ci. The fabric I used was Stephenson's 1.4oz SI coated High Tenacity Ripstop Nylon. Before you run out and get it, NOTE: I think it is too light for most packs. I think the minimum to consider should be 2.0 oz coated ripstop.
The first step was making the "sack" part of the pack. I sewed a rectangular piece about 33" high by 39" wide into a tube, then sewed a hem for a drawstring at the top (I used a small grommet for the string). Next I made a bottom for the sack by laminating three pieces of ripstop together for strength and cutting it into a rectangle the size of the opening...
After sewing it on, I reinforced the spot on the sack where the shoulder straps would attach with two more pieces of ripstop. I might have actually saved weight using a heavier fabric, as all the silicone I used to laminate reinforcing layers and shore up seams definitely added up.
I used a pair of small replacement shoulder straps from REI ($20) and removed the grommets; then sewed them to a 6" piece of 1 1/2" webbing. The webbing was then in turn sewn to the prepared spot on the sack (about 21" from the bottom edge for my torso).
Next came the "suspension". This consisted of a mesh "sleeve" that will hold a folded 20x48" sleeping pad... 1/2" blue ensolite (5.3oz), a small ridgerest (9oz), or a small thermarest (15oz).
This mesh panel was sewn directly to the sack. The bottom was sewn onto the edge of the bottom panel of the sack. The sides were sewn to the sack, centered, about a foot apart. I did a lot of "eyeing" this part with the ridgerest folded up... Note that the top is open for the pad to slide in/out, and also that the bottom 8 to 10" of the sides are NOT sewn to the sack... I made a detachable hipbelt that slides in between the main sack and the sleeping pad through the openings left at the edge of the mesh...
I made a very simple top cap for the pack with two rectangles of fabric. I don't even remember what size I used; however big or small you want. Even a small flap of fabric to cover the hole when the drawstring is pulled tight will do. I did sew a zipper in to make the cap into a pocket and I sewed ladderlocs (3/4") to all four corners for webbing.
The hipbelt was the one thing I needed help with. I almost bought one at REI but decided to make my own. I used four small pieces of blue 1/2" ensolite (cut from pad purchased at REI). They were doubled up on each side and covered with several layers of mesh. The backside was a 7x34" triple layered and laminated piece of ripstop. I cut the foam pieces to what seemed like the right size for hip padding, then sewed the mesh to the ripstop backing around the foam, creating an envelope containing the foam padding. I used a 1 1/2" buckle and webbing to complete the belt; this had to be sewn on by a shoe repair shop, as the foam was very thick. I also had two 3/4" ladderlocs sewn onto the back top of the belt to provide extra support to the bottom of the pack.
Lastly I attached the shoulder strap webbing to the bottom of the pack and added a whole spiderweb of 3/4" ladderlocs, webbing and buckles to take pressure off the seemingly weak fabric.
Done. Holds a load nicely and is comfortable. Happily surprised by the whole thing, actually.
A belated follow up -- I went on a 7 day trip in the 10-14K range in Colorado last fall. One solo 48 hr section of the trip went a bit haywire and I ended up having to cover 17 miles and 15000ft of elevation gain and 15000ft of elevation loss, off trail. Much bushwhacking, stampeding elk and bighorn, and the last 24hrs without food due to.... stupidity.
Anyway, the pack that my friends were mocking held up well and was, of course, half the weight of theirs. It took some resonably tough abuse and abrasion despite my attempts at care. I am pleased to report that the 20oz wonder held up well. I could have brought more gear; it had the room...but why?
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