Finally finished my first backpack. It’s upcycled—made mostly of found, repurposed or recycled materials. The roll-top stiffener came from discarded plastic ribbon that once secured stuff to a hardware store pallet. The haul loop came from a reusable grocery bag. Reinforcement Cordura-like fabric and shoulder-strap webbing came from a 20+ year-old department store kids’ backpack that once cost $5 new. The main pack material came out of my grandmother-in-law’s quilting scraps bag that she was downsizing (how many grandmas out there quilt with ripstop 2.2oz/sq.yd PU-coated nylon?) Buckles and such were replacements I had lying around, cannibalized from old stuff. Shockcord for the side pockets originally held the fly on a yard-sale Coleman dome tent that I wore out. Other contributors to the pack included a baby stroller and wedding dress-making leftovers. I spent just about $8 for the pocket mesh, a second piece of shockcord, some black grosgrain and 1.5 feet of 2” webbing, and still have plenty of grosgrain and mesh left over for another pack. The original idea was just to make a cheap prototype, but I just took this up four peaks in the White Mountains of NH and subjected it to some good abrasion without incident.
The basic design came from John Roan of MountainUltralight.com’s pattern for a 3,035 cubic inch pack from one linear yard of fabric. I think his dual rear pocket idea is brilliant. I can put wet things like my squeeze filter, rain gear and tarp in the bottom pocket to drain and essentials I need during the day like hand sanitizer, windshirt and GORP in the top pocket without them getting all wet.
The pattern, drawn with sidewalk chalk:
I had three overnight backpacking trips this summer and was hoping to have it ready for the first. I ended up finishing it for the last, with one of my hiking buddies waiting around my house for an hour while I sewed up the last stitches.
One issue with rushing a project right before a hike is there’s no time to tweak it for fit. I realized that John, the pattern designer, must be a good deal taller than me. Even though I measured my torso length and applied it to the attachment points, the shoulder straps have way too much length to them—a good 3-4 inches, even when cinched up all the way. You can see how this makes the pack sag down below my waist. Even so, it was a super-comfortable pack at 10.2 oz. And the fix should be easy--I’ll just seam-rip the top webbing attachment to the straps, cut off the excess and re-boxstitch them.
I wanted to make this pack streamlined and simple. The roll-top keeps it clean without any extra fabric, webbing or drawcord to flop around. The shockcord cinches up the top of the mesh pockets and serves as side compression and holds the ends of trekking poles in place when their handles are stuffed into the side pockets. I figure, rather than adding on a bunch of attachment points I may or may not use, I’ll keep it simple for now and, through use, determine where (if) extra features are needed.
I must have seam ripped every piece of this pack at least once. The mesh back pockets proved the trickiest for me. First I tried rolling the raw edges in and sewing them down, which worked for the side pockets, but on the bigger back pockets the thread tangled like crazy. Then, I tried sewing grosgrain along the perimeter, but the grosgrain doesn’t have the same stretch the mesh does and bunched up. Finally, I just did a simple fold of the raw edge in and stitched it to the pack. Over time, I don’t know how much the raw edge of the mesh on the inside of the pocket will fray, but we’ll see. This simplest method also produced the cleanest look. I would still do the mesh pockets differently next time, engineering a more pronounced bellow.
I had a specific idea of the pack I wanted in my mind, and found that my attachment to that idea was a real stumbling block to my progress. Eventually I gave in to the understanding that, as my first pack, this would not be perfect, but I could make it useable. And as the clock ticked down for this last trip, I knew it was time to commit and get it done. From that point forward, the process flowed much better. Dave Chenault’s blog posts about his packs were inspiring in that regard. Dave makes awesome packs that get USED, but he has no qualms about ripping things off, re-sewing them, using different color thread, using different materials that don’t match, having marks on his packs from measuring lines, glue, whatever. Each experiment is forward progress. And I feel that with this pack too.