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My first MYOG backpack, an adventure in upcycling
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Greg Pehrson
(GregPehrson) - MLife

Locale: playa del caballo blanco
My first MYOG backpack, an adventure in upcycling on 09/16/2013 21:11:26 MDT Print View


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.
pack back

The basic design came from John Roan of’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.

pack on baldface

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.

Edited by GregPehrson on 09/17/2013 04:23:19 MDT.

And E
(LunchANDYnner) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
awesome! on 09/16/2013 22:56:40 MDT Print View

Awesome pack! Super cool of you to make an environmentally responsible pack! How hard was sewing the main pack (minus the difficulty you faced with the mesh)? I may want to try making a day/commuting pack but packs look so complicated/hard

Greg Pehrson
(GregPehrson) - MLife

Locale: playa del caballo blanco
Re: awesome! on 09/17/2013 04:18:35 MDT Print View

Thanks, An-D! Go for it--with your great quilt results and experience you should have no problem! The biggest difference I found from my other MYOG projects was that this one required me to adjust the sewing machine tension, especially when going from sewing just the nylon to sewing a stack of webbing, Cordura and two layers of nylon. Your sewing machine may or may not require tension adjustment, but it's worth testing. I had seen pictures on here of folks trying out the tension on a bunch of scrap pieces first. I didn't do that, but it would have saved my seam ripper some miles.

For example, here is the lower reinforcement triangle for one of the shoulder straps. The other side is a beautiful box stitch, but the bottom side (shown here) made a big bird's nest. The high tension in the photo is what it should have been set on.


Daryl and Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
Re: My first MYOG backpack, an adventure in upcycling on 09/17/2013 08:48:13 MDT Print View

Nice job.

Tweaking to get that perfect fit should be fun and rewarding.

Sam Farrington
(scfhome) - M

Locale: Chocorua NH, USA
first pack on 09/18/2013 21:50:18 MDT Print View

Some really neat design ideas - very nice work.
Having trouble suspending disbelief about grandma's 2.2 oz PU coated nylon quilts, though.
The seam ripper still rules, hah-hah.

Greg Pehrson
(GregPehrson) - MLife

Locale: playa del caballo blanco
Re: first pack on 09/19/2013 04:54:47 MDT Print View

Thanks guys! Yeah, Samuel, this piece of fabric really stuck out among many pieces of cotton paisley, corduroy and floral prints in with her quilting supplies. She may have just gotten the last yard from a remnants bin. I haven't seen a lot of items made from tech fabrics around her apartment.

William Safley
(wsafley) - MLife

Locale: Eastern NC
Re: Re: first pack on 09/19/2013 05:47:56 MDT Print View

Ask her if she has any cuben lying around that she would be willing to sell to me. :-)

Seriously though, great work on the pack. I have been considering making the same pack. Based on your results, I think I am ready to try it.

Jeffrey Wong
(kayak4water) - MLife

Locale: Pacific NW
Nice Pack on 10/01/2013 21:56:24 MDT Print View

Nice pack and a great recycle! I like the front pockets in your pack that separate the dry/wet.

I have a Ray Jardine 3000 cube pack, which also has a low profile design permitting use of an umbrella. But it has just a single front pocket. I now may modify and change the single pocket to upper and lower pockets after seeing your pack. tanks.

Good decision on the solid fabric for the side pockets. better than my mesh side pockets, which caught a branch making a small hole.

Like the roll top. it is so right.

I've had two trips with my pack (12 oz with hip straps, b/c I'm a wimp who needs them off/on) I've quite recently begun to convert to the extra/ultra light camping thing & have found it has greatly enhanced my wilderness experience.

Greg Pehrson
(GregPehrson) - MLife

Locale: playa del caballo blanco
more construction details on 10/02/2013 04:45:42 MDT Print View

Thanks, William and Jeffrey!
Re: the side pockets, the picture below shows their construction. Mesh (from an old jogging stroller) on the bottom for drainage and nylon on the sides to avoid the dreaded branch snag.

pocket mesh

Also, Brendan Swihart's blog post ( about his incredible packs was helpful for the shoulder strap attachment. I made a cordura reinforcement patch that matched my shoulder angle and neck width and sewed the webbing to it with one line of stitching. I then boxstitched through the cordura, strap webbing, reinforcement rectangle (same nylon as the pack) and the pack fabric. Not sure if that's what Brendan did at all but his post inspired that method for me.

strap webbing

The main pack seam (centered along the back) is a French seam, so that there would be no raw edges inside or outside. You can see in the picture of the pack back that there are a couple spots near the bottom where I didn't successfully capture the first seam fully inside the second. But I think that will become less noticeable as the excess frays away.

Edited by GregPehrson on 10/02/2013 04:53:18 MDT.

Jeffrey Wong
(kayak4water) - MLife

Locale: Pacific NW
OMG on 10/02/2013 11:07:16 MDT Print View

OMG, the pocket story is better than before! Drainage! Your attention to detail impresses me. Thanks!

One benefit to my pack's big side mesh pockets--instead of groping, I can see stuff while I'm getting it. Hm, maybe clear vinyl as side pocket material for version 2.0 with the mesh bottom. Or a pack cloth flap over the mesh (ug)

Keep thinking!

Matt Dirksen
(NamelessWay) - MLife

Locale: Mid Atlantic
Re: My first MYOG backpack, an adventure in upcycling on 10/02/2013 15:02:05 MDT Print View


Thank you for sharing this. What an awesome way to divert material out of our landfills (or basements) while creating something so beautiful and functional at the same time. I keep thinking it's time I play with the sewing machine, and your project might have just been the tipping point for me.



Greg Pehrson
(GregPehrson) - MLife

Locale: playa del caballo blanco
dialed fit, abrasion resistance on 11/01/2013 04:48:31 MDT Print View

I did the shoulder strap modification, chopping off several inches at the top then resewing the webbing, this time with a double boxstitch.

The fit feels great now and it rides nicely. Here it is on a recent 3 day in NH's White Mountains. Was pleased that it made it through a couple hours of bushwhacking without any tears or snags.

I also took an extra rectangle of Cordura and slipstitched it to the bottom, to protect the bottom seam and offer more abrasion resistance. The slipstitch held fine for the short trip, but it did start to stretch with a stuffed pack.

Edited by GregPehrson on 11/01/2013 04:52:30 MDT.