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First MYOG Pack - The Chili Pepper
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Nick Smolinske
(Smo) - F

Locale: Rogue Panda Designs
First MYOG Pack - The Chili Pepper on 02/17/2014 17:22:19 MST Print View

EDIT: Scroll down a few posts for a 6-month update. I ended up changing numerous things on the pack in one long day of tearing it apart and putting it back together.

I just finished my first MYOG pack! It's made of Xpac VX-21, and affectionately dubbed "The Chili Pepper". I've made bikepacking bags before, but never a pack. I'm pretty happy with it so far, and it fit well with a test load of 20 lbs. Hopefully it'll get a real test somewhere this coming weekend.

The finished pack

It has a u-shaped frame made from tent poles (from Quest outfitters) which I bent with a homemade bender (AKA a piece of wood drilled onto our wood chopping round). I was surprised at how well this worked to bend the poles; no need for sand in them at all. I bent them to match the frame in my Gregory pack (which fits me like a glove, but weighs 6 lbs empty!).

EDIT: I forgot to mention that after bending the frame, I traced it to make my side panels contoured to my back. The contoured side panels worked super well and I highly recommend them.

The frame

Homemade tubing bender

The frame slides into sleeves on the pack, and then is secured down with a little harness made of Xpac and using cam buckles. I used cams because I had a bunch lying around, and because the ladder locks on most packs I've owned occasionally loosen up on me; I'd rather set the load lifters once and forget 'em.

Frame harness

Everything load-bearing (the harness to hold down the poles, the shoulder straps, and the hipbelt) attaches to the pack on the pole sleeves, for as direct of transfer to the frame as I could get. Here's a closeup of where the hipbelt attaches. The seam between the back panel and the bottom (cordura reinforced with xpac on the inside) is a flat-felled, the only one on this pack. The bottoms of the pole sleeves are sewn into this flat-felled seam.

Hipbelt attachment

The shoulder straps attach using a metal buckle system stolen from Gregory packs:

Shoulder strap attachment

And now for the miscellaneous features. Huge hipbelt pockets (I want to fit my map, camera, sunglasses case and snacks), a lycra front pocket, a robust compression system (probably overkill, but it made a big difference in my 20 lb test load) and a dyneema-reinforced hydration hole (AKA I cut out the inside of one of the dyneema diamonds in the Xpac. :) ).

Hipbelt pocket
Front pocket
Compression system
Dyneema-reinforced hydration hole

Tonight I'll sew the second hipbelt pocket and seal all of the seams. I'm trying an interesting experiment with the seams; rather than finishing them with grosgrain, I'm using 1" wide strips of Xpac. I did this because some seams (particularly where the thick 3d mesh is incorporated into a seam) had a lot of material between the Xpac, and I wasn't confident that seam sealing would be enough to keep out water. Now that they're hemmed with Xpac I'll seal the entire seam and I think it'll work pretty well.


The pack weighs 38 ounces right now, and that will probably go up to 40 or 41 when I make the second hipbelt pocket and seam seal everything. I'm pretty happy with that; it was never designed to be ultralight, just light and simple. Pack weight and suspension is a very personal thing, and I know from all the climbing and hiking I've done that I prefer a suspension system for anything above about 10 pounds. In any case, this pack over 3 pounds lighter than my beast of a Gregory.

My baseweight with this pack is down to just over 11 pounds, from 24 two months ago! Thanks to BPL for all of the inspiration. I borrowed ideas for this pack from too many other packs to look them up - I've probably read half of the MYOG pack threads on this forum. A little bit of time, a sewing machine, and a lot of reading and you can make it happen!

Edited by Smo on 08/24/2014 08:57:02 MDT.

Daryl and Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
Re: First MYOG Pack - The Chili Pepper on 02/17/2014 18:59:30 MST Print View

Sweet pack.

Thanks for the level of detail in your post. I understood everything, including the decisions you highlighted, and learned a few things.

Nice job on the tube bending. The "log roller" was very clever.

Hold on to the Gregory. Having a pack that fits perfectly is wonderful. It can serve as a model for all future myog packs. I let a couple go that did fit well and then had a dickens of a time replicating them.

"Everything load-bearing (the harness to hold down the poles, the shoulder straps, and the hipbelt) attaches to the pack on the pole sleeves, for as direct of transfer to the frame as I could get." I agree, with the possible exception of the shoulder straps. Are they this far apart on the Gregory? I typically put them about 4" apart but am open to experimentation if these are working for you.

Nick Smolinske
(Smo) - F

Locale: Rogue Panda Designs
Shoulder straps on 02/17/2014 19:37:04 MST Print View

If I can teach the venerable Daryl something, that's a good sign. :)

I'm definitely not getting rid of the Gregory - it excels for heavy loads (like climbing+camping expeditions for which any pack weight under 50 lbs isn't safe). I think it could take 60 or 70 in stride.

The shoulder straps are 6" apart on the Gregory (center to center), and 8 inches on my pack. So I traced the Gregory straps and then moved the top over an inch on each one and ended up with J-shaped straps. Surprisingly, I don't seem to need a sternum strap on this pack, which I definitely needed with the Gregory. More experimenting is needed, like maybe a Grand Canyon trip next weekend...

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Looks Cool on 02/17/2014 21:19:33 MST Print View

Very interesting, in a sense you've got a streamline external frame. Check out Davids article on the Paradox pack for a bigger and heavier version of this, might give you some ideas for round 2 (yes I predict you will make another version it tends to happen).

Nick Smolinske
(Smo) - F

Locale: Rogue Panda Designs
Paradox on 02/17/2014 22:42:42 MST Print View

Wow, so after looking up the paradox packs, I have a pretty similar design in some ways. I had no idea. I don't really understand how the paradox frame works exactly, but it looks really interesting. Their u-shaped frame looks very similar to mine, but it seems like they do something special with their pad sleeves. Maybe a version 2 is in my future after all . . .

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Paradox on 02/17/2014 22:52:58 MST Print View

What if next time you bolt or rivet the buckles for the hipbelt onto the frame. I bet it would be simpler then sewing and you could run the hipbelt behind the back pad so you have the extra lumbar padding. Check out David's Tamarisk pack for inspiration here.

With all the cool ideas floating around we need to have a pack makers get to together!

I might try one of these some day but then I have a SUL pack on hold that needs finishing.

Thomas Vree
(Exploriment) - F

Locale: Niagara Escarpment
Very inspiring on 02/23/2014 07:32:05 MST Print View

Beautiful job. Very inspiring, and I always love it when people explain their design philosophy.

Nick Smolinske
(Smo) - F

Locale: Rogue Panda Designs
Trip Report on 02/24/2014 08:30:33 MST Print View

Just got back from my first trip with the pack, an overnight in the grand canyon - down the New Hance Trail, camping on the sand by the river, and up the Grandview. A great little trip, and one that wouldn't have been nearly as much fun with my old gear. My total weight (including 3 liters of water) at the start of this hike was 20 pounds - less than my baseweight on my last backpacking trip (which was just over a month ago). Here's a picture of me loaded up:

Loaded up in the GC

As you can see, I tried the shoulder strap water bottle technique. I used the elastic laces from an old pair of Salomon trail runners, which worked out great - they have a special skinny cordloc on them that fits really well into the notch on the gatorade bottles. I liked the system a lot, but it's a pain to deal with if you use trekking poles. I'll use a hydration hose next time for that reason. But I'll still keep the shock cord attached, because it's pretty useful sometimes. One of my favorite trail breakfasts is chocolate milk (Nido and Swiss Miss shaken up in a bottle, which hydrates surprisingly well in cold water) and a bar or two. For when I want to get up and go first thing in the morning.

The giant hipbelt pockets were awesome; I could get my camera, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, sunglasses case, map and headlamp in there easily. It was so nice to be able to switch pairs of glasses without taking off the pack. The stretchy lycra mesh is great, I can stuff a lot of things down there. As you can see in this photo, it even fits my 2 person pot, which I didn't want to pack wet into my pack in the morning:

Stretchy Lycra Mesh

But just barely. I'll be making a cozy for that pot soon, and then it won't fit in the pocket anymore.

The suspension system was really comfortable, and the shoulder straps were totally fine being farther apart than my Gregory. Maybe I have broad shoulders, but it worked fine. The only problem with the pack, and at this weight it doesn't matter much, is that I made my frame match the length of my Gregory exactly, but because I have a less direct attachment to the hipbelt, it sags down an inch or two. Not a big deal, because I was able to extend the frame about an inch, and it still topped out above my shoulders. Changing where the load lifter strap attaches to the shoulder straps will also help out a little. For heavy loads I would have to worry a bit more, but that's not what this pack is for. My hipbelt attachment system worked out great, by the way - it just needs a slightly longer frame. The actual mechanics of the pack worked as planned.

Overall I'm happy with the design; just a few tweaks could be made here and there.

Edited by Smo on 02/24/2014 08:31:47 MST.

Nick Smolinske
(Smo) - F

Locale: Rogue Panda Designs
Chili Pepper Version 2.0 on 08/24/2014 08:54:19 MDT Print View

6 month update:

Luke, how did you know? I *did* end up making another pack entirely (a canyoneering pack, a bit heavy for BPL) and then I took the Chili Pepper apart, made a lot of changes and put it back together. I've learned a lot since I first posted this backpack, so it was time to improve things (I've since started my own business sewing bikepacking gear and you learn fast when you sew every day!).

Overall I was happy with the pack before, but when you open up a pack and have the opportunity to change things after this much time . . . ooh boy. I meant to change like 2 things and ended up changing about 10. Lots of little incremental changes and also a lot of reinforcement of wear areas. Shows how much I've learned. Enjoy the ride.

Smaller pack

The first thing I did was make the pack smaller, by making the side panels smaller. So it's just as wide, but less deep. This was key for making the whole thing a reasonable project and not super frustrating - there was very little seam ripping involved! I just cut next to the seam and only had to replace the front panel (making the side panels smaller made it a bit wider). You can see that I also replaced the side compression straps by making two of them, which both tighten in the middle of the pack - in my prior system the roll top would "eat" the ladderlock buckle at the top.

Another thing I did, that you can see in both that picture and the next one, is to make the bottom panel curve upward. This is surprisingly easy to do, as long as you want the upward curve to match the side panel curve - you just lay the bottom and side panels on top of each other and sew a curve into them; turn it inside out and you have this nice 45-degree curve going on. I have a good picture of sewing this somewhere if anyone wants to see it.

Both of these changes have made it pull back on my shoulders a little less.

Leno Mesh

Also you can see there that I replaced my lycra mesh (which already had gotten some holes in it) with leno lock mesh. I needed some pleats and probably could've made it a little bit bigger (it was a 12" piece of leno lock on an 8" panel of Xpac). But it'll be enough to get a wet groundcloth and tent in there, and of course there's dirty sock storage at the bottom. So that's good enough for me. It also makes a great pocket for storing fish (in their own ziplock of course).

Velcro hipbelt attachment

Another big change was the hipbelt attachment you see above. The buckles I was using before had too much slippage and always felt a little clumsy to me. And since I've been sewing so much bikepacking gear I've become a believer in the power of velcro - it really is pretty strong stuff given sufficient surface area. So I sewed on D-rings and made the hipbelt attach with 4x2 inches of velcro on each side. I've been super happy with this arrangement so far. I've also been running the hipbelt behind the folded sleeping pad and I've been happy with that.

Tent pole damage

Here's the last of my intended changes, and the original impetus to take the pack apart. One of my poles cut through the bottom of the sleeve! That's through 1 layer of 1000d cordura and 1 layer of Xpac. And in retrospect I was pretty stupid about things - Quest sells a dome-style cap that's perfect for turning the sharp end of the pole into something nice and rounded. So I bought a couple of those and glued them into the bottom of the poles with contact cement. Then I ripped out the ends of the sleeves and reinforced them both with more cordura.

Shoulder strap buckle

Now onto the minor details that I worked on. I replaced my shoulder strap ladderlocks with side release buckles, because it's a great place to stow a hat while hiking. I also beefed up the attachment (which was pretty weak). I didn't want to take my shoulder straps apart, so I was more limited in what I can do, but double bartacks should be plenty strong into those materials.

Daisy Chain

I also beefed up my daisy chain . . .I can't believe I sewed it so weak (you can see the original stitching there). Nowadays I always do tight zig-zag stitches that go over the edges of the webbing a bit (someone here taught me that). I didn't feel like taking the shoulder straps apart, and I don't use the whole daisy chain, so I just reinforced the spots that needed it with my speedy stitcher.

No-slip load lifter

My final change to the shoulder straps was to change the load lifter buckles to camming side releases. Sure, these are heavier than a ladderlock, but I *hate* slipping loaf lifters. Every pack I've ever had I've had to readjust the load lifters while hiking, and these are the only buckles I know that I won't need to do that. The cam buckles I had on before didn't cut it. If someone made just the ladderlock+cam part of these I would use that, but this works. Maybe my next pack will just have shoulder straps attach higher up and I won't use load lifters at all.

More velcro!

Another important change was to get rid of the cam buckles that attached the frame to the pack, and replace it with velcro that double-backs on itself (using the same looplock that the shoulder straps attach to). This is a design I copied from my canyoneering pack, which just has two curved stays (not connecting at the top) with velcro going over the tops of them to secure them down. I've carried some pretty hefty loads with the canyoneering pack and had no trouble with that system, and it's lighter and cleaner than buckles.

Improved haul loop

This is the last change, I promise! I also beefed up the haul loop; my old one with grosgrain felt a bit flimsy. Not an important thing for most hiking, but some of my Grand Canyon trips involve hauling packs up steep bits and I'd hate to watch my pack fall off a cliff!

Since making all of these changes I've taken it on one trip, packrafting in the Bob Marshall. That only involved about 20 miles of hiking, so time will tell, but I'm super happy with it so far.

Edited by Smo on 08/24/2014 08:58:56 MDT.