DIY/MYOG – I made an Ultralight Backpack! (2022)

Why?

Fit and customization. Our bodies are not uniform and just like finding the right fit clothes, generic sizes don’t work for everyone. Shoulder strap width, shape and placement tends to be problematic. There are lots of options when purchasing or making a pack. First and foremost is capacity needed and weight you plan to carry. I’ll address some of the customization choices and decisions I made.

How?

Step 1 – Pattern

There are several UL backpack designers. You can also make your own by taking dimensions off of a pack that currently fits. I chose Stitchback Gear as reviews indicated the step-by-step instructions were excellent. Given this would be my first DIY backpack I was motivated to shorten the learning curve. I used my 2015 Gossamer Gear Mariposa as a guideline since it fits well and carries up to 30 pounds fairly comfortably.

The Stitchback pattern is sold as a PDF file which needs to be printed (TIP: find a page with the measurement guide and print first to see if you need to adjust page format). From there I spent a few hours with scissors and tape, highlighters, measuring tapes while figuring out what goes where. Note: you can print on oversize paper to save some assembly time.

Step 2 – Supplies

I’m a fan of Ripstop by the Roll and chose them as the supplier for fabric and notions. Best practice is to make a prototype out of less expensive fabric. I decided to throw caution to the wind and make what I hoped would be the perfect pack. But first I had to research options. Plan to invest some time going down this rabbit hole. Then it’s time to place your order and wait for delivery. Note: you can order samples, which again is best practice but one I elected to forego due to impatience.

  • Blaze Orange HyperD 300
  • Foliage HyperD 300
  • Foliage ROBIC 420D
  • Pocket Mesh (3.4 oz)
  • Grosgrain Ribbon (1/2″, 3/4″ and 1″)
  • Webbing (3/4″ and 1″)
  • Elastic and Line Cord
  • Hardware (3/4″ buckles, 3/4″ ladder locks, and cord locks)
  • Closed cell foam (1/8″)

Step 3 – Measure Twice (or 10x), Cut Once

That first cut was full of anxiety.

Step 4 – Test Machine

You might need to adjust thread and/or bobbin tension. I used a #14 regular point needle for most of the project but switched to a #16 for stitching over webbing or multiple layers. I also purchased premium thread (Gutermann MARA 70) from Ripstop By the Roll. Note: I had a hard time maintaining tension on my machine I believe due to the sticky fabric coating. I found changing and cleaning needles helped.

Step 5 – Customizations to Stitchback Pattern

Modifications take a lot of brain power and trial and error. I was glad to have extra supplies and a seam ripper. Eventually I had to admit this would be my beta pack as I had to add a little extra weight due to “fixes.” Below are my primary customizations.

  • Pockets – One side is tall for tent and umbrella, the other shorter for water bladder
  • Shoulder Straps – I traced a pattern from a pack I owned
  • Back Panel – I used my Gossamer Gear frame and sleep foam pad
  • Compression and Closure Straps – revised to match my preferences

Step 6 – Trial and Error

I found myself making lots of changes along the way. Often it resulted in wasted fabric or supplies and time but ultimately I created a mostly perfect pack.

Challenges and Lessons Learned:

Shoulder Straps

Placement was challenging as expected. The Stitchback instructions were helpful; having a friend help measure is essential. I found the recommended placement of the lower attachment point too low for optimal fit. I initially thought making the straps would be challenging but using the 1/8″ 3D Spacer Mesh with 1/8″ closed-cell foam proved to be the easiest part of this project. My machine didn’t have any trouble stitching the webbing onto the straps. Tip: I don’t see the benefit of having the back panel divided into three pattern pieces. I’d make it out of a continuous piece in the future.

Pockets

The lower part of my Mariposa shows plenty of abrasion damage on the lower sections, so I used the more durable 420D for the base and bottom 3″ of the pockets. The pattern didn’t include drains so I added with the V vents. Note: I wondered how the bottom piece would work out and was thrilled it caused no issues.

I initially tried to use shock cord for the closures but sewing over that made my machine very angry so I switched to cord locks. I might try regular elastic in the future. Since the pockets were already completed when I realized shock cord wasn’t going to work, I added Grosgrain Ribbon for the cord channel which added a little weight. I also added a channeled ribbon on the mesh pocket for hanging my socks to dry.

Initial design is on the left, revised design is on right

Frame

I initially created the back panel in a fashion similar to my Gossamer Gear but after fitting the shoulder straps I realized the frame was too tall. So I made a new back panel eliminating that option. But once I finished the pack I realized I could add the frame back using a different method. I could probably go without the frame but I didn’t want to take that chance for those times I need to carry a heavier load. The frame might not be as effective at transferring weight without threading through the belt. If I find that to be true I can make another revision.

Initial design is on the left, revised design is on right

Main Body and Rolltop Closure

The pattern divided the back panel into three pieces. When I decided the frame wasn’t going to work I remade into two sections (in the future I’d make the entire back panel out of one continuous piece, allowing for a fold for load lifter strap connection). I messed up several times on the length. I had to add an extra seam to get the length right. The pattern called for the rolltop ends to be connected; I put male ends on both sides so I could use as a compression strap connected to the side compression straps.

Accessories

  • Shoulder Strap Pouches – I used repurposed Anker battery bags to create pouches for my camera and inReach.
  • Hydration Hose – Since I prefer to drink out of a hose, I added a ring and magnetic clasp which mirrors my previous set up.
  • Umbrella Holder – I used a Camelbak hydration tube clasp for the umbrella shaft to make it a hands-free option, then will add a bungie at the bottom to keep the umbrella in position.

Belt

Since I had a new Gossamer Gear belt, I decided to forego making my own. I’ll save that challenge for another day.

Specifications

The pack has 50-60 liter capacity and weighs under 2 pounds. I’m going to guess I made it for around $75-$100.

The Pack was Christened Poppy

The Creative Process

This is when I’m glad I save and collect bits and pieces. I took time to organize them. I’ll continue to use items off my older packs rather than toss. My house looked a bit like a crafter’s tornado for a few weeks!

The Waste/Learning Curve

We won’t even talk about the hours and hours I put into this project. I made the first cut on 12/29/21 and considered it complete on 1/19/22. I’m going to be remodeling a day pack and most likely will be able to use some of this “waste.”

The Tools

The sewing clips are my new favorite tool. This was my first time using them and I’m sold (Amazon link). Sadly the ripper got used way more than I would have liked, but I’d rather suffer now than regret later. I also used an old Singer 1425. It doesn’t have a bobbin tension adjustment but it’s been a workhouse for many decades.

Purpose?

If you made it this far, congratulations and thank you. And now for a game. Any guesses on where some of this old Sawyer Bag might live in this pack?

Link to more of my DIY/MYOG posts.

6 thoughts on “DIY/MYOG – I made an Ultralight Backpack! (2022)

  1. Fun stuff. Nice work.

    I decided that a pack was the one thing I’d never be dumb enough to make, then got into it somehow. It seems that once you start, you can’t quit.

    After doing a few I eventually evolved a unique design, unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and also the best pack I ever used. Unfortunately, 2016 was my last backpacking year, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be getting back to it. Still hoping.

    I did find that the Jo-Ann utility nylon fabric worked really well for me. I think it’s a bit over 3 oz. per yard, and very easy to work. Also figured out that a couple of arrow shafts or even wooden dowels (only 2 oz. per pair) help a lot as a sort-of frame when needed, with light-duty plastic chair leg ends or whatever they’re really called over the tips to protect the fabric.

    • Funny, I see that progression about to happen although I’ll hold off until next winter season. I’ve spent more than enough time in front of the sewing machine and over the craft table this month. I have some bamboo dowels that I considered using as part of the frame. It’s awesome you have already been down this road and perfected a pattern that works for you. Since I’m a bit of a perfectionist, problem solver and creative designer, I suspect I’ll get there as well.

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