I have been planning out sewing my own backpack for a really long time. Whenever I daydream, I would always find myself thinking of a daypack/camera bag that I would want to make myself. Lightweight but easily accessible gear, and also simple enough of a design for me to sew.
With COVID-19 running rampant I had to cancel my plans to go snowshoeing in Yosemite this year which would have been a re-attempt for a snowy climb up to clouds rest.
With that canceled I started ordering supplies to attempt to sew my own lightweight backpack.
My only other real sewing experience before this was a large dry bag (Which was super simple) that I made for a kayak camping trip off the coast of Catalina Island.
General Design Idea
I really love photography and I also really love ultra-lightweight rolltop backpacks. One of my favorite backpacks for photography is my Peak Design 45L Travel bag.. It was my first backpack with back access, and I loved how easy it was to access camera gear when I took it off to quickly change lenses etc.
My favorite hiking backpack is by far my Hyperlite Mountain Gear 4400 Southwest and I wanted to see if I could make some odd baby of a daypack if I combined some of my favorite elements from both.
As for other design influences I really love the packs made by Atom Packs in the United Kingdom and I also found Olympic Ultra-Lite Talaria pack beautiful.
My final design Idea was basically an Atom pack combined with a Talaria but with a zipper down the back panel for quick gear access without having to unwrap the roll down bag.
The Shoulder Straps
The shoulder straps are the part of this pack that probably scared me the post from a difficulty standpoint, and I did mess up pretty good the first go around so I guess I was not wrong.
Since I didn't have a shoulder strap template I went all in and just started to trace my HMG straps onto my 3D spacer mesh I was using for my shoulder straps:
Once I cut out the 3D spacer mesh traces, I sued them to trace the pattern onto my front face material.... This was an absolutely awful idea....
Since the spacer mesh is not rigid, these were far from perfect traces. I ended up with two not very similar should strap pieces but I decided to press on anyway just to see how they would turn out.
If there was one thing I learned from my previous endeavors into sewing it was the binder clips are awesome for helping me sew two pieces together! Pins just never have worked out well for me with waterproof backpacking materials.
Once I got going the sewing part was actually going smoother than I thought. When I got to the bottom of the shoulder strap, I took my foot off the pedal and hand-cranked my sewing machine. Sometimes I have trouble controlling the speed and I didn't want to speed off at this point.
As I was finishing up I was pretty excited with how it was coming out, and then I took it off and struggled with flipping it inside out so I could see the finished result... It was great, I just made one super huge mistake...I didn't take into account any seam allowance and thus made inch thick straps that were super tiny. Luckily I had plenty of material so I was able to cut two new straps and start over.
Learning some good lessons form the first mini should strap, I decided to actually get some cardboard from an old moving box and actually make a template this time.
I again traced my HMG pack shoulder strap and then I measured an inch out to created that dotted outline above. I then connected the dots with a pencil and cut out my template. The inch I added with the dots was for my seam allowance so I wouldn't make tiny shoulder straps again.
I used the cardboard template to trace and then cut out matching shoulder strap pieces and didn't trace the 3d spacer mesh this time. Thes straps were already looking much better and actually matched this time.
I then sewed them, in the same manner, I did for the mini shoulder strap and they came out alright!
On the front of the straps, I wanted to add loops to be able to hang or hook items to and this was fairly simple using 1-inch webbing. I also used this webbing to attach the slide buckle that would be used to connect the straps back to the pack. The loops I measured out with three fingers to keep them all the same size.
Overall for my first day of trying to sew shoulder straps I was very pleased with how they came out.
So now how the heck do you attach these things to the main pack.....
Attaching the Shoulder Straps
Attaching the shoulder straps was one of the parts I felt like I was going more blind into. I didn't find any great tutorials online for this. If you happen to know of one please let me know because I want to know a better way to do this.
I first started off sewing the rest of the webing to the top of each shoulder strap.
I actually had two back panels since I was sewing a zipper down the center, so I found the center of each back panel and then measured the distance toward where I was sewing them in place. I used scotch tape to hold everything in place since I couldn't use my binder clips in the center of the fabric.
I left the rest of the webbing on originally, thinking I would sew it all the way down the back panel which is why you see the large piece of webbing down the center of the panel above. I ended cutting it off after.
Installing The Center Zipper
The center zipper was the most challenging part so far after the initial hurdle with sewing the shoulder straps. I started off by using the binder clips and attaching the zipper, back panel and 3d spacer mesh all together.
At first, I was feeling very good. The zipper was a great physical guide for sewing straight. The 3d spacer mesh was off and bouncy though and was shifty which made it a bit difficult. Everything was also pretty thick at this point.
As I got towards the top of where the spacer mesh met the shoulder straps I rolled it under and continued sewing the rest of the zipper and would come back to do a straight stitch across the top where the 3d spacer mesh ended by the shoulder straps.
Once completed I repeated all the above steps for the second back panel and then zipped them together! Overall not too bad but the 3d spacer mesh doesn't look super event, but first backpack right?
Top Back Panel
The top back panel just extends the pack height for the rolltop design, and also creates a little zipper garage for the zipper when zipped up. This should have been a super easy park but I think I made it a little crooked.
I then traced the above to cut out the front panel of the pack, but we will come back to that when we attach it.
Putting the Parts Together
At this point, it was time to start attaching the main pieces of the pack together. I measured out the side panels and cut them to length.
I also cut out the loops that I would also sew into the seams and measured them out. For sewing the sides together it was easy and I again used binder clips to hold the pieces together.
The difficult part with this part was keeping my loops in place while I sewed. I ended up attaching one each ribbon for the loop to its own binder clip like this:
I then just push it in between the two pieces and it held up pretty good and then just sewed it in.
At this point, my backpack finally started to take shape.
After attaching one side panel to the front panel I messed up a bit on the second side panel to the front panel. For the loops that were going to hold a red Bungie cable, I sewed them in between the wrong pieces. As a result, the loops were inside the massive back pocket and not on the outside...
At this point, I decided to attempt to attach the bottom just to get some practice and try and figure out how it is done.
This was kind of stressful and while sewing I really had no idea how the bottom was going to come out. But it wasn't half bad.
At this point in the build, I am not sure if I am going to finish up the closure at this point so save material for version 2 which I am already starting to plan out. This backpack ended up being pretty huge, I think I was very generous with seam allowance after messing up the first round of shoulder straps. Version 2 will be simpler, smaller and I think I am not going to do the back mesh next go around.
Overall though I feel like I learned a lot from this project and I am ready to jump into my next attempt, hoping it comes out better and turns into a backpack I can use as my everyday carry.