Thru-Hiker: Gear and Resources for Long Distance Hikers
Fabrics And Materials Fabrics And Materials The Workshop: Make Your Own Gear Projects Articles for Lightweight and Long Distance Hikers

French Seams

Knee Articulation

Hood Pattern

Installing Wrist Elastic

Down Underquilt

Mitten Pattern

Using Continuous Zipper

Titanium Solid Fuel Tablet Stove

Lightweight Backpack

Manual Buttonhole

Basic Seams for Homemade Gear Projects

How to load thread into the bobbin

How to Check and Adjust Thread Tension

Mesh Stuff Sack

Folding Wood Burning Pack Stove

0.5 oz V8 Stove

Cat Stove

Down Quilt

Make Your Own Silnylon Stuffsacks

Henry's Tarptent & Tarptent-for-2

Rodney Liwanag's LAB Pack

Here is a fairly basic backpack for those outdoor types who wouldn't mind making their own gear and go through the trouble of putting their hands (and feet) to work with scissors and a sewing machine. For the sake of simplicity, I'll dub our project as the LAB (for Lightweight Adventure Backpack). This actually came into being after I constructed the "van Peski" pack or the GVP G4 pack posted at a site some time ago. And yeah, I was able to download a copy of the instructions and diagrams. Unfortunately, the site is currently unavailable and I believe the authors are updating and rewriting the instructions.

I had great success with the van Peski pack project, in fact I have already made three of them with each subsequent model sporting improvements in comfort and utility. The next step for me was to conceive of a pack similar to the former but smaller in size (good for up to 3 days max of lightweight backpacking) and one that has a lid cum pocket to cover and secure the top opening. Yes, I know that this addition will add weight but a hiker friend of mine insisted of putting a lid on the van Peski-type of pack. He actually liked my homemade GVP pack that he asked me to build one for him but with the lid on it. I also adopted the way a ground pad is attached to the pack, which also serves as the frame. Ditto for the front no-see-um mesh pocket. Some of the major innovations I added were primarily focused on the hipbelt area. They are the load-transfering system (LTF) and the ability of the webbing hipbelt to be completely extricated from the pack.

The LAB has a capacity of about 1800 cu in which is ideal for a sub multi-day lightweight backpacking trip. Because of its limited main packbag capacity, one will be encouraged to bring just the most essential items. However, it also has an extended volume of 2300 cu in (500 cu in for the extension collar and 100 cu in for the front mesh pocket). You may have to roll the lid/top pocket inwards so that it's out of the way to accomodate larger loads. This fully-extended mode, you'll be using the 500 cu in volume offered by the extension collar. It has a tapered profile which is wider at the base to accomodate space-consuming sleeping bags and provides a nice, cushy area that stradles the user's sacrum or hip area. An innovative feature of this pack is that it incorporates a set of snugger straps at the hipbelt region. The hipbelt webbing is not sewn to the bottom side seams but runs through a sleeve at the sacrum area of the pack. To achieve an effective and comfortable load-transferring system (LTS), one just has to clip the one-piece webbing hipbelt around the hips (just as you would wear a normal belt) and cinch tight. To activate the LTS, just cinch the snugger straps forward to transfer the load to your sacrum. This is actually the system behind many of today's internal frame packs. I just reduced it to the most rudimentary layout possible such that it is still effective. Another plus for this design is that it enables the user to remove the hipbelt webbing entirely - perfect for those occassions that require us to travel really light that a hipbelt is not needed at all.

To help us organize our gear there are two zippered pockets sewn on the lid. One is made from mesh and the other one is of solid fabric. A single 3/4" side release (SR) buckle at the front tip of the lid secures it in place. There's a wide no-see-um mesh pocket at the front which is great for drying wet or soggy items while trekking without having to worry that it'll drop on the trail unnoticed.

The compression system was adopted from packs of the old days where a lace system was used to control the load. Some use it to lash additional gear. Others find multiple uses for the "lace" (i.e. cord) at camp or in emergency situations. I personally like how it actually compresses the load together to form a nice, lithe shape. It provides more effective compression for a given area compared to the normal horizontal strap system. It is adjusted by a single cordlock attached to the ends of the lace after it has been threaded through the ear loops at the pack seams. The shoulder straps are constructed in an S-shaped (curved) fashion to follow the contours of the user's torso. For simplicity, you may just make a straight pair (recommended for the beginner). There is also an adjustable attachment option for a sternum strap to further secure the pack load to your body and prevent shoulder strap slippage during off trail hikes.

1. The layout of all the parts for the back/bottom panel is shown in photo 1. The parts for the bottom shoulder strap reinforcement and webbing hipbelt are also included.

2. Cut the no-see-um mesh backpad holders (2 pcs.) and 5/8" wide grosgrain (gg) ribbon according to figure 1. We're going to use the gg as an edging for the former. I find it helpful if you crease first the middle line running along the ribbon before you sew it to the edge of the mesh. This way, it will come out neat and straight. Refer to photo 2.

3. Sew mesh backpad holders onto back panel as shown in photo 3. Their respective placements are given in figure 2. It is best to draw them out with tailor's chalk. After sewing, cut off excess mesh panel ends and sear to prevent raveling. Cut off a 14" length of 5/8" wide gg and sew to the bottom edge of the bottom mesh backpad holder to neatly cover the exposed mesh end.

4. Cut the webbing hipbelt sleeve from 420d nylon packcloth as shown in figure 3. Fold edges 3/8" inwards around and sew in place. Sew sleeve on its designated place on the lower part of the back panel. Make sure it is centered and that it is sewn at the top and bottom edges only. Make several stitch passes per sleeve edge. Leave the sides unsewn (i.e. open) for the webbing hipbelt to pass through. The dimensions of this sleeve is cut so as to accommodate a range of webbing widths from a minimalist 3/4" wide to a very comfy 2" wide hipbelt.

5. Cut the reinforcement for the bottom shoulder straps from 400d honeycomb polyester nylon (since the shoulder strap top and bottom parts alike receive a lot of stress during use, I recommend at least a moderate-weight fabric, 330d or more, for use in these areas) as shown in figure 4 (2 pcs.). Fold crosswise and sew short, square edges in place. Refer to the bigger, triangular assembly at photo 4. Next, cut 2 pcs. of 3/4" x 25" nylon webbing and sear ends (figure 5). Sew webbing into triangular reinforcement assembly by folding the latter into two and inserting the former into the open slit. Then sew around edges and reinforce the sandwiched webbing by making several passes over it. Cut of the very, very short, excess end of the webbing and sear (refer to the same photo).

6. Sew reinforced, bottom shoulder strap assembly onto its proper location at the bottom side portions of the back panel with the bottom tip (apex) of the assembly level with the bottom edge of the hipbelt sleeve.

7. Construct snugger strap assembly by threading 3/4" x 4" nylon webbing through 3/4" ladderlock (LL) buckle. Make 2 sets for both sides of the hipbelt. Then sew each over the triangular bottom shoulder strap assembly by positioning it level with the middle portion of the hipbelt sleeve.
Refer to photo 5.

8. To keep the backpad really in place (even though the pack isn't full), especially at the bottom portion, sew vertical stitch lines about 1" from the ends of the bottom mesh backpad holder. Refer to photo 6 (shown by red pointer).

9. Construct the webbing hip belt assembly from your choice of hip belt width. I used 1 1/4" x 50" nylon webbing and of course a corresponding size of side release (SR) buckle (figure 6). For the snugger strap connection, cut 2 pcs. of 3/4" x 15" nylon webbing. To produce a properly fitting assembly, sew first an end of the hip belt webbing to the non-pronged side of the SR buckle. Afterwards, thread the other end through the pronged side. Now you have a loop connected by the SR buckle. Unclip SR and wear around hips (sacrum area) and clip shut. Tighten belt by pulling the webbing end emanating from the pronged side. Center SR buckle in front and mark with chalk on the webbing 2" forward from where your iliac crests protrude (do this on a per side basis). These two points are where you'll sew the ends of the snugger straps (they're the yellow 3/4" wide straps in the respective photos) to complete the entire hip belt assembly (photo 6; laid out on top of the back pad/panel assembly).

10. Refer to photo 7 for the parts layout. The padding for the shoulder strap is actually a laminate of 10 mm thick EWA (open-cell) foam (and yes, it's the white pad you see in the photos) and 2 mm thick closed-cell foam (yellow), which is stiffer and denser. Remember to cut the components for the shoulder strap in mirror image of one another (L and R portions). Cut the pads according to figure 7 and laminate the corresponding pieces together with quick drying contact cement or any other appropriate adhesive. Let it dry completely (refer to photo 8; it is the laminated, yellow R shoulder pad at the rear portion of the machine).

11. Cut the shoulder pad sleeve from two types of material (figure 8). The inner side (the fabric next to your body upon shouldering the pack) is cut from 210d coated nylon while the other side (where the violet strap is attached is cut from 400d honeycomb fabric. Tip: cut the outer side according to the pattern while for the inner side, cut a big enough fabric panel where the outline of the former is drawn.

12. Sew violet strap onto outer side (4ood honeycomb) of shoulder strap sleeve according to photo 9 (at the straight end area only). Assemble and sew sternum strap adjusters (also shown in the same photo).

13. Sew the sleeves with the corresponding panels together inside out. Sew 3/8" from then add an additional (reinforcement) stitch line about 1/8" from the edge parallel to the previous stitching. Afterwards cut off excess (inside) fabric along the outline of the outside fabric of sleeve (photo 8).

14. Turn sleeve inside out. Viola! Now you're ready to insert the pad laminate with the stiff side (closed-cell foam) of the pad adjacent with the honeycomb side of the fabric sleeve. But first, stitch the rounded end of the sleeve (photo 10) to form the flap where the LL buckle will be attached.

15. Insert pad into sleeve. It may help if you wet the pad first lightly with water to make insertion easier. Make sure pad is inserted as far as it can go inside. Then sew the sleeve end (open end) shut.

16. Stitch the violet strap at the middle section of the pad (photo 10; it is the lower, semi-finished shoulder strap). And yes, you have to stitch through the pad. A high clearance (presser foot) sewing machine is ideal for this. Go slow and be careful so that the needle is not over bent while stitching or you'll knock the "timing" off .Tip: you may use your hand in turning the flywheel (manual override) instead of using the (foot pedal) motor to power the stitching.

17. To finish the shoulder strap, insert the sternum strap adjuster and then the LL buckle. Stitch the then doubled back violet strap at the "flap" end. Reinforce your stitches by making several passes at one line.

18. Sew the top ends of the shoulder straps as shown in figure 9. Reinforce stitching by sewing in a crossed box pattern (photo 11, although the stitching is more visible at photo 12 which shows the wrong side of the back panel). Ditto for the grab loop. Then sew the 1 1/2" x 12" nylon webbing over what you have sewn (photo 12 and 13 for visual guidance).

19. If you want, you can incorporate a built-in internal pocket for your water bladder (i.e. hydration system). The given dimensions in figure 10 can accommodate a 2.5 L bladder. The pocket itself is pleated at the bottom and has a top flap secured down with hook and loop fasteners to keep the water container in place. It is then sewn onto 1.0 oz nylon fabric with the same cut as the back/bottom panel. This entire assembly is then sewn at the wrong side (inside) of the back/bottom panel (photo 14).

20. To provide an exit port for the drinking tube, cut a divot at the middle top edge of the back panel as shown in figure 11. Next, fold the divot flaps inwards and sew flat at the folded edges to form a sort of rectangular notch. Refer to figure 12 for a graphic representation. Then cut a 3" x 1 3/4" piece of fabric similar to the back panel and sew the short sides and a long side 1/4" inwards. These are the so-called "finished edges". This will then be sewn over the notch to form a shingle-like cover. Sew at the two short sides and at the long, unfinished edge that coincides with the edge of the back panel. The unsewn long side (finished edge) is where the hose exits. Photo 14 shows the water bladder pocket assembly already sewn to the wrong side of the back/bottom panel. The yellow stitch line (can you see it?) denotes the outline of the water bladder pocket. Note the notch at the top middle edge where the hose exits.

21. Cut the front panel components according to figure 13. A layout of it together with the side components is shown in photo 15. Start construction by sewing the flat garter at top end of no-see-um mesh as shown in figure 14 and photo 16. Note: the garter is intentionally cut shorter than the top edge of the mesh such that when you sew the mesh assembly onto the front panel, it acts as an elasticized closure system.

22. Sew (front) mesh assembly onto front panel starting at the sides. Since the bottom edge of the mesh exceeds the bottom edge of the front panel (in terms of width), you have to make two pleats at the mesh end before sewing it shut to the latter. Then sew the (long violet) 3/4" wide strap that connects with the SR buckle of the lid at the bottom center edge of the assembly. Option: You may want to add some accessory loops to the bottom edge of the previous assembly before sewing it to the bottom panel. I personally used 3 1/2" x 5/8" grosgrain ribbon for the pink loops you see in photo 21 that holds the yellow bungee cord down the front panel.

23. Make sure to cut the side panels in a left and right pattern. To make the loops to serve as the "ears" for the lace compression system, fold the 12 pcs. (6 per side) of 3 1/4" x 5/8" gg ribbon into two and sear the open ends. Sew each at their designated points at the edges of the side panel as shown in figure 15.

24. The lid/top pocket is a bit complicated to construct because in involves the use of zippers and panel cutouts for articulation. The top pockets are made from two types of material: the one at the rear is made of mesh (heavier weave than no-see-um) and the front is made of fabric. Since they are sewn together, there is a fabric divider in between to prevent contents from mixing with one another. I used # 3 zippers for access but if you feel that it isn't strong enough for your needs, than go for a bigger zip (# 5). First, study the layout of the components as shown in photo 17 and in figures 16 & 17 and figure out how they connect with one another.

25. Start off by constructing the zipper assembly. Cut the #3 nylon coil zippers (2 pcs.) according to figure 17. Insert the corresponding zipper sliders (i.e. zipper pulls) one per into the coil zip and yes, it's easier done than said. All right? If it is your first time to do this, it may take a bit of effort to get the right technique because of the small size of the # 3 zip. Next, sew the zipper fabric extensions to the ends with about 3/8" seam (figure 18). One zip is slightly shorter than the other and sew this to the straight edge of the panel for the fabric pocket. Be sure to center them with one another prior to sewing. They are sewn in a similar fashion to the way the fabric zip ends you just did a while ago, only this time you are sewing along the length of the zip.

26. Next, sew the longer zipper to the mesh panel at the zipper line specified in figure 17. The construction is similar to the previous discussion but here; the zipper is sewn within the mesh panel (not at any of the side). Cut at the zipper line then sew the zip. Cut off any excess fabric zip extension/ends.

27. You should have something similar to photo 18 (right portion). Sew the curved edge of the divider to the shorter zip at the mesh side.

28 To construct the articulation for the top pockets, for each cut-out (V- and square-cut) bring together the edges inside out and just sew a straight line along the length of the cut (about 3/8" from the edge. Then finish the pocket assembly by folding the edges 1/4" inwards all around.

29. Sew the 3/4" SR buckle to the front tip of the lid as shown in photo 18 (left portion).

30. Be sure to mark the outline for the top pocket on the lid fabric. This would serve as your guide when sewing the "finished" (folded inwards and sewn) edges of the top pocket assembly.

31. Open the zipper of the mesh compartment and sew the bottom edge of the divider to the lid fabric sealing the two compartments from one another (photo 19).

32. Sew the articulation areas at the lid fabric as described in item 27.

33. To finish the assembly, fold 1/4" inwards around the side and front edges (don't fold the rear edges) and sew.

34. Sew bottom panel edge with bottom edge of front panel (1/2" seam). Then sew another stitch line parallel to it but 1/4" from the edge (for reinforcement I recommend that you use seam tape to prevent fraying. You can actually make your own seam tape from a length of 1 1/4" 1.0 oz. coated nylon or any similar fabric.

35. Sew the rear edges of the top cover/lid to the top edge (about 2 1/2" at the top sides) of the back panel wrong side out. Refer to photo 20.

36. Sew side panel(s) assembly to the connected piece in item 33 inside out with 1/2" seam (this is a main seam and we have to be a bit lavish for the allowance). Apply seam tape and sew at least two more parallel stitch lines all around these main seams for durability.

37. Turn everything inside out and you're ready to connect the collar to the top edges. Cut the collar components according to figure 19. If the fabric you're using has a noticeably coated (i.e. a bit sticky) underside, we're going to sew the sleeve in such a way that the uncoated side is adjacent to the cord. Otherwise, you'll have a little difficulty in cinching the draw cord smooth and tight because the coated side of a fabric tends to get caught with the cord.

38. Fold the ends of the collar 3/8" inwards (towards the coated side) and sew. Then fold a long end (along the length) in a similar fashion and sew.

39. Sew collar short ends together inside out along (3/4" from the edge outline) the short ends but leave a 2 1/4" long unsewn end (at the folded edge for the drawstring sleeve). Next, fold inwards the unsewn end flat as shown in figure 20.

40. Now, we are ready to sew the sleeve for the drawstring. Fold the "finished" long end of the collar outwards (or towards the uncoated side) up to the 2 5/8" (from the edge outline) shown in figure 20.

41. Thread cord through sleeve and fasten cord lock to the ends and secure with a stop knot.

42. Sew collar to top edge of pack bag assembly in such a way that the cord lock seam line (it is where the collar short ends are sewn together) is aligned with the center of the back panel. Sew the connection seam again flat inside so your stuff won't get caught in an otherwise exposed seam.

43. Thread all webbing (shoulder strap webbing, hip belt webbing, top cover/lid webbing) through their respective buckles. Thread the lace/cord for the compression as you would lace up a shoe and then secure ends with a cord lock and a stop knot. Fold (about 3/4") and sew all strap ends so that they won't accidentally unthread by themselves. You may add a sternum strap assembly to complete your project.

44. Get out and use your pack.

I used a Kologn diet/baby scale with a 16 oz (with 1/2 oz gradations) maximum weight capacity to get the weight of each component/assembly.

Component/Assembly Weight
Backpanel/bottom assembly
- includes the padded shoulder straps
and internal water bladder pocket
8.25 oz
1 1/4" wide hipbelt webbing assembly 1.65 oz
Front panel assembly 0.90 oz
Side panel (L&R) assembly 0.70 oz
Lace compression system (3mm cord) 0.25 oz
Top pocket/Lid 1.40 oz
3/4" wide sternum strap assembly 0.60 oz
100 oz Camelbak water bladder (for comparison) 4.50 oz
Total pack weight
excluding backpad/frame and bladder
13.75 oz

Yup, it's less than a pound folks (1 lb = 16 oz).

by Rodney Liwanag


AYCE says
Many thanks to Rodney Liwanag for the time and effort that went into this great project!


Back Panel/Bottom Assembly

Hip Belt Assembly

Padded Shoulder Strap Assembly

Optional Water Bottle Pocket

Front Panel Assembly

Side Panel Assembly

Lid/Top Pocket Assembly

Sew Them With One Another

Component Weights