Pack It … Don’t Sack It

by Louise Wynn

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    Do you like to hike? Or do you ride your bicycle to school or work? Or would you just like a rucksack?

    Whatever your reasons, you’ll be proud to wear this pack. It’s inexpensive and easy to make, but the finished product looks better than some of the most expensive day packs or rucksacks you can find in any sporting goods store.

    All you need is an ability to sew straight seams on a sewing machine (or a mother or sister or girlfriend who will do it for you), a few spare dollars for materials, and a few spare hours to put your pack together. (The average person should be able to finish the whole thing in about three hours.)

    The materials you will need are:

    Heavy canvas or nylon material, about 30 inches by 50 inches. We found some inexpensive, heavy-duty, waterproofed nylon duck at a backpacking store. You can also buy an army-navy surplus poncho to cut up; or any heavy, tightly woven cloth will do. (Cost, depending on quality of material, $2.00–$4.00)

    Matching thread and a heavy-duty needle (about 25¢)

    Matching 12-inch zipper (about 65¢)

    Nylon strap material, 1 inch wide and 4 feet long (about 10¢/foot)

    Nylon cord, 4 feet long (about 6¢/foot)

    Metal buckles, 1 inch wide on the inside (10¢ each)

    Rubber foam, 1/4 inch thick, two pieces each 1 5/8 inch wide and 12 inches long (we got some for 25¢), or nylon strap material, 2 inches wide and four feet long

    Optional materials:

    3 metal grommets (large eyelets) (5¢ each)

    3 metal rings 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in diameter (25¢ for all three)

    3 pieces of leather, each 2 inches square (50¢ for all three)

    Using a yardstick and colored pencil to measure and mark the pieces, cut them out as shown in Diagram 1.

    To put the pack together, start with the main pouch. Baste its two pieces together along the 14-inch edge, using a 3/4-inch seam. Then install the zipper in the center of that seam, following the directions on the zipper package. Then, putting right sides together, stitch the four 2 1/2-inch corner seams, matching the notches and using a 3/8-inch seam.

    Next comes the little piece marked tie loop. Fold it lengthwise so all the cut edges are on the inside, and stitch along both edges. Fold in half and stitch to center of main pouch above zipper, as shown in Diagram 2. If you have the metal rings, use one of them in the loop. (The purpose of this loop is to secure the main cover flap over the main body of the pack.)

    Now work on the second pouch and its flap. Fold all the edges 3/8 inch to the inside and stitch them down all the way around 1/4 inch from the edge. Then pin the pouch and its flap to the main pouch and stitch along edges as shown in Diagram 2.

    Now you can follow the same process with the main pouch to attach it to the outside of the main body of the pack as shown.

    Again, follow the same process with the inside pouch and flap, and attach them to the inside front of the main body of the pack as shown.

    The hatchet straps (to hold a hatchet, or a flashlight, or a rock hammer, or whatever) come next. Make a narrow hem all around both straps, and then stitch the ends to the main body of the pack so that the two straps are 3 inches apart. They should be just to the right of the main pouch, the bottom one 3 inches above the edge of the cloth, as shown.

    Now is a good time to assemble your straps. Shoulder strap 2 is in two pieces; sew the two together so it looks like shoulder strap 1. Now place your 12-inch strip of rubber foam in the center of the strap 3 inches from one end. Fold the material over to the center of the foam and stitch all the way down, as shown:

    Before stitching the 3-inch end without foam, cut two 6-inch pieces off your 1 inch wide nylon strap. Thread each of these through the top slots of your metal buckles and insert ends inside the folded-over cloth. Stitch securely. Cut the rest of your 1-inch nylon strap in half. Half goes through the bottom loop of each buckle. Pin one end of each strap in the places marked on on main body piece with [zigzag], at the angle shown. Stitch the strap to the pack 3 inches from the end.

    If you want the auxiliary loops, prepare them as you did the tie loop. (Use the metal rings here, too, if you have them.) These loops are attached to the pack under the 1-inch nylon straps you have just stitched on, as shown. They are handy for attaching an extra strap to go around your waist, or for tying on a jacket, or for anything you want.

    Note: if you use the optional 2-inch wide nylon shoulder straps instead of the foam-padded handmade ones, attach them to the buckles with the 1-inch wide nylon straps as described above. However, you’ll find the padded straps to be cheaper to make and more comfortable to wear.

    Now you’re ready to put the whole thing together. Pinning right sides together, match the single and double notches on the main body of pack. Make a double seam (1/4 inch and 1/2 inch from edge) along both sides so your pack won’t fall apart when you put something heavy into it. (Make sure you don’t catch any but the necessary two ends of the straps in your seams.) Now turn it right-side-out and admire your handiwork.

    The finishing touches are simple. Make 5/8-inch buttonholes in the two places marked [picture of button] on main body pack and the place marked [picture of button] on main flap. (Note: You can use metal grommets instead of buttonholes. Hiking supply or hardware stores will install them for you for 5¢ each.)

    Make a 1-inch hem all the way around the top of the main body of the pack. Insert a 34-inch piece of nylon cord in this hem, with the two ends coming to the outside via the buttonholes. The rest of your nylon cord goes through the buttonhole in the main flap.

    Make 1/2-inch tucks on the main flap where marked < and >. Make a shirttail hem around the edge of main flap (or bind it with a scrap of bias tape). Attach main flap to main body of pack as shown, using several rows of stitching to secure it.

    Now attach the shoulder straps with several rows of stitching below the main flap, as shown.

    If you want to have the leather squares, cut holes in them to fit your accessory straps. If you use very heavy leather, have a shoe repair shop stitch the squares in place for you so you won’t ruin your sewing machine. This should cost 50¢ or less. These leather pieces are for any extra straps you may want to use to hold other objects to the pack.

    You’re done! Put your things into the pack. We use the inside pouch for a first-aid kit, a sandwich, or extra film. The other pouches can be used as you wish; the zippered main pouch is excellent for items you’re particularly concerned about protecting. When you’re all ready, pull the cord around the top of the main body of pack and tie it as tightly as you can. Lay the main flap around the top of this opening and tie it to the tie loop above the zipper. Put the pack on, adjusting the straps by tightening or loosening the loose ends of your 1-inch nylon straps. And you’re ready to go!

    Illustrated by Ralph Reynolds

    Diagrams by Jeff Wynn