DIY Hiking Backpack: Customizing a Pack That Will Meet Your Needs

When going hiking; you need to bring all the supplies you can carry, not forgetting the most essential stuff. To make this possible, you need a way of carrying them in the first place. When the available options do not satisfy the criteria and plans you have outlined for yourself. That is why you need is a DIY hiking backpack.

Your backpack gear contributes a great deal on how fun the trip will be. So it’s not surprising that many people choose to make their very own backpack. With a DIY backpack, you get to customize just about everything about the pack. From the materials, colors, number of pockets and more, you are only limited by your imagination.

For these reasons, and much more you could have, we are going to walk you through some of the methods you can use to sew your own backpack, with the features right where you want them to be. For more backpacking hiking skills you need to know, check out our article to find out.

DIY Backpack Methods

Everyone can make his/her own backpack, even the sewing newbies. You can do better than the guy who made the backpack you had thought of buying.

1. Duct tape backpack

Really, duct tape? I know most of you exclaimed at the first mention of the word. Yes, you can make your own backpack out of duct tape plus PVC pipes here and there. However, patience is really called for here as this method does take time.


  • ¾” PVC pipe, 10 feet long
  • ¾” Elbow connections
  • Tee connections, ¾”
  • Duct tape, Industrial grade. (rolls 45 yards long)
  • PVC pipe cement, 1 can
  • 2” buckle, 1
  • Measuring ruler/tape
  • Paint
  • Bag opening buckles
  • Foam padding
  • Basic skills
  • Bending device


  1. Working the PVC pipes: Divide the 10 feet long pipe into various divisions.
    • Lower frame: 2cm x 19cm
    • Upper frame: 2cm x 24cm
    • Middle and cross frame: 6cm x 36cm

Bend 4 of the 36cm long pieces to the angle you so desire. Use the bending device you had earlier prepared.

2. Fitting together: Using the cement for PVC, fit all the pieces together, ensuring the connections are very tight. This ensures the integrity of the whole frame. At this point, you can spray paint the frame if you wish to.

3. Outlining the bag: To cut out the duct tape, lay them out facing down on a rotary board for cutting. This makes it very easy to get the dimensions right the first time. First, make the sides of the bag each on its own and compare the sides to certify that they are of same sizes.

Make the bottom, the front and the two sides. The remaining back will be laid against the frame you had earlier made while the top part will have to be made later.

4. Bag Assembly: Using the duct tape, securely tape the front part and the sides together. Then join the bottom part and the front and then to finish up, attach the bottom to the sides.

5. Joining the bag to the frame: Ensure that the bag’s bottom lies on the bottom cross piece, not the bottom of the frame. The extra space is for tying the sleeping bag (trust me, you will need it at some point). The top most part of the bag has to be somewhere in between the top cross of the frame.

Now you have a choice to either tape across the width or length wise for both sides of the bag. Tape the top section of the frame to the next cross piece. Taping widthwise provides extra bands for support.

As a precautionary measure, ensure the sticky overlaps of the tapes are covered. You do not want the tape to hold onto stuff when containing

6. Doing some trimming: Be sure that some parts of the bag spill out of the frame. Use a pair of scissors to cut off these parts up to the point where it lies on the crossbar. Cover the cut parts with duct tape and take the precaution in step (e) above.

7. Closing the back: This is where you now cover the back of the bag. Tape the back that was remaining, by running the tape across the two parallel cross bars. Provide for a mechanism of covering the sticky parts of the tape that sticks out. Leave out the sidebars until the next process is complete.

8. Providing support for the back side: When carrying the backpack, it tends to hug your back when you do not provide enough support to stiffen it. This makes carrying it a lot discomforting. To provide the needed stiffness, run strips of tape across the part where your back will be lying against. It eliminates the hugging effect, allowing for more comfortable carrying.

9. Adding the pads and straps for the shoulder: It would not be called a backpack if you are unable to carry it on your back, would it? Until now what we have is just a pack of duct tape. All that remains are the straps to make it a backpack.

To make the pads for the shoulder straps measure and cut 2 strips of foam, 42cm x 8 cm. Roll about 4 duct tape strips having the same dimensions of the strips of foam. Then sandwich the strips of foam between duct tape strips. Roll the tape over the exposed edges.

To make the skinny part of the strap, fold a strip of tape in half and roll some tape over it for more thickness.

When attaching these straps to the bag, you can choose to make them adjustable or fixed. The choice is yours really. For adjustability, use sliders made from plastic. To all the padded shoulder straps, pass a strip of tape through the loop at the top to attach the buckle. Tape the strip to the shoulder strap bottom.

To finish everything up, join the straps to the top cross bar. The positioning of the straps from one another depends on the comfort you want. Attach the straps that are skinny to the frame sides or even the lower bar.

10. Strap for the waist: The backpack waist strap is responsible for carrying a lot of the weight of the gear you will probably be carrying. Make it as strong as possible and functional too. The first step is to make a soft padding and then rolling some tape over it, just like the shoulder straps.

Determine your waist size and then use it to decide how long the strap will be. The length should be such that the strap snug fits and rests on the hips, for maximum weight bearing. Attach some sort of connecting device at the end of the waist strap, preferably the 2” buckle you already have. However, this should not limit you to the connecting device you want.

You can choose the one that fits your imagination. A homemade backpack should have all the stuff you think should be there. When you are well set, secure the waist strap on the bottom crossbars. It should be properly taped so that it does not snap when travelling.

11. Flap: The flap of the bag will be the cover for the top part of the bag. Make a rectangle of duct tape, measuring 35cm x 39 cm. Use the tape to secure it down on the bag top. For a cooler look on the bag flap, use buckles to join it to the bag. Using duct strips will be just fine though.

12. Customize: To finalize your duct tape hiking bag, add a few features here and there. You can add pockets, flip covers you name it. You want it; you can fix it. When going hiking, remember to carry a roll of tape to patch up any part that may peel off.

[via Instructables]

2. Ultralight Pack

This is a DIY ultralight backpack that minimizes weight off the gear that you will need. You can fit a large sleeping bag inside; it has pockets for a drinking hose and maps, it has a large base so that the bag can easily rest on it when not carried and for securing it on you back, a waist belt is provided for this. Here is just a brief description of the method


  • Denier coated Oxford 1 yard
  • Two ounces coated Ripstop one yard
  • Lycra micro mesh
  • Poly mesh, ½ yard
  • Two Lightweight nylon webbing, 2/3 yards
  • Two grosgrain ribbons, 2/3 yards
  • 32” shock cord
  • Ladder block buckles
  • Release buckle, dual side
  • Thread, 120 yards spool
  • Elliptical toggle
  • Hook, the Velcro type
  • Loop, the Velcro type
  • Measuring tape (capable of measuring in inches)
  • A pair of scissors

TIP: You can need more of these items when you fancy the roll top closure backpack; it is always better than the slide top closure.

If you need a more durable and higher thread counts for your bag, use the Codura instead of the Oxford cloth.

For more pockets, you will need about 1/3 yards more of Ripstop.


  1. Cutting: Cut out all the pieces of the fabric that you need. You need to cut:
    • The slide top: cut a square measuring 14” of the coated Ripstop nylon.
    • Back: Carefully cut a 36” x 16” piece of the coated Oxford. From one of the ends, measure 14” and mark 2” from the side and cut out this length through the remaining length. At the 14” mark, chamfer this edge to a height of 2”. Do this for the other side too.
    • Side: Cut two 20” x 9” pieces of the coated Ripstop nylon.
    • Pad holders: Measure and cut two 12” x 7” pieces of the lycra micro mesh
    • Front: Carefully cut out a 20” x 12” coated Ripstop piece.
    • Bottom front: first measure a 16” x 9.5” coated Ripstop piece. Then, measure ½” along the 9” edge and 2” along the 16” edge. From the 1/2” mark, cut up to the 2” mark. Chamfer this edge to a height of 2”.
    • Side bot: Measure about 2, 9” x 9” pieces of the coated oxford and cut it out. At the bottom right corner, smoothen out the edge by a 4” curve.
    • Front pocket: Measure 15” x 14” of the mesh and cut it out.
    • The collar: Out of the coated Ripstop nylon, cut out a 39” x 12” rectangular piece
    • Pocket edging: Measure a 15” x 2” piece from the coated Ripstop and cut it out.
    • Hip belt: First cut out a 4.5” x 12” coated oxford piece. Then measure 2” from the left-hand side. From the top right corner, measure 2.5” along the 4.5” edge. Join this point to the 2” point with the marker. Cut along this joining line.
    • Shoulder strap: Cut out 4 coated Oxford pieces in an L (although it is not a perfect l) shape. The width should be 4”, the length up to the point it starts to turn should be 15”. From the lower length, measure 1” away from this edge. Do the same for the top edge. The length of the curved part should be 7”. From the left edge, measure 2” then chamfer this edge. Cut out the outline to reveal the l-shaped shoulder strap.
    • Side pocket: measure two pieces of the mesh (17” x 15”). At the bottom corners, measure 3” x 3” squares at both corners. Cut out the first outline, then the two squares.
    • The cover for the shoulder strap: Measure a 12” x 3” coated oxford piece and cut it out from the fabric.

To make the webbings, cut out the right sizes according to your preferences and body size. Ensure they match the measurements of the sizes they will be fitted to.

  1. Straps for the shoulder: Using 6” of the grosgrain ribbon, thumb stitch loops on the right side of the shoulder strap fabric you had cut. Do the same for the drinking loops (use the 4” grosgrain ribbon).
  2. Waist belts: First, cut slits, ½” on the waist belt fabric and linings earlier prepared, and then carefully fold the fabric on its wrong side in between the slits.

  1. Oxford cloth back: Make the Haul loop from the pieces of 1-inch webbing fabric. Follow it by attaching the tops of the shoulder straps. Sew all these pieces together.
  2. Making the front Ripstop: At this stage, fit the lashing loops, the front pockets and assemble the front panel.
  3. Attach the front and back: At this point, you now join all the parts together to form the outline of the backpack.
  4. Pockets on the sides: The pockets are made by sewing their bottom parts to form the shape of a dart.

TIP: This backpack is made from very lightweight materials and is not very resistant to bruises as the ready-made ones. Routinely check the backpack for wear and tear. The nylon fabrics are less resistant to abrasive forces and should be handled with care. Do not rub them over rocks and shield the bag from barbed wires when ducking.

3. Dog backpack

For some of us, hiking alone is never fully satisfying. You cover more distance and is more relaxed when you have a friend or a loved one. Sometimes, you want to take your “best friend” out for a stroll and exercise. This is where this backpack comes in handy. When you know how to sew a backpack for your dog, you can have him carry some of the stuff he will need like water  while hiking.


  • ½ yard of fabric, you can use Ripstop nylon for durability.
  • A yard of 1” nylon webbing
  • 9” zippers, 2
  • 2, plastic buckles
  • Scrap batting (it depends on what you have and can afford)
  • Lighter for melting the cut nylon ends
  • Provide for an allowance of ½” for the seams
  • Sewing machine or needle
  • Thread spool


  1. Preparing the saddle base: measure two rectangles, 21 x 9.5” and cut them out. Pin together the right sides.
  2. Sew the outside of the folded rectangles, remembering to leave some small opening. When through, turn the sewn part inside out. Fold the edges neatly at the opening.
  3. Close the opening with a line of stitch, ¼” from the top. You can hand stitch this opening if you have the time and skill.
  4. Making the pockets: Measure and cut an 8.5 x 10.5” rectangular piece of fabric and another 10.5 x 7.5” piece.
  5. For the 10.5 x 7.5” piece, fold it in the widthwise direction. Measure and mark a distance of 1.5” from the top and bottom to the fold. Lay the piece flat.
  6. Fold the piece between the marked points and press lightly. At this point, this second piece should be of the same width as the first piece. Pin the folds in place.
  7. Sew the pleats temporarily with long and loose stitches to fix them in place.
  8. On the edge of the first piece, pin down a zipper facing down and sew it.
  9. Turn back the zipper so that both the zipper and the first piece face downwards to the second piece.
  10. Pin down the zipper and sew it in place.
  11. Open up the layers and shove the allowance for the seam further from the zipper.
  12. Stitch the top parts.
  13. Half open the zipper and fold the pieces of the pockets into the half, with the right side in. Pin it into place, stitching it after that.
  14. Pull the two layers at 450 to the corner. On a perpendicular line to the seam at the bottom, stitch across the layers. Repeat this step for the other opposite side.
  15. Turn the pocket pieces on their inside out and repeat for the second pocket.
  16. Make the pockets bottom edges aligned with saddle base bottom. Pin these into position and double stitch across the edge at the top.
  17. For the handle, use a length of the nylon webbing which slightly exceeds the saddle base in length. Fuse the ends with the lighter and pin it in the middle.
  18. Use the “x-in the box technique” to secure the handle in place.

Chest strap (padded)

  1. Measure and cut a 14 x 3.5” from the fabric you have and the other from the padding that you have. Smoothen out the corners (this results in an oblong shape). Cut another rectangular piece of the fabric (12.5 x 3.5”).
  2. For the rectangle, fold the edges on both sides and sew them in place.
  3. Place this piece on one of the oblong shaped pieces (ensure it is centered)
  4. Loosely stitch along the edges and place the 1” nylon webbing along the center of the oblong.
  5. Carefully stitch along the edges of the nylon webbing (and not over it)
  6. Arrange the three pieces in the order of batting, oblong (the plain one), and the sewed oblong (the right side down). Pin the three pieces in place and sew.
  7. Stich some buckled straps to the chest strap you have just made. Ensure there is a proper fit on the dog first.
  8. For the girth buckle, align it perpendicularly to the chest buckle and then find the points on the saddle base for the best fit.

[via Crafster]

Final Thoughts

Making a hiking backpack on your own can be quite satisfying. You have the freedom of customizing just about everything about your pack including all the bells and whistles.

Making one by yourself is not that complicated apart from getting the dimensions right and being patient with your not so good sewing and stitching skills. I hope these methods we have provided will inspire you to make a hiking backpack that best suits your needs. For more DIY backpacking gear, see our article on this important topic.

BTW the featured Image Source is by a guy called Mitch, with a fantastic DIY backpack, that you can find out about at:


Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.