Are you an adventurer on a budget? Do you love the technical side of gear? Do you consider counting ounces a game? Do you enjoy working with your hands? Can you imagine the pride you’d feel walking down a trail using something you created?
Then, welcome to the big wide world of MYOG.
In this series, we are going to cover Make Your Own Gear basics. From materials and design to sewing, we are going to try to get you excited and comfortable enough to take on this challenge.
Maybe you have thought about making your own gear for a while but didn’t know where to start, or perhaps you never thought of even trying. Either way, hopefully, you will find these articles helpful.
If MYOG does not interest you at all and you still want/ need a new pack, please check out Matt over at Red Paw Packs or Brandon at Superior Wilderness Design, and they will take care of you. The only work you will need to do is send a few emails to discuss how you want your pack to look, share your credit card information and then hold back the urge to tackle your mail (wo)man when your custom pack finally arrives.
I interviewed both Brandon and Matt separately to prepare for this series. They were incredibly helpful in sharing their wisdom and the story of how they turned their MYOG projects into a passion and then a business.
Before we get into where to source materials, here are a few terms or tips that may be nice to know.
Fabric Weight - Each fabric will have a number in front of it, stating the ounces. That means how heavy a fabric is per square yard in ounces. The main difference this will make is the durability of the material. If you compare 5oz fabric to a 6.5oz, the total difference on a finished backpack would be around 2-3 ounces.
Fabric Thickness - The next thing we need to know is what the number with the lowercase d means. The d stands for denier, which is the thickness of the fibers that make up a fabric. This pretty much translates to the strength and durability of the fabric. Comparing X Pack VX07 to X Pack VX21, the 07d weighs in at 4.8 oz per square yard while the 21d comes in at 6.0 oz per square yard, which shows that the same fabric in a higher denier (d) is a thicker, more durable fabric.
Down Fill - This is the number that accompanies down. It is usually around 800 to 900 on ultralight gear but can be as low as about 600. This is measuring the quality of the down and, in simple terms, is telling you how fluffy the feathers are. The higher the number, the more space the down takes up, requiring fewer feathers to achieve the same loft. This is why a 900 fill quilt at a temperature rating of 10° weighs less than the same bag with an 800 fill that has the same warmth.
Insulation - A tip from my interview with Matt: If you want to try and make a quilt or jacket, it may be easier to use Climashield Apex insulation first since it is synthetic and comes in sheets that are easier to sew (versus loose feathers).
Samples - Asking for samples of the fabrics you are thinking about using is a good way to feel the fabric in person before committing to an entire online order.
Where to Source Materials
Now, what is a piece of gear that you wish you could afford or you wish had a deeper pocket or better fit? Alright, think about that item and what components you need to make it yourself. If you have a hard time picturing what you need, search your favorite brand online and look at what material they use for their product. Often, they will include the fabric and/ or key accessories in the product description.
Now that you have some fabric and accessory ideas in mind, here is a list of companies for materials sourcing:
Ripstop by the Roll
The best one-stop-shop for outdoor fabrics I have used is Ripstop by the Roll. Their website is easy to navigate and even has a filter to search by the project, such as shelter, pack, or quilt. They also carry insulation and accessories, such as the buckles and zippers used by many cottage outdoor brands.
They have the MYOG customer in mind and allow you to purchase fabric a yard at a time. This way, you don’t have to buy a ton of a specific material to get what you want for each project, and then waste the extra. I also recommend using their custom sample option to affordably feel several fabrics in person to make sure they’re exactly what you want before investing in a larger quantity. After all, one of the benefits of MYOG is you can make exactly what you want, and you don’t want to settle for a fabric that isn’t perfect. For $3 (and shipping), I think that’s worth it.
Seattle Fabrics Inc.
Seattle Fabrics is much like Ripstop by the Roll and has lots of options for high-quality outdoor fabrics. They carry polar tech fleece, so if you are looking to make a mid-layer, this may be your shop. They also sell patterns to help you with dimensions and fabric cutting, but we will talk more about that in the next installment in this series.
A place recommended to me by Matt is Quest Outfitters, which he said is an excellent source for carbon fiber tubing to make backpack frames. They also have a lot of other great fabric options and resources, so check them out!
Another option for materials is Duchware. They also have a good spread of technical fabric and well-organized sections to quickly find what you need for your project.
Joann’s/ Hobby Lobby
Yes, these are big box stores and probably will not have the fabric for your final creation, but this is a great stop for materials while learning to sew and prototype your gear. They often have fabrics on sale, and who knows, maybe a prototype pair of pants featuring glow-in-the-dark Halloween prints will become your favorite pajamas … at least that’s what happened to me.
Pro Tip: with these companies, you need to use their apps to get a good deal. You can usually get at least 40% off one item at checkout in person, and they won’t usually ask for it, so be sure to mention that you have coupons at checkout.
Home Depot/ Lowes
Again, convenient brick-and-mortar stores where you can find some useful materials. Matt at Red Paw Packs recommended hardware stores as a place to get items such as ¼” aluminum flat bars or poles for backpack frames on a budget.
Remember, some of us are here to save money, and again, you can thank Matt for this recommendation. I was curious where to get closed-cell foam for shoulder straps, and he recommended cheap Coleman sleeping pads. They are closed-cell foam and will work for a backpack hip belt and shoulder strap, but are not super high-quality and may break down/ lose their cushioning before finishing a big trip like a thru-hike.
If you want to make a practice pack first, I would go with his advice before investing in and cutting up the expensive stuff.
Walmart may also be a more affordable option for buckles, buttons, or other accessories, if you are willing to forgo quality over price.
*For more information on fabric types or descriptions, use the valuable resources on these websites linked above.*
I hope you feel well-informed and excited about your next project! Next time I will be discussing how to design your gear.
After that, we will be talking about sewing, where I will share the tips I have learned, along with what machine to use and what tools may be helpful to have…
I’ll give you a sneak peek: one thing you’ll definitely need is a seam ripper.
If you have any questions you want answered in the next article or advice for others, please leave a comment.