Table of Contents

Introduction

Ever since finishing my Rayway backpack, I’ve had the itch to build an ultralight pack suited to my style of backpacking: light gear, long days, and fast-paced. So, I decided to go for it. This entry is going to be a long one, as I’ll be outlining everything from my initial brainstorming process to production. My hope is that readers will walk away from this post with the inspiration to create, versus buying off-the-shelf. Building and using gear you’ve made yourself is a blast.

What do I want in a pack?

To begin the project, I asked myself what I really wanted out of an ultralight pack. The five features below made the cut, and drove the design.

Adjustable Capacity

No matter if it’s a five day backpacking trip or a day hike, I want to reach for this bag first. To accomplish that, I’m building the bag with a roll-top closure, with a maximum main compartment volume of ~40L for multi-day trips, and adjustable to ~25L for day-trips. I’ve found that I usually never need more than 44L (Osprey Talon) on trips shorter than a week, so this should work just fine.

Lightweight

This bag is going to see some big days. It needs to be lightweight (<16oz) and handle lightweight gear (sub-10lb base-weight) with ease. To that end, I’ll be cutting out any unnecessary straps, buckles, cords, etc. Everything should serve a purpose. If I discover myself wanting a feature I didn’t include after field testing the bag on a few trips, then it gets added to the list for V2.

Bomber

I don’t want to baby this pack, or be overly concerned about the occasional bushwhack. All fabric needs to be lightweight, but also incredibly resilient.

On-The-Go Access

I don’t want to stop every time I need water or snacks, or to cycle my shell in the ever present on-and-off again Spring rain in NY. Small items should be readily accessible while hiking.

Simple Design 

I have an aversion to products that are over-designed. I think the best products are those that are designed simply, with every part of the product serving a purpose. A simple design also usually means simple repair and construction, which is equally as important to me.

Inspiration

The three packs that I drew inspiration from, from left to right, are the ULA Ohm 2.0, Pa’lante Simple, and Granite Gear Virga.

ULA Ohm 2.0

Love the rucksack style of this bag, and the massive front mesh pocket. Very straight forward, no frills design. Not a huge fan of the side pockets.

Pa’lante Simple

This bag appeals deeply to my desire for usability, and simple design. Love the rolltop, and mesh pocket on the bottom of the bag. Funny story. I’d been admiring John Zahorian’s bag on Reddit for some time, and thought Pa’lante ripped his design off. Turns out John is one of the founders.

Granite Gear Virga

I actually dislike the aesthetic of this bag quite a bit. The vertical orange design on the front face of the pack drives me nuts. The main source of inspiration come from the side pockets, as I tend to like stretchy side pockets versus the larger pockets on the Ohm 2.0 / Simple / most other packs.

Other packs I admire are the Zimmerbuilt Quickstep, and SWD Superior 35.

Materials

To satisfy two of my primary requirements, any fabric that I use has to be lightweight and tough enough to handle some abuse. After a ton of research, I decided on utilizing two different fabrics for the main build. The back and bottom are going to be built with 420D Robic, which is incredibly durable and weighs in at 6.7oz/yd. A bit heavy, but bomber. The front and sides are going to be built with 210D Dyneema X Gridstop, which is waterproof, has an exceptional tear strength, and weighs in at 4.8oz/yd. Neither fabric is super ultralight, but they toe the line between lightweight and durable, which is what I’m looking for.

Front, side, and bottom pockets are going to be built with lycra mesh. Straps are based on Chris Zimmers’ design, and will use 3D spacer mesh & 330D cordura.

Planning

I planned the project out in Adobe Illustrator, not due to its impressive functionality, but because it’s what I had on hand. There were some frustrations involved – I’ll definitely use some type of CAD software next time around.

Everything has a 1/2″ seam allowance. I knew I wanted a slimmer, taller bag so I’m going with 11″ wide and 30″ tall (fully unrolled), and a 7″ depth. This should put me at 41.3L capacity. Fully rolled becomes closer to 25L. A large front pocket is on the design wishlist, as well as tapered side pockets for better on-the-go accessibility. Also planned to include the bottom pocket (Thanks John!). The back panel was planned for an 18″ torso length.

I planned my straps using the pattern below from DIY Gear Supply, and built them the way Chris Zimmer builds his.

This step in the project was immensely important, because it allowed me to plan exactly how much material to buy, which resulted in:

Fabric

Webbing / Components

Prototyping

Hands down the most most useful step I took in this project was creating a “prototype.” I didn’t build the bag completely, but I built just enough to figure out exactly how I’d have to orient the pockets, webbing, straps, etc. when sewing the real thing. I turned this thing inside out and then right side out and then inside out again no less than a hundred times.

Building

See below for captioned images of the entire build process.

Patterns cut out from poster board.
Patterns transferred over to the wrong side of the fabric. When I built the Rayway I used fabric pencils for the patterns and seam allowances, which worked, but using a sharpie was much easier.
210D, 420D and lycra cut to size. A sneak peak at what this bad boy will look like.
18″ straps completed following Chris Zimmer’s build guide. Click this image to view his BPL post.  This was my first time making straps, so they’re not the cleanest aesthetically. See below for detailed images of my first screw up.
I eyeballed the seam allowances when sewing the 3D mesh/cordura together, and ended up sewing too far into the strap which made binding with grosgrain a huge pain, and resulted in some aesthetically messy areas. I took my time on the next strap and it turned out a lot cleaner. Lesson learned.
Took my time and ended up with a much cleaner binding.
These sections will be sandwiched into the seams at the bottom of the pack, and the 3/4″ webbing will feed up into the linelocks at the bottom of the straps.
Bound the visible edges of the lycra pockets with 1/2″ grosgrain. Pinning and sewing this was frustrating. Caused a little bit of bunching which should get sorted out in the final product.
Attached the straps to the right side of the back panel with 2″ polypro webbing. Top of webbing is 18.5″ from the bottom of the back (18″ torso length with .5″ bottom seam allowance) and straps are 1″ in from the sides of the pack. I forgot to sew the compression strap and haul loop into the 2″ webbing. Dammit.
Getting ready to sew the lycra pockets to the front, side, and bottom and bottom panels. I secured the mesh to the panels using 1/4″ wonder tape which was substantially easier than pinning the materials together. I can’t recommend it enough.
Bottom pocket sewn to the right side of the bottom panel. I got a bit of stretch here but it should be negligible when the pack is full.
Side pockets sewn to the right side of the side panels. Note that when you’re sewing the side panels to the front panel, they go pocket side down (wrong side up), as you’re sewing the pack inside out.
Front pocket sewn to the right side of the front panel
Side & bottom panels sewn to the right side of the front panel, with strap webbing placed in seam allowance.
Back panel sewn to right side panel. Then repeated for other side panel, and bottom panel.
All panels sewn together, ready to be turned right side out!
Attached the roll-top webbing and the compression strap, ran the strap webbing into the strap line locks.
Compression strap added. Pack fully loaded with a ~9.5lb baseweight with a ton of room to spare.

The Verdict

I’d say 4 / 5 of my desired features successfully translated to this bag.

  • Adjustable Capacity. The roll-top works well, although I may extend the length of the webbing for a cleaner roll. Fully packed, I have a ton of room to spare.
  • Lightweight. I still need to break the scale out for this, but it’s guaranteed less than 16oz.
  • Bomber. The fabric is very durable, and the entire bag is triple stitched.
  • On-The-Go Access. The bottom pocket works very well for small snacks, but the side pockets leave much to be desired. See below.
  • Simple Design. It’s a ruck.

All in all, I’m very happy with the pack. It’s not a revolutionary new design, but it’s something I created that suits me very well. I plan on doing a few field tests with the bag, but I’ve already started a running list of potential features I’d like to test, and took note of one major design flaw.

The Design Flaw

When the pack is full, it’s damn near impossible to put a Smart water bottle into the side pockets. The tight lycra side pockets were a nice idea on paper, but V2 needs to have more accessible pockets, similar to the Ohm, Superior, etc.

Back to the drawing board! But first, to the mountains.