How to make a backpack

Picture of How to make a backpack

Tired of never finding the perfect backpack for you? This Instructable will show you how you can design and sew your very own custom backpack! It covers a broad range of sewing topics. Everything from drawing your design, creating a prototype and editing a pattern. To adding foam support structures and using darts to create 3D dimensions in fabric.

Be warned this is an advanced sewing Instructable! Read through the entire Instructable to get an idea of what you're getting yourself into before you buy materials!

If you'd like to get some practice in before trying this Instructable check out my sewing collection and try some of the great Instructables in there.

Feel free to make this backpack your own by editing the design to suit your backpack needs. If you feel so inclined make an Instructable about your unique creation!

Please note that I used an industrial walking foot sewing machine to make my backpack. It is possible to sew a backpack with a regular consumer sewing machine, you will just have to choose your fabrics appropriately.

For my backpack I used:

  • 1000 Denier Cordura fabric (2yards)
  • ripstop nylon fabric (2 yards)
  • nylon webbing 1"(with reflector strips) (4 yards)
  • 2" seatbelt webbing (1 yard)
  • 1" webbing binding tape, a sports mesh fabric (.5 yards)
  • 1/8th inch closed cell Volara foam (.5 yards)
  • 1" aluminum cam buckles (x2)
  • 2" quick release buckle (x1)
  • 1.25" D-rings (x2)
  • 2" velcro (5")
  • 12" zipper (x1)

If you're interested in the materials I used check out these links:

cordura, ripstop, 1" webbing, 2" seatbelt webbing, binding tape, sports mesh fabric, foam, cam buckle, D-Ring, 2" velcro, zipper, 2" buckle

Alternative (lighter) fabric options for consumer machines:

Cordura (outer fabric) - You can swap out for a mid weight denim, canvas, lighter upholstery fabrics, light faux suede or leather, non stretch velvet, mid weight packcloth nylon, etc.

Ripstop Nylon (lining) - You should be fine using this or a similarly weighted fabric. Try to keep the lining light so you not unnecessarily weight down your bag. (if you don't want to line your bag you can skip this completely)

1" binding tape webbing - A good lighter weight alternative is 1" gosgrain ribbon (there are lots of awesome color options!)

Sports Mesh (aesthetic for straps) - You should be fine using this but it isn't necessary, I used it for aesthetic reasons

1/8th Inch closed cell Volara foam (padding and structure) - You're going to want to use some sort of foam to give your bag structure and comfort. If you can't find any foam available locally check online. I got mine from don't buy anything over 1/8th inch as your machine likely won't be able to handle it. (my industrial machine struggled with 2 layers of 1/8th inch foam) You might also consider using a thin yoga mat or foam sleeping pad available at most outdoors stores.

Hardware - All of the hardware can remain the same as long as you do not alter the webbing widths as they do not need to be sewn through. If you do alter the webbing widths pick hardware that is compatible with the new sizes.

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I love the part about getting to wear your fancy sandwich XD This is going to help a ton because my dad got me a really awesome bag for college, but its a single big pocket with a front pouch vs the 2 big pocket type bags Im used to (and I plan on making it out of caprisun pouches so its waterproof ;D)

ArcticNemo21 days ago

I've been modifying gear and salvaging materials from "ruined" packs for years; thank you for this intro. Satchels and messenger bags are most excellent for salvage due to large panels, generally less interrupted by pockets and details.

Stuff to Keep: Zippers that are in good order should be salvaged, and the end tabs from string-style zipper pulls, Always. Hardware and Buckles, I sort mine by webbing size (standard and metric). Sports Mesh, some colors and mesh sizes are hard to find locally. Foam can be had directly from ruined packs, or very often from packages containing electronics or delicate items. Be aware that these cheaper varieties often break down when used in straps, use them for lower impact areas.

Tips: Fold patterns down a line of symmetry to insure that all corners and designs remain even. Measure lengths and approximate sizes of pockets and packs you find particularly useful or versatile. Reinforce bottoms and corners, this is where books and cargo will punch/wear through first.

Really detailed, thank you for this. I had already decided to make a backpack and was having trouble finding any kind of instruction, this will help a lot.

tordel27 days ago

Amazing job, i think i would never make this for me. actually i see it too similar to any backpack i could buy on the market, so for me i think the time spent isn't worth it. Maybe if the process was simpler i would think about it. Anyways you seem passionate about it, and i'm glad to see people like you.

Bujholm28 days ago

cactus holding pocket!!! just the thing for this wonderful morning rush bus..

uberwald28 days ago

Sweet jiminy that's a detailed instructable! Super awesome project!

xpozitron28 days ago

This instructable is piece of art. Thanks.

mrsben29 days ago

Incredible job and tutorial ! You are a lot more ambitious than I am. What I have done in the past is purchase one that is a close to what I needed then 'tweaked' it to my requirements. (Am also notorious for doing the same thing to my handbags and even pieces of luggage as well. ☺)

Whew me to I was feeling like a lazy cheater for not doing it from scratch but packs are like rabbits you have a couple then they all start showing up everywhere that you didn't know you had. I think I'll stick with your plan of cannibalizing what I already have

Rookie P29 days ago

Great job! Really awesome!

Amazing documentation - you are so patient and precise, keep up the good work and thanks for sharing!

WOW. This is so well-thought and written. Thanks for sharing!

Good job on the instructable. For those folks that would have a hard time gathering the supplies, "The Ray-Way Backpack Kit" via is a good alternative. I'm in the process as I type having already sewn one of his sleeping bag kits.

rlciavar (author)  hartmannsclass1 month ago

Just checked out his website, looks awesome!

lexman771 month ago

One of the best instructables I ever saw!

vikasm2351 month ago
(removed by author or community request)
nsnip1 month ago

Great instructable! So detailed and the pack looks incredible!

doodlecraft1 month ago

Really awesome! :)

doodlecraft1 month ago

Really awesome! :)

Lorddrake1 month ago

Fantastic job all around.