Introduction: Leather Rucksack

Picture of Leather Rucksack

In my effort to live a handmade life, I strive to MAKE things for myself. When I can, I also like to support other MAKERS by bartering or buying their wares rather than purchase mass-produced stuff from faceless corporations. This is not to say that there isn't good stuff to be had out there, just that I want to minimize my participation in big global business and keep craftsmanship alive.

This Instructable is not really a how-to, just a show-and-tell of a recently completed project that I hope will outlive me and be handed on someday. I started this in 2011 and have spent time working on it around many other projects that have cropped up along the way. In my world, nothing is ever really done. Just ever changing and on a trajectory through it's use-life.



Now, like a lot of experienced Makers, I don't always need a super detailed set of plans. Like the saying goes, "To help someone build a house, you shouldn't need to teach them to wield a hammer or saw a board." Foundation skills need to be learned along the journey. This little Instructable won't teach how to select or cut leather, nor teach how to sew. Hopefully though, it will start someone toward making their own custom leather project. If you want it, make it and enjoy yourself. Cherish the imperfections and their uniqueness of your creation.

Step 2: The Basic Rucksack Design

Picture of The Basic Rucksack Design

Here is the basic design for the body of my pack. I kept this small and minimal, in part to prevent myself from overloading. The above images are raw, oak-tanned leather prior to oiling. It is fairly heavy-weight which helps it keep it's shape while protecting the contents. These photos are also prior to the ladder-style tie downs being added to top and bottom.

This is all hand sewn with a traditional double needle technique and riveted to help strengthen some high stress areas.

Step 3: Portmanteau

Picture of Portmanteau

The next step was to create a detachable 18th century style portmanteau that could connect to the top or bottom as well as find a use on it's own.

Step 4: Put It All Together

Picture of Put It All Together

Here's the basic rucksack assembled and off for a hike. Definitely heavier than nylon but the durability is unbeatable. What's next? I plan to line the shoulder straps with sheepskin for comfort.

I regret not documenting the process but hopefully, just seeing this example will serve to inspire someone to make their own leather project.

See more work like this on my blog:


freakshowjoe made it! (author)2014-06-09

First time posting here. I wanted to let you know your work inspired me to create my own rucksack. You're right the leather is heavier but it's the kind of heavy you're willing to endure with a smile. The same filling you get when you hold your child as apposed to holding a bag of groceries. I have started to sell off my store bought gear and have been introducing my hand made items. It's a great feeling when you put something you have crafted to work in the field. Imperfections just mean character.

iclayp (author)freakshowjoe2015-01-17

Hi, how did you stain/color the leather? Looks great! I have a big double shoulder I would like to do something with and like this color.


jrowsell (author)freakshowjoe2014-07-31

Wow that looks great, as does the one shown in the tutorial. Do you have a lot of prior experience working with leather?

paleotool (author)freakshowjoe2014-06-09

This is what sharing our creations and knowledge on Instructables is all about. Thanks for posting these!.

Jacob vasco (author)2017-03-31


Jacob vasco (author)Jacob vasco2017-04-07


please dont forget to send the meaurements as we agreed on emails. just reminding you here.

CaseyK33 (author)2016-10-15

what leather should I use if I want to make my own?

diyjeremyray (author)2015-11-05

May i use your basic design?

paleotool (author)diyjeremyray2015-11-05

Yes indeed! That's why I put it out there. Some updates and improvements may be found here from time to time:

Bolajidal (author)2015-10-29

I love your mission statement. Very inspiring.No real experience with leather but I have been fired up to try. Sure will get back when I have done something. Really great stuff and company too.

paleotool (author)Bolajidal2015-10-29

Thanks for the nice comment. It is much appreciated. Good luck!

spiritwalker6153 (author)2015-10-25

This a really cool project.

Blokhed1 (author)2015-06-02

That rucksack is awesome, well done. M

AngelinaP1 (author)2015-05-12

Wow. What you have is pretty stylish and cool. (I'm not sure I can make one out of scratch.) I love backpacks because I like to travel and they come pretty handy eve for day trips. I actually came across this contest by Uber Pakk that is giving away folding backpacks. Check it out

dirtbikedude199 (author)2015-03-22

How wide, approximately, is the portmanteau and what werw the diameter of the circle pieces on the sides? I have made a similar rucksack and am hoping on making a matching portmanteau.

iclayp (author)2015-01-17

Hi, how did you stain/color the leather? Looks great! I have a big double shoulder I would like to do something with and like this color.


paleotool (author)iclayp2015-01-18

I didn't stain or color the leather for this. I used Herman Oak veg. tanned leather. It ages into these nice colors with a little mink oil and dubbin. (author)2014-10-12

This is beautiful! I wish I had the spare time to make my own.

imtheman47 (author)2014-09-25


ducktupe (author)2014-09-05


timiscool (author)2014-08-25

I'm going to make one this winter

Locomiguel (author)2014-07-05

Really Really great. Definitely something I gotta make. Thanks.

oilitright (author)2014-06-02

1. This is a great looking piece of DIY leathercraft (IMHO)

2. Reading it I was stuck on the word portmanteau. I sort of thought I had seen or heard the word but hit Google for more 411

I found

Please tell what purpose it is with respect to the rucksack? Kind of looks like a bedroll to me?

paleotool (author)oilitright2014-06-02

Have a Google image search of 18th century Portmanteau.

oilitright (author)paleotool2014-06-04

Yeah I saw many pictures of different examples. What I didn't find were examples with two equal compartments which is part of the description given for what constitutes a Portmanteau. I am struck by the 'tubular' shape of many examples and wonder what led to that shape.

Wow a lengthy URL ever try Tiny URL?

Keep up the great work:)

Locomiguel (author)oilitright2014-07-05

The definition of two equal compartments comes from its modern usage. I am sure you may already know this, but for those that don't; during the colonial and early American periods, portmanteaus were travel cases. If I was traveling by coach, wagon, or horse back and was sufficiently funded to afford it, I would have a portmanteau; the items I would need when I stopped at a way station, inn, someones house would be readily available in one case. Things like a spare shirt and/or hose, razor, a bit of soap, candle stub, tinder box, a flask, pipe, tobacco...well you get the idea. If I were not well funded but needed to travel, It would be shanks mare for me. Just such a pack/portmanteau combination would be ideal. Camping, cooking, and shooting gear in the pack, my personal stuff in the portmanteau, as I might just still need to stop at an inn, way station, someones house and not want to dig through everything.

doodlecraft (author)2014-06-24

Looks fabulous! Love the roll bag at the bottom...reminds me of Hobbits! Great job! :)

broken bob (author)2014-06-23

if you could send me a private message on how to make it that would be awsome

antagonizer (author)2014-06-09

Looks amazing. Looks like you used 9oz leather. What's the weight like?

paleotool (author)antagonizer2014-06-09

It's a lot heavier than nylon, that's for sure. I'll weigh it and post it here sometime.

Tarun Upadhyaya (author)2014-06-07

OMG This is so awesome. Reminds me on Indian Jones (Though he had a canvas bag). Great instructable.

geovatt (author)2014-06-06

However you want to look at it.... great piece, very inspiring... not an instructable contest entry, any more than a set of blueprints are a house building instructable

geovatt (author)2014-06-06

Like the author stated, this is not an instructable, this is a great inspiration article! But, not being an instructable, it should not be in an instructable contest

paleotool (author)geovatt2014-06-06

It really depends on the level of Instructable needed by the aspiring Maker. Just as I have taught furniture making but don't explain how to use a screwdriver or a panel saw, here I am not explaining how to sew. I didn't photograph each step in the process as it didn't occur to me but it's certainly not complex origami for an experienced maker. Just a box made from stiff material.

hzxasdf (author)2014-06-05


simmons17 (author)2014-06-04

How much in total did the leather cost you

Professor-Mousedude (author)2014-06-04

a few more questions.
did you use tooling leather?
what thickness?

Is that just an oiled/waxed finish, or did you dye it at all?

Most of my projects, including this one, are made with Hermann Oak tooling leather.  The rucksack is about 12 oz. tooling hide.  I rubbed in several coats of pure neatsfoot oil and topped with a beeswax dubbin.  There is no dye on the pack, just natural.

The little portmanteau is about a 7/8 or 8/9 english tooling hide that was left over from another project.  Since the rucksack was already much darker, I dyed this with a water stain to get the colors closer.

NeilKalman (author)2014-06-03

this is great! But I cant say this instructable is detailed enough for other people to re-make this

paleotool (author)NeilKalman2014-06-03

No, not for the amateur for sure. I wasn't thinking about an Instructable when I made it so I didn't really chronicle the process. I did hope it would inspire a few people though. It's really just a biggish sewing project. I think we have spent millennia learning by observing so I think there are plenty who can take this information and reverse engineer and explore their way to a finished and successful project.

D-Boss429 (author)2014-06-03

Where do you get your leather?

paleotool (author)D-Boss4292014-06-03

Mostly I purchase Herman-Oak from Panhandle Leather in Amarillo, Texas but I do occasionally get stuff from the Leather Factory in Albuquerque or Tucson.

KookyKreations (author)2014-06-03

This is fabulous and very handsome. You could carry quite a nice picnic, including a blanket to sit on in the portmanteau and bottles of wine in each of the side pockets. While I will be very unlikely to make the whole rucksack, I might like to try some specialized cases for things that deserve it (camera gear perhaps?). While I know you were not shooting for a full Instructable, could you answer a couple of questions: did you make a pattern? (and assemble it?), about how much does the whole thing weigh?

Professor-Mousedude (author)2014-06-03

About how much leather did that require?

I make a lot of things from leather so I always have quantities around. However, a rucksack of this size needs a whole cow side to build. Since the body is made from a single piece it requires a length of leather a little over 52 inches (132 cm) long to start. The portmanteau was a single piece 32 inches (81 cm) long. That means you need a piece about seven feet long to make both (or the equivalent in two pieces).

hzxasdf (author)2014-06-03

发个图纸吧,只有外观,制作起来费事, Better to have an accurate drawing.

The Rambler (author)2014-06-03

Wow, that is a fantastic piece. I bet it feels great to walk around with that beauty strapped on your back.

hzxasdf (author)2014-06-02


instructable person 9 (author)2014-06-01

Finally ! Steampunk camping!

Eldalote (author)2014-05-31

That's cool. Maybe I'll make something similar to the college :)

About This Instructable




Bio: Naturalist, scientist, builder, and maker.
More by paleotool:Making Bamboo ArrowsMaking the 18th Century Possibles BagLeather Rucksack
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