Introduction: DIY 20# Weight Vest

About: I love writing, DIYing, Crossfit, and playing board games. My fantasy novels are available on Amazon and my short stories have been appeared in Spark, Abyss and Apex, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Stupefying Stor…

Maybe you want to try Murph with a vest but don't want to pay $300 for something you'll use once a year. Maybe you're hoping a homemade weight vest will make you look cool. Maybe you just like carrying extra weight around.

Regardless, you're in luck; these instructions will show you how to sew a simple vest that will hold four standard 5lb plates. This is great, for two reasons (both closely related to lack of funds):

  1. Instead of spending $200 on a plate carrier, you'll spend a few bucks on fabric and a few hours sewing
  2. Instead of throwing down another $75 for tactical plates or trying to jury rig something with sand or pieces of Rebar, you'll just use the barbell weights your garage or gym probably already has.

The vest holds up pretty well. I made mine last year, used it for Murph and a couple runs, and have used it for a practice Murph this year. It's secure for pullups, pushups, and running, fairly comfortable*, and gives you that rugged, grunge, I-sew-my-own-clothes-'cause-I'm-not-part-of-the-system look. What's not to love?

*A little extra padding on the lower back would be nice, but not nice enough that I've put the effort into adding it

Step 1: The Big Idea

Before I start a project, I like to get my head wrapped around the overall plan*. Here's that overall plan.

There are no fancy patterns to print and trace; you just measure and cut ten rectangles (see cut list below) and start piecing everything together.

You can easily cut everything from 2 yards of 40" wide fabric (I'd recommend canvas or denim - something sturdy).

Cut list:

  • Shell (2X): 9"x40"
  • Top Pocket (2X): 9-1/2" x 10-1/4"
  • Bottom Pocket (2X): 9-1/2" x 8-1/4"
  • Shoulder Strap (2X): 9" x 21"
  • Waist Strap (2X): 9" x 24"

*Not literally, of course. That would require mental flexibility I do not possess**.

**Sorry, bad joke. Ha. Ha.

Step 2: Make a Shell*

  1. Cut a piece of fabric 9" x 40"
  2. Sew a 1/4" to 1/2" seam on three sides
  3. Turn inside out

You now have a "pillow case". It should be at least 8" wide. If it's narrower, you may have sewed your seams too far from the edges.

*Is shell the best word? Probably not. Breastplate? (but what about the back)? Backbone? Scaffold? Frame? All not quite right. The-main-piece-of-fabric-that-holds-the-pockets-and-attaches-to-the-straps? Perfectdescription, but unwieldy. Alas, "shell" shall suffice.

Step 3: Make a Bottom Pocket

  • Cut a 9-1/2" x 8-1/4" piece of fabric
  • Fold and iron 3/4" folds to make an 8" x 6-3/4" rectangle
  • Sew one of the 8" edges
  • Sew two 4" strips of Velcro (the loop side) just below the seam

Step 4: Sew on the Bottom Pocket

  1. Sew the bottom pocket on the bottom (closed side) of your "shell" / pillow case
  2. Sew on three sides only (seams marked pink); the other seam is the open side of the pocket.
  3. Consider sewing double-seams for extra strength
  4. Keep seams as close to the edge as possible to save room for a weight inside the pocket
  5. Back-stitch a few times to reinforce the corners by the open side of the pocket

Step 5: Make a Top Pocket

  • Cut a 9-1/2" x 10-1/4" piece of fabric
  • Fold and iron 3/4" folds to make an 8" x 8-3/4" rectangle
  • Sew both of the 8" edges
  • Sew two 4" strips of Velcro (the loop side) just below one of the seams
  • On the other side of the pocket, sew a 4" strip of Velcro (the hook side) just over the seam

Step 6: Sew on the Top Pocket

  1. Stick the hook Velcro on the underside of the top pocket to the loop Velcro on the upper side of the bottom pocket
  2. Use pins to mark a seam location just above the top edge of the bottom pocket
  3. Sew three sides of the top pocket, leaving the top side (right side in this picture) open
  4. As with the bottom pocket, sew a double seam, stay close to the edge, and reinforce the top corners by back-stitching

Step 7: Make Two Shoulder Straps

  1. Cut two 9" x 21" pieces of fabric
  2. Fold lengthwise and sew along long edge
  3. Turn inside out

You now have two tubes*

*Tubular brah! So pitted!

Step 8: Measure Your Shoulder Angle

If you have a protractor, measure your shoulder angle for the most comfortable fit.

If you don't, just take a picture* and use it to guestimate the angle in the next step.

*Or just forget the pictures and protractor and go with 30 degrees, which will probably be fine unless you have the shoulders of a behemoth (in which case uncomfortable straps probably won't bother you) or the shoulders of an Elizabethan era courtier (in which case you might want to try Murph without the vest, or at least one with puffier sleeves).

Step 9: Pin Shoulder Straps to Front Shell

Fold the excess shell (the open end of the pillow case) so that the bottom pocket sits just above your waist and the top of the shell sits just below your collarbone.

Pin the straps at your shoulder angle and test the fit before sewing the straps on.

Step 10: Sew on the Straps

Sew the straps onto the shell.

Don't sew the front pocket closed

Don't sew the folded excess shell closed

Do use a strong stitch (or double, or triple) - the straps will be holding 10 bouncing pounds*

*Or 10 gliding pounds, if you run with the grace and speed of a well-built, middle-aged leopard. I do not.

Step 11: Make a Flap for the Top Pocket

  1. Fold down the excess shell and cut 3/4 past the bottom of the loop Velcro on the pocket
  2. Turn the edges of the shell in and sew a seam to "close up the pillow case"
  3. Sew a 4" strip ofVelcro (the hook side) onto the flap

Step 12: Make the Waist Bands

  1. Cut two 9" x 24" strips*
  2. Fold in half lengthwise and sew a seam on three sides
  3. Turn the strips inside out - you now have two long, narrow pillow case shapes

Note 1 (sizing): These bands are the most likely portion of the vest to not fit you if you don't have the same size body as me. You may need to make them longer or shorter. Here's how to decide:

  • Measure the circumference of your lower rib cage. Take a deep breath when you do it. For me, this is 38" (6" bigger than my pants size).
  • Add 2" (38"+2" is 40").*
  • Divide by two (40" / 2 = 20"). This is the minimum length of your waist straps. You'll need a little extra for a seam, and you might as well cut a little extra so you can pin on the straps and check the fit. That's how I decided to cut them 24" long.

*Extraneous note: Adding 2" comes from adding 10" (for overlap) and subtracting 8" (for the portion of the circumference taken up by the shell). But if you actually care about this, you could probably figure out your own optimum waist band size... so forget I wrote it.

Step 13: Build the Back, With Waist Bands Attached

Build up the back of the vest in almost the exact same way you built the front, with one exception: the waist bands. To review:

  1. Make a shell
  2. New: Sew on the waist bands (the bottom of the waist bands should be 2" above the bottom of the shell.*
  3. Make and sew on a bottom pocket
  4. Make and sew on a top pocket

*Check the fit (see the third picture) before you sew on the straps. You want the straps to overlap about 10" over your stomach and lower ribs.

Step 14: Sew the Back Shell On

  1. Mark where your straps will touch the tops of your shoulders
  2. Fold the straps at the mark and cut them to the same length they ended up in the front
  3. Sew them onto the hidden side of your back shell (don't sew the pocket closed)
  4. Turn the top of the shell into a flap for the top pocket (the same way you did for the front shell)

Step 15: Add Weights and Enjoy

Put a 5lb weight in each of the four pockets. That gives you 20lb of weight to lug around.

Wrap your waist straps, check your fit, and get running.

If you made it, post a picture or let me know how it worked out. If you have questions, post them and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

And, whether you build a vest or not, definitely visit my website and check out some of my other articles (or, better yet, one of my novels about teenage medieval secret agents!).

Thanks for reading.

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