Introduction: Pocket-Sized Backpack

About: Enthusiastic hiker, quilter and creator with a passion for making the most of every situation and finding the best and easiest way to do anything!

I like to have my hands free, especially when cycling or walking long distances, but sometimes a walk turns into a shopping trip and I end up wishing I had brought a backpack with me to carry things home.

The solution - a compact backpack that folds up and fits in your pocket.

Read on for easy instructions on how to make your own pocket-sized backpack!

Step 1: The Improved Design

There are simple versions of a compact drawstring pack which can be found on the internet, and they are often used as giveaways in marathon race kits (like the red pack above). I liked the idea of a compact foldable backpack, but wanted to improve on the basic design in 3 ways:

  1. I wanted more comfortable straps for the backpack, rather than just using the drawstring as the strap
  2. I wanted to design a bag that was more durable, with finished inside seams, making it less vulnerable to falling apart at the sides near the top, as you can see the red bag has done
  3. I wanted the strap length to be customizable to fit the user comfortably.

After some experimentation, I was able to meet all of these objectives in my improved design for a pocket-sized backpack.

Step 2: Materials

You will need:

  • 1/2 yard of fabric, preferably nylon, which is strong but light, for the main body of the pack and the straps
  • A 12" X 12" piece of fabric for the pocket and tabs
  • one cord-lock
  • one yard of thin cord for the drawstring
  • an 8" zipper (optional) or a piece of velcro for the pocket closure

You will also need basic sewing supplies:

  • thread
  • pins
  • scissors
  • ruler
  • safety pins
  • access to an iron and a sewing machine

Step 3: Cut Fabric

  • Cut a rectangle 17" X 43" for the pack body. This will eventually be folded in half with the fold at the bottom of the pack.
  • From this same pack material, cut two pieces for the straps, 2" wide by 35" long.
  • From the pocket fabric, cut a rectangle 10" X 8" for the pocket, and a second rectangle 10" X 3.5" for the pocket top.
  • From the pocket material, cut a strip 11" X 1.5" for the 3 tabs.

Step 4: Make the Straps

  1. Iron the long strap pieces in half lengthwise to create a strong crease that runs the length of the strap.
  2. Unfold, and fold the long raw edges in to meet the first fold in the centre, ironing down one side at a time, trying not to iron over the first fold line. Once both sides have been ironed towards the fold, fold the strip in half again along the first pressed fold line and press. You now have a 1/2" wide strip, 4 layers of nylon fabric thick, with the raw edges neatly ironed under.
  3. Sew very close to the edge along the entire length of the strap to secure the folded edges in place.

You can make the strap wider if you wish - just cut wider strips to start with.

You could also use purchased webbing for the straps.

Step 5: Make the Tabs

Iron the 1 1/2" wide strip in half lengthwise, and make a long strip in the same way that you made the straps in the previous step, folding the raw edges towards the centre fold.

Sew close to the edge with a short stitch.

Cut this neatly finished 11" long piece into three pieces: one 5" piece and two 3" pieces.

Step 6: Make the Pocket

The pocket is optional, as is the zipper. You can make a simple pocket by sewing a rectangle with the edges turned under onto the backpack fabric, and if you wish, add velcro or a button and buttonhole closure.

I decided to use a zipper closure and make a fairly large pocket near the top of the pack, for keys and sunglasses.

To eliminate any raw edges near the zipper, I placed the selvedge edge of the pocket fabric, folded under, against one side of the zipper. I also ironed about 1/4" under on the other 3 sides. For the top edge of the pocket, I took the 3 1/2" wide strip of fabric, folded it in half lengthwise, right sides together, and sewed a tube. After turning the tube inside out, you have a strip of fabric with no unfinished edges, except the short ends which I turned under.

Baste the top edge (the flattened tube) to one side of the zipper, tucking the zipper ends under the folded ends.
I find the best way to baste zippers is to use Wash Away Wonder Tape, a 2 sided tape that holds the zipper in place while you sew it.

Once you have sewn the top edge to one side of the zipper, baste the other side of the zipper to the large pocket rectangle, again tucking the ends of the zipper tape under the folded ends of the pocket fabric.

Use a zipper foot to sew the zipper to the fabric.

There are many other ways to attach a zipper, but this method works well for this project.

Step 7: Sew Buttonholes

Two buttonholes are sewn near the top, and will end up in the centre of the casing, with the cord going through the buttonholes.

Mark the location for the buttonholes: first mark the centre of the backpack rectangle, and then mark the buttonholes about 1/4" on either side of this centre line.

The buttonholes should be 1/2" in length, and should start 1 3/4" from the top of the fabric. In the photos, I've folded the fabric, to take into account the fact that we will be folding the top edge of the fabric down 1/2" to enclose the raw edge, then folding it down another 1" to make the casing. The buttonholes should start 1/4" from the top of the casing.

Step 8: Sew Pocket to Pack Under Buttonholes

Pin the pocket in position, a few inches under the buttonholes, centred in the backpack fabric.

Sew close to the pocket edge on all four sides.

Step 9: Sew Side Seams

Fold the pack rectangle in half (the fold is at the bottom of the pack), right sides together, and pin the raw edges of the side seams together.

Take the two 3" tabs that you made earlier, fold them in half, and pin them at the bottom edge of the pack close to the folded edge, with the loop facing inwards (towards the right side of the bag).

Start sewing from the bottom and sew using a 1/4" seam, backstitching at both ends, making sure that you are catching the tab you've pinned in the bottom corner.

Finish the seam by zigzagging, and trim close to the zigzag stitching. If you are lucky enough to own a serger, you can neatly finish these seams by serging rather than zigzagging.

Step 10: Sew Channel for Drawstring

Iron 1/2" down on the top edge of the pack to fold the raw edge to the inside.

Then iron down another 1" to create a channel for the drawstring.
Sew close to both the top and bottom edges of this down channel, making sure that the 2 buttonholes you sewed earlier are in the channel, on the outside of the pack.

Step 11: Insert Cord in Drawstring

Cut cord so it is about 5" larger than the circumference of the pack opening.

Finish cord ends by rotating them near a candle or lighter (not in the flame, just near the flame) to melt the fibre and prevent fraying.

Insert a small safety pin in one end of the cord, and insert it through one of the buttonholes in the pack. Work the cord through the channel until you come back to where you started, and bring the cord out through the 2nd buttonhole.

Insert both ends of the cord in the cordlock. Tie knots at each end of the cord to prevent it from slipping out.

Step 12: Sew Tab for Straps to Back of Pack

Take the 5" strip of pocket fabric, and hold it so that the raw edges touch each other in a circle.
Zigzag these raw edges together to form a circle.

Flatten the circle, with the zigzagged seam at the back, in the centre of your strip. The third photo shows this flattened circle, with a line drawn to mark the centre, and the seam directly behind the line.

Centre this tab on the back of the pack, about 3/4" below the casing. Sew on either side of the marked centre line to enclose the zigzagged seam and secure the middle of the tab to the pack (I also sewed an X in the middle for added strength). Then sew close to the edge on both sides of the tab. You will have created 2 loops for the straps.

Step 13: Insert Straps

  1. Push the end of one strap through the loop at the bottom of the bag and pin strap to itself in place.
  2. Push the other end of the strap through the tab at the top centre of the backpack.
  3. Adjust strap length until it feels comfortable and pin in place.
  4. Repeat for the second strap.
  5. Try the pack on, with some items inside it, to check that the strap length feels right.
  6. Sew each end of the strap in place, folding the raw edge under and catching it in your stitching. Repeat for the second strap.

This design, with the straps threaded through loops, makes it easy to change the straps if you later decide you want a different (e.g. wider or longer) strap.

Step 14: Enjoy Your Backpack!

This pack neatly fits in a pant packet, yet unfolds to form a capacious backpack.

The pocket fabric adds interest, and I also added a small appliqued pea pod above the pocket. I'd like to say that this was just decorative, but it was also to cover up a sewing error! (which you don't need to make since I have corrected it in this instructable).

Happy backpacking!

Backpack Challenge

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Backpack Challenge