Introduction: Tough As Nails Duffel Bag

About: I love making, and I'm currently focused on electronics and programming with new techs like laser cutter and 3D printing thrown in for fun. My partner is a fantastic cook and so I get the opportunity to docume…

Duffel bags are great. They have tons of room and can carry everything from your gym gear to clothes and supplies for a weekend trip. In this Instructable, you'll learn how to make a tough duffel bag with a rain fly and squared off corners for storing all your mission gear. The main purpose of this is to document the bag-making process for the Make a Duffel Bag class taught at the Claremont Makerspace by the folks at Cole-TAC. Cole-TAC makes super tough gear for shooting enthusiasts and agencies demanding perfection from their equipment. For the class, they took their heavy duty 1000 Denier Cordura canvas and paired it with a beefy zipper and nylon straps to create a practically-bombproof duffel. The pattern is also pre-cut on a CNC cutting machine. As someone who has cut out her fair share of patterns, it is amazing when you see a machine cut out a whole bag in a few seconds. Cole-TAC offers additional kits after the class, and with this Instructable someone can bring up the instructions while at the makerspace and quickly make another (or their first) bag.


The Cole-TAC folks have taught the duffel bag class a couple times at the Claremont Makerspace, and so have put together a kit with everything you need to make this duffel AND they cut the pattern out on their very cool CNC fabric cutter. If you don't have the kit or don't want to get one, this is what you'll need:

  • 3/4 yard of 1000 Denier Cordura nylon fabric (overall size needed will be 27" x 47")
  • 29" long continuous zipper (this means it doesn't have an end on it)
  • 3 yards of 1.5" wide nylon webbing
  • Thread (I suggest matching the webbing)


  • Sewing machine and bobbin (it doesn't need to be industrial, but you want one that can at least sew through denim)
  • Seam ripper (accidents happen)
  • Tailor's chalk (or a pencil)
  • Scissors
  • Lighter or torch (for burning the ends of the webbing if you don't get a kit)
  • Clips and pins

Step 1: The Pattern

If you have the kit, you don't need to cut anything out. If you don't, you do. You'll notice the pattern is a little asymmetric. The extra fabric accounts for the rain fly over the zipper. Cut the fabric to the dimensions in the photo. You will also need to cut zipper tacking squares. Cut four to 3" x 1/2". The nylon straps are 52-1/2" long and you will need two of them. Use your lighter or torch to singe the ends where you cut to ensure they don't unravel later. The zipper is 29" long.

Step 2: Attach the First Strap

If you're not using the kit, you're going to need to measure and mark your strap locations (the red lines in the photo). The easiest way to do this would be to fold the fabric in half at the middle (ignore the ends -- look at the picture for a better explanation) and mark the center. Then measure 4.5" up on each side and draw the line for a strap. The strap is 1.5" wide, so measure and add that line. Use the lines where the cut in rectangles are as your end points. (This makes more sense if you look at the picture. You need the red lines to position the straps appropriately.) Mark the mid point of each strap as this is where you will butt them together.

Take one of the straps and align it with the mid-line on one of the rectangles. You can then pin it in place.

At the end of the rectangle (opposite of line you put the end of the strap on) it helps to make a little mark on the strap with tailor’s chalk where the top turn is. This way you don’t have to keep looking underneath to see if you’re ready to turn.

Sew a rectangle to attach one side of the strap.

*Make sure your strap is not twisted for this next part*

Line the opposite end of the strap with the bottom of the other marked rectangle. Pin, mark, and sew a rectangle to attach the other end.

Step 3: Attach the Second Strap

The second strap goes on just like the first, but this time you need to butt the strap up against the first strap you sewed down.

Pin it, mark the ends, end sew one side on with a rectangle. Then do it all over again with the other side. (Making sure you don't put a twist in the strap.)

Step 4: Tab the Zipper

This next step locks the zipper in place so it won't slide off. Make sure the zipper slider is attached to the zipper. Take two of the four tabs and sandwich the zipper between them. Sew across the top, then fold the tabs up and sew across again.

Step 5: Sew in the Zipper

Now to sew in the zipper and make the duffel bag "tube." Since pins are a bit of a hassle with the zipper hardware, we used clothes pins. A zipper foot isn't necessary for this project, but if you want to use one, you can. You want to clip the zipper to the shorter end of the bag (because we'll do the rain fly last). Start with the zipper closed and away from the end you're sewing. As you get closer, just pause your stitching and pull the zipper past and continue to sew.

Once the zipper is sewn in, turn it over and sew down your seam to give it a nice clean look.

Step 6: Sew in the Rain Fly and the Rest of the Zipper

The zipper then gets sewn to the other side.

You'll notice on your pattern that there is a small tick mark (you can barely see it in the photo) that shows where to fold for the rain fly. If you don't have the pre-cut pieces, fold down 2" over the zipper and clip or pin down. You'll then sew along the edge to create the rain fly.

Step 7: Close the Sides

All that's left to do now is sew down each open side. Be careful when sewing over the zipper. On a weaker machine, it helps to stop and manually turn the wheel to stitch across it.

Step 8: Box the Corners

Now squeeze the unsewn open ends together to make a straight line. Clip, and sew across.

At this point you can also trim the zipper tabs to be flush with the bag seam.

Turn the bag inside out. You're almost done!

Step 9: Pinch the Handles (optional)

If you choose to, you can pinch the handles and sew down them to create more of a flat handle for gripping.

Step 10: Have an Adventure!

You now have a duffel bag ready to be filled with all you adventure essentials.

Sew Tough Challenge

Second Prize in the
Sew Tough Challenge