Duluth Pack





Introduction: Duluth Pack

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of www.zcorp.com, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

A Duluth Pack is what the trappers and packers used in Minnesota 150 years ago to transport furs in canoes. It's nothing more than a big canvas pillowcase with a flap and some straps. Kind of like a giant courier bag. It fits flat in the bottom of the canoe, is about as wide as the canoe, and it's easy to jam more packs in without piling them up too high. The weight stays low and the canoe doesn't flip over. The original Duluth Pack had a "tump line" to go over the forehead, but modern man doesn't get enough vitamins to use that, so we use shoulder straps instead. These bags are still very popular among canoeists in Minnesota, usually with a garbage bag inside to keep the gear dry.

It's also really great for "multi-modal" luggage going from one mode of transportation to another. It's a big bag, but you get to carry it on the airplane because it's easy to wedge into whatever space is available. You can reach under the flap to get or stow things without undoing the flap. It's not great for long distance hiking because there's no hip strap and the weight sits kind of low, but it's super handy for everything else, especially dumpster diving for groceries. Sometimes I fold the flap over the bike's handlebars to use it as a front bag.

Years ago I made a bunch of these packs for the St.Cloud Girl Scouts. This one may look like it's 150 years old, but I made this one myself, and have carried it all over the world. Now it's worn and weathered with patches and tatters.

Step 1: Long Ago and Far Away...

A long time ago in a land called St.Cloud Minnesota, I supported myself by doing heavy-duty sewing. I made bags, packs, some harness and awing work, I even repaired bras for cows. Bras for cows? It turns out that a Holstein is over-uddered. One cow can produce 100 lbs of milk a day, even more with RGBH. That means there will be 50 lbs of milk in the udder before milking. That's why you don't ever want to make a dairy cow run. She'll kick her udder and bruise it. If she steps on a tit in the manure, she can get mastitis and that's bad for everyone. Cow Bra to the rescue! A big bag of nylon mesh with some straps to hold it up. More comfort, better production. Everyone should know about it! I even put it on my resume, which prevented me from getting a job for years. This project has nothing to do with that, but once I get started on the subject of cow bras, I just can't stop talking...

Step 2: How to Make a Canvas Pillowcase

This bag starts out as a hemmed piece of cloth 26" wide and 65" long. You can make it any size.
You'll fold it twice and sew seams to make it into a bag.
Before you do that, sew a double layer of cloth onto the area that will become the bottom.
Otherwise your gear will bite holes there every time you set the bag on pavement.
Then, also before the seaming, sew on all the straps and hardware.
Finally, fold the cloth into a bag, but do it inside out with all the straps inside.
Sew the seams, turn the bag right side out, and go on a nice trip!

The shoulder straps can be scavenged from a discarded backpack when the students leave town and throw everything away. Or you can sew them from scratch.
The straps and snaps on the flap were scavenged from shopping cart baby seatbelts.

Don't worry, after using the straps I used the shopping carts to make shopping cart chairs, so no babies are endangered by this project.

Step 3: The Story of the Blue Cloth

A possum in New Zealand chewed a hole in that red pack. I was sailing around Hauraki Gulf in one of Gary Dierking's outrigger canoes. I was sitting on the beach under a southern oak tree eating my dinner in the dark with a red LED headlamp. There was a steep slope, so the animal was up in my face. It was about the size of a football with a tail, but they look bigger when they're up close wrecking your stuff. Even though I was right there, it didn't seem to see me.
The LEDs made the critter's eyes glow, but apparently it couldn't see that wavelength. I groped for a stick to club it with. There's nothing weirder than sitting on the ground trying to club an animal with sharp teeth that's staring right at you and not seeing you. Until it jumps back dodging the swing, looks around quizzically, and comes back to rip up your luggage more to steal your food. That's weirder. Eventually I managed to at least touch it with the club and it ran away. I hung the pack by a rope like you do for bears and raccoons, and that was good enough.

That old pack was mostly patches and holes already. As I hitchhiked to the airport for the trip out, I trashpicked a UV-proof Sunbrella boat awning to sew my next pack from.
That's why it's got that nice fringe. It should last a long time since UV won't weaken it like nylon. After 5 years of constant use, it's doing well.

Step 4: Corner Reinforcement

Here's a detail of how to reinforce the corners of the bag where the sides meet the flap.
Fold a scrap of cloth and sew it over the seam. That will keep the bag from ripping at that spot.

Step 5: Hibiscus and Australian Customs

After a bunch of months in Papua and Indonesia I'd collected a bunch of handmade tools and the bag was pretty heavy. And it was really going to pieces. The part of the pack that had rubbed on my back was worn away and no stronger than cheese. So I stripped some bark off a hibiscus branch that had fallen in the road. Hibiscus leaves look a lot like Basswood, and the bark is strong and fibrous just like Basswood.
In spare moments I used the bark strips to darn the pack using interlocking stitches. If this process continued indefinitely, the bag would erode entirely and I'd be left with a net bag, what the Papuans call a "Manimani". Mani is their name for the hibiscus tree, and doubling means "lots of hibiscus"
which is what it takes to make a net bag.

I flew to Australia to visit Saul's parents. At the immigration and customs counter, they asked do you have any wood, bark, blah blah. I sure did. The bark was holding my bag together. A bug crawled out of my bag. The inspector stiffened and drew back, then pounced on the bug.
After a couple of hours it didn't seem like they were going to let me into the country. It took about 3 hours to go 40 feet through two sets of counters and officials. Finally they decided that my fibers were okay, the tools I had weren't the wrong kind of weapons, and they'd caught all my bugs.
By then Saul's mom had given up and gone home, and had to come back again to get me.

Want to learn how to do repairs on this bag? Learn machine darning , which is the quickest way I know to fix anything made of cloth.



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    19 Discussions

    How big does the final product have to be length x width x thickness to accommodate a standard bike

    this is awesome, and i'm addicted to your instructables, especially since you keep chaining them with links at the ends ;)

    Nice. Like the commentary.
    Adding this to my list of things to do with my grandchildren.
    I'm thinking a thin (1/8") closed cell styrofoam pad between the two bottom layers for a cushioning effect.
    Where does one find/buy seat belts not attached to a car?

    What would probably be the best UV Proof & waterproof material to make this out of?

    1 reply

    you could also buy an Overboard dry bag, backpack. I have one and they are great. Made from similar material that Rafting boats are made of.
    You can look for slightly cheaper ones. Got mine for about 55 bucks.

    Dude  right after I read this ible I found a chunk of blue nylon in the desert , in pretty good shape,, it must have been a screen room, blond legs and blue top,little bug screen frag all tent nylon so  ,I built the bag and its bullet proof ,,,just keep sewin on it ,it keeps getttin stronger,,, the nylon was pretty thin so I started with 4 layers , and beefed the corners and quilted the whole thing in zigs , made the straps from the legs of the tent  also multi layers and ziged to death,,, extra straps and hardware came from a dumpster dove car seat, used a homemade leather sewing awl to add strap gussets to the corners,,,its the bag that wont die ,,,BAGZILLA,,,My name is Russell Holt and I'd like to shake your hand ,,,,===@E
    thanks for the ible,,, ps fits my back perfect. very comfy to ware

    This is really weird. I was born in Duluth and grew up and still live in St. Cloud. And now you make an Instructable labeled "Duluth Pack" and you say you made these in St. Cloud. Since this instructable is obviously about me now, I want to congratulate you on getting this instructable featured. I'm so proud ; )

    4 replies

    This is a great time of year to be in St.Cloud. Put your canoe/kayak/bundle of foam in the Sauk River by the Hockey Rink. Paddle down all those nice little rapids, past the VA, over the Boyscout Dam, around those turns and more rapids, past Heim's Mill, onto the Mississippi, down through those rapids to the big wave over the granite sill by the Sauk Rapids bridge. Surf that wave as long as you can, eddy out and paddle back up to the sill and repeat. Wash out the last time and paddle down to Wilson park to take out. Stay on the left side for the fast water, and so you don't have to get close to the hospital's obnoxiously loud mega-airconditioner. Get the hospital to put a sound enclosure around that thing. It's inhumane. The noise ordinance ought to be enforced against that thing, not just college keggers. And when you feel like living for free, move onto the Beaver Islands south of the 10th st. dam.

    Awesome, I did that trip many a time in my canoe, but started further up river near St Joseph. The water is slower up there until you get near the hockey rink. Doing that several times per summer combined with one white water kayak adventure with my brother in GA inspired me to attempt to build a kayak. I got a good start on it then moved. Mostly flat water where I live now so... it's been 5 years and it still isn't finished. I'm thinking about attempting to convert the plan to a small sail powered craft now.

    The hospital is pretty big though. I would imagine it needs a pretty big A/C unit. Maybe you can write an instructable about building sound enclosures for mammoth hospital sized A/C units, and then I'll go build it : ) While your floating down the Mississippi, stop under the new 9th Ave (St. Cloud) / 2nd St. (Sauk Rapids) bridge and get some pizza at the Papa John's right there. I'll get you a special deal.

    That sounds fun and all, but it has been too cold here lately to do that. Today was the first day it was actually warm enough to even consider touching the water. If you're into geocaching, the Beaver Islands have a few there I think.

    Funny. A couple of friends and I are heading to the boundary waters in 2 weeks. We wanted Duluth packs, but they're too expensive to buy. I guess I'll have to make one. Is serendipity the right term? Thanks tim. I love all your 'ibles.

    1 reply

    Really? How much? Take pictures of the most expensive ones you can find. Maybe at the outfitters in Ely (or Manhattan or Tokyo). Then I'll add a blurb about "save $$$ millions by sewing your own!!!" thanks!

    Another great little episode from the life of Tim, I echo the previously stated sentiments and say, "you are an inspiration mate". Obviously, travel does broaden the mind, while TV only broadens the backside. You really ought to consider writing a book, it will be a best seller I'm sure.

    Lookin' good! I dig these bags, and I always like reading your stories. Anyhting that has to Minnesota is alright with me, too.