How to Convert a Backpack Into a Water Pack

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About: Ben Mattice is an ultrarunner who loves to DIY most of his wilderness survival techniques. Stay tuned for ways to be self-sustaining as a long-distance runner.

Hi. This is my first post on Instructables. I'm a trail runner and I'm training for my first 50-mile Ultra coming up this July. I started a blog called Runoft.com to help others along in the process I'm going through in training for my first Ultra.

Last week I was learning about hydration and hydration packs and realized that I already have two. One North Face pack made for running I got as a gift one Christmas for hiking and an REI pack I'd been using for my laptop. How do you identify a water pack? It's simple: a pocket to hold a bladder, a strap or clip to suspend the bladder, and a hole for the water tube to slip through and onto your shoulder. Of course, there are running packs that only hold two bottles in the front straps and allow a small amount of kit in the back. These are for races where you have an aid station every five miles or so. Or for really fast runners. I'll probably get one of these someday. I'm also a backpacker. And I've struggled to keep water on my person in past years because my pack is from the stone ages. It doesn't have a place to fit a water pack inside. So, today I decided I would try to convert my old backpacking pack into a giant water pack just to see if it's possible.

Step 1: What You'll Need

  • A backpack (any will do)
  • A sewing kit (preferably with a thimble so you don't poke your finger like I did)
  • A strap
  • A clip or carabiner
  • A Water Bladder Scissors or Knife
  • (Optional) second strap or pocket

Step 2: Sew on Strap

Alright, so this actually going to be super short and simple. Basically, sew the strap on near the top, back inside of the bag. You might want to get some pliers of forceps (my wife is vet so I had forceps lying around...don't ask) because waterproofed materials can be pretty tough. I found out the hard way and jammed the top of the needle into my finger. If you're using a velcro strap, be sure to sew between the soft and grabby parts of the velcros (I'm too lazy to look up if there are official names for these so sue me if you're mad). If you're using a strap like mine, be sure to sew near the threading clasp at the one end. You want the weight of the bladder pulling the clasp downward to secure the strap further. Sew it upside down and the strap will work itself loose.

Step 3: Cut a Hole in Your Bag

I didn't complete this step because I hadn't finished step one entirely. I will get to it once I learn to sew.

There are several ways to go about this. You can just punch a hole slightly smaller than your tube. This hole will stretch over time. You could punch a hole then cut a starburst pattern creating a kind of aperture. Then you would sew a circle around the aperture to keep it from opening further. This is the best way to hold the integrity of the aperture over time. To double reinforce the aperture, sew a circle of cloth on the back.

Step 4: Optional Step

Optional Step

Most water packs feature a pocket or strap or bungee system to keep your water pack from flopping around. If you're running, this is crucial. If you're just hiking and your pack is full, this is not. Another function of the pocket is to minimize damage to your other stuff if the water bladder leaks or bursts. If you're just going to strap it down, use two velcro straps and sew them at about 2/3 distance up from where the bottom of the water pack will hang. If you're going to sew a pocket, you want to cover the whole pack. The latter will require a considerable amount of sewing or glueing and you want to be pretty confident (unlike me) that you can sew quickly. Otherwise, you will take a long time and get frustrated.

Step 5: Final Step

Now it's time to test your sewing job. Simply clip the carabiner onto the strap, clip the water bladder onto the carabiner, feed the water tube mouth end up through your aperture, and turn the pack right side up. If the strap holds and the thread does not lengthen thus making the strap hang away from the pack wall, then you're almost there. Last test will be the walking or running test. I haven't performed this yet, but will soon. Put the pack on your back, strap in and walk or jog around the house with the bladder full of water. Do this for about five minutes. If your sewing job holds, you win. You now have a functioning water pack.

Step 6: Conclusion

I hope you find this useful. Stay tuned for more running and backpacking hacks as I come up with them while running my insanely long miles. Don't forget to check out my blog linked up in the intro. And as always, feel the misery to get happy.

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    4 Discussions

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    BMATTICEgman2000watts

    Reply 8 months ago

    Well, I had all of the parts available. But I can give you a quick run down.

    Water bladder $12-15

    Sewing kit $1

    Backpack $12

    Velcro strap $3

    Carabiner - $1.50

    So, in total including the water bladder (which you would need for some water packs anyway) you're looking at $25-$30. That's great considering a typical water pack costs at least $80 and can be as expensive as $150.

    But I used stuff I had laying about the house and converted an old backpack of mine. So it can be even cheaper.

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    DIY Hacks and How Tos

    8 months ago

    Good idea. I am going to have to remember this the next time that I am planning a camping trip.

    1 reply
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    BMATTICEDIY Hacks and How Tos

    Reply 8 months ago

    Yeah. I wish I had thought if it years ago. It's only now that I'm getting into long distance trail running that I think of these things.