Monday, June 9, 2014

DIY Silnylon Ultralight Backpacking Stuff Sacks for $6

Sewing silnylon stuff sacks ultralight

Only 1.3 ounces for three finished sacks. Not bad for $6. 
I’ve long wanted to experiment with making some of my own backpacking gear for a number of reasons. For one, I’ve always gotten a great sense of satisfaction using gear I’ve created with my own hands for any of my hobbies or interests. Two, when going DIY, you have the freedom to make exactly what you need, custom-tailored to your personal criteria. Three, I like knowing that my gear was not made overseas by slave wage earners. And, four, quality backpacking gear can get very expensive, very quickly. With those ideas in mind, I embarked on what I assumed was a relatively easy beginner project – sewing a few silnylon stuff sacks to test the waters of DIY backpacking gear. I found this project pretty straightforward. Even my very basic sewing machine skills were good enough to make some pretty nice stuff sacks, and they are VERY light (1.3 oz for three sacks.) The project only cost me about $6 in materials, an absurd bargain for such useful times ($4.10 for silnylon, $1 for cord locks, and about $1 in cord.) So, here’s what you’ll need to get started:

Materials List

· Enough ripstop silnylon to cover your stuff sack dimensions (I’ll show you where to buy below)
· Sewing machine (most any home machine will do, I used a very basic Singer model)
· #10 needle recommended
· 100% polyester thread
· Sharp scissors
· Ruler/straight edge
· Cord locks
· Cord (I prefer 2mm)

First of all, if you don’t know how to use a sewing machine, you’ll need to find someone who does and bribe them with offers of massages, home-cooked meals, or other simple luxuries. But,  don’t be intimidated to learn yourself… I taught myself the basics of machine sewing several years ago simply by buying a machine and reading the user guide, watching the enclosed video, and practicing with some cheap cotton material. Within an hour or so, I was making simple garments.

$4.10 of silnylon gave me enough to make stuff sacks for a clothes bag, kitchen/cookware bag, and stake bag.
If you're not familiar with silnylon, it is a GREAT material for backpacking. It is regular nylon impregnated with silicone (what that means exactly, I'm not sure.) It is very light, very durable, and highly waterproof (seams must be taped and sealed for full waterproofing, though, which is not covered in this project.) I purchased my silnylon from an ebay seller a few months ago, and this guy was great to deal with. I used 1.3 oz ripstop silnylon. He sent the material fast, his shipping was cheap, and he even included some PDFs about ultralight backpacking when I placed my order. I ordered the smallest amount he sold because I had no idea if I could work with this very light but very slippery material. I purchased a sheet that was about 12” x 61” for only $4.10 including shipping. This gave me enough material to make a stake bag, a kitchen/cookware bag, and a clothes bag. Here is a link to his ebay store  (I have zero affiliation with this seller, just passing on the information I used.)

Cord Locks 
I purchased a box of 4 basic Outdoor Product barrel shaped cordlocks for $.99 from a big box store (Link provided for reference only - don't pay $6 at amazon. Support your local outfitter if you want to pay more than a buck.)

I purchased 2mm cord from REI for only $.15/foot. You'll need a few inches more than the circumference of your sack for each to account for the cord lock and knot. Go ahead and buy a bunch of cord if buying inexpensively by the foot; you'll use it eventually.

The Sewing 
Below is a video I watched briefly before getting starting. It does a better job explaining than I could with words and pics. I will say, however, I did not create the fancy seams you'll see in the video below. I just sewed a basic open seam, and then folded it over again with the cut fabric still showing and sewed again for a messy flat seam. If this doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. You don’t have to use the fancy seams in this video or even my less fancy "lazy flat seam." If you can sew a clean, fancy seam, great! If not, don’t worry for a simple project like this. Just get started. ONE SEAM WILL DO – JUST SEW THE EDGES TOGETHER AND YOU’RE DONE! I've used cheaply manufactured stuff sacks like that - with only simple open seams - for years without issue. Also, I also did not sew the tabs on the sacks you’ll see below.

So, here is a quick primer video (thanks to YouTube user brawny03 for posting:)

Further Sewing Notes
I was surprised how easy it is to work with silnylon. It is pretty slippery, which can be a tad frustrating at first. Once I settled into that, though, I found it pretty easy. Here are some machine settings and other guides my silnylon supplier sent me, plus a couple of other notes:

· Use 100% polyester thread (seller suggested Gutermann as the best brand. I did not use that brand)
· Use a #10 Needle
· Set stitch length to 10-12 stitches per seam
· I used a slight zig-zag stitch for all my seams, only about twice the width of a straight seam.

So, there you go! I hope this gives you enough info to get started on a DIY silnylon project. Again, I’m pretty happy with my sacks, and I have only the most basic sewing skills. I now have three well-made stuff sacks that fit my gear perfectly and the combined weight of all three is a mere 1.3 ounces. Not bad for $6!

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