Bikepacking is, in its simplest form, multi-day mountain biking. Traversing rough terrain over a long period of time can be challenging at the best of times, but doing so with panniers only increases the challenge – and not in a funway. Bikepacking takes that challenge, and turns it into a multi-day epic adventure. Much like backpacking, it cantake on a variety of forms, from loading up for long and comfortable distances, to ultralight racing.
Sounds great, right? So, you want to get into bikepacking. Of course you do. If you aren’t already, that is.
But maybe you’ve already got enough gear, or you’re having a quiet winter – recovering from a summer of adventure with some time on your hands. Well, if you hadn’t considered it already, then you may want to think about making your own bikepacking bags. Whether you’re a dab-hand with a sewing machine or not, making bags to fityour bike can actually be quite simple. They’ll (hopefully) fit your bike perfectly and give you an extra sense ofsatisfaction every time you head out on an adventure.
Bikepacking.com has a great bunch of posts on exactly this, called MYOBG: Make Your Own Bikepacking Gear. Their blog features a number of patterns that you can print out and use to create different bikepacking bags. But as a newbie to sewing, there’s a lot of information out there. So, we’ve collated it here to make the task slightly easier.
Things you might need
- Sewing machine
- A thick waterproof material (see the list below for how to choose a material)
- A thinner, liner material which could also be waterproof
- Cord (paracord string/elastic cord) and cord-stopper
- Extra strong upholstery thread
- Strong needles – suitable for denim
- Water-resistant zippers
- Sew-on tape fastener hook and loops
How to choose a material
There will be two ways to go about choosing your material, and that is to either choose the cheapest one, or to assess the qualities of the materials out there and choose the one you deem most superior. So we’ve briefly described some of the common materials you might see on your hunt for a bikepacking bag fabric, and will let youdecide.
Like nylon or polyester, Dyneema is a synthetic fiber. It’s existed in its rawest form for quite a while (since 1963 to be exact) and has a reputation of being a really strong material.
Due to its strength as a fabric, it tends to take the lead in terms of suitability for use in creating bags. But it comes ata cost and is more expensive than other suitable materials.
X-pac is a material which is made up of multiple layers, laminated into a single sheet of fabric. A basic sheet of X-pac contains a nylon outer, a polyester mesh, a waterproof layer, and a layer of fine-woven fabric that has a water-resistant coating. It was originally developed by a company who made sailcloths, which unsurprisingly makes for a great material to be used in bags – it’s lightweight, weather resistant, and strong.
When compared to Dyneema, it’s a cheaper fabric as it simply isn’t as strong. But it’s also very abrasion-resistant,so it’s a great choice in the field as it can withstand a beating as a bikepacking bag.
Cordura is actually a brand name, but much like the humble Hoover (a brand-named vacuum cleaner), Cordura has become the name which is associated with high-quality fabric. They are seen as being super durable, abrasionresistant and strong.
There are others out there, but this will at least give you a starting point.
More on fabric…
When you’re purchasing fabric, you’ll see the metric ‘denier’ used, which basically describes the thickness or density of the fabric, but sort of relates to its ‘weight’. If you’re comparing across the same type of fabric e.g., nylon or polyester, then the higher the number, the stronger it is. But if you’re comparing different fabrics e.g., nylon versuspolyester, then it doesn’t quite correlate, since nylon is stronger than polyester. So 300D nylon is stronger than 450Dpolyester.
In terms of balancing strength versus weight, then bags tend to be in the 450 to 600D range. If you want a super strong, durable fabric then you could go up to say 1,000D, though this is inevitably heavier. You may also want tocombine fabrics, whether different types of fabric or different deniers, to create more strength in certain areas.
After all that, you could totally just recycle some old waterproof fabric – whatever you have lying around.
Which bags can I make?
You’ll want to decide which bags to make and which bags to buy (because, let’s be honest, you may not haveenough time or patience to make a whole set-up). To start, a stem bag is simple and easy to make, and even if you mess up the stitching – you can’t really see it anyway as you make it inside-out. Having two of these is handy for extra bottles, or a whole bunch of snacks. They’re easy to access and make a great addition to any set-up.
The frame bag is another great choice. This is one of the most satisfying homemade creations, as it can be tailor-made to your bike. You can choose which side you want the zip to be on and you can fit it around your bottle cage ifyou have one. You’ll use it to death and you’ll get to point at it and say ‘I made this’ every time someonecompliments your set-up.
A handlebar bag is great for just about anything. Like the stem bag, these are relatively simple to make, but you’relikely to use them day-to-day.
How do I make them?
You will likely need a pattern. The community of people making their own bike bags isn’t huge, so they’re alsoextremely helpful. Once you’ve printed out your patterns and cut your fabric out, you just need to stitch them together. Simple enough, but don’t become disheartened as you get to grips with a sewing machine if it’s somethingyou’re new to.
Enjoy the process, and ultimately you will get to enjoy the fruit of your labour, late nights and pricked fingers!