Ever since I stumbled across the excellent instructions of how to make a silnylon stuff sack on Thru-Hiker's website, I've wanted to try making some for myself. The only problem was I didn't have a sewing machine. I had bought a couple of yards of inexpensive 1.1oz ripstop silnylon fabric from Quest Outfitters in anticipation of either getting my own sewing machine or borrowing one from someone. Well, getting hold of a sewing machine took a lot longer than I had planned and along the way I sort of forgot about my little pet project and focused on other things.
In addition to purchasing the silnylon, I had received some small samples of Cuben Fiber from Jon Holweger at CubenFiber.com. If your not familiar with Cuben Fiber (where have you been?) I suggest you do some Googling to learn more about this amazing material. In a nutshell, it's the fabric of choice for high-end ultralight backpacks, shelters, and gear. It weighs almost nothing and is incredibly strong and durable - it's also pretty darn expensive. My plan was to practice making gear using the much more affordable silnylon and then use Cuben Fiber for a few special projects once I felt more competent using the sewing machine.
So, fast forward about 18 months and I am finally in possession of a really nice Kenmore electric sewing machine with all the bells and whistles thanks to a very good friend. During the time that I was hunting for a sewing machine I had found a great source for ultralight cord locks and the thin cord needed for the draw string mechanism, via ZPacks.com run by Joe Valesko. For my stuff sack projects I chose to use the incredibly small 0.2oz "Tiny" cord locks and 1mm polyester 80lb cord that Joe offers.
Using the step-by-step stuff sack instructions on Thru-Hiker I made my first small silnylon stuff sack (see above). It wasn't perfect and I had trouble getting the button hole foot thingy on the sewing machine to do what I wanted it to do, but it doesn't have any loose seams and it works!
Since my first few attempts I have made several more stuff sacks of varying sizes using my silnylon and I'm really getting the hang of the finer points of machine sewing such as, thread tension, bobbin spooling and replacement, reverse stitches, french and felled seams and much more. I've even made a couple of really small Cuben Fiber stuff sacks using the samples that were sent to me - waste not, want not.
When I'm feeling a little more adventurous I'd like to take a stab at making my own tarp tent using Henry Shires' classic (and free) TarpTent instructions. If I do make the tarptent I'll be sure to create a post about it and share my experience with you all right here. Another cool and reasonably simple looking little sewing project is Steve Evan's Cuben Fiber Tarp which he describes in great detail via his two-part YouTube video series, although he has to get his mom to do the sewing for him - that part's hilarious.
I've really enjoyed making the few things that I have done so far and I'm looking forward to making bigger and better (not heavier) things as time permits. There's definitely gives me a sense of pride to have made something functional with my own hands and I take tremendous pleasure in using and sharing gear that I have made. Each piece has its own little story.
Have you sewn together any of your own backpacking gear, and if so do you have any lessons learned that you'd like to share?
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Brian is a Charlotte based backpacker, gear junkie, runner, and CrossFit(er). Originally from Southampton, England, Brian has lived in the US for over 20 years, finally settling in North Carolina. He spends as much time backpacking as his busy work schedule and family life will allow.