Interested in sewing your own backpacking pack? Want to customize the fit of your hip belt, shoulder straps and torso length? This post is a how to sew a backpack Stitchback Gear TH50 project review.
This is post 8 in my do-it-yourself backing gear series. You may also wish to read parts 1 (modified Jones Tent II), 2 (Alpine Ruck Sack), 3 (GVP pack), 4 (sleeping quilt), 5 (YAMA Bug Shelter), 6 (SUL Tarp) and 7 (Rezac Ultralight Backpack).
The link to Stitchback Gear’s TH50 pattern purchase page is:
All Stitchback Gear patterns and instructions are copyright Stitchback DIY Trail Gear. Pattern purchasers are permitted to sell (but not mass produce) items made with these patterns.
For the purposes of my review, I’m going to summarize the basic steps, tell you what I did differently (if anything) and share my general thoughts about sewing the project.
Stitchback DIY Trail Gear is a US-based company specializing in patterns for backpacks (and other accessories) for outdoor enthusiasts. They believe “…that the best outdoor gear is the gear you make yourself.” The TH50 (Thru-Hiker 50) is the 50L version of their “…flagship ultralight backpacking pack”. I wanted to compare this modern backpack project to diy backpack patterns that were available over 20 years ago. The GVP 4 backpack pattern was first published on the internet in 1998 and Rainshed Alpine Rucksack RS150 pattern is of similar vintage.
Step 0 Gather Materials
You can use a variety of materials for this project and some suggestions are included in the instructions. I had some 70D ripstop nylon left over from sewing my Alpine Rucksacks and GVP4 packs. It is lighter than the recommended fabrics, but made for a fairer weight comparison. I also used 420D polyurethane coated nylon, polyester bag mesh, AirKnit padded mesh and a small piece of 1.2 mm (0.06”) thick Kydex plastic. You’ll also need assorted plastic buckles, webbing, elastic, hook and loop tape, and eva foam.
I had trouble finding 3 mm (1/8”) thick and 6 mm (¼”) thick eva foam so I purchased some 2 mm (1/12”) thick eva foam sheets and 8 mm (1/3”) thick eva foam floor tiles. I used low odour contact cement to glue the 2 mm (1/12”) eva foam sheets into a longer piece. The 8 mm (1/3”) thick eva foam just barely fits under my sewing machine’s presser foot so I trimmed it to a thickness of ~ 6 mm (¼”) using a serrated kitchen knife (it’s one that had been retired from food use).
I used a candle flame to melt the cut edges of all my webbing, grossgrain and cord pieces. To prevent fraying. After I attached the webbing, I folded the free ends over by ~ 8 mm (1/3”) and stitched it with a 6 mm (¼”) seam allowance. This prevents the buckles falling off while being thin enough that you can still push the webbing through the buckles.
Step 1 Hip Belt
I sewed the narrow hip belt in size medium and used a combination of ripstop and Air Knit Padded mesh. I applied the contact cement to the sides of the foam I had been trimmed so that the smoother sides would be on against the fabric. It’s takes about 30 minutes for low odor contact cement to become tacky. This was a good time to start working on my shoulder straps.
It took considerable effort to fit the hipbelt foam into the hipbelt casing. Shaping the Kydex hipbelt stiffener with hand tools was difficult. I omitted the weight reduction holes and as a result my stiffener weighs ~ 40 g (1.4 oz).
Step 2 Shoulder Straps
I sewed the small shoulder straps and used ripstop nylon for the exteriors and 420D AirKnit padded mesh for the interiors. It was relatively easy to insert the shoulder strap foam into the shoulder strap casing. I had trouble finding a local source for sternum strap buckles so I used a single side adjust buckle.
Step 3 Main Panel
I used 16 mm (5/8”) grosgrain for my side pockets instead of 19 mm (¾”) grosgrain. A bodkin makes it easy to thread the bungee cord through the side pocket sleeves. If you don’t have a bodkin you can use a closed safety pin. The first time I sewed pieces J and K together the edges weren’t the same length. As it turns out I sewed J to a short edge of K instead of a long edge. Pay attention to the centre marks/notches to avoid making these kinds of mistakes. I used 19 mm (¾”) single-side release buckles for the top compression straps. There are two options for sewing the daisy chain depending upon the sturdiness of your fabric. My ripstop nylon is lightweight so I used the option for lighter fabrics.
Step 4 Bottom
I used 420D nylon for the bottom and was surprised by how easy this step was.
Step 6 Back Panel
The back panel is the most complicated part of this project. I used 420D nylon and 70D ripstop. I placed the smooth side of the lumbar foam against the AirKnit padded mesh lumbar panel.
Measuring your own hipbelt to shoulder strap length can be difficult as you’re measuring down your back to the top of the hipbelt. I taped the end of my flexible measuring tape to the end of my shoulder strap and made sure to hold the measuring tape straight.
I accidentally stitched the long ends of my shoulder strap webbing to the back panel twice. You may wish to pin the straps out of the way.
I used 19 mm (¾”) wide elastic instead of 25.4 mm (1”) wide elastic for the interior.
The “top” panel confused me until I realized that it was the “top portion of the back panel” and not the “top” of the backpack. Once that was sorted out it came together quickly.
Step 7 Assembly & Pack Opening
I made sure to secure the shoulder straps and shoulder strap webbing out the way before sewing the back panel to the rest of the pack.
I decided to use matching grosgain for the pack opening even though it was narrower than the recommended size. The pattern includes two options for making the roll-top closure more effective. I choose the plastic strip option as it was easy to get appropriate plastic and I had to make my plastic strip narrower than the pattern directed as my grosgain was narrower. Instead of binding the seams with grosgain, I zigzagged over them to prevent fraying.
Step 8 Lid
The optional 4 L (244 cubic inch) capacity lid is sold as a separate pattern and fits both the Stitchback TH50 and TH40 backpacks. When not being used as a lid, it can be worn as either a lumbar pack or a shoulder bag. You can use the same fabrics, eva foam and webbing as you used for the main pack. I used 70D ripstop nylon and a #5 zipper. Low odour contact cement made it easy to glue 2 mm (1/12”) thick eva foam scraps into pieces of the required size and thickness. This pattern assumes that you’re already familiar with how to install a zipper. Don’t forget to install the zipper sliders if your zipper isn’t pre-assembled.
Here are some more photos of my finished Stitchback TH50 backpack and TH Lid.
This intermediate pattern is well written and well illustrated. Photos are included for difficult/complex steps. The rating is appropriate as finding all the technical fabrics, hardware, webbing and foam and, working with them may be challenging for beginner sewers. The Stitchbag Gear TH50 is comfortable and is a great size for multi-day trips. I look forward to testing this backpack on the trail.
Material choice has a large impact on the final weight of any diy gear. My 50 L (~3051 cubic inches) Stitchback TH50 ultralight backpack weighs 575 g (20.3 oz) and my 4 L (~244 cubic inches) Stitckback TH Lid weighs 155 g (5.5 oz). My 19 mm (¾”) eva foam frame sheet adds an addition 110 g (3.9 oz), The other frame sheet option included in the instructions is 1.2 mm (0.06”) thick Kydex and 6 mm (¼”) eva foam.
The Stitchback Gear website describes how to make other types of frame sheets:
This table describes all four configuration options for using the Stitchback Gear TH50 and their resulting weights.
The total weight for my Stitchback Geare TH50 backpack ranges from 575 g (20.3 oz) to 840 g (29.6 oz) with all the components. This is considerably less than my 2.5 kg (5.5 pound, 88 oz), 60 L (3600 cubic inch) internal frame pack.
Versus GVP 4 Packpack
The main material for my GVP4 Backpack is 70D ripstop nylon and this backpack has a volume of 72L (4394 cubic inch) and a weight of 575 g (20.3 oz). This is the same weight as the Stitchback Gear TH50 without a frame sheet and without the top lid. The GVP4 pack shaves considerable weigh by omitting features. The shoulder straps are unpadded, the hip belt is webbing only, and there are no compression straps. A feature the GVP4 does have is a wide sleeping bag compartment at the bottom. Fewer features mean fewer pieces to sew and a less complicated sewing projects. Whether a smaller, feature rich backpack or a larger, feature poor backpack is the right option for you will depend upon your sewing skills and backpacking priorities.
Versus Rainshed RS150
The main material for my Rainshed Alpine Rucksack RS150 backpacks is 70D ripstop nylon. My 47 L (2868 cubic inch) RS150 backpack weighs of 900 g (31.7 oz) and the 60L (3661 cubic inch) RS150 backpack weighs 1100 g (38.8 oz). I expected the Stitchback TH50 to weigh between the two and am pleasantly surprised that it weighs less than either. All the 25.4 mm (1”) webbing and hardware on the RS150s must really add up.
The Rainshed RS150 and the Stitckback Gear TH50 share the following features: customizable torso length, padded shoulder straps, frame sheet/hydration pouch pocket, removable top pocket that can be used as lumbar pack and both vertical and horizontal compression straps. Other features of the Stitchback Gear TH50 include: customizable shoulder straps, customizable foam hip belt, removeable foam hip belt, lumbar pad, load lifters, hydration tube ports, Extra features do mean extra pattern pieces and therefore a more complex sewing project. While they are both intermediate sewing projects, the Stitchback Gear TH50 is definitely more complicated to sew. Whether or nor the additional features make it worthwhile depends upon your sewing skills and backpacking priorities.
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