Start small Basic products, like a stuffsack or hammock, let you get a feel for the work (and your aptitude).
What you’ll needScott Littlefield, founder of DIYGearSupply.com (a source for patterns and material), recommends the following kit for making gear at home.
Sewing machine “Basic home machines will get the job done, but if you can search out one with metal gears at a thrift shop, all the better,” Littlefield says.
Seam ripper “You’re going to make mistakes,” he says. “A $3 seam ripper will let you undo those mistakes and try again.”
Fabric scissors Littlefield uses Fiskars 8 Inch Softtouch Spring Action ($15; amazon.com).
Fabric tape measure The standard 60 inches is fine for most projects, but a longer one will be useful for some gear, like a tarp.
Plus: Pins/cushion and a Sharpie
Premade patterns If you have sewing experience and want to save more money, use a pattern and buy your own materials.
Premade kitsIf you’re a beginner or looking to make something more complicated, consider a complete kit, which comes with step-by-step instructions and premeasured materials. Ultralight hiking evangelist Ray Jardine offers complete kits for packs (starting at $83), tarp shelters (starting at $80), sleeping quilts (starting at $110), and pads ($14, foam not included) at rayjardine.com. We had Sterling Dintersmith, a Massachusetts hiker who has been sewing her own gear for about five years, make some Jardine gear. She pronounced the bag “comfy and fun to make,” but said the pack was a bit complex.
Custom designs“Be creative,” says Dintersmith. “I like making things as crazy and exciting as I want. I made a poncho out of see-through waterproof fabric and I made a see-through hood that goes down over your face—so even in the worst blowing rain you can see while you hike.
I haven’t solved the fogging issue yet.”
Material “Start with some extra fabric from the project you have in mind [after you cut out your pattern] and build a couple of stuffsacks with the scrap,” Littlefield says. “You’ll learn how the materials handle with your machine.” Tip: It’s better to cut big and trim down than to cut too small and waste material.
Time The savings are real with DIY gear, but you need to be realistic about the amount of time you’ll spend sewing. According to Littlefield, here’s roughly how many dollars and hours you can expect to invest in common DIY products.
1.5 to 2 hours (add a bug net for $20 and 2.5 to 3 hours)
Synthetic:$60 and up (depends on temperature rating; $60 is for 40°F)
3 to 5 hours.
Down:$100 and up
5 to 8 hours
30 minutes (but you’ll get a few sacks)
$40 to $80 (depending on size)
5 to 8 hours
$40 to $50
10 to 15 hours (more if it’s your first try)
Quilt + Pack + Tarp = $190
Total savings = $210*
*Based on average retail price for similar products approved by BACKPACKER testers