FAQ - DIY or Make your own gear

Send any comments to the maintainer Roger Caffin

  • A Discourse on Fabrics
    • Introduction
      • Natural Fibres
      • The Synthetics
      • Fabric Weaves
      • Fabric Weights
      • State of the Art in Fabrics
    • What is 'Waterproof'?
      • Coatings on Synthetics
      • Seam Sealing


Why DIY?

The obvious answer to this question is "why not?", but let's add a few more reasons.

That much said, there is a lot of good gear out there which has had the advantage of many cycles of development, and sometimes it can take quite a few tries before you get all the bugs out of your new design. So this idea isn't for everyone. That's OK: bushwalking comes first.

You may notice some common themes between this section and the section on Ultra-Lightweight gear. This is because no manufacturer in Australia is making genuine Ultra-Lightweight gear today (mid-2005). The usual reason given is that the lighter gear may fail sooner, leading to more product returns and a poor reputation. The manufacturers seem to have an unreasonable fear that their products might be seen as less than indestructible, and shops seem to have this fear too. The spectre of 'returns' looms overlarge in their minds. It may also be that none of them have really thought about it yet. It is interesting that in America the ultra-lightweight part of the market is the only one showing any significant signs of growth. Anyhow, if you want to consider making my designs try my design pages. At least, they should make you start thinking.

Commercial Sales

Over the last few years a small number of lucky people have bought some of my designs - packs and tents. However, I find that I have been making about $3/hr out of this, not counting the cost of capital for buying materials in advance, and it has become too much of a time consumer. So I have ceased production for the present. However, I am still negotiating with some gear manufacturers about their taking over some of the production. Whether anything will come of this we have yet to see. If any other company is interested, please contact me.


Sources of Designs

Never let it be said we would simply copy a commercial design. That would be boring, and may possibly have legal repercussions if we sold the result. But existing commercial designs can be a good starting point for many things, including improvements and especially lighter weight. Otherwise, you may have to make up your designs yourself. I would love to be able to point to books or web sites where there are collections of designs and ideas; does anyone knows of any? My own gear designs are my own ideas, with bits and pieces of inspiration from lots of other gear. If you want to use a commercial ('pre-tested'!) pattern there are several companies selling these for basic outdoor gear. The American companies listed below under Fabrics all have a selection of gear and clothing patterns for sale.

The Americans have a term for long distance walkers: they call them 'Thru-Hikers'. America has several long walking tracks which can take up to a year to complete. Some people actually take off for a year to walk them. Not having much money at that stage, they sometimes make their own gear. Some web sites are dedicated to this concept:

Apart from "gear" - packs and tents and so on, there are always the normal patterns for clothing and parkas, readily available in local material shops in large catalogues. Some are a little complex, but the Kwik-Sew range seems fairly simple. Unless you are very good at clothing design it is usually a very good idea to start with a known pattern.


Make your own Patterns

Here is a tip for those wanting to make their own patterns, or to modify bought ones with custom additions. I always put mine onto heavy plastic film first, about 200 micron, although 150 would do fine. You can buy it in rolls at large hardware stores. If starting with a paper pattern I still do this as it preserves the original. The plastic patterns can be modified in the light of experience with extra bits stuck on the side with sticky tape, and it doesn't matter if you wreck one. By using heavy gauge plastic film I ensure the pattern lies flat and well behaved on the fabric later. After several generations the pattern doesn't look like the original anyhow.


Sources of Materials

Finding suitable materials can be difficult unless you are willing to fossick around. Many gear makers are reluctant to either sell you material or tell you where to get it. This is a little short-sighted imho as the Web is a very big place. However, some sources you can try are as follows. I have left out those which are only interested in wholesale quantities - did you really want 200 metres of one fabric?


Fabric Sources

Some bushwalking shops will sell some basic nylon materials. Caution: they may not be waterproof. Some large fabric shops have interesting stuff at times, but you are on your own as to whether it will meet your specifications. Very often it will have the cheap and nasty acrylic proofing. But fabric is not dear: buy and experiment.



These are all those buckles, zips and so on. Many bits and pieces can be got from local sewing shops, but their range is of course limited. Common bushwalking buckles can usually be bought from your local bushwalking shop, although the prices are not as low as when you buy them in bulk by any means. The American fabric sites listed above all carry a large range of bits and pieces of course. Long zippers are a problem for which I do not have a local solution yet, unless you want 100 metres of continuous chain and 1000 sliders. Eyelets and press-studs appear in various local shops: you may have to hunt for the size you want, and the brands available vary with time.


Tent Poles

Standard aluminium poles on good tents were usually made by Easton in America, in a 7075 T9 alloy. They had nearly a monopoly on this market, and as might be expected for a monopolist they were extremely difficult to deal with. Perhaps because of the cost or the hassles of dealing with Easton, some tent manufacturers are now using poles from Korea (eg DAC 'Featherweight'). The advantage of the Korean poles, in a 7001 alloy, is that they are a little less inclined to snap like the highly tempered Easton ones. Instead they bend and fold, doing less damage to the tent fabric. That said, a snapped pole is much easier to sleeve in the field than a folded one!

However, more recently the inroads the Korean suppliers have been making into the market have caused Easton to be slightly more helpful. In the past Easton never replied to emails from anyone buying less than 10,000 pieces, but I have had responses and samples in the last year or so (2008). On the other hand DAC haven't replied to my emails yet. There may also be other Korean firms in this game, and a UK firm competing as well, but I have not found any of their addresses yet.

Your local bushwalking shop may be able to get some supplies from an importer, or you could try an archery shop or Remote Repairs (above). Why archery? Because Easton started out making aluminium arrows, and still do. I have had good luck with this avenue. You can get fibreglass tent poles at your local K-Mart or Big-W in the family camping section, but they are pretty heavy and their strength is unknown. You Get What You Pay For: I have seen bent fibreglass poles before this. I have also listed two overseas firms which can supply poles to order, but you have the usual delays in delivery and the shipping costs. The firms listed below have given fairly good service to me.



These are all those things which do not fit into the above categories.



I have seen quite a few comments on aus.bushwalking about DIY dried foods, and the use of dessicators. Would anyone care to volunteer a few paragraphs?


Other interesting web sites for DIY

Check www.permaflate.com for an interesting variation on the Thermarest and some other DIY bushwalking items.

Check the Stoves section for references to the current American craze with ultra-lightweight metho stoves: light stoves but heavy fuel, and (imho) very inconvenient to use. But it depends on how/what you cook.

Wilderness Equipment have a good page on DIY repairs, written by the manager Ian Maley himself. There are some good tips here about zips.

One Planet have some interesting comments on gear on their web site, plus information about how they can stuff your shells with 800 loft down for you.


Contributions and specific questions welcome.

© Roger Caffin 16/08/2006