FAQ - DIY or Make your own gear
Send any comments to the maintainer Roger Caffin
The obvious answer to this question is "why not?", but let's add a few more reasons.
- Commercial gear can be very expensive at times.
- You can't always find exactly what you want.
- Much commercial gear is old-fashioned and weighs a ton.
- You enjoy making things and trying out your own ideas.
- You want to try out an idea which isn't available commercially.
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.
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?
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.
- Some Clarke Rubber stores sell one or two sorts of nylon material which is at least showerproof. One sort looked genuinely waterproof.
- The Spotlight chain, which seems to exist in most States, usually carries a range of useful fabrics and accessories. I have seen unproofed Taslan nylon cloth in many colours and good for fairly tough bushwalking clothing. There is a range of (Asian-brand) fleece fabrics of different weights, and a large range of bright Lycra fabrics. They also carry a 'proofed' ripstop nylon in many colours, but this is probably an acrylic proofing as it is quite cheap. It might suffice for tent flys, but not for things which have to be waterproof. They also carry both pre-made zips and some continuous chain zip in sizes from #3 to #7 or larger. Afaik, the zips only have single-sided tabs, not double-sided tabs.
- Ricky Richards (Sales) Pty Ltd www.rickyrichards.com.au (02 9746 1433) have a huge range of canvases, Corduras and some lighter nylons, down to 70 gm per square metre (gsm). The company is very friendly and will sell cut lengths. Be aware that the lighter materials are not always waterproof to high pressures. Some of them have an acrylic coating, not a PU coating, and may only be 'showerproof'. However, most fabrics are labelled and the staff can assist: ask for help. They will often send you small sample cards.
- Synergy Textiles (02 9997 7266) sell mainly to the yachting industry, but they do have some light and medium-weight nylons and very light but not necessarily waterproof spinnaker fabrics. They also have Leno Lockmesh net.
- Recreational Fabrics (formally Redman Textiles) (03 5356 6309) sell a range of materials for the DIY bushwalker including nylons of various weights, Polarfleece and substitutes, and Gore-Tex. Supplies of Gore-Tex and Polarfleece may be of variable. I have not spoken to this company recently.
- Remote Equipment Repairs (03 9670 2586, 3/373 Lt Bourke St, Melbourne) www.remoterepairs.com.au handle a lot of repairs for other manufacturers such as Macpac, but this means they carry some stock of webbing, buckles, Cordura, packcloth, Velcro and so on. They can replace whole tent poles, but don't have specific sections. They can repair and overhaul GoreTex items, but can't sell the fabric because of Gore's licensing restrictions. They are willing to sell to the DIY enthusiast, or even help a struggling DIYer complete a project. Ask for Alex Haslau.
- Sailmakers: consult the Yellow Pages. Be warned however: while they sell some very fine materials, they are not specified to be 'waterproof' as we know it. The sailors want the fabric to shed water so it doesn't get wet and heavy; it does not matter to them if water goes through the fabric. They also want it to hold its shape, which can mean a very stiff coating which may leak when it gets creased. While some are advertised as having a silicone coating, I suspect some of those may actually use another polymer such as polycarbonate, with a very light coating of silicone on the outside - or maybe they blend the polymers? The polycarbonate will crack in time. Sailmakers do sell some fine synthetic strings as well, but tying knots in these can be difficult. I have bought some stuff from Bainbridge in Sydney.
- From America - meaning you have to pay for postage and wait a little while longer. Sometimes you can get them to send the stuff by post rather than courier: trust me the Post office is a LOT cheaper than a courier! You don't have to worry about Customs any more (Free Trade Agreement), although if you import a lot 'they' may want to charge you GST still. You also need to be fairly sure about what you want, although many of the sources will send samples swatches etc. However, the ones listed here (especially the first three or four) are well known among the DIY clan over there. You can always mention my name.
- Outdoor Wilderness Fabrics Inc www.owfinc.com (or OWFINC) sell a wide range of fascinating materials, including fleece, silnylon, Cordura and zippers in nearly all sizes, including #3. They also have monthly specials at reduced prices. They seem to be rather widely known, and give good service. They sell small sample strings: essential for choosing. Contact Lynn Maine. I use OWFINC quite a bit.
- Thru-Hiker: a small but growing range of very light fabrics for the UL DIY enthusiast, including silnylon and even lighter fabrics. This web site has a lot of other very interesting stuff and articles on it, including info about sewing techniques, and is worth a visit.
- Top Value Fabrics have a very large range of fabrics, especially tough nylon taffetas or Taslans suitable for windshirts, other softer nylons sometimes with brushed or 'peached' surfaces, stretch nylons, various mesh nylons suitable for inner layers, some fleece, and a large range of packcloths and Corduras. They also have 'silnylon'.
- Seattle Fabrics www.seattlefabrics.com sell a similar wide range of outdoor materials, including silnylon, heat-weldable nylons and zippers in #5, #8 and #10 sizes.
- Textile Outfitters www.justmakeit.com sell a good range of materials, including silnylon, and a large range of simple patterns for all sorts of outdoor clothing and zippers in #5, #8 and #10 sizes.
- Quest Outfitters www.questoutfitters.com sell a good range of materials and lots of those fasteners and buckles. They can supply Cuben fabric and matching tape too.
- Noah Lamport Inc, www.noahlamport.com> sell a small range of fabrics for parachutes, drag chutes etc, including light ripstop nylon and silnylon. They sell some of this as 'seconds' at very low prices, although you have to buy a minimum of 10 yds. A sample of the silnylon didn't look too bad.
- Rockywoods, www.rockywoods.com also sell a good range of materials, fasteners and buckles and other necessaries. They have some nice light Corduras.
- Specialty Outdoors: not a commercial website, but that of a DIY enthusiast. It does include links to a fair number of web sites which sell DIY materials, including some of the above. Also a source of information about sewing machines.
- OwareUSA have a range of fabrics which they sell, incidental to their lightweight gear.
- Six Moon Designs sell a couple of forms of Tyvek, an American synthetic non-woven fabric sometimes used for groundsheet etc. I have never used it, and might not recognise it if I saw it.
- Hang-em-high kite site sells fabric, spars and kite string. The spars are mainly pultruded and very unreliable for a tent (don't do it), but some of the fabric and string (Dacron and Spectra) could be useful - and cheap.
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.
- OWFINC, Seattle, Quest Outfitters, Thru-Hiker and Rockywoods all have a range, with the first two especially large. OWFINC has light #3 coil zip in continuous lengths with double-sided sliders: very good for tents. I get mine from them.
- Nolans Warehouse www.nolans.com.au (02 9669 3333) They handle YKK zips and fittings, but there may be a sadly large Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) dictated by YKK. You could try Brad.email@example.com).
- Shann Accessories www.shann.com.au 02 9756 2466, 03 9419 4544 and other cities around Australia. A wide range of all sorts of useful accessories, but only in wholesale quantities.
- Lincraft - a chain of large retail fabric shops found in various shopping malls around Sydney. I do not know about other cities. They do carry a range of zips including #5 zippers suitable for parkas.
- Spotlight Stores, as mentioned above, for some stuff.
- Sewing Thread Specialists Group, 1 300 653 855, for Rasant and Serafil threads, Duraflex buckles, bungee cord and webbing. They will sell small quantities if they are stock items. (I have also found Rasant 120 thread at the Sydney Sewing Centre in Hornsby, apparently in response to a demand from experienced DIYers.)
- M Recht Accessories, 03 9419 9411, 02 9656 4789, firstname.lastname@example.org (YKK agent, but there is still a large MOQ!).
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.
- Kite Magic at 1/99 Malabar Rd, Coogee, 2034, 02 9315 7001,
www.kitesite.com.au sell some carbon fibre tubing for kites, but are happy to sell to bushwalkers too. They also have fine Spectra, Dyneema and Dacron string and some fittings for the tubing. I haven't used their fittings.
- Benson Archery at 164 Parramatta Rd, Granville (above Neil Harris Skiwear), 02 9682 3080,
email@example.com, sell a wide range of Easton tubing and carbon fibre tubing for arrows. They are happy to sell to bushwalkers, but note that what they stock are arrow shafts. You will have to work out what gauges suit your needs, what to do about joiners, and put up with the 'camo' colouring.
- Other archery shops should have a similar range to Benson I would imagine.
- T A Enterprises www.terrabrio.com or firstname.lastname@example.org in America sell a wide range of Easton poles. I believe one of their guys used to work for Easton, and I do know that they know whereof they speak. I have dealt with them.
- Fibraplex www.fibraplex.com in America is a small (but growing fast!) friendly company which sells ultra-lightweight custom carbon fibre tent poles which replace some straight Easton poles. Don't bend them too far! They can supply complete assemblies to your specifications, or just sell you the blanks. I have dealt with them some years ago.
These are all those things which do not fit into the above categories.
- Metrofoam, 15 Fariola St, Silverwater, 9748 8588. Specialist suppliers of closed cell foam suitable for packs and mats: EVA30, EVA45, EVA60, PE30, PE45 and many other grades. They understand that their foams are useful in outdoors gear. The manager and his son are a friendly guys who will supply small quantities and cut it to shape if you go there. Their web site is quite informative.
- Clark Rubber stores, various open and closed cell foams in various grades and thicknesses - mostly light.
- Some of the American sites listed above also sell neoprene foam, with Lycra backing in some cases.
- Synergy Textiles sell some Neoprene foam.
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