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Making Clothes For Backpacking

By Steve Gillman

Making clothes? If you enjoy backpacking AND sewing, go for it. As for myself, I started buying gear again after the first hundred tedious hours of sewing.Then I discovered that there are some backpacking clothes you can make cheaply and quickly.

Making Hand Warmers

Stick your hands inside a pair of socks and mark where your fingertips and thumb-tip are, using a pen or marker. Then cut holes where the marks are. You now have hand warmers that leave your fingers free. Mine weigh about an ounce, but this depends on the socks that you use. You can use these under other gloves or mittens in colder weather, and when you remove your mittens to tie your shoes, you won't totally expose your hands.

Instant Insulated Vest

Buy 1/2" poly batting at any fabric store. I bought mine at Walmart. This is the stuff that is used to make pillows, stuffed animals and quilts. It comes as a big sheet, rolled up in a bag, usually for less than ten dollars.

Open it up it and cut a piece out, roughly two by four feet. Cut a hole in this for your head, and wear it like a tunic, but under your jacket. Making clothes doesn't get any easier than this, and the vest will be among the lightest backpacking clothes you own. My own weighs just four ounces.

My vest, along with my homemade balaclava, kept me warm as I went over glaciers, to the top of 20,600-foot Chimborazo, in Ecuador. It also went to the top of Mount Shasta in California, and on other trips. Originally, I made it as a disposable vest, but it's held together for years now. Wear two for extra warmth (always under a wind-breaking layer) and you'll have more insulation than a sweater would give you, for half the weight.

Making A Ski Mask From Old Clothes

Use any old thermal underwear top or bottom, preferably made of polypropylene. Just cut off a leg or a sleeve, then pull it over your head. Mark where your eyes and mouth are with a pen or marker, cut the holes and cut off the extra length. You just made a balaclava.

I used a sleeve from a very stretchy polypropylene top for mine. It weighs less than an ounce, lighter than anything I can buy. You can sew the top shut, as I did, or just pin it shut with a safety pin. Making backpacking clothes doesn't get much simpler than this.

I collect ideas for backpacking clothes or equipment that can be made at home, but if it can't be explained in a paragraph, it's probably too complex and time consuming for me. I prefer backpacking to sewing. When it's as easy as the three items here, though, even I will start making clothes.

About The Author

Steve Gillman is a long-time backpacker, and advocate of lightweight backpacking.


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