DIY Waist Pads for Your Backpack

Scott and I will hike up (and down) Cerro Chirripó in Costa Rica (12, 533 ft elevation) in a few weeks. We will walk up 9 miles of muddy, no switchbacks trail to Crestones Base Camp, which is nicknamed “The Refrigerator.” Then, the summit is another 3 miles. From the summit, you can see the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, provided there aren’t any clouds, which is unlikely.

We’ve been training. Every weekend, we walk around nearby trails—usually at Lake McMurtry—with packs on. About three hikes ago, we did our first double-digit hike at Lake Carl Blackwell. I struggled with my heavy pack and it took us about 6 hours to do the hike. Over the course of this horrible hike, Scott decided that it would be better for both of us if he took more weight. This would allow me to walk faster which, in turn, would allow him to take full strides – he’s one and a half feet taller than me.

Happily, I’ve switched over to a regular backpack, which holds my water, some food, and some clothing layers. I tried Scott’s school backpack because it has a padded hip strap. But the sternum strap sits very low and the bag hangs off of me. I tried my school backpack, which fits me well, but doesn’t have any padding on the waist strap. Without padding, the waist strap digs into me and is really uncomfortable. The best solution was to fashion some padding for the waist strap of my backpack before our “big hike.” Luckily, my parents came for a long visit over Thanksgiving, so I could enlist my mom’s help with this project.

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We bought some ripstop fabric for the outer cover and elastic to use to attach the pads to my waist strap at JoAnn Fabric. We looked around the whole store for some suitable padding material. Felt and batting seemed inappropriate. My mom suggested we use a yoga mat for padding. TJ Maxx is next door to JoAnn and they had 3cm yoga mats for $12, which seems like a lot, but good padding is worth it when you’re on a long hike.

We measured triangles that went about 5.5 inches from end to end to make the outer covering and smaller triangles, which we used to cut the yoga mat. Our first try was too small, so we increased our measurements for the second attempt. It is smart to finish one side completely before starting the next side in case you need to make any adjustments with the finished pad.

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We sewed on the elastic before sewing the fabric together. This step is key, because if you don’t make a smaller space in the elastic the pad will move around too much while you hike.

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Then, we sewed two edges of the pad together, turned the pouch right side out and added the padding. Then my mom hand sewed the whole thing shut.

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I used the pads for our hike yesterday – and they were great! I haven’t waterproofed the seams yet, but that’s on my to-do list. Or maybe Scott’s to-do list when he re-waterproofs our boots for the trip.

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Materials:

  1. 5” – 6” of ripstop nylon (depending on how big of a pad you want to make)
  2. Elastic that is 1.5” thick (I bought a whole package)
  3. Thread that matches the nylon
  4. Yoga mat that is (at least) 3cm thick
  5. Marking pencil
  6. Sewing machine
  7. Needle

Procedure:

  1. Measure how long/thick you want the padding to be. This is body specific. My pattern ended up being about 9 inches long, 6.5 inches at the bottom of the triangle, and 2 inches at the top of the triangle.
  2. Add 1 inch to your measurements to account for .5” seams on each side.
  3. Measure the length of your covering on a piece of paper. Fold the paper in half.
  4. Measure the bottom of the triangle so that your measurements are even on each side of the folded line (my triangle bottom was 6.5 inches.)
  5. Measure the top of the triangle so that your measurements are even on each side of the folded line. The top of the triangle should be about 2 inches (1 inch finished).
  6. Fold the fabric over on itself and pin your pattern to the fabric.
  7. From the original measurements, make a pattern for the yoga mat. Use the above instructions (3-5) to make this pattern.
  8. Then, tape the pattern to the yoga mat and cut the mat according to the pattern. Cut out the fabric according to the pattern.
  9. Pin the elastic onto one side of the fabric at about 1 inch from both ends of the triangle. Cut the elastic to fit the fabric.
  10. Measure to find the middle of the elastic. Then, from the middle measure outward about ¾ of an inch (or whatever you need to be able to fit the strap through the elastic). This step is important so the padding is secure and you don’t have to readjust it every mile or so.
  11. Sew on the elastic where you have marked the ¾ inch marks.
  12. Fold the fabric up over the elastic so that the elastic is on the inside, and sew both edges together. Leave one edge open.
  13. Insert the yoga mat padding. Hand sew he pad closed.
  14. Seal the edges with waterproof sealant, like you use on your hiking boots or tent.
  15. TA DA! You’re done. With one side, at least.
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