By Steve Gillman
You can make backpacks inexpensively, but I don't recommend
it. Even if you are extremely skilled at sewing, it isn't likely
to come out like you want. Also, it will probably take less of
your time to pick up an extra day at work and buy a pack with
However, if you have an old backpack frame, you can make a
simple, cheap backpack with it. Just remove the old pack from
the frame, and tie a plain nylon duffel bag to it firmly, with
the zipper facing out. Bungee cords will work for attaching it
too (small ones). When I did this using an old aluminum frame
that still had straps and a waist belt, the cost was $15 for
the muffle bag. I had an external-frame backpack that not only
held a lot, but weighed just two pounds.
A Guide to Buying Cheap Backpacks
Of the several ways to buy cheap backpacks, the most obvious
is to just wait for a good sale. Another way is to shop for a
used pack online. Visit Ebay.com, or go to a backpacking or other
outdoor forum that allows people to sell their gear, like whiteblaze.net.
Forums are nice, because you can easily ask questions about the
Salvation Army and other thrift stores sometimes have cheap
backpacks. Often they just have day packs, but you never know.
I've seen big old frame packs that were rough at thrift shops,
and it occurred to me that for a few dollars I could just toss
the pack, and use the frame with a duffel bag, as described above.
You can buy used backpacks cheap at rummage sales. Check out
the classified ads for any mention of outdoor gear, and call
to see if they have a backpack you might want. You might be able
to buy it before the sale starts. If not, start shopping early,
and negotiate a bit. Recently, I sold a beautiful Kelty frame-pack
for $15 at a garage sale.
One way to keep the pack cost down is to go light. Lightweight
backpacks, unlike other lightweight gear, are almost always cheaper
than the big packs, so if you have been thinking about lightening
the load, you can save money too. Ultralight backpacks are usually
under two pounds and frame less. Just use a sleeping pad as a
"frame" of sorts. The good news is that they're often
on sale for under $100.
The backpack maker Go-Lite had several packs near $100 the
last time I checked, and sometimes they ahve been on sale for
less than that. List price on the Granite Gear Virga Ultra Light
Packer may still be under $100, and I have seen it on sale for
under $80. It also weighs only 21 ounces, a bonus for me, as
I like the idea of light and cheap backpacks.