Gear Modification is a new series in The Cairn’s articles that will delve into the subject of making your gear work for you. I always think of something when out on a trip that could make my gear just a little bit better and have begun to add these things myself. I’ve started off with a simple and common addition, exterior pockets.
Materials: needle, nylon thread, stretchy elastic, mesh fabric. A basic sewing machine and a Mom to help you will speed up the process of hemming/attaching elastic, but is not required.
Begin by cutting a piece of mesh large enough to accommodate the items you want the pocket to hold. There is a good deal of eyeballing and guesswork involved, which will be unique to the kind of pocket you have in mind. I designed my pocket specifically to fit a 27 oz. Klean Kanteen. The mesh fabric was cut to 11 square inches. This allowed for enough space to sew small hems on three sides for attaching to the pack and a 1/2 inch on the top side to fold over and sew in the elastic band. Note: when sewing the elastic band, only sew one side of it to the mesh, leaving the other end loose until later. This will allow you to adjust the stretch once you have the pocket attached and the item inside. If you sew in both sides of the elastic, the pocket may be too loose or tight on the top and you’ll have to go through the trouble of cutting thread in order to make any adjustments. You want the pocket to hold your item in securely, but not so constricting that you have to fight to get it in and out.
Once you have the piece of mesh with hems and elastic sewn, you will need to attach it to the pack. Start with a long side, placing the mesh onto the pack and attaching with needle and thread. The technical term for this process is sewing, which isn’t as easy as your Mom makes it look. Sewing may have to be done by hand depending on the shape of your pack. I attached the side closest to the center of the pack first, then the bottom, and finally the far side. The loose end of the elastic should be on this far side of the mesh pocket. The pocket will be secure on three sides and you can test the pocket by placing an item within. Determine the correct stretchiness, hold the elastic in place, and sew it into place. Any excess elastic can be cut off the end. Be careful not to cut the mesh. Now that the pocket is on the pack, it is a good idea to sew reinforcement stitches, especially on the bottom section. At minimum, I recommend double stitching each side.
An exterior pocket on a pack is convenient and useful and not too tricky to add. Some packs aren’t made with this type of pocket either to keep price down or due to the functional purpose of the pack. Most climbing packs will not have exterior pockets because they are designed with a slim profile for moving through tight spaces. I attached a single exterior pocket to my 30L Marmot Myrina climbing pack since I use this pack more often for day hikes and overnights. When climbing, I leave the pocket empty and it doesn’t get in the way. If you have a pack that is a great fit and performs well for you, but is missing exterior pockets, take a little time for gear modification.
***If you have fancy waterproof seam-sealed gear, do NOT poke any holes in it with a needle no matter how badly you want an exterior pocket. If you have gear this nice, you would never do such a thing, but just in case…