How To Make Your Own Outdoor Gear

Patagonia climbing equipment, Levi’s jeans and Specialized mountain bikes are all examples of iconic gear that began as someone’s personal project. The care and attention to detail you give your handmade item can make it some of the best in the world, but taking the first step can be intimidating.

Many outdoors experts craft their own gear with great success, and you can, too. It just takes a little ambition and some basic tools to get started.

As you use and test the equipment you’ve made, your skill and your understanding of the requirements for your items will grow, informing new and better designs. Plus, you can save some serious money by making your own gear instead of buying from a store.

Crafting Softgoods

Even if the prospect of being sustainable and crafting your own gear sounds attractive, it might be intimidating to know where to begin. What can you make that will be useful? Will you end up wasting a bunch of money on tools and supplies, only to throw away your failed attempts at outdoor gear?

We think the answer is no, mainly because many items can be crafted using basic sewing supplies that don’t cost much.

Jumping right into apparel is probably daunting, but luckily, you can get a lot of use out of a basic sack when it comes to outdoor activities. Maybe you can use it as a bike bag or stuff-sack for your sleeping bag or mat.

With a little more sewing, you’ll have graduated to a camp pillow. From there you might be able to add a few straps and perhaps some additional pockets and decoration to make a backpack.

A nice, heavy fabric sewn with care can provide years of use as a handy pack.

There are several different DIY hammocks you can try too. The simple ones just need canvas, grommets and rope, whereas the more complex ones have you use a ton of rope, knot-tying skills, and some patience.

The canvas one is also lighter and will be your best bet if you’re planning to take it backpacking.

Clothing is considered to be the ultimate endeavor when it comes to homemade gear. If you do well enough, other people might even start buying it.

Start out with pants, which can be as simple as following a pattern. The fabric is key, so make sure you get something that is easy to work with but tough enough to handle the great outdoors.

And with anything homemade, make sure you test it on an easy hike or short camping trip before you take it someplace serious.

Crafting Hardgoods

Similarly to clothes and pillowcases, creating tools and equipment is a lifelong endeavor. You could begin your tool-making journey with something as simple as a walking stick, and customize it with some carving or decoration.

Simply find a branch, peel off the park, and sand it down to be smooth. Then stain it the color of your choice and add a oil-based polyurethane to seal it. It’s a fairly easy task and you’ll feel great once it’s done.

One good tips is to start small and work up to larger projects as your skill improves. A homemade lantern can save money and fills an obvious need when you’re on the trail.

Then once you have some experience building those simple tools, you can step up to something more intense, such as a knife or hatchet.

Many climbers like to tackle DIY projects, and while we wouldn’t suggest crafting your own carabiner at home, you can easily come up with a chalk bag with a cinch, a homemade fingerboard and possibly even some lengths of cord.

Surfers have been shaping their own boards for a good long while now, and if you’re lucky, there might be a nearby college or shop that will sell you a blank and take you through the motions of shaping a foam-core board yourself.

Larger pieces are some of the most challenging, but they can also be a source of pride. For example, crafting your own canoe or kayak can be a fun project that leads to years of use.

It might seem impossible when you first start making your own tools, but the fact is that native peoples and skilled artisans around the world have been building boats for centuries. If you have some basic woodworking skills and you’re not afraid to mess up a few times, you’ll probably come up with something usable in a reasonable stretch of time.

When To Buy Instead Of DIY

Creating your own gear can be great, but we can’t recommend it for absolutely everything. For anything that could make the difference between life and death, it’s best to go with something tested and approved.

Don’t make your own climbing hooks or safety gear. Especially don’t make your own sunscreen. You can include a few DIY items in a first aid kit, but in general it’s best to avoid making your own medicine or anything that could save your life.

If you end up needing one of these items, the last thing you’ll be worried about is if you saved a few dollars or not.

Create Your Legacy

Whichever direction you choose to go, creating your own tools and equipment can be extremely fulfilling. You will get to enjoy the challenge of honing your skills, and over time, realize the improved quality of your work.

As you become more confident, you can begin to do work for others, pursue professional employment or pass along what you’ve known to new generations so they can also create amazing new things.

If you’ve been curious about making your own outdoor gear, why not give it a try? Just make sure you have backup items in case you make a mistake, and don’t be afraid to start over or switch to an easier project if it’s not going well.

If you stay with it, you might just create a masterwork that you’ll use in the great outdoors for years to come.

Scott Huntington is a writer who lives in Vermont and covers hiking, camping, survival, and everything in between. Find him on Twitter @SMHuntington or check out his site, Off The Grid

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