DiY Camera Backpack

Started Jun 10, 2013 | Discussions thread
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cale johnson
cale johnson Regular Member • Posts: 121
DiY Camera Backpack

Hey Folks!

I’m a big fan of these forums and wanted to share my experience making a camera backpack with the community because it is such an easy way to cut some of the big expense from getting started in professional photography. I’m getting started as a wedding photographer and have had to invest a ton of money into camera bodies, lenses, filters, flashes, meters, and stands. I knew I should protect my investment but I was really disappointed with the options available for carrying my equipment in a backpack. It wasn’t as though there weren’t a ton of options available from manufacturers, it was the additional cost for the interior padding that converted these packs to a camera bag. Manufacturers were taking $100 daypacks and charging $275 for a modestly modified camera pack.

I don’t have a clever solution that allows for side access or a “hatchback” but I was able to modify a relatively basic backpack into a go anywhere camera bag. I started with a JanSport EXOS which I had bought for motorcycling but it fit the need for a camera bag. Specifically, I needed carrying comfort, a compact frame, and a two compartment design. Just about any pack with a rigid structure would have worked. (Hmm… interesting ad campaign for the JanSport bag…

I started the project with research. To this I need to give credit to Joanna Durczok whose post on gave me the confidence to move forward.

Step 1) Measure the interior dimensions of your pack. If the covering flap has a depth, you’ll need to add that to the interior depth of the compartment. I made a pattern for the shape of the bottom (the part that forms the back of the backpack). This shape is rarely square or rectangular. Start by making a slightly oversized pattern in heavy paper. You may need to trim some excess off and then tape the pieces back in place to get the best fit.

Measure the length and width of the pack. You’ll want to protect the compartment at the sides and the top and bottom so these measurements are important. Finally, make rough measurements for the dividers you’ll want. I knew I wanted to have a camera with a 70-200mm lens in the center and lenses on both sides and a space for a flash or second body on the bottom. Sketch it out on paper and double check the dimensions against the actual size of your components.

Step 2) Shop for your materials. This was pretty simple because there is a fabric store in my neighborhood that carries nylon fabric, foam, and Velcro. Most large fabric stores carry these and you will need about 2 yds. of nylon fabric, 1-1/2 yds. of ½” high density foam, and 40” of 5/8” Velcro (the non-adhesive sort). You’ll also need something to attach the Velcro to the side panels and the nylon panels to your backpack. I used all-purpose adhesive/caulking available at a hardware store.

Step 3) The hardest part of making anything with fabric and foam is forming the “pillows” that will make up the bottom, top, side, and divider panels. I am very fortunate to have a serger (compliments of my wife) with can join two pieces of fabric with a finished edge.

Using the serger, I joined two pieces of fabric cut to the size of the pattern I had made in Step 1. The serger provides a finished edge which when completed on three sides forms a pocket that can be turned inside out and filled with a piece of foam. The fourth side is finished on the serger leaving the “stitching” exposed. I did this to make a bottom panel, a top panel, (2) side panels, (2) head and foot panels, (2) divider panels, and (2) mid-panels within the divider panels (see photos).  I made an extra panel that could be fitted as needed to fill gaps.

Step 4) I glued the side panels into the pack using the all-purpose adhesive/caulk and let them dry overnight. Next I glued the inside of the top flap and let it dry. Finally, I glued the head and foot panels to the pack. I left the bottom panel un-glued so that I could easily clean the back of dirt and grime.

Step 5) I placed my camera equipment inside the pack and marked the position for the Velcro fabric strips that would be glued to the side panels and the stitches that I would make using a conventional sewing machine (straight stitcher) to form the joints in the divider panels.

Step 6) Using a straight stitch sewing machine, I sewed across the divider panels to form the “joints” where the panel would fold. I stitched the small “mid-panels” to the dividers and stitched the hook side of the 5/8” Velcro to the ends of all the dividers where they would join the side panels.

Step 7) I marked positions for the fabric side of the Velcro strips where they would be glued to the side panel. I glued two strips to the top and bottom on each side to provide for additional adjustments and a single strip where the mid-panel would attach.

What I learned:

A)     Don’t rush the measurements. I bought about twice as much nylon and foam as I needed.

B)     Foam will fill your available space quickly. Everyone has a risk tolerance and ½” of high density foam on the sides, bottom and top was sufficient for me. I bought enough foam to double that thickness and would have not had the space available to fit my system.

C)     Get a serger. Rent, borrow or steal (just kidding) a serger if you can. Yes, it is possible to do this with a straight stitch machine, by hand, or with glue but a serger is by far the best tool for the job. If a “pillow” is too large, you can run it through the serger and the machine will trim and finish the edge in a single pass. (I only know that this works with our serger and ½” foam, your mileage may vary. J)

D)     Be patient with the glue. I read that adhesive glue with a silicone base would be a good choice. I happened to have a tube of non-silicone based adhesive/calk and it does appear to form a very strong bond. But the Velcro tape is a very firm attachment and I am certain that if I were to pull apart the tape without supporting the glued side I would eventually tear the bond. The Velcro is not meant to support the gear but merely to position it.

E)      Use a backpack that has side straps to compress the load. You’re best hope of protecting your gear is from forming a tight, stable package that resists shifting and movement. The only way to assure that protection, using relatively lightweight foam, is to bind the package together using compression.

I hope this post has offered some help to those that might be considering making their own camera backpack. While commercial products have earned a important role in photography, there are those of us that seek to expand our creative talents to the equipment that we carry. I hope you will write any concerns you might have regarding this project and welcome suggestions for its improvement.



Note the panel glued to the top of the covering flap. Head and foot panels are double thickness.

Extra Velcro fabric glued to the side panels helps customize the size of pockets. Note the extra panel folded to protect the gap between the bottom of the long lens and the extra body.

Now the camera compartment is zipped shut and the top compartment shows an organizer panel that can accommodate lens hoods, batteries and charger, and cleaning supplies.

The pack has a semi rigid cover that is cinched tight against the body to stabilize and compress the pack.

Wide shoulder straps, a good hip belt and "exo-skeleton" make for a comfortable fit.

Supplies. I spent about $50 US but had lots left over. (Check your measurements twice. :-))

 cale johnson's gear list:cale johnson's gear list
Canon EOS 5D Mark II Canon EOS 7D Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Canon EF 85mm F1.8 USM Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM +2 more
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