Feature photo by Max Braun. Photo above by akeg

For slow travelers, it’s very likely that you and your backpack are going to be involved in a long term, intimate relationship so you might as well invest time in customizing your backpack and making it uniquely yours.
Write your details

Using a permanent marker, inscribe your name, email, phone number and address. If it gets lost, you never know, but someone might find it and take the effort to get it back to you.

Slice off the extra straps

You can take a lesson from the obsessive ultra-light mountain climbers. Do you really need that extra 50 cm of nylon webbing for your waist belt? Do you really need those ice axe loops hanging from the bottom? Do you have a use and idea for every single bit of nylon hanging off the pack?

Modern packs are over-engineered, and you’d be amazed at the amount of weight and tangle-straps you can remove with a sharp pair of scissors. Use a lighter to melt the plastic to keep it from fraying.

Be careful not to cut anything critical!

Fold-stitch the carrying handles

Nowadays, many packs have a handle between the shoulder straps and the top, and this grip handle is important for moving the pack around. Flat nylon webbing can be harsh on the hand, but if you fold it in half, you’ll find it’s much easier to grip. Just stitch it to keep it folded.

If you want to be really fancy, find a plastic tube to slip over the handle- your fingers will be happy!

Photo by keepwaddling1

Sew on a patch, and make it a pocket

It seems that after a certain point you’ll have more patches than places to put them, but one simple thing to remember is that sewing three quarters of a patch onto a backpack panel can reveal a small, unexpected new pocket!

Rectangular patches work best. You can even add a bit of velcro to keep things inside secure.

Shine on with reflecto-strips

One of the most dangerous situations you may encounter on your adventures will involve motor-vehicles manned by distracted [often insane] drivers.

Like joggers and bicyclists, you will be much safer on the road if you have some high-reflective strips or cord visible on strategic places.

You can sew a panel of reflective material onto your pack or even facing forward on your shoulder straps.

At some outdoor equipment stores, you can get special reflective cord designed for tent guy lines; this works well and can be used for many different purposes.

Stash some cash

Have a careful look at the design of your pack. Can you open any internal frame-pockets or slice open the storm flaps protecting the zippers? You might be able to use this as a place to hide a few rolled-up bills.

Make interlacing zipper pulls

There seems to be an almost infinite variety of zipper pulls: some with bells, thermometers, whistles, compasses… But I’d put all those fancy gadgets-on-a-string somewhere safe and secure inside a pocket and replace the zipper pulls with loops simple cord. Not only is it more discreet, but you can tangle them easily to make a slightly more secure closure.

If you have twin holes for a small padlock built into the zipper, you can also put a piece of string or a paper clip through as a temporary make-shift lock. Obviously, this will not prevent theft, but it can stall the process a little longer.

Photo by Bekathwia

Find a permanent home for a large plastic bag

A plastic sheet is considered a useful survival tool by outdoor experts. After all, you really can’t seek shelter from rain under a Swiss Army knife.

One afternoon monsoon downpour while you are packing your sketchbook and laptop computer, and you’ll wish you had kept a plastic bag in your pack.

Rain covers are good options but tend to be heavier and less versatile.

Find a place, maybe inside the internal frameworks, and line it with a plastic bag to protect your gear.

Tattoo it

Why wait for someone else to embroider the perfect patch for your backpack?

You can tattoo your own design, with the help of a permanent marker or some paint. It will wear down over time, but nylon will hold the ink pretty well.

If you are heading into tiger-country, you can draw false eyes on it to scare off tigers stalking from behind.

If you are going into clear- skied wilderness, you can mark some star constellations on it. If you are joining a large group, you can write your name. If you are going into a unsettled zone, you can mark your flag or affiliation.

You can write key phrases in a foreign language, or just draw pretty pictures.

Your imagination is the limit.

Community Connection

Ever wondered what fellow travelers carry in their backpacks? Check out Matador Goods’ What’s In Your Backpack? series.