Leather Knapsack Prototype

Why do this?

In my life-long quest for better designs and finer gear, I am constantly on some sort of hare-brained mission to make something new.  Some readers may remember the earlier backpack I made and eventually traded off to a new owner.   My friend Jacob, even made a fine copy for himself and it now lives happily in Botswana, hopefully seeing many great adventures.

Snapshot of the pack, ready for waxing.

Leather and Brass? (or, what the hell were you thinking?)

One thing that can be said about real leather is that it will, barring some mishap, last a lifetime but eventually fade back into to earth, leaving little trace.  Leather is strong, wears well, is abrasion and heat-resistant, feels good to the touch, and cannot be beat for beauty.  While I considered antler for buckles, I decided to go with a slightly more modern closures and fasteners made from solid brass.  As I use antler in most of my creations, I chose to make a few well-shaped toggles as practical accents.

The downside? These materials are heavier than modern, lightweight materials but, for me, the trade-off is completely worth it.

It begins with the little things. There are many repetitive steps in large projects such as this.

This backpack started off as some daydreaming and sketches on graph paper sometime last November but other projects and commitments made me set it aside again and again.  This was good though; it allowed me to rethink the plans and make modifications as they occurred to me in the quiet hours of the night.

The harness system took some time, thought, and modelling before work could commence.

What were the design parameters?

Design is always the toughest part when creating something new.  I’ve been looking at handcrafted bags and packs for years so I’m sure there are a thousand images bouncing around inside my skull influencing the composition of this piece.  Honestly, choosing a size was the most puzzling part of all for me.  I’m a biggish guy and have a tendency to go big when I make gear so I was determined to keep this one reigned in.

Once the more difficult decisions were made, cutting and sewing could begin.

I already had a “look”  in mind and already decided on the construction technique.  Should it be a six panel body for easier layout or single panel around the body for a more seamless build?  Should it be sewn, laced, or riveted and what pockets does it need?  Will it be “turned” (seams hidden inside) or will the closings be visible?  Finally, where to begin construction?  We can’t close the body until the external sewing is done so pockets and straps were a good place to start.

Not long after getting most of the parts gathered and cut, I found myself wounded, with only one arm for practical use.  This slowed down sewing to a crawl.  What should take fifteen minutes took over two hours so this bag became an exercise in patience.

Still, I managed to make headway and the pack came together over several weeks.

A “turned” pocket freshly attached to the body.

Maybe not my prettiest stitching ever, but as it will be mine, and not for sale, I will still cherish every flaw.

Large pocket accessible with the main flap closed.

As a prototype, there were changes that must be made on the fly but overall I was happy with the design.

The shoulder straps were made to be replaceable without too much hassle and are long enough to accommodate a heavy coat in winter.

A carry handle was a heavy debate in my mind but makes a lot of sense for modern travel.
Each side has a slip pocket, tie down D rings and a compression strap at the top of the pack.
Bottoms up! I was able to place a scar in the hide on the bottom of the bag. The two rectangular patches are for blanket straps.
Details – brass rivets, antler toggles, and beautiful leather called for a heavy pillow ticking to serve as the liner.
Waiting to be packed for an adventure. I hope to get it waxed and outside later this week. Hopefully, I’ll get some photos of the new pack in use.


  • Materials – 8 ounce veg tanned leather body, 4 – 5 ounce leather pockets, brass and antler
  • Height – 16 inches
  • Width – 12 inches
  • Depth – 6 inches
  • Weight – 5 pounds

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Selfies of your hand-made gear?

5 thoughts on “Leather Knapsack Prototype

  1. It’s a beautiful piece…and as far as the weight goes you’re not exactly dainty so I’m sure you will be fine.
    Just carry tissues and puff pastry
    Not books and tools
    Are you taking custom orders?

  2. {…Feel free not to post this publicly George and/or remove this bracketed text…}
    Hi George,

    You always ask for critiques and I think I fail too often to share a full evaluation of your work properly. I know when I ask folks for such, I too wish they would give me better in depth feed back both pro and con. So one of my “New Years” resolutions was to do better not only with students, but colleagues alike regarding this when they ask…and I take the time to do it…


    Over all…it’s a big “A!!!”…:)…It’s not an “A+” but could be easily…
    (Note: This differential is subjective at best…so take the “cons” for what value you wish or which one you think have merit to you?)

    Leather Selection:

    Excellent choice in my view…I love veg tan!!! Off course others too would work well yet the context of the work would change immediately…
    Looks like you used the same weight/gauge leather for the entire project, or am I mistaken…???…if so, disregard this con. The pouches would have presented better as a different weight leather, as too some of the other features as well, since they present as too heavy and coarse/cumbersome to me?

    Hardware Selection:

    I love good brass and bone/antler…
    It looks like you used whatever you had on hand? Hardware is of significant focal importance, as well as functional art. It should be part of the design criteria whenever possible…and never a second thought or some “whatever I got” item. Wait for the correct type rather than finishing a project out of possible better context…

    Thread Selection:

    Your hand stitching is getting super consistent and tight…
    I would offer perhaps starting to employing the same degree of consideration in your thread selection as you do in everything else. Your pieces deserve that kind of detailing that I know you are capable of. In this case a dark red, black, or brown thread would have looked better aesthetically in contrast to the ubiquitous cream colored nylon or wax poly that too many use on projects.

    The thread gauge/weight was also too light for that grade weight of leather. It does take more time, but also getting a bit “fancy” with the stitching would leave your work at the next level. By designing with also the stitching in mind; like quad needling with different colored threads, using some of the easier linear embroidery stitches, sennit stitches, etc… in areas that are focal points would make a “pop” in the design that would be significant for little actual effort.

    Punched holes and heavy lacing is really parochial and outside the context of the work you do. I’m not suggesting do away with them, as I see it as part of your style, yet rather lightening it up a bit by balancing it out with the rest of the design. Case in point, the lacing now seems a bit too heavy and/or holes too big? Good place for some more sennit work also perhaps?


    Just the idea of it is excellent…Too many miss this beautiful and utilitarian detail!!!
    Like the thread, I just found this color and style to bland for the work as you have designed it. Mind you George, I love the 1000 year history of “ticking cloth.” I would have used it also in this application, but only in the heavier true flax fiber form (aka linen) and in a different color…one most likely to pull on the them the thread work would have hinted at before opening a cover. I would also offer that every space in the work could benefit from a lining…

    I believe a “rim lining” would also be a good idea in a contrasting color or the same, that is “makers choice” to be sure, but with this small strip of material (usually felt) the actual liner can be easily sew in with a nice “hidden stitch very quickly and also removed for servicing and cleaning…when…not if…that time comes.

    Other fabrics for liners to consider: Wool felt, Denim, or perhaps some Tweed, Coarse Barathea, or Twill, in either a wool or flax/hemp fiber?

    Hope this finds you mending well and in the company of good Spirits…



    1. Thanks Jay. This is a solid and thoughtful critique. Yes, it has many flaws as a prototype and some decisions were made by availability and my mobility.

      -As for the leather, the body is about 7-8 oz throughout with 5 oz pockets and slightly lighter turned sides to allow the pocket to bellow in and out. I agree wholeheartedly that getting the weight right is both important and sometimes difficult. As you know, every hide has its own feel, stiffness, and look.

      -The flat D rings were a special order for this project but the cart buckles for closing the flap were picked because I had them on hand and couldn’t find any I liked better locally. I like the roundness of the cart buckles and understand why the horsey-folk use them.

      -You might notice that I used two colors of thread for various parts (cream and dark brown) but I later wished I had used a dark thread throughout. I occasionally prefer a color that pops for the thread but maybe there is a Mennonite streak in me that abhors too much flash. The body lacing was a late decision and was chosen mainly because I like its homely look, despite the time and care that actually goes into spacing, cutting the thong, and keeping it all straight and flat. This was an experiment and doesn’t really save much time over sewing. The lacing was inspired by some early Medieval bag designs i saw last year. The originals were probably let in with a chisel punch, leaving a nice eye-shaped hole when it was done.

      -As for the lining, I couldn’t agree with you more. I hope to replace this one sometime with a hemp or linen liner and maybe have it button in to be removable as a tote on it’s own (that may be a plan for a later bag). I have had several bags with wool linings and they tend to pick up too much hair, twigs, straw, and grime for me and they are more difficult to clean so I will stick to the slicker, plant fiber materials for now.

      As for a rim lining, I intended to add one on this but with leaving the side panels arced I chose laziness and kept the lining square across. That isn’t to say It won’t be fixed in time. I can rarely leave my projects unmodified so this bag could get a full makeover someday.

      This is how we learn when we don’t have a Master Craftsman to apprentice under.

      Thanks for your thoughts, I truly appreciate the feedback.

      Go in peace,

  3. Hi George,

    I’m pleased you found value in them…and I don’t think of any of it as “faults” especially in a prototype project…I can wait to see you at this “full steam” and feeling 100% healthy again! I wish we lived closer to each other, but your blog posts keep me up to speed on your creative nature and what it produces…Thanks for that!



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