Where to get DIY ultralight backpacking gear materials

 

So you’ve decided to enter the wonderful world of DIY (do it yourself) / MYOG (make your own gear) because the result will be lighter, cheaper, better, just what you want, or all of the above. But a lot of the materials for these projects don’t show up in your local stores. This post shares my favorite suppliers for a wide range of projects I have completed.

Fabric

Certainly one of the revolutions in ultralight gear is the availability of new fabrics. Dynema Composite Fiber (DCF) may be the hottest, newest, lightest thing on the block, but it is also quite pricey. I am very happy with the new silicone impregnated polyesters. Ripstop By The Roll has become my go-to source for fabric, with a great selection, good prices and fast service. I currently use their Membrane Silpoly, weighing 0.93 oz./sq.yd., for waterproof applications. For breathable fabric with a durable water repellent finish, Membrane 15 poly taffeta, 0.9 oz./sq.yd. works well. The standard 1.3 oz./sq.yd. silicone coated nylon ripstop is still a good choice for a waterproof and slightly tougher fabric. Plan to buy a little more than you need to cover mistakes and build your collection of small pieces that are great for stuff sacks, etc. If you don’t want to start from scratch, check out their selection of kits or project plans. Ripstop By The Roll also carries batting insulation, and a selection of bug netting and other components such as webbing, buckles, zippers, velcro and thread.

Thread

I started making gear with a couple of Ray-Way kits. The kits included some items that I continue to use, like their thread. While it only comes in black, that has never been an issue. It sews well over a wide range of applications from light weight polyester to webbing. It is tough, and a big spool lasts a long time. I also like their cord and mini-toggles, my standards for stuff sack closure.

Plastic Hardware and Webbing

Webbing, buckles, hooks, and similar components come in a wide variety. A really good selection can be found at Strapworks. Take some time to think about the size you need. While 1/2″ and 3/4″ are commonly used widths, 3/8″ will often do for the light loads placed on gear. Polyester webbing, while not as strong as nylon, absorbs less water, doesn’t stretch when wet and drys more quickly. Many choices exist for buckles. Look at other gear to get a better idea of what types might work best.  Again order a few extras to build your stock.

Miscellaneous sewing stuff

I go to my local Joann Fabric store for more common sewing items like velcro, grommets and, snaps. Grosgrain ribbon works well for really lightweight webbing. Look through their “notions” section for general sewing aids such as pins, cutting boards and sewing machine needles. They won’t have specialized buckles and webbing, or really good, lightweight fabrics.

Shelter Accessories

Completing a tent or tarp project requires a lot of other stuff. 3/8″ polyester, single layer webbing works for guy line and stake tie-outs. I have been using light Spectra tent line for quite a while. While it is a little stiff, it does take knots for attachment to tie-outs. My current choice is Z-Packs 1.2 mm. reflective cord. I usually try to get orange for better visibility. The reflective finish also helps prevent tripping over lines in the dark. While I learned how to tie a tautline hitch as a Boy Scout, the knot doesn’t work well with lines this stiff, so my favorite line tensioning device is a Micro Lineloc, also available from Z-packs. Paired with 1.2 mm. line, it provides a light, easy, reliable means of setting up guy lines.

I use a ground cloth / footprint under built-in nylon or polyester tent floors for water and abrasion resistance. Clear polycro sheet is good. It is light and a lot tougher than you think. I have yet to retire one from service. You can find it from a variety of ultralight suppliers, but I just buy it locally as a 3M indoor window insulator kit. The patio door version is 7′ x 9.3′, large enough for most tents. For tarps and shelters without build in floors, I use a particular version of Tyvek. Standard construction wrap Tyvek is fairly heavy and very stiff. The Tyvek used in protective clothing is not particularly waterproof. Type 1443R Tyvek handles more like fabric, but is pretty waterproof and tough. I get mine from IntoTheWind, a kite supplier. It comes in a 60″ width. When I need a wider floor, I will sew two pieces together, just like fabric. I haven’t bothered to seal the seam, but again, typically I am not trying to block running water. Brass grommets installed along the edge let me stretch it tightly to the tent perimeter using bungee loops.

I use a variety of tent stakes. Titanium shepherds crook pegs, while light, don’t have a lot of holding power and are hard to drive into rocky ground. My MSR stakes are Y section Ground Hogs for major guy lines, and a plain, aluminum needle peg, that is no longer made, for edge loops. Z-Packs 6″ Sonic stake has proved to be a good substitute for the old MSR pegs. It is an aluminum Y section stake, pretty light, with a cord loop for extraction. Gradually I also have added some Ti stakes where I really want light weight and will deal with lower holding power.  I paint the tops of the Ti stakes a bright color so that they don’t disappear when dropped on the ground.

When I finished my HexLite tent, I wanted to add a carbon fiber pole to the setup. I settled on a ready made sectional pole from Six Moons Designs –  a 49″, three section, 10 mm. pole. That diameter seems plenty rigid for its length. It is also available 45″ long. If you need other lengths, Quest Outfitters sells carbon fiber pole kits – sections, inserts, end caps, and bungee cord. I made a custom length 27″pole for the rear of that tent, using their 8.8 mm. pole. these diameters seem make good upright poles for tents designed to be supported with trekking poles. Be careful cutting carbon fiber poles to length to avoid splitting the pole end.

Stove Windscreen Sheet Metal

I have used both aluminum and titanium for windscreens. An easy way to buy a small amount of light gauge aluminum sheet is to look in your hardware store for a 2′ section of snap lock vent pipe. Cut off the corrugated end section and the snap seam and you have a piece about 20″ x 12″. Windscreens made from this material work, but the clear finish on the duct eventually oxidizes to a dark brown. I found I liked titanium windscreens better. LiteOutdoors is a source for light gauge (.005″) titanium in widths from 10″ to 18″  in continuous 1′ lengths. Titanium windscreens are great for alcohol and esbit fueled stoves where the windscreen sometimes gets quite hot. They are also a lot more durable than aluminum versions.  Both the aluminum and titanium thin sheet can be cut with ordinary tools.

 

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