Sew Your Own Dog Pack

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Cut one flap piece from 36-oz. canvas or Cordura.
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Cut one saddle piece from 36-oz. Cordura or canvas.
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The completed dog pack in use.
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The final product: the padding in front and the saddle/flaps piece behind.
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For the padding, cut two pieces from 13-oz. nylon.
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Cut two pouch extension pieces from 13-oz. nylon.

When Julie and Miki Collins sent MOTHER their story on dog packing, they enclosed a drawing–with suggested pattern pieces and dimensions–of what they considered to be their “dream” dog pack. Well, a few MOTHER staffers were so intrigued that we tried the sisters’ instructions ourselves. Sure enough, we came up with a truly nifty dog pack (with a big capacity) that you can duplicate yourself for about $20 or $30, if you’re handy with a sewing machine and have a half-day or so of unallotted time.

First, consult the materials list below, which itemizes the expenses involved in constructing a plain or a deluxe dog pack. (We didn’t skimp on the hardware.) At the suggestion of the folks at Mountaineering South, an outdoor outfitter in nearby Asheville, we substituted Fastex brand quick-release buckles far the suggested O-ring buckles. These fasteners work well and might come in handy in the event you need to unhook a dog from its pack quickly. We also used sliders with the Fastex buckles to make the harness adjustable.

Materials List

  • 1 1/2 yards 60″-wide, 36-oz. Cordura or canvas
  • 1 1/2 yards 45″-wide, 13-oz. nylon
  • 12 feet 1″ nylon webbing
  • 4 D-rings
  • 18″×25″ piece of 1/4″ solid foam, trimmed to fit
  • 2 yards twill tape (for ties)
  • 1 spool heavy-duty mercerized cotton thread

Optional Materials

  • 1/2 yard of Velcro brand fastening tape
  • 4 Fastex buckles
  • 4 sliders
  • 2 cord locks
  • one pair hiking boot laces

As far as material goes, a sturdy 36-ounce Cordura (or canvas) is durable, lightweight, and water-repellent, so it’s the best choice for those parts of the pack that’ll receive a great deal of wear, while 13-ounce nylon will suffice for the other sections. Keep in mind that red or orange cloth will make the pack easier to spot if you become separated from your dog and may make finding a thrown pack easier if your pooch ever shows up without its luggage. Also, be sure to use a stout thread for sewing up the seams (Julie and Miki suggest dental floss!).

OK, once you’ve gathered up your materials, study the four pattern pieces: saddle, flaps, padding, and pouch extension; mark them on the fabric, and cut them out. You can vary the dimensions to suit your packing needs, keeping in mind that this pattern makes a large pack, one proportioned for a dog weighing 100 pounds or so. We didn’t bother to add any extra material for seam allowances because of the pack’s generous size. Simply use a consistent 3/8″, 1/2″, or whatever seam allowance you’re accustomed to, and the pack should turn out fine.

Let’s assume from the outset that everyone’s on the honor system to pin those seams that he or she deems necessary, so that these directions can concentrate on the basic sequence of construction, rather than on the manner. On the saddle piece, then, you’ll need to place A and B right sides together and stitch them. Now, set all the C and D right sides together and stitch. You’ll have to pinch the material a bit where some of it’s already caught in the A/B seam, but a bit of experimentation should result in a neat tuck. Next, turn the fabric right sides out, turn dawn the raw edges along the portion that will ride across the dog’s back between the two pouches, and stitch there (these edges are shown on the diagram as distance E).

Pouch Extensions

Now, it’s decision-making time. Examine the pouches that you’ve created and–if you’re satisfied with their capacity–cover the raw edges with twill tape or another sturdy seam binding, and skip to the “Padding” subhead that follows. On the other hand, if you’re planning some long jaunts when your dog will be shouldering a bulkier share of the load than ordinary, you’ll want to add optional pouch extensions, which will yield a very capacious pack. You may want to experiment a bit and figure out the construction technique that you’re most comfortable with before you actually attach the extensions.

Here’s how we did it. We turned down one of the long raw edges on an extension, turned it over again to create a 1″ hem far a drawstring, and then stitched away. After repeating the process on the other extension, we stitched the other long side (F on the diagram) along the outside of the pouch, right sides together. (We’ve marked the connecting edges of the saddle and extension in yellow on the pattern to help you visualize this step.) When we arrived at the saddle, we changed from sewing on the outside of the pack to sewing on the inside, so we just “hopped” over the seam and continued to sew the edge of the extension to the saddle, with the right sides still together. Sewing side I to H finished it up. (You may have to undo a bit of stitching along the hem to make sure that the drawstring can travel cleanly, resewing that section afterwards.) To attach the second pouch extension to the other side of the saddle, we simply repeated the process.

You can finish off the pouches in various ways. The easiest method is to make a buttonhole in each hem and run a stout string through these openings. We decided to get a little fancy and used some pliers to set two eyelets in each hem, then threaded in a hiking boot lace. Each lace was secured by a cord lock, an inexpensive but classy-looking addition.

Sewing in the Padding

Placing right sides together, stitch along the edges of the two padding pieces, leaving a generous opening on one side. Next, turn the section right sides out, stuff the foam rectangle through the slit, and close the gap with a slip stitch. If you like, you can now sew the padding to the saddle, but you’ll have a more versatile dog pack if, instead, you run two parallel strips of Velcro brand fastening tape down the padding’s center and corresponding strips down the spine of the saddle. This will allow you to remove the pack without having to unharness the animal.

Sewing the Flaps

Turn under and stitch the raw edges around the rectangle. Then sew the flaps to the saddle section (or the saddle/padding section, if you stitched those two pieces together), positioning them according to the diagram.

Finishing the Dog Pack

As we mentioned previously, we substituted the Fastex buckles with sliders for the O-ring fasteners suggested by Miki and Julie. We used 1″ twill tape for the flap ties shown on the diagram and set metal brings at the spots indicated (in red) on the outside of the pack. (To allow you to snap on a leash, you can attach an optional bring at the back of the saddle.) Then we measured and stitched on the 1″ nylon webbing to complete the harness. As a nifty finishing touch, we sewed on an old–but still attractive–1979 MOTHER’s Seminars patch.

In all, this project requires some planning and close attention to the work at hand (it’s quite easy to gather the pouch extensions into another seam as you’re sewing if you don’t watch what you’re doing), but the whole undertaking is eminently worthwhile, and produces an extremely professional-looking pack. So we tip our hats to Miki and Julie Collins for sharing a design that’ll help any do-it-yourselfer to create a more equitable division of labor between backpackers and their four-legged best friends.