Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Trapezoid Poncho Tarp

Poncho Tarps are kind of like mermaids: When you want a girl, you have a fish. When you want to eat fish, you have a girl. They are a compromise between raingear and shelter. But that compromise does come with a weight advantage (8 oz). On the gripping hand, here in the arid inter-mountain west, rain isn't all that common. When you get 18" of precip in a year, the likelihood of it raining 12" during your trip isn't that great.

This poncho features a neck collar instead of a hood. I always hike with a brimmed hat, and find a hood restraining and sweaty. Plus a collar is much easier to sew

Catenary or flat tarp? I like a flat tarp because it can be pitched in a variety of ways. This tarp uses a trapezoid cut which is flat, but 6' wide at the head end. It also features corners that are cut back for a tighter pitch (pseudo catenary)

The tarp is designed to be used in an A-frame pitch, or in a 1/2 pyramid pitch, or pitch using a bicycle as support.

Sewing the Trapezoid Poncho Tarp:

Materials and Sources
I used 1.4oz silnylon from Backwoods Daydreamer DIY Gear supply for the bargain basement price of $5.50 per yard. I had some matching silnylon on hand from an old project (about 2'x2' total, but scraps are fine). I also used a few feet of 3/4" grosgrain, and a bunch of thin cord for the tie-outs.

Step by Step
Lay out the fabric on the floor.
Cut it to 3 yds long (9 feet)
Measure down from one corner 24". Measure up 24" from the opposite corner (graphic 1)

Draw a straight line between these two points. Cut it out.
Flame sear all edges.
Flip one cut piece around and stack. Pin. Sew a flat seam. Sew a rolled seam down the middle with two lines of stitching. (graphic 2)

Lay it back on the floor, notice that the front corners are angled back from the ridgeline, but the rear corners angle the wrong end. Cut 6" back (see graphic 3)

Sew a rolled seam around the perimeter of the tarp
Cut two 6" strips of grosgrain. Fold over and sew to the ridgeline (picture)

Cut four 8" strips of grosgrain. Fold and pin them into right-angles Sew around their perimeters and secure them into the tarp corners. (picture)

Cut two 6" strips and two 2" strips of grosgrain. Sew them along the side midpoints. (Picture)

Side ties
Sew two more small loops of grosgrain at ______________ along both sides. These will be used to tie the poncho together for rain-gear use, and to add a few more options when pitching as a tarp. They are not full-strength tie out points.

Sewing the collar

lay out a scrap of silnylon 10" by 27". Sew a roll hem along the top edge for a drawstring. Sew the ends together with a 1/2" seam allowance.

Hood Option
Of course, instead of a collar you could create a hood instead. Use a hood pattern like this one. Or just copy the hood pattern from a hooded sweatshirt. Regardless of which you choose, the next steps are the same.

Locate the center of your tarp (Poncho-to-be), make a mark with a sharpie.
Use your seam ripper to carefully pick apart the seams at the middle of the tarp for 7" in either direction.
Now the tricky part: insert the collar into the opening in the tarp. Use lots of pins to secure it in place.

Sew around the poncho and collar so that the seam is inside the poncho. Getting the ends of the collar stitched down smoothly into the seam is really tricky. Try to get it as tight as possible, and don't be afraid to rip it out and do it over. (Picture)

Stretch the tarp out along the ridgeline. If you have puckers or bunches along the ridge, now is the time to rip them out and do that section over.

Stuff Sack

Almost done! Stuff your poncho into a walmart sack as tightly as you can. Scrunch it up good. Roughly measure the stuffed dimensions. Double the width and add 2" , add 3" to the length.  Sew a rolled hem for a drawstring channel into the top. Fold it over and sew the side and bottom.

Turn it rightside out. String the drawstring. Stuff it full.


Weight: 9oz
Cost: $17.50
Time: 4 hours (including some sewing machine trouble)

Simple Bivy Sack


  • generous sizing
  • light weight
  • DWR (durable water repellent) upper 
    • designed for use under a tarp
  • silnylon lower
  • 36" of no-see-um mesh over face
  • drawstring closure
  • can use a cord or pole to suspend the head end.
I took inspiration for this design from the following sources:
All materials were ordered from www.backwoodsdaydreamer.com
  • 1 yard: 1.1oz ripstop uncoated with DWR (gray) 
  • 2 yards: 1.4oz silnylon 2nds (navy blue)
  • 1yard: no-see-um mesh
  • some 3/32 drawcord and cord locks
Step by Step

Lay out the silnylon on the floor. Cut it in half so you have two pieces 36" by 60". Sew them along the short side so your piece is 36x120" You will trim it to length later. Sew it with a flat felled seam. 

flat felled seam

Lay out the grey breathable nylon and the bug mesh on the floor. Locate their center points and sew them together as shown in the graphic. Trim off the extra corners of the bug mesh. 

Now stack your two pieces on top of each other (remember to assemble the bivy inside out). Sew around the outside with a flat seam. Then sew around again with a rolled edge. 

Cut off the extra silnylon at the mouth of the bivy. It should be about 24" long.

Sew a drawstring channel around the opening of the bivy. Thread a cord and cordlock.

"Box" the foot area. Pull the gray fabric at the corner of the foot away from the blue fabric. Stitch across the resulting triangle.  This makes the footbox area of the bivy taller and narrower. 

Turn the bivy right side out and crawl in. Cinch it closed, and find a spot right over your face. Mark it with a sharpie. Sew a 4x4" patch of silnylon over that spot on the inside of the mesh. This is a reinforcement so you can use a stick or pole to raise the head of the bivy over your face (if camping w/o a tarp). 
Next heat up a nail or screw over a candle and melt a hole through the mesh and the reinforcement patch. Run a drawstring through it and add a cordlock. This is the suspension point to keep the mesh off your face.

Stuff Sack
Cut a piece of silnylon 11" by 12". Fold one end over for a drawstring channel, and sew it with a rolled edge. Fold the piece over and sew around the side and bottom. Turn it right side out, thread a drawstring. DONE!


Weight:     9 oz
Cost:          $18.50 (plus shipping)
Time:         4 hours (It should have been half that, I'm still having sewing machine problems. grrr!)

quit performance... some changes required :(

OK, I used the quilt outside the other night. Temps were down to 30 deg F. I set up a poncho tarp, lightweight bivy, and a Ridgerest pad for an accurate test.

I made it to about 1:00 am before calling it quits. So disappointing!

My legs and upper body were plenty warm, but my hips/midsection were plagued by a cold spot. The reason was like this: I sleep on my side, so my hips are the highest part. The down drifts down to the edges of the quilt, leaving a thin/cold spot in the middle, where it covers my hips.

Possible Solutions:

  1. pull the stitching on the least full quilt channels and add more down so that the channel will be full.
  2. shake the down to the middle of the quilt, and add some stabilizing stitching. This will keep the down in the middle, at the expense of loft in the edges of the quilt.

I'm going to choose option 2. I think the quilt is warm enough, it just needs to keep the down in the middle where it will do some good. I think this will be a comfortable 30 degree quilt (in a bivy, w/ my hiking clothes, on a pad, etc).  Not bad for 18oz!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Silnylon Backpack

I made my first "Jardine Style" pack years ago. It was ugly, crude and a little too large. I could put too much stuff in it for it's weight-carrying ability. It had some weird features (stiff webbing for shoulder straps, with rubber bands to attach socks for padding (didn't work, ugly, smelly...) I eventually duct-taped some chunks of padding from my ridgerest pad for shoulder straps. This worked surprisingly well, but was still ugly. There was no hipbelt. Just because Ray doesn't use one, don't mean I want to do without.

Still, that first pack opened the door for further experimentation. 

My second pack was made of some mystery-cordura nylon from the discount bin. It had/has "real" shoulder straps, and a winged (but not padded) hipbelt. It featured a water bottle pocket on one side, a top flap pocket, and a sleeve pocket on the left side to carry my Takedown 22 rifle (which I was really excited about at the time) This pack was about the same size as V1, but a little heavier construction. It weighs around 20oz and uses my pad coiled inside as a stiffener. Still a good pack, and I use it from time to time. But it's 10 years old, and my gear is now lighter, smaller and more compact.

Pack V3... all sylnylon... I don't want to talk about it :(

Now this fourth one is "Just Right"!  A little smaller, a lot lighter, and fewer "Features".

  • 11" X 6.5" X 23"
  • Drawstring closure
  • Stretch-cordura on the shoulder straps for a tight, almost professional fit (I salvaged the stretch from an old pair of bike shorts... but I washed them an extra time beforehand)
  • no-see-um water-bottle pockets on both sides - and that's all!
  • simple compression system on the back.
  • simple un-padded hipbelt

I could post instructions, but they are easy to find from the above link. I'm a little concerned about the thin silnylon, but folks have been making light packs for a long time... I hope it will hold up.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

10/22 takedown stock

Many years ago, I wanted to convert my Ruger 10/22 .22LR rifle into a take-down rifle. At the time, there were no good aftermarket options for this, so I improvised. It worked great!

 You can see that the stock has simply been cut off in front of the barrel retainer so that it's two screws are exposed.

I cut out a slot in the comb of the stock to hold the allen wrench required for takedown. Removing or installing the barrel takes under a minute.

The stock also has been modified with mag-cutouts to hold two ten-round rotary magazines (in addition to the one in the receiver).

A simple case finishes it off. It retains all the original accuracy (or more, now that the barrel is "free floated") because the sites are both on the barrel. I have rarely used this gun with a scope, but point of aim didn't change much after barrel removal and re-installation. Frankly, POA was affected more by my shooting than by the switch.

IT'S SLICK!! This project makes me wonder why Ruger spent so much (and charges so much) for their takedown 10/22 version when any old wooden stock can be modified for pennies.

(PS... I'm kicking around the idea of offering these for sale in 3D printed ABS plastic... is anyone interested?)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Down Quilt Instructions

OK so here's how I made my down quilt...
  • 84" long, 78" long with a "body" inside. (ie. it covers a six-foot person from toenails to bald spot with 6 inches to spare)
  • head is 51" wide, foot is 39" (taper starts at 30" from the foot )
  • 13 channels 7" wide (Sewn through, no baffles)
  • 9oz of 800fp down
  • 2+ inches of loft in the middle, should be good down below 40deg. 
  • Stuffs to 6" x 9.5" (3L)
  • Weighs 17.85oz in the stuff sack
Thanks to:
Jamie Shortt of Lytw8.com for the inspiration to tackle this project. I used his instructions in creating my project, but my sizing, materials, spreadsheet, and down handling system are original. 

For the shell I used 5 yards of 1.1oz ripstop nylon seconds from BackwoodsDayDreamer.com. ($3.20/yd)
Finding down online was a challenge. Thru-hiker.com and backwoodsDayDreamer.com both offer down, though BDD is a little less expensive. ($6.65/oz) I bought mine from "DownByThePound.com" which was about that price, but I do NOT recommend purchasing from them. Slow service I can put up with, but I did not like that they didn't send an order confirmation email, or shipping confirmation. Very unprofessional, maybe that's why they are no longer accepting orders.

To calculate the ounces of down in each chamber, I figured out the total running inches of all the chambers, then divided each chamber length by the total length, giving me the percentage of the total for each chamber (ie. chamber 1 is 8.01% of the total quilt, chamber 13 is 6.73% of the total quilt). Then I multiplied the percentage by the 9oz total of down I used in this project. This gave me ounces-per-chamber. Convert that to grams by multiplying by 28.35 (grams per ounce). Confused?

Here is a spreadsheet that calculates the grams of down per chamber. (Google doc) If you want a shorter quilt, delete one of the chambers, and it will recalculate. Likewise, change the chamber width numbers to recalculate. Still Confused? Ask your question in the comments below.

Step by Step Instructions
Lay out fabric on the floor. Use some cans or some weight to hold the corners tight. Double it over so the top edge of the quilt (by your face) is the fold.

Measure the width (52") and the tapered foot (taper starts at 30" from the foot and goes down to 39" at the foot). Use a straight edge and mark with a sharpie. Cut this out with a sharp pair of scissors. (graphic1)
Graphic 1
Sear the edges with a lighter flame set to low. Move that lighter fast, this stuff is very thin!

Pin the edges all the way around. Sew the two ends and ONE side with a simple flat stitch, leaving 1/2" seam allowance. It's really important to leave one side of your quilt open.

Now sew a roll hem across the long side that you sewed shut in step 4. Sew similar roll hems across the ends at head and foot. Leave a 3/4" seam allowance between your stitching and the edge, so you have room for a drawstring. (graphic 2 and 3)

Graphic 2

Graphic 3: Rolled seam. Good for edges and drawstring channels.
Lay the shell back down on your floor. Measure and mark a line through the center of the quilt. Pin and sew this middle seam. (graphic 4)
Graphic 4
Lay it back on the floor. Measure the chambers on the upper half of the quilt 7" apart. Pin them and sew them. (I like to pin so the head of the pin faces me as I feed the material through the sewing machine. They are easier to remove as you sew this way) (If the last/top chamber is a little extra wide or narrow, it does not matter. Just sew straight!)

Repeat step 7 for the lower quilt chambers down around your legs. (graphic 5)
Graphic 5
Hang up your new quilt shell from a bookshelf, coat rod, wall, whatever. Use some duct tape to secure it for easy access near your stuffing area.

Stuffing with Down (seriously, the easiest part of the project)
Get a scale (triple beam, digital, postal, reloading, etc)

Get a cardboard tube, cover end w/ mosquito netting (picture)

Screened tube method of down stuffing

Zero the scale for the tube or add the weight of the empty tube to the fill weight for each baffle.

Stick the end of the cardboard tube into the bag of down (as shipped from the supplier) and use two fingers to stuff the down up into the tube. It's quite tightly packed, and if you move slowly and deliberately, you will lose very little to spillage. 

This is hard to do with a camera in one hand
When you have "enough" lay the tube on the scale to determine if you need to add or remove down from the tube.

When your down is measured, stick the open end of the tube into the first baffle of the quilt. Gather and hold the excess fabric tightly around the tube. Use your blow sharply (it takes some lung force) through the netting end of the tube. The "plug" of down will POOP! out into the quilt baffle with zero spillage or lost down. It's pretty cool, and very easy.

Blow through the tube to eject the down

Repeat this process for each chamber/baffle of your quilt. The stuffing/weighing/discharging takes about 4 minutes for each chamber.

Take it back to the sewing machine. Sew the open edge with a simple flat seam, 1/2" allowance. Sew it again with a roll seam, 1/2" allowance. (see graphic 3 again)

Finishing Touches

String a drawcord through the bottom edge, and another one through the top edge of the bag, if you like being choked by a thin cord all night. That's not my thing.

Back on the sewing machine, add a 24" long strip of half inch Velcro to the foot box area of the bag. Lay the bag out flat on the floor, and pin the velcro strips in place. Sew them on both sides.

Also add a thin strip of scrap nylon or other flexible cord just above the Velcro closure. Tying these tapes keeps your feet from kicking out the footbox if you toss and turn as much as I do. 

The stuff sack
Stuff the sleeping bag into a walmart sack as tightly as you can get it. Note the approximate length and width of the bundle. Now find a scrap of silnylon 19" by 16" and another one 7" square. Cut the little square into an octagon (much simpler than a circle, and just as effective in cloth.

Sew a rolled seam along the 19" edge for a drawstring. Fold the piece over and sew the 16" edges together with a 1/2" seam allowance. Pin and sew the bottom piece onto the body of the stuff sack. Use lots of pins, this silnylon is slippery stuff! 

Turn it right-side out and thread a drawstring. Stuff your quilt into the bag, and see how it fits! 
As you can see, mine came out smaller than a sheet of paper. 

The Final Result:

Weight: 17.85oz
Cost:  $75.85 (plus shipping)
Time: About 6 hours (My sewing machine is... problematic, knock off an hour if yours works smoothly)

Coming soon: Performance review!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Down Quilt

Long have I pined for a Western Mountaineering Highlight sleeping bag! Just check out these stats:

  • 35 degree rating
  • Long sized (for a guy like me) 
  • 17 ounces!
  • 3.5" of loft (double layer, it's a bag)
  • packs down to 6"x11" (3.5 liters, smaller than a jug of milk)
  • durable down can keep it's performance for 20+ years of use
unfortunately, this wonder of technology costs over $300!
Years ago, I learned to sleep with an open sleeping bag (quilt style) and find that much warmer and more comfortable. Quilts have never gone mainstream for backpacking, though there are a lot of advantages. A little company called "Jacks R Better" sells a sweet quilt called the "Sierra Stealth" for a similar weight and bulk. The difference is that the quilt has a poncho-style hole in the middle so that you can wear it around camp as a warm layer. Of course one will look like an idiot...

...but staying warm is kind of important! (sorry AdventureAlan, but you ain't no fashion plate! Nor am I!)

1.5" of loft (one layer... it's a quilt!) and the price isn't bad at $200. Also, I'm pretty sure that when JRB says it's an inch and a half thick, it's 1.5" after you've stuffed and used it for a couple years.

So here's the requirements for my MYOG version:
  • LOONG! I sleep on my side or stomach, so with toes pointing out, I can stretch well beyond six feet. Also, I pull the quilt over my head when it's cold, so I need some extra length there too. 
  • Wide, I toss and turn a lot. A WM Highlight-sized bag just wouldn't be comfortable.
  • 1.5" thick for an honest 35-40 degree rating. (the final product came out at 2+ inches)
  • DWR (Durable Water Replant) finish on the shell. Down doesn't like to get wet, but today's fabric coatings are amazingly more effective than just a few years ago. I live out west, and frankly, I don't give any worry to keeping my down dry. Drying things out is easy out here.
  • Less than 18 ounces (in the stuff sack)
    • my final weight was 17.85 oz
  • Less than $100 to make 
    • My final price was $75.85 plus shipping. I love coming in 25% under budget!
    • I could have spent more and used lighter weight fabric from Thru-Hiker.com
  • Simple to make: this is a "Sewn-through" down quilt, much like the two examples mentioned above. This simplifies construction considerably. Final construction time: 5 hours.
All materials are available from BackwoodsDayDreamer.com

Next Post: the free instructions!