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Backpacker turns Ikea's strangely tough shopping bags into an ultralight backpack

Ultralight backpacks cost a pretty penny, so why not save some cash and make your own? With $6 worth of Ikea reusable shopping bags, a chopped up wet suit from SeaWorld and inspiration from a DIY Reddit thread, Mitch Nodland did exactly that.

Nodland frequently backpacks for a week to a month at a time, and set a goal of cutting his pack weight to less than 10 pounds. After spending months drooling over packs with $450 price tags, he decided to try building his own.

The San Diego-based computer programmer is no stranger to design. Nodland’s skills range from stitching together custom Halloween costumes (which is why he had a SeaWorld wet suit lying around) to remodeling his family’s house, but this was his first attempt at creating a backpack.

He used Hyperlite Mountain Gear, ZPacks, and his own Osprey Exos 58 backpacks as design inspiration. Just $30 worth of materials finished the pack. The final product weighs in at a lithe 17 ounces.

Nodland said he purchased a few extra Ikea bags just to integrate the printed handles into his backpack design.

“I saw a [Reddit] post talking about how strong the Ikea bag material was,” he said, “and I also liked the crazy idea of walking around with an Ikea backpack. When I wore it out, a lot of people asked me if it was made by Ikea!”

The material itself is water-resistant, but Nodland said he didn’t waterproof the seams. “That’s one thing I might look into for future backpacks.” The roll-top closure also helps to keep water out, while the minimalist design keeps the weight down.

The pack is supported by a Thermarest Z Lite sleeping pad tucked into a custom-sized pocket sewn into the rear wall of the pack. “The frame feels just like my Osprey Exos backpack,” Nodland said. This is due to a cinch strap he attached to the shoulder straps that adjusts tension across the sleeping pad to create support similar to an internal frame pack.

There’s no reservoir for a water bladder, but Nodland deliberately designed it this way. “I had a water bladder when I hiked the John Muir Trail with my Exos backpack, and didn’t like it because I couldn’t see how much water I had left. This bag was purposely designed to hold water bottles on the side.”

Specifically, they’re built to hold the 1.5 liter Smartwater bottles, which Nodland said he prefers due to the thicker plastic. “I met a guy on the trail who said he’d been using his for five years.”

Other features missing from Nodland’s Ikea pack include a vented back panel, sternum strap, and hip belt pockets, though he’s considering adding the latter two.

“It did shift a bit without the sternum strap,” he said.

After a successful test hike carrying about 30 pounds of water and rocks, Nodland is planning to take his Ikea backpack on his annual 100 mile trip in the Sierras some time in the spring or summer.

Nodland listed his Ikea backpack for sale on Ebay at $275. After admitting to only spending $30 on materials, Noland said he set the price based on what he thinks the pack is worth to him.

“I’m not necessarily expecting to sell it, but there is a niche market for novelty backpacks,” he said, “and if someone buys it, I’ll make another one.”

Sure enough, someone bought the pack on Ebay. We followed up with Nodland, who said that he’s considering starting work on a replacement – which he might put up for sale as well.

For more details and photos of Nodland’s Ikea pack, check out his personal page.

Lauren Steinheimer
A digital nomad with past lives in brain imaging research, guiding outdoor trips and teaching English overseas, Lauren now…
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