Homemade Kayak Carrying System
This ‘how-to’ article was written to hopefully inspire you to make your own carry system. For those on a budget or for those not wanting to purchase a ready made system, this is the article for you.
First off, choose a suitable backpack that you are willing to cut up. In my case I chose a 35 liter bag that was still in great condition but I just wasn’t using it. When choosing your bag make sure the bag fits you. The distance between the top of the shoulder straps and the waist band is important. For me, the bag I chose was actually a bit short for the size of my back and because of the age of the bag, it offers little in terms of adjustability. If you make the wrong choice here you might regret it later on.
Choose your bag carefully. I chose an old one but a more modern design will have more adjustability.
Cut off the entire 'bag' part of your rucksack.
You will need some 25mm broad webbing (1 inch) and three buckles.
Get the strongest cotton and needles for your machine that your local fabric shop offers.
Have a look at your chosen bag and cut off the lid and then also cut off the entire bag part away from the back pad. The shoulder straps and waist band will probably be attached to the back pad itself. When cutting the bag away make certain you aren’t snipping off anything that will compromise the strength of the straps or the waist band as this will make life very difficult for you. I used a normal sewing machine for this job but an industrial machine will enable you to sew through far thicker material and you could really make a bag from scratch quite easily if you have a little imagination. Get somebody to show you how to use a sewing machine, it’s very easy actually!
So once you have your bag all cut up you’ll need a suitable sewing machine, some 25mm broad webbing, some clips, maybe this article and a brain. I used the thickest needles and thread I could get from a fabric shop nearby and no matter what I threw at it the needle never snapped.
Sew on a small piece of webbing onto a buckle and leave a 'tail' long enough to fit onto the back of the bag.
Our normal sewing machine handled everything I threw at it. If you don't have a sewing machine you could sew it by hand but it would take a lot longer. OK, so a LOT longer! Dental floss is great for sewing by hand. I've made a homemade cow's tail with it and it has served me for more than two years and trust my life with it. It is super strong!
There are three straps that go around the kayak. At the top the strap goes over the top edge of the cockpit rim and grips nicely there. The centre strap simply wraps around the boat and the bottom strap can either go through the extra handles (as found on most modern creek boats) or through the grab handle at the tail. Your choice will also depend on how long the boat is and how tall or short you may be. Once you’ve made the bag with its straps you can fiddle around with it.
Take a short piece of webbing (about 200mm long) and loop it through the female end of a clip. I used three ‘strips’ of sewing and ran over the same stretch a total of three times. Feel free to add on as you feel necessary. You are then left with a tail of about 80mm long and this free end must be sewn directly onto the bag, at the back – the side which the boat will be on. You can make up three of these so that they can be attached all on one side of the bag at the top, at the bottom and somewhere in between. Please note how the top and bottom straps are sewn onto the bag at an angle. You can find this angle by placing the bag roughly on the boat and thread a strap around the boat in the correct position. Use a marker to outline the position of the strap on the bag and then sew it on. The angle is not critical but don’t just sew the straps all on perpendicular to the bag otherwise you will have unnecessary stress concentrations on the top and bottom straps where they are attached to the bag.
On the left are the female parts to the buckle and on the right the much longer straps that will encircle the kayak and be simply threaded through the male part of the buckle.
The complete bag with all six straps attached. The much longer ones can be seen on the right. I apologise if I sound so elementary but I'm trying to make it as easy as possible to understand.
What you should now end up with is a bag with three ‘tags’ coming off on one side each with a female clip sewn on. Next up you need to sew on a piece of webbing to the opposite side of the bag as a mirror image but without any clips sewn on and the strap must be much longer. Again, one must put the bag onto the boat (on the underside of the hull) in a rough position and thread the strap around in the desired position and then add at least two feet extra and cut it to size. This extra length allows for more adjustability later on once you’ve got the boat on your back. If you cut the strap too short now you will be sorry later on. Lengths of around two meters are roughly what I ended up using. The shortest one would be the middle strap as it has the shortest distance to go, while the bottom and top straps are much longer. With the long loose straps sewn onto the back of the bag you just need to thread the male clip onto each of them and voila, your bag is ready to go!
Of course there are a few other things you can do. I took the sewing machine to the bag and reinforced the area where the shoulder straps attach to the top of the bag, as well as the bottom. Just use your common sense here and have a look how the straps are attached to your bag.
I added some more guts to the bottom of the bag where the shoulder straps attach.
And also the purple part of the shoulder straps indicated by the green arrows and the centre webbing indicated by the white arrows.
Then to add more comfort I bought another foam mattress to replace an old one and cut up the old one. I chose a width such that the foam would be a double thickness under the shoulder straps and a single thickness on top, away from your body. If you add too much padding it will make storing the bag in your boat more of a mission. Duct tape can be used to secure the foam to the shoulder straps and I did the exact same for the waist band. You will notice that I fastened the foam tightly around the shoulder straps but then made it tapered towards the end. This allows me to get my fingers in to still adjust the length of the shoulder straps. This will depend on the design and size of your bag.
I tapered the foam over the shoulder straps at the end to allow access to the adjustment buckle which would be somewhere below your chest once fitted.
The shoulder and hip straps where wrapped with some foam and covered with duct tape. A quick and easy solution to increase comfort.
The bottom strap (left) going through the bottom grab handle, middle strap just around the boat and the top strap (right) around the top of the cockpit rim. Shown before I added the foam to the shoulder and hip straps.
The pack in place. Tail of the boat at the bottom of the photo. Shown before I added the foam to the shoulder and hip straps.
The large Fluid Solo.
The medium Fluid Nemesis.
The back pack system fits right into the back of the Solo's tail, taking up almost no space. Because it weighs very little it won't have much effect that far back.
I threw in two shoes as a scale, one behind the other. They measure 300mm in length, each. Size UK 9.5. You can still easily fit big dry bag into the back of your boat afterwards. This would depend on your boat and also the bag you chose in the beginning.
I may still add some foam onto the back pad itself but so far I’m fairly happy with what I’ve done. The only thing I still see as a slight problem is that fact that the kayak isn’t vertical to my back. The top tends to pull away from my body. I will still look into this and will either add some sort of strap to the top grab handle to hold onto or attach to the top of the bag or I’ll think of something else. The kayak is also a little bit unstable in terms of rotation. Some foam on the back of the back should make it a little stickier and this might help to reduce the problem somewhat. The play boat is easy to put onto my back but this system will be used nine times out of ten on a creek boat in any case. If you have any suggestions, please contact me by clicking ‘contact’ in the top on this page. Thanks!
This is by no means a guide to build the ultimate carrying system so it’s up to you to find the shortfalls and improve on the design. Hopefully this has given you a little insight and motivation to make one for yourself. The entire process took less than four hours. Give it a try and you’ll surprise yourself how easy it is. Good luck.
Words by: Adrian Tregoning
Photography by: Adrian Tregoning, unless otherwise stated.