DIY: How to Make A Simple Frame Bag

Fundamentally, the frame bag is the most basic and practical piece of bike luggage. It’s also the easiest to make… and only requires a consumer sewing machine and a little skill. Here’s how to plan, design, and construct a simple frame bag.

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Virginia and I began our first bike tour in Latin America with too many panniers overstuffed with things we really didn’t need. Along the way we got rid of things that we didn’t need (which was a lot) and upon returning we sold our racks, ditched our giant rear panniers, and realized the joy of a scaled down kit for off-road bikepacking.

In my opinion, the frame bag is the crux of such a kit. Because of it’s location, the frame bag is ideal for carrying heavier items tp maintain a low center of gravity. Some might argue that carrying water in the frame triangle accomplishes the same thing, but I would argue that a frame bag can make better use of the entirety of that space.

Honestly, there are now plenty of quality and relatively inexpensive frame bags on the market (see our full bikepacking bag guide for a list), so the only three reasons to make your own are: 1. you really like making stuff; 2. you want something slightly different (color, pockets, etc.); 3. you are really counting dollars.

There is a wealth of information, tutorials, and posts out there about DIY framebags, so instead of adding to the clutter, I wanted to compile a few resources to make this as informative and useful as possible. At the very least this will point those interested in the right direction and provide links to materials and other tutorials.

DIY Framebag - bikepacking Krampus

DIY Framebag Materials List

This list contains the minimum order at Rocky Woods to make one frame bag. However, in the ideal scenario you’d be making two bags and this list would also be enough (although the 2” sew-on tape may come up a tad short — but, see below under straps for an alternative). This total materials list costs just under $60.

Main triangles and top

1 Yard VX21 Terrain X-Pac (19.99)

Bottom, back, staps, and zipper panel sides

1 Yard 1000 Denier Coated CORDURA® Nylon Fabric (11.49)
8″ scrap cord (I used some from a Big Agnes tent)
1 spool Coats & Clark Extra Strong Upholstery thread (100% Nylon)
Or, if you want to make moveable One Wrap straps, see boxout under process.

Tools and Other Materials

Frame bag template for bikepacking

The Process

The process of planning and making a frame bag is relatively simple, but still time consuming. It took me three or four hours to put this bag together. The best advice I could give is to measure several times and cut once. Note that I am still not the most neat seamster, and I made this in a rush, so there are some ugly stitches here.

1. Make a template

A piece of cardboard or poster board will do. First, trace your triangle to the exact shape, possibly leaving out the bottom corner if you feel your chainrings or derailleur might interfere. Once you have the piece cut, you can use it to sketch where your straps should be placed so they don’t overlap the derailleur mount or other accessories (options such as the strap for a ‘gas tank’). Here’s a how-to make a template video by Scott at Porcelain Rocket.

2. Cut the triangles and sides

The first step is to cut out the triangle side pieces of X-Pac. Do this by tracing your template on the back of the Xpac, then enlarging it by about 3/8” on every side (for seam allowance).

The top panel will also be made from X-Pac while the bottom and back can be made from Cordura to help with abrasion resistance; the X-Pac doesn’t seem to abrade too much, but Cordura is a little better. I made my side panels 3.5″ to have a finished size of about 2.75″.

  • Make Your Own Framebag, bikepacking
  • Make Your Own Framebag, bikepacking

3. Make the Zipper and Panel

A lot of people simply cut a space into the panel for the zipper, but I prefer the method of making a zipper strip that will replace a certain amount of vertical space for the full width of the panel. Also, I mount mine on the left… that is just a personal preference. To make the zipper strip, first find out your desired length of the zipper and then cut it about 1.5″ too long (you will leave about 3/4″ hidden on each side. Now make two pieces of Cordura the same height as the zipper and sew them on to the ends with the finish edge overlapped (over the pieces of cordage).

Cut the triangle in two pieces where the zipper will be mounted. The height of the zipper strip is 1.5″, and the finished panel will expose about 3/4″ of the zipper. So, that leaves 3/4″ (3/8″ on the top piece of triangle and 3/8″ on the bottom) of the triangle material to eliminate to maintain the correct dimensions. We don’t actually cut this away, but over lap it to hide the stitch (see the middle photo). The finished triangle should look similar to the third photo below.

  • Make your own frame bag, bikepacking
  • How to make a bike frame bag - bikepacking

DIY Frame bag, make your own frame bag

4. Make the straps

The straps can be made much simpler by using only the velcro tape and not having an outer Cordura layer. However, for color accents and ruggedness I make these by sewing the velcro into a Cordura outer. This is the most time consuming part of the process… and again, not necessary; many professionally made frame bags use just the tape. The finished sizes are in the captions under each thumbnail below. Each cordura outer should be made about 3/4” wider and an 1.25″ longer in order to finish the edges properly by folding the sides under the velcro, and double folding the outer end. The inner end of the strap can be left unfinished as this will be sewn into the bag at about 1/2″ seam allowance.

  • How to make a bike frame bag - bikepacking
  • How to make a bike frame bag - bikepacking
  • How to make a bike frame bag - bikepacking

In hindsight (updated 2017)

Some folks might ask why I put the main zipper on the left (non-drive side). That was just personal preference. No change there. However, there is one major change you should consider if following this tutorial. Instead of using sewn in ‘fixed’ straps on the back, top front, and downtube panels, consider using a daisy chain and Velcro OneWrap. Many frame bags are being built this way and it will make stitching and construction easier and cheaper. In addition, moveable straps make using it with other bags – such as a Gas Tank — easier.

  • Porcelain Rocket 52Hz Frame Pack, waterproof frame bag
  • Oveja Negra Super Wedgie Frame Bag

To accomplish moveable One Wrap straps, you will stitch a strip of one-inch nylon webbing to each of the panels you wish to use this method. I would recommend the back, bottom and the front half of the top, making the only fixed strap the large one not he top panel. To do so, ‘bar tack’ the webbing in 1.25″ increments (if using one inch One Wrap) or 1.75″ increments if using 1.5′ One Wrap. Either will do.

5. Make and mount the dividers (not necessary)

These dividers are mounted on the inside panels of the frame bag to add stability and organize the space. They also keep the panels from ballooning outward when overpacked. I use mine to separate a sleeping pad, mess kit (in the Vargo Bot), and the remainder of contents. The dividers are mounted to each side so that the velcro can be attached once the bag is folded right side in.

  • DIY Framebag
  • DIY Framebag

6. Sew the bag inside out

The great thing about making a frame bag is that it’s all sewn inside out, then there’s the reveal at the end. Of course this get’s a little complicated when you are adding the straps between the panels. Just think it through before putting the pedal to the metal. I would recommend marking on the inside of each triangle panel where the straps go so that as you are sewing, you can add the straps to the stack. UPDATE: As Paul mentioned in the comments, “One additional step I do is sewing the velcro straps in place before sewing the panels together, laying the stitching down on the velcro straps about .25” from the edge of the panel. This way you don’t have to worry about fiddling with the strap placement as you’re sewing the side panels to the tubing panel. And it reinforces the straps, too. Just be very carful to have them pointed in the right direction before tacking them on; it’s easy to get confused working inside out.

2014-08-framebag-12

The trickiest part about making a frame bag is getting all of the straps to be aligned and in the right direction…

7. Reveal

Make sure to double check all of your stitches. I usually run back over them and even double stitch some areas to ensure that they are locked and ready for abuse. Then the final step is to unfold the back right side in, and hope that you didn’t mess anything up. Good luck!

2014-08-framebag-13

Now, the reveal.

Other Useful links

Here are 5 links that I had bookmarked when making my first frame bag. The first video is very comprehensive and really all that you will need:

DIY Frame Bag, Make your own frame bag, bikepacking

Recommended bag makers

Make sure to visit our Complete Guide to Bikepacking Bags for a list of bag makers, as well as the Full-Suspension Frame Bag guide, but here is a short list:

Revelate Designs: American made quality bags from Alaska… they are my go-to bag maker.
Porcelain Rocket: Alberta, Canada.
Bedrock Bags: Colorado bag maker
Oveja Negra Threadworks: Salida, CO
Nuclear Sunrise: El Paso, TX
Wanderlust Gear: Missoula, MT
Apidura: U.K.
  • j

    Thanks, been waiting for this!

  • Sure thing… hope it helps!

  • Paul H.

    Great writeup, Logan. Thank you for mentioning Wanderlust. One additional step I do is sewing the velcro straps in place before sewing the panels together, laying the stitching down on the velcro straps about .25″ from the edge of the panel. This way you don’t have to worry about fiddling with the strap placement as you’re sewing the side panels to the tubing panel. And it reinforces the straps, too.

  • Thanks Paul… A great suggestion! That actually eliminates the two things that are tough (keeping the straps aligned, and worrying about the sticky side being wrongly oriented). Thanks for sharing!

  • nin

    Excellent read.
    Links to all the materials really help for those of us which might not be able to find them locally.

    Thanks!

  • Glad you found it helpful… Rocky Woods is great; they ship very quickly as well.

  • Andrew Demack

    And for your Australian readers, there’s Bike Bag Dude. http://www.bikebagdude.com/

  • Andrew Wade

    Thank you so much for sharing this detailed guide. I’m curious if any special type of heavy duty sewing machine is needed to make a bag like this.

  • Hi Andrew, I use an old Singer 301. These materials aren’t very thick, so I think any decent machine should do…

  • Xae

    Hey, I just wanted to say thanks, I’m in the process of preparing for my first bike tour, and your blog has been an amazing source of information and inspiration. So thanks for being sush a rad person and sharing your experiences! (:

  • Thanks for the kind words Xae… I hope your first tour is wonderful!

  • Alex Broekhof

    Hey thanks for the tutorial—I’m following it to make a bag. To maintain Gas Tank compatibility on the top tube, where do the frame bag straps need to be? I don’t have one now, but want to make sure it will work if I get one in the future.

  • Hi Alex, Thanks. It really depends on which gas tank. I would recommend getting the gas tank before hand and measuring accordingly.

  • Alex Broekhof

    I just went for it—left a substantial gap which hopefully will work! I wrote up my bag here if you’re interested: http://broekhof.co/essays/2015/04/making-a-bicycle-frame-bag/
    Thanks again for your great instructions!

  • Sten Van Leuffel

    Hello Logan, wonderful writeup. I’m at the stage where i bought all the materials, but still don’t know how to use a sowing machine. Anyway, I’ll get some expert help for a friend. Before we set to it, i wanted to ask you one question. It seems that the new generation framebags, is zipperless. Do you know any site or place where I can find instructions on how to make a zipperless framebag? (I’ll do some looking around myself, if i cannot find, i’ll use your template.
    Thanks! Sten

  • Thanks Sten! Zipperless bags are relatively new and I haven’t heard of anyone making DIY model yet. I think it would be very challenging. Also, i might recommended a bit of practice sewing before you tear in to the good material. Good luck with your bag…

  • Joshua Eastlund

    Looks good! I’m wondering whether is bulges out on sides when stuffed and potentially interfering with pedaling. Had any trouble with that?

  • Thanks! No, the interior separators keep it from bulging…

  • Paul Costello

    I have made a frame bag, seat bag and gas tank. This is a great tutorial. I like what you did with the zipper. I also like doing the straps beforehand. My next bag will be mounted with bottle cage bolts.

  • Chris

    Hi Paul – working on my first frame bag now… Are you saying to sew the velcro straps in place to the top/bottom/back panels instead of sewing them in to the side panels?

  • Late to the party, potentially simple question for someone new to sewing projects: what kind of needle did you use? I assume that’s a semi-important factor in the whole thing, but I haven’t touched a sewing machine since Home-Economics class about 25 years ago. :P

  • Wildcatgear deserve a mention for a UK based company. This a custom Leapard framebag & there Tiger seatpost drybag holster I just had made for me by Beth. I can’t recommend them enough the quality of construction & materials are absolutely top notch & there customer service is second to none.

  • Becky

    I’m making a frame bag and noticed some bags I already have include a grip fabric in the loops to hold it to the frame. Is that necessary?

  • I don’t think so, but it’s a nice touch…

  • I like it. Simple design that looks great. I’m going to try my run at making a bag for my bike. Thanks for sharing.

  • incompleteness

    Thanks for the tips. I’d add it’s possible to make a bomber version of this for much cheaper. I made a waterproof (once seams are sealed) version for about $15 of materials from Wal-Mart yesterday: $5 in fabric, $3 zipper, $5 Velcro, $1 thread. Weighs in under 4 oz. and there’s enough left over for a second bag easily.

  • Trevor Huggins

    Just finished my framebag and want to extend a big THANKYOU! I had all
    the materials on hand, ‘cept for the velcro, which I bought a roll from
    my local hardware store ($15) and have a little extra left over. I used
    waxed canvas, which a friend who found it in a dumpster gave to me. I’m
    looking ahead to a handlebar bag and seat post bag to make my trips less
    wobbly, although there is prob’ly some argument whether you want the
    sway or not for momentum. Anyhow. It may have been cheaper, in terms of
    labor hours + materials, certainly, to buy this bag, instead of make it.
    All told, I think I spent 10ish hours on the project. So my heart goes
    out to the bikebagmakers out there, especially the independent ones,
    that’s you BlackStarBags. I can see the joy, now, in engaging the work
    you do. But I’d rather spend my time making instead of working some
    extra job for that moola then make it myself, plus there’s that
    possibility it may infringe on future bike trip adventures! http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/25e0fae43081f6a89cba95fd6220735933b5c3c58e6768e47e6d29620c7f344d.jpg

  • Stilicho

    What fabric from walmart did you use?

  • Stilicho

    I don’t quite understand how the “dividers” work. Can you explain. Also, what kind of needle did you use?

  • Dan

    is there adhesive on the back of the Velcro you purchased?

  • Maxime Blanchette

    You don’t want to have ashesive on the backside of the hook’n’loop. Otherwise, the glue will stick to the needle and you will have trouble with the thread an so on…

  • Nice!! Sorry for the late reaction… just saw this. :)

  • Whoops, sorry for the delay. They aren’t necessary, but they basically fold then attach via velcro to keep stuff separated.

  • Sorry, missed this. No adhesive… all stitching.

  • Jeremy Franz

    Awesome post. Thanks for the tips and the links were helpful too! Just finished my first DIY Framebag. Cheers! http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c8e4c5daf486a44e4a7ea7075dad6c32f56201b1243362290bf1437b37219d37.jpg

  • Thanks. Nice one!

  • Andrew Wade

    Just wanted to reply after your recent update to this post. This tutorial was a great resource for my first attempt on a sewing machine and my bag came out great. I’m still using it today. About to work on a new one for another bike, leaning towards a roll top this time. Cheers! http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3522c62dafb0e88708a2fd3c32e398442e3e6327e947fa14cb3477fb13b45694.jpg

  • Nice work Andrew! Great to hear… thanks for the feedback. Keep me posted on the roll top.

  • Laura Patton

    Thanks for the awesome instructions! I did a combo of sewn in Velcro straps and the one wrap straps. The only thing I got backwards was the inner bag divider Velcro, but that will be an easy fix! http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bb1e56fb4300ba1b3a0e1cba3cad960a0d5295bac3da81f2039a45486b117724.jpg

  • Jolene Carpenter

    You should also include Rogue Panda Designs. They are awesome! Also, Revelate makes many of their designs at the factory in Eugene, OR.

  • Daniel Secord
  • Daniel Secord

    I also tried my hand at a top tube bag. Ugly as hell but should work decent https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/707b69d5100764c119baea7533671ab90aba2888c88dc90bc19fb8e40bf8a732.jpg

  • Yeah, we’ve done a couple articles on them. This is just a short list, there are bigger lists on our Complete Guide to Bikepacking Bags.

  • Nice. Looks good!!

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