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Roll top Duluth style portage pack?

Nov 22, 2019
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Pinnacle, North Carolina
I'm in the process of cutting out and preparing to sew a pack very similar to Duluth's #4 Original 72 liter pack. Although I have a fair bit of 9-10 oz leather on hand this first one will get nylon or polyester webbing closure straps and buckles for the flap and tumpline end straps and a modern pack suspension set for the shoulder straps.

The suspension straps will attach to a ladder of 3/4" straps on the pack allowing it to be adjusted vertically on the bag; higher on the bag for carrying a canoe and maybe lower when not carrying a canoe so the pack rides more like a standard backpack. That feature isn't strictly necessary but as the harness is designed for it a few more 4" long strips of webbing won't add more than a fraction of an ounce of weight anyway. And as this is my first portage pack it means I can't stitch and rivet a harness on at the wrong height.

Besides, as I have a lot of #8/18 oz canvas on hand it won't be a featherweight pack by any means. For comparison, Duluth uses 15 oz canvas so in canvas alone it will be several ounces heavier than the Duluth #4......

Now I have another thought and so I'm wondering what folks might think about a roll top closure a' la a dry bag instead of the traditional flap. A roll top would be more secure, keep more crud and rain out and act as a compression strap set. The only downside I see would be that it would be more awkward to have something like an axe haft stick out of the pack and maybe a bit slower to dig something out during the day.

At any rate, the pack I'm working on now is already getting cut out so a roll top would be for a later pack if at all.

Please, let me know you thoughts. And thanks in advance.

I wouldn't make it too complicated. I'm not sure what the roll top is, mine are simple envelope style with no side panels or suspension system. I don't rely on the shoulder straps to fully support the weight. By leaning forward friction partly holds the pack on your back, and even more so if you throw another pack on top at your neck. After about 5 or 6 years, or maybe more of using the packs I rarely even use the shoulder straps anymore and just use the tump. Much easier on and off.
Thanks, Guys

Al, I'm looking forward to getting to try the tumpline. If I like it I may add them to some of my other packs. I'm making the tumpline for this pack but given that Duluth sells their tumpline for only $15 I may buy them going forward.

Oliver, I did a search for Woods packs and see what you mean. Once this pack has been used a while I will give thought to the next evolution as/if needed. Part of this is to improve my sewing skills so who knows what will be coming down the road sewing-wise.

Here's a picture of the shoulder harness I have and it shows what I meant about a webbing ladder to adjust height. After determining the best height for the harness consistent with carrying a canoe I may just sew and rivet them going forward. Or if my experience with the tumpline is like Al's I may just use the webbing ladder so the harness is removable and stow the harness when not being used.


Thanks again for the input.

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Frost River in Duluth has some roll top day packs that don’t look to busy with bells & whistles. You might google them to see if their pictures give you a idea or two. If I were looking for a day pack I would get one from them. After Duluth Pack sold out to Corporate America most of their staff quit, they then started Frost River. Frost River is making canvas & leather packs that are better than even my old, well used and loved Duluth # 3 that have seen a lot of use since the sixties. If some major catastrophic event would befall my old Duluth Packs, I would go straight to Frost River on 1610 West Superior Street in downtown Duluth to buy their Old # 3 and a Grand Portage Pack. Not cheap but will out live you. They also have three different size pack baskets.
If you're sewing webbing anyway, any reason not to throw some molle webbing on the back? Just to secure the odd bag, or axe? I use an old discontinued LL Bean pack frame, with a Sealine 115L attached to it, and made my own molle panels that attach to the pack frame and wrap around the back. I love roll tops, for the reasons you mentioned. If you decide too do the molle, its easy to get the right webbing spacing and stitch lines so you can use speedstrips or whatever. And its universal to "tactical" accessory bags, so its pretty ubiquitous.
If you're sewing webbing anyway, any reason not to throw some molle webbing on the back? Just to secure the odd bag, or axe?
I may sew a few bits of webbing or loops on just "because" but this first pack will be kept pretty much like the traditional Duluth #4. The exception is the adjustable height shoulder harness as I have it on hand and can buy them for around the cost of the materials to make one.

I'm just getting into working with leather and don't intend to carry these for miles so future ones may well get the traditional leather straps. But exterior pockets are in the future for sure.

Frost River in Duluth has some roll top day packs that don’t look to busy with bells & whistles. You might google them to see if their pictures give you a idea or two.

They are one of the places I have checked out and have made some notes from. With all the places I've looked by now I think I need to use this current pack enough to find out if I just want to knock out a few more or do something different. Like maybe pockets for specific gear (axe or saw) , a box style pack as opposed to the envelope style etc.

Thanks for the input.

I make all our dry bags from re-purposed Vinal tarp material , all are roll top . Hook & loop sown to each side of opening then 1" lite nylon strap with those 2 prong male/female buckles to secure . Piece
of cake !