Custom Backpack: Amhara 15 SA
By Azo Equipment ~ 12 March 2019
The development of new backpacks is a careful and considered process. From designing to pattern making, through testing and sampling - each step deserves equal attention in order to make something that looks good and works well. In making a custom backpack we have to follow condensed versions of our normal steps and also adapt and test components on the move, using our experience as well as thinking things through as carefully as possible. There is no easy way to do this, it can be difficult. However the benefit has become very clear as we complete the first few of our custom orders, when truly challenged you do your best work. In this journal post we want to offer some insight into the process and results behind the Amhara 15 SA (Side Access) which has just been completed. The customer requirements were extensive and started with a fundamental change:
- Use waxed canvas C4X finish on our Amhara backpack design
- Install a waterproof side access zipper to allow the quick removal of a large DSLR in its padded case
- Add a zipped pocket on the opposite side to store a large water bottle
- Remove the elastic from the lid and use leather binding
- Add strong leather lash points to the front and base of the bag
- Specific packcloth colour requests for the internal lining and outer shell
- Zipped mesh pocket on the laptop sleeve
The specific features and functions of the bag were discussed at length with the customer before we made a start, exchanging photos and sketches. The requested changes needed to work well and where important we raised our concerns on the use case versus new features. From the sketch above you can see some solutions we added to work around the main requests. These included detachable compression straps, rubber hoods for the side zips top and bottom, a new front panel construction to allow for greater distance between the compression straps and provide more rigidity to the front of the bag (supporting the leather lash points). Colours requested were Olive outer in the waxed cotton, 420D black packcloth outer shell for the back panel section and collar, with a contrasting 420D Coyote Brown packcloth for the inner lining.
We took some time to consider details and allowed for ordering in special hardware for this project, as well as working through the pattern changes cautiously before starting on production. The lid was a significant change to our standard Amhara as the elastic we normally use allows the lid to open easily, compress over the contents of the bag and gives the user the option to carry a lot more when needed. For this bag however, extended capacity was not required, the brief was for a daily carry backpack that can hold and protect the essentials including the camera and a laptop. The new lid had to be a lot smaller in size and match the base of the bag when empty or full. After testing the side zip sizes on some mock components we were ready to start cutting and sewing. The photo below shows this bags components ready for assembly.
During production we had to make some revisions to the lid side panels, which were not looking quite how we wanted. In the end some pleats tucked it in nicely and completed the slimmer, uniform look of the non-elasticated lid fitting over the bag. When the Amhara was first sampled back in 2013 we used a waxed fabric with a patina, but found those materials available at the time did not provide enough strength for the various stress points around the design. The introduction of the new C4X finish on a thicker base canvas in the last year has made this combination possible.
With the final assembly completed we bind all the seams and its time for internal checks and turning (backpacks are made inside out). The Coyote Brown lining provides a very useful contrast to the darker outer colours and allows you to see clearly into the main compartment. Pictured is the mesh internal pocket sewn onto the laptop sleeve in the image below.
Once turned, we could review the side zips, test the functionality and sit back and take in the bag as a whole. Preflight photos were sent to our customer, who wanted some minor details added and then it was onto our final external sewing of strap ends, adding elastic webbing retainers and preparation. You can see below the side opening that gives access to a large pocket, in this case designed to fit a very tall water bottle.
Want to see more photos and the final result? The finished backpack can be viewed here. We love the profile and aesthetic of the A15 SA and are planning to consider parts of this custom bag for a standard variant of our Amhara 15 in the future.
The most important thing to us about backpack design and manufacture is using our bags and learning from the experience. With a custom bag we look forward to that from our customers. Our existing variants can look deceptively simple, but that is an intentional result of our testing where lots of features ultimately tend to go unused and interfere with the critical parts of being easy to operate, offering exceptional weather protection and comfort. We have more custom bags on the way soon, please follow us on Instagram or Facebook to catch all our new projects.