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Sewing a Rucksack: Free Backpack Pattern

Hi creative friends! We’re happy to share this free backpack pattern with you along with the step by step instructions for sewing a rucksack.

free backpack pattern

Making a functional canvas backpack

While I do love the outdoors and hiking especially with the family, our hikes are more on the casual side with many “photo-ops” and plenty of stops for snacking. I picture this canvas rucksack coming in handy for our fun outings. Although a true rucksack will have hip belts and likely chest belts, these additional straps can easily be added to your rucksack if you desire. 

free backpack pattern

I chose this rustic olive green color of canvas from Canvas Etc. line of 100% cotton duck-dyed canvas.  With it’s fire, water, weather and mildew resistant properties, this canvas is durable enough to withstand the toughest of hikes in the great outdoors. I also selected coordinating buckles, velcro and some grosgrain ribbon from their line of accessories to complete the project. 

The finished bag measures 20” high x 12” wide x 8” deep.  And although we have made our share of bags at Sustain My Craft Habit, such as this upcycled leather bag and this canvas drawstring bag, this new rucksack will hold a lot more things making it perfect for day trips and weekend getaways. Now that I think of it, my repurposed denim checkered picnic blanket would fit nicely inside this rucksack!

free backpack pattern

We’ve used the 10oz cotton canvas for a number of recent projects including this removable dog bed cover, DIY hammock chair and canvas camo tote bag. It’s a great weight of canvas – sturdy and durable yet flexible enought for daily use.

Materials Needed for Sewing a Rucksack:

How to Make a Canvas Rucksack:

Prewash and dry the cotton canvas prior to cutting and sewing. Remove it promptly from the dryer to minimize wrinkles and creases.

Cutting the free backpack pattern:

Download the free backpack pattern.

Print off the rucksack pattern onto 8×11 sheets of paper and tape all the pages together to form the pattern. The measurements of each pattern piece are listed on the pattern for reference and the pattern pieces are color coded for easier matching.

Place fabric on a smooth, flat surface. Next, place the pattern pieces on the fabric and pin in place while being aware of which pieces are cut 2, cut 4 or cut 1. Also, be sure to align the grain lines on the pattern with the fabric grain.

Cut along all the solid lines. The dash lines represent the sewing lines.

Be sure to mark the notches on all the pattern pieces. These will come in handy later when sewing. Mark all dots (for pocket placement) on the pattern using a piece of washable chalk of wax. Poke the center of the dot with a pin, lift pattern up and mark on the fabric where the pin meets the fabric. This step will help you position the pockets properly later on. 

Always remember to save your scrap fabrics when cutting out the fabric!  These deconstructed pencil case and fabric flowers would turn out great using this canvas. Other examples of projects using scraps include our scrap fabric pumpkins (no-sew), homemade lavender sachets and this pretty scrap fabric heart garland.

Cut the grosgrain tape into 6 pieces with these measurements:

  • x3 at 6” long
  • x2 at 20” long for the straps; 
  • X1 at 15” long
  • x1 at 3” long

How to Sew a Rucksack

Sewing the Shoulder Straps

Using one buckle for each strap, loop a 6” long cut grosgrain tape through each of the buckles. Stitch the looped grosgrain lengthwise as shown. 

With right sides facing up, place the prepared ribbon at the bottom of each strap aligning the cut edges. Stitch in place.

With right sides together, sew the two sides of each shoulder strap together at ½” seam allowance. True the seam allowance to eliminate bulk pefore turning the stitched straps right side out. Press flat and add an edge-stitch around the entire perimeter of both straps. 

Place prepared shoulder straps on the lower center back (CB) panel piece aligning the notches as shown.  Stitch the straps in place. 

Position a 6” long cut grosgrain tape at the center along the same cut edge spacing the ribbon ends 3” apart. Stitch in place to form locker loop.

Position the 20” long grosgrain ribbon along the CB side panel, 5” from the bottom hem as shown. Stitch in place and repeat on the other side with the other 20” long grosgrain ribbon.

Loop the ribbon ends through the other buckle pieces and stitch the ribbon ends with a double fold. You’ll know if the ribbon is looped through the buckles properly because it will lock in place when pulled.

With right sides together, sew the upper center back (CB) panel piece to the lower CB panel piece, sandwiching the shoulder straps and locker loop in between.

Using a serger or zig zag stitch, clean finish all cut edges to avoid fraying.  Alternatively, you can do this step at the very beginning prior to starting.

Sewing the Zipper

With right sides facing up, align the two lengthwise edges of the upper pattern piece. Place the vislon zipper over top and pin to the fabric, working on side of the zipper at a time. 

Sew one side of the zipper to the fabric and then repeat along the other side. 

Put piece aside until the rest of the bag is assembled.

Sewing the Pockets

Place pocket pieces on a flat surface with right sides facing up.

Loop the remaining 6” grosgrain ribbon through the buckle. Stitch the looped grosgrain lengthwise as done with the shoulder strap buckles.

Place the prepared ribbon at the center top of the large patch pocket piece. Stitch in place.

Align the upper pocket piece with the lower pocket piece, sandwiching the ribbon in between and sew pieces together. Fold seam allowance up and edge-stitch in place.

Sew one side of the hook and loop tape to the pocket facing.

Sew the pocket facing to the top edge of the pocket, fold seam allowance upward and understitch the seam. 

Fold the facing flap inward and topstitch in place just below the lower seam line.

Sew the other side of the hook and loop tape directly on to the front bag piece at the marked position.

Position the pocket onto the front of the rucksack, aligning the small dots. Topstitch pocket in place along all 3 sides of the pocket. For added reinforcement, add a triangle stitch to both corners of the pocket opening.

Assembling the Rucksack

With right sides together, sew the prepared back piece with the front piece along the sides and bottom edge.

Working one bottom corner at a time, fold the corners inward with the side seam aligning the bottom seam forming a peak as shown. 

Draw a straight line using removable chalk and a ruler intersecting the notches. Sew over the marked line. 

To reduce the bulk, you can choose to cut off the excess fabric from the peak and clean finish the cut edges with a zig zag or serge stitch. 

With right sides together, position the upper zippered piece with the opening of the bag aligning all notches. Sew pieces together, pivoting at the corners. 

Adding the zipper onto the rucksack.

Open the zipper and turn the rucksack inside out.  What do you plan to use your rucksack for?

More Creative Sewing Ideas:

If you’re looking for more sewing projects and free sewing patterns, check out these tutorials:

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free backpack pattern

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Friday 21st of April 2023

I am planning on making this rucksack. Your intro says to use prewashed cotton canvas. Will unwashed waxed canvas work for this pattern?


Wednesday 11th of January 2023

Hey! Do you have any tips for making it as sturdy as possible? My store bought backpacks rarely last more than a year, always ripping at the seams of the straps, (I’ve ripped some straps clean off with regular use) or getting holes in the bottom. I’ve been thinking of just trying to make my own to be able to avoid that, but want to make sure I’m doing everything I can!


Thursday 10th of November 2022

Hello! I just downloaded your rucksack pattern and I'm super excited to get started on making it. But I wanted to let you know I encounter a problem. After downloading, I taped all the pieces together, there are 28 separate pieces totaling 10 completed pieces. I double checked the number of separate pieces, just to make doubly sure I had all of them printed. But when I finished taping all the pieces, there seemed to be a few pattern pieces missing, that were not included in the download, so 2 of the 10 pattern pieces are incomplete. Luckily there are measurements on the pieces, and I'm able to draw directly onto my fabric to complete the areas on the missing pieces.

Respectfully, Suzanne

Jane and Sonja

Sunday 20th of November 2022

Thankyou for letting me know, I will have to take a look at the pattern and see what the problem is!


Sunday 9th of October 2022

Thank you so much for sharing this pattern! I plan to cut up my vintage wool check blazer along with my leather coat that I haven't worn for years. I've been hanging on to them with dreams of repurposing. Perhaps a new rucksack will show their beauty once again.

Jane and Sonja

Sunday 20th of November 2022

Love this idea! It's a great way to reuse what you already have. Happy sewing!


Tuesday 8th of March 2022

Hello, I was able to download the pattern but cannot get the instructions to print. Please help, I don't have access to my computer in my sewing room...

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