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How to Make Saddlebags for Travel

Travel Tip #3- Saddlebags
Rabat, Morocco
September 11, 2007

Everyone who has ever stepped out of their own home knows the value of pockets; and to the traveller, pockets are cherished. This tip is about the utilization and construction of saddlebags.

Saddlebags, or pants panniers, for travel

Saddlebags are simply large pockets that hang off of a belt on both sides of your body, like saddlebags on a horse (look at photos below). They can be made out of leather, duct clothe, or a variety of other materials. The purpose of these large pockets is to have a place to carry around medium sized, often used implements- such as guidebooks, notebooks, cameras, and knives- that you want to have in a readily available in an easy to reach location.

To carry such objects in a backpack leads to many awkward moments and wasted activity, as, in order to access a piece of gear, you would have to stop, take the pack off, dig through it, take out what you want, use it, put it back in the bag . . .and so on. . . This process looks ridiculous and can draw unwanted attention. While keeping such often used items in trouser pockets is also a futile practice, as many pockets are simply not large enough to accompany something the size of a book. Cargo pants may seem like a acceptable alternative but, as anybody who has ever stuffed their cargo pockets full of gear and then went for a walk knows that a lot of stuff bouncing around in these pockets can be extremely uncomfortable.

[adsense]So my solution is using large sized pockets that can be hung at the waist off of an ordinary belt. Their construction is simple, and Mira designed, layed out, and made mine for me in only a couple of hours.

To make them all you have to do is find a piece of leather or fabric (preferably duct cloth) and cut a long strip of it as wide as you would like the bag and about four inches longer than twice as long as you would like it to be. So if you want a bag that is 10 inches wide and 12 inches long, you would need an initial cut of fabric that is 10 inches wide by 28 inches long. You then fold up one side of the fabric until it is around four inches from being even at the top and then sew up the sides. You can then attach belt loops to the back. After this is finish, you can take the four inches that remains at the top and fold it over and attach it with buttons. It would probably be simpler just to replicate the below photos:


This is the back view. Notice the belt loops at the top. Be sure to leave a flap.

I have only been using these bags for the past week, but I can tell now that will become a staple piece of travel equipment for me. I keep maps, books, and all sorts of other things in them that I wish to easily access on the streets without having to stop and go searching through all of my stuff. What is also good about them is that you can just slip them off at the end of the day and stash them in your pack, which helps to alleviate the possibility of falling asleep with lots of stuff in your pockets (there are few things more annoying).

One downfall to them is that they can be easily cut by bag slashers. But if you make them out of leather, the possibility of this greatly diminishes. Also, I chose to use buttons rather than a zipper as a fastener, as I feel that it is much harder for a pickpocket to undo a button than a zipper. Buttons are also easier to repair.

So I offer this idea up for you to take, leave, or laugh at. But I am loving these bags.

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Filed under: Travel Gear, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3167 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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