Homemade Backpack Journals

Whenever I head into the bush I make it a point to carry empty pages to fill, especially if I am traveling alone.  Being alone in the desert prompts all kinds of thoughts and ideas in me, and I make extensive technical notes along the way on all my treks.  Being an ultralight backpacker, I avoid any unnecessary weight. Instead of carrying a heavy, bound journal, or a too-small notebook, or even just some empty sheets of paper from my printer, I create and carry a signature or two of Tyvek covered pages.  In bookbinder lingo, a signature is simply a number of sheets of paper folded in half.  I turn these folded sheets of paper into a booklet by wrapping them with a Tyvek cover and stitching the pages and cover together. Eventually I will bind these signatures  filled with adventures and desert inspired stories into books.

Tyvek journals, numbered for order and with text on the covers notes specific trips and dates.

Tyvek journals, numbered, dated and with trip locations noted on the covers. The five new journals on top are for my upcoming two week Escalante trek.

You can use any type or size of paper you desire in your booklets.  I prefer paper of a little heavier weight, and not just printer paper, and tend to stick with something close to 8 1/2 by 11 inches in size.  My signatures, or booklets, are usually 5 to 7 pages. My wife Mia, a bookbinder, has made travel journals for our family trips by interspersing writing pages with heavier, watercolor quality paper so we can include paintings and sketches of our travels. You can see more of her work at Photo-Mia.com.

Travel journals from the studio of Photo-Mia.

Three of our travel journals, of odd sizes with more complex designs. We design them at least large enough to mount 4 by 6 photos.

Tyvek backpack journals are simple to create.  Materials needed are 5 to 7 sheets of paper, a piece of Tyvek at least 1/4 inch larger in both dimensions than the paper you have chosen, and a length of thread.  You will need a ruler, needle, awl, and scissors.  We use waxed linen thread from our bindery for our books, but heavier embroidery thread can also be used.  If you don’t have an awl, you can use your sewing needle to punch the holes in the paper and Tyvek cover.


Tools and materials needed to construct Tyvek backpack journals.

Instructions for Assembly

Fold your chosen pages in half.  Fold three to five lighter bond sheets at a time.  Put all of the sheets for the booklet together and make sure they are properly aligned all around.  Next you will need to measure out holes for stitching.  Four holes is adequate.  Measure down the spine- the folded edge of the paper- on the inside and mark your holes in pencil.  You can lay them out as you wish, for example measure one inch from each end, top and bottom,  and mark for a hole, then divide the remaining space in the center of these holes by three.  Mark the two locations in the center of the outside holes.  If you are planning to make a series of these booklets for later binding together, be sure to lay them all out the same.

Marking location of holes in folded signature.

Marking location of holes in folded signature.

Now you are ready to  punch the holes.  Hold all the aligned sheets tightly together and punch from the inside, where you have made pencil marks, out.

Punching holes in folded signature.

Punching holes in folded signature.

Next is the Tyvek cover.  The simplest way to lay out the cover is to cut a piece that is larger than necessary and trim it later once the booklet is stitched.  Fold the piece of Tyvek in half.  Place the already punched pages inside.  Holding the cover and pages securely, push the awl back through the holes in the paper to make matching holes in the Tyvek. Be sure that the Tyvek does not slip as you punch the holes.  You are now ready to stitch.

You will need about 20 inches of thread for an 8 1/2 inch high booklet.  Starting inside at one end, push the needle through the first hole outward.  Leave about 4 inches of thread remaining inside the booklet.  Move down to the next hole on the outside of the spine and push the needle back in.  Holding the far end of the thread securely, tug the working end to make sure it is tight. Do this after moving through each hole.  Move down to the next hole on the inside and thread outward.  Continue this process working down, and then back up to where you began.  The two ends of the thread should meet when finished.  Remove the needle from the thread and tie the two ends securely.  Trim the ends, leaving about 1/4 inch remaining.

Stitching journal.  Begin at one end, working down, then back to start point.

Stitching journal. Begin at one end, working down, then back to start point.

The final step is to trim the Tyvek cover.  I push the Tyvek firmly against the sheets of paper inside so that it leaves a faint line on the outside of the cover.  I will then trim outside of this line, being sure to leave about 1/8 inch of the Tyvek extending beyond the edge of the paper.

Cover with edges of signature inside burnished to show through. This helps with trimming the cover down to size.

Cover with edges of signature inside burnished to show through. This helps with trimming the cover down to size. Bottom edge has already been trimmed.

To read about more homemade gear for backpacking, visit the Homemade Gear pages at the Desert Explorer website.


8 Responses to Homemade Backpack Journals

  1. journal88 says:

    Great idea to make small, light journals for your backpacking treks. Do you collect and bind them into one hardcover bound “Year’s Journal”?

  2. desertexplorer says:

    That has been my plan, to bind them all together. They just keep collecting at this point. I will likely end up binding them together in a leather cover- with leather I will be able to put in as many signatures as I want to. So it may end up being years worth of writing all together. I may also add extra pages in between the signatures specifically for photos from the associated trips.

  3. Frank says:

    “stumbled” on your excellent site and have really enjoyed poking around it. I notice you used the term “bush ” in the first few lines of this post! I mistakenly thought “bush” was an Australian term?? Is it commonly used in the U.S.?

    All the best

    • desertexplorer says:

      Hi Frank,
      Thanks for visiting. I had to think about the term for a bit. I think maybe it has regional use in the Americas- not necessarily the US. I think I picked it up in Central America- I spent time in Belize and other parts and the jungle was called “bush” by English speakers- maybe a remnant of colonialism? I remember its use from the army as well, and am thinking that it was a term used in Vietnam. As for other terms to refer to the wilderness- I am from the desert in the west, which we always called “the desert”- appropriate I guess. Have also used the term “boonies” there. When I lived in the southern US, and the northeast, we just called it “the woods”. And then of course there is the Army catch-all term, going to “the field”. Interesting variation on terminology (says the anthropologist in me). By the way, enjoying your site as well. Some day we plan to visit your part of the world, ship our Landcruiser over in a container and drive the country. Would love to see the desert there in person.
      Take care,

  4. Frank says:

    Thanks for the detailed reply:
    I think you may be right about the term bush being a remnant of colonialism.
    From Wikipedia: The bush is a word used to describe land where people do not live or land away from cities. The word is mainly used in Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Canada, and Alaska
    (not, most of those countries were British colonies..

    If you ever get that Landcruiser in a container and off to Oz, please contact me. While I am NOT really a desert person (it is a LONG way from home) I might have a few ideas where you can have a great holiday. (don’t forget to allow several months (years LOL) to explore. It is a huge and diverse country

    • desertexplorer says:

      Thanks for the invite to look you up. The trip is something we have talked about for years, and will do one of these days. If we ship the Landcruiser over, we will likely spend more than a few months- I would hope for a year or so. From your Blog, I gather there is a tremendous amount about your country that I haven’t even considered, like mountains- I tend to focus on deserts. Back to the Cruiser- the other option is to purchase a Cruiser there- it may end up being cheaper in the long run, and you guys have a great supply of the best cruisers in the world! Of course, I would have to get it back home somehow…couldn’t let go of it after living a year in it. Lots to think about. But for now, we are planning a couple of weeks in Utah- in the bush- just my son and I, towards the end of May. It will be his first backpack trip, at age 4 1/2.

  5. […] relating to the backpack trips. A detailed explanation of the Backpack Journal can be found in a Desert Explorer blog post from April, 2009. Various travel journals in different formats and book […]

  6. […] relating to the backpack trips. A detailed explanation of the Backpack Journal can be found in a Desert Explorer blog post from April, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: