How to make duct tape zipper bags for your gear

| February 27, 2015

20150301-untitled001-2You can pay a lot for plastic zipper storage bags designed and marketed for outdoor use. I’ve bought my fair share of them and they always seem to tear at the zipper after a few uses, just like the common supermarket variety. Out of frustration, several years ago I experimented with making my own and I like them so much that I’ve been using them ever since.

In this article, I’ll share how I reinforce ordinary plastic zipper bags to make cheap water-resistant cases for protecting and organizing smaller items such as your cell phone, point-and-shoot camera, GPS receiver, and credit cards.

Wonders of the trail world

Hikers, and especially backpackers, know that plastic zipper bags are the wonders of the trail world. They:

  • Are ultralight
  • Protect your gear from outside moisture and dirt
  • Protect your gear from leaking liquids inside your pack
  • Keep small items together so you don’t lose them
  • Create an organizational system, when you put smaller labeled bags inside larger labeled bags, which is especially good for organizing backpacking meals
  • Offer light protection for your gear from surface scrapes
  • Can be used as emergency water carriers
  • Make good light-duty map cases
  • Form a vapor barrier around those smelly items that you’re forced to pack out

However, grocery store zipper bags are usually single-use hiking items as they easily tear, develop punctures, and generally look crumpled and ugly after one trip out.

Sometimes we don’t want to carry the weight or bulk of a dedicated, cushioned storage bag for a piece of gear, but we know that it really needs more protection than a thin plastic bag. So, we put the item in a zipper bag anyway and try to keep it wrapped inside a piece of spare clothing. And then we worry about it the whole trip. A reinforced zipper bag can give us the extra confidence we need to stop worrying about our gear.

What you’ll need to make your duct tape zipper bag

To make a bag you’ll need:

  • A higher-quality plastic zipper bag — any size will work, but make sure it’s the type without a slider because they leak
  • Duct tape — stronger, thicker tape will give more protection
  • Painter’s tape (optional)
  • A flat, clean surface to work on — I like to use wax paper because the duct tape doesn’t stick to it
  • A good pair of scissors

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It will take about 15 minutes to make your first bag, and if you have a friend to help wrangle the duct tape it will go quicker. From there on, additional bags should only take about 5 minutes each.

I like to use transparent duct tape for my bags so I can see what’s inside. If you want to find your zipper bag more easily in your pack, you can use brightly colored tape. And if you want to easily distinguish between bags with different contents, duct tape now comes in a huge variety of colors and patterns.

How to build your duct tape zipper bag

  1. If you don’t have a stick-proof surface, tape down some wax (greaseproof) paper with the painter’s tape.

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  2. Use the scissors to cut off a piece of duct tape long enough to cross the width of the bag plus a little extra.
  3. Cutting is better than tearing, which can stretch the tape or make it fold back on itself.

  4. Starting a little below the bottom of the bag, carefully position the tape across the bag and smooth it down.
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  5. Continue to add pieces of tape all the way to the top, repositioning them as often as you need.
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  6. Peel the bag off the surface, and with the scissors cut the excess tape off every side leaving about 1/4 to 1/8th of an inch.

    This will reduce  the amount of sticking when you put tape on the other side.

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  7. Turn the bag over.
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  8. Add tape in the same way to the other side.
  9. Now that you’ve got some sticky duct tape facing up it won’t be as easy to reposition the new strips, so try to get it right the first time. Press the tape in the middle and smooth out towards the sides.

  10. Peel the bag off the surface again, cut the top of the bag off to allow access, and trim the other three sides leaving about 1/8th inch.
  11. Put your prized possession(s) in the bag, making sure that you don’t overfill it.
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  12. If you want to make sure the bag zipper doesn’t open and spill out the contents, or if you want to make the bag more waterproof, cut a length of painter’s tape and fold it over along the top edge of the bag.
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  13. The painter’s tape seals the bag well, but you can easily peel it off to get at your gear and re-seal it afterwards. I’ve tried using electrical tape for this job, but it leaves an unpleasant sticky residue.

If you truly need to waterproof an item of gear because it’s expensive, and you’re going to be wading through streams or out in heavy rain all day, and you’re risk averse, you may want to pop your reinforced zipper bag into a dry sack for added security. And if you think you need more cushioning, you can always duct tape on a layer of packing foam or bubble wrap.

Here’s a photo of some of the items that I keep in smaller duct tape zipper bags — a personal locator beacon, GPS receiver, and a lensatic compass.

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I’ve made duct tape zipper bags in sizes up to a gallon, but I find the smaller ones more useful.

We’d love it if you send us a photo of your duct tape zipper bag at urbanhikr@hush.nym.com and show us what you keep inside. We’ll gladly share it with the world!

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Category: Back in the City

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