I'm not that great at compartmentalizing
June 15, 2017 1:43 AM   Subscribe

How do I compartmentalize my backpack?

I have an old military backpack. It doesn't have compartments. Is there a way to add compartments myself? I have found purse dividers but unfortunately I don't think they'll work with a backpack. Is there a way to add compartments myself? Thanks!
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Would using several different-sized and shaped pouches or cases work for you?

I have pouches in different sizes and materials, each holding its own category of 'thing' - a mesh zippered pencil case holding pens and other writing implements, a small squarish LeSportsac pouch holding a mirror and minimum makeup touch up needs, a see-through vinyl zippered pouch holding things like iPhone charger and cables, etc. For me, it makes it convenient to switch bags or purses, as I just have to transfer the appropriate containers, and when I'm traveling, it helps me to keep my stuff organized and avoid losing items, as it provides me with a visual organization and inventory system.
posted by needled at 3:06 AM on June 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

There are a few different ways to go about this depending on budget, your own craftiness, what the backpack is made of, and what you actually want to store in your backpack.

Probably the easiest way to get partially there is to go shopping for a variety of smaller bags and pouches that you can keep in the backpack, though that doesn't have the "reach in and grab whatever you need" quality of something like a purse organizer. If you're thorough you can find ones made of different materials so the textures feel different when you reach in and you can find your stuff like that. The best places to find reasonably priced small bags are cosmetic accessory aisles in places like Target and drug stores and dollar stores. Lots of small zippered pouches, ones with semi-sturdy bases sometimes called "train cases", larger flat organizers with many pockets that roll up and velcro closed, dopp kits and shaving kit bags. Often you'll find them heavily discounted at the end of a given fashion season, since new patterns and colors come out for them seasonally. But what do you care if the pouch you keep your hair clips in is sooooo winter2016? They also often come "free with purchase" on luxury items like perfume and cosmetics and you can find them dirt cheap on ebay.

If you have a budget, there are many products made for travelers. This one has good reviews, but I feel like that's not what you're wanting to use your backpack for. If you have a lot of little gadgets and cords you want to carry around, you could get a couple Grid-It organizers. They have added ton of options since I bought mine a few years ago. I like mine a lot but as I've slimmed down on the devices I've used mine a lot less since I'm already set for cosmetics cases and the like.

If this were my backpack and I wanted to get crafty, I would first make a cardboard mockup of the interior of the backpack, to get the measurements right. Then I'd look for canvas fabric that my sewing machine could handle. First I'd cut pieces to fit one or more sides of the cardboard mockup (with seam allowance), two per side. Then on one of those sides I'd work out what kind of pockets I want. Simple pockets without any zippers or buttons are pretty easy, you can find lots of free patterns for many different kinds of pockets and organizers all over. Or if I want dividers that's more pieces of canvas the size of the side parallel to the dividers. Sew everything on, then turn inside out, sew the back pieces and leave the bottoms open. Turn right side out. Slide in the cardboard, or other thin sturdy material you've got cut to fit, sew up the bottoms. Bam, custom backpack organizer. If you've never done something like this before you should make some practice ones first out of cheap scrap fabric.

If your packack is made of canvas or something else you can easily sew onto, forgo the cardboard in the end (but use it to make the mockup) and sew everything directly to the inside of the bag. You'll have to hand sew the larger pieces, or you could try using fabric glue, and you probably will want to use some interfacing to stiffen the pockets and provide support. If this all sounds complicated, it is, and that's why there are so many products out there for not DIYing it, but ultimately it's pretty simple, just a bunch of little things that add up.
posted by Mizu at 3:07 AM on June 15, 2017

I use a combination of different sized pouches between my backpacks and totebags. Some are squishy and small so I can shove them into corners of the bag, some are hard structured containers so they force a certain structure in a bag and act as natural dividers, as well as protect the fragile/bendy things inside. You can get very cheap laminated zipped containers at a stationary or dollar shop and use ziplock bags to experiment with how you prefer to sort your things before you invest in well-made tough containers.

If you just want one big divider, you can get a decent piece of canvas or oilcloth and then turn your bag inside out, pin it into place, and stitch it in. You can handsew that fairly easily, and add patch pockets on both sides. I wouldn't worry about fraying by using some co-ordinating binding and running stitching or fabric-gluing it over the edges for neatness and reinforcement.

If you're worried about measuring, use a piece of newspaper and cut an overlarge pattern piece first and slowly trim it down until it's the right size to fit, then add the hem (1-2") and cut it out.

Mizu is right - a sewing DIY friend could do this for you easily, or even a neighbourhood repair tailor if you love the bag so trade or pay for it if you want a sewn job but don't sew.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:10 AM on June 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Tom Binh offers the Freudian Slip to add organization to a "plain old" backpack.
posted by megatherium at 4:55 AM on June 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've used Eagle Creek cubes of various sizes for this use case in the past, and it's worked well for me.
posted by uberchet at 6:48 AM on June 15, 2017

The Wirecutter has some ideas on travel accessories which might help with your organization. I've been happy with my cords in a BUBM cable organizer
posted by blob at 6:49 AM on June 15, 2017

Wow, many great suggestions... I almost have choice overwhelm! Thanks so much!
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 7:01 AM on June 15, 2017

If you're looking to add structure to the bag, you might look up a "backpack camera insert" or something along those lines - they'll fill out the backpack and give you a bunch of separate slots.
posted by sagc at 1:43 PM on June 15, 2017

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