How to Dye a Backpack Step by Step

https://www.survivalsullivan.com/how-to-dye-a-backpack/

Whatever kind of backpack you have, a bright primary colorway is not necessarily a bad thing.

It is actually a good thing if you want to increase the chances that you are spotted from the air or from a great distance while in a natural setting, and it also helps you blend in among suburban and urban areas where more aggressive-looking military-style packs could potentially draw attention to you.

Unfortunately, if a time comes where you need to be discreet and hide yourself and your gear either in a fixed position or on the move the same bright color that serves well in a different situation and a different environment can now become a liability.

I don’t need to tell you that you want to get rid of that bright color immediately by any means necessary. You can use paint, you can use a camo cover or even smear the pack with mud and dirt, but none of these options will really stand up to the test of time and use.

But there is one method that will, and that is dye. Doing a homemade dye job on your favorite backpack is easier than you might be thinking and is a great trick to quickly and permanently tone down the bright, light colors of a more traditionally styled backpack or rucksack.

In this article, I will tell you all about it and give you a guide to ensure your success.

Advantages of Dye over Other Color Alteration Methods

While it is entirely possible and acceptable to dye your backpack just because you are bored with the color it has had for years, that is not specifically what I’m getting into today.

Generally speaking, if you are dyeing a pack to increase its camouflage factor, you’re going to want to go with a darker color, or at least a medium dark color that serves as a basis for additional camouflage efforts.

If you’re trying to go from blue to bright red or some other color or pattern that is decorative and not functional in nature, this is not the process for you.

It does not take much imagination to think of a scenario we’re staying hidden versus being visible is now priority. We’re avoiding the attention of any strangers or potential bad guys who want what you have, and that is critical to ensuring your continued survival, health and happiness.

Being hidden and staying camouflaged means minimizing all potential giveaways that could betray your presence, and that includes your gear: anything that is brightly colored or shiny is disproportionately likely to attract the human eye and that will lead to discovery.

Camouflage wraps certainly work well enough, but they are not particularly durable and are vulnerable to being snagged and peeling away in addition to making your pack harder to get into.

You can paint your backpack using a brush or rattle-can it with spray paint and this will hold up for a while but it too is vulnerable to being worn away by the elements and from simple carry and use, degrading its concealment.

Compared to these two other popular options, dye will not wear off or at least it will not wear off in any kind of hurry since it permeates and penetrates the fabric deeply, all the way through.

As your dyed backpack does start to wear it will develop natural-looking areas of shade that will lend contrast to the color, and increase its ability to blend into the environment around it.

For a minor increase in overall effort and preparation, you can give your backpack a new color that will last easily through all the rigors you will subject it to.

Before You Begin, Assess

Dyeing your backpack is not particularly difficult, but is also not as easy as pulling your BOB out of the closet and dunking it into a kiddie pool full of green ink. If only!

There are a few pertinent factors about your pack’s construction and its condition that you will need to ascertain before embarking on the dye job. I will talk about them just below.

Cleanliness for Good Dyeing

No matter what kind of backpack you have and no matter what color it is, it needs to be clean before you attempt to dye it a new color.

Backpacks that are embedded with dirt, grimy, moldy or mildew will not dye as well as ones that are clean, and in the case of a very grubby pack, this aspect can severely disrupt the end result by repelling the dye from the fibers.

Ensure that you give your pack a good wash with a mild detergent or soap according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and rinse it well before you go to dye it.

Manage Color Expectations

Your backpack’s existing color will play a major role in determining the end result of your dye job.

As a rule, only the lightest colored backpacks- white, off-white, light tan- will accept a new dye color with near 100% accuracy to the label of the dye. Any other color will produce a shade or other variation dependent on the combination of those two colors.

Lighter colors will always work better, and darker colors will rarely turn into another color, instead producing a tinted variation of the existing color or just turning darker all together.

Again, if you are dyeing your backpack out of boredom or for a hobby and want to achieve a very specific color, I cannot help you.

As a prepper who is dyeing for a purpose, we are generally just trying to make the pack dark enough so it is less noticeable in our anticipated environment, or dye it a shade that is suitable as the basis for region-specific camouflage.

Nothing more, nothing less. I trust that most of you will not be too awfully upset if your green is a little bit off one way or the other, or if that nice, mustard tan color you picked out is a little splotchy.

Material Determines Dye Process

Not all backpacks are created equal and not all dyes, either. Before you get started you must be sure of what material your backpack is constructed of.

This can change the formula that you use to dye it, and even dictate a different kind of dye than what is typically sitting on the shelf.

Some manufacturers of dye though do make products that work more or less well enough for every kind of fabric, but as always your mileage may vary.

As a general rule, backpacks that are made from natural fibers like cotton, linen and canvas can make use of over-the-counter all-purpose fabric dyes. Synthetic fibers, on the other hand, will need to use specially formulated dyes suitable for high-temperature dyeing of man-made materials.

If your backpack is made from a blend of natural and synthetic fibers, as a coarse rule of thumb you want to use synthetic dye for any backpack that has 35% synthetic material or more in it. If it has less than that, stick with the all-natural dye. Not much to it!

Sun Fade and Bleach

Fibers, be they natural or synthetic, that have been damaged by bleach or spent a ton of time in the sun and lost their color seem to develop a resistance toward being dyed.

If you have an old backpack that has served several tours of duty and a lot of harsh, direct sunlight, don’t be surprised to find out if your dye job either goes on splotchy or doesn’t go on very well at all.

Same thing happens if you have for some reason had a mishap with bleach and your backpack. That dyed, contrary to what you might think, will not fill in those bleach spots, not at all.

After you have taken care of all of the above you are ready to mix up your dye.

Dyeing Your Backpack – Natural Fibers and Natural Fiber Blends

You don’t need any specialized backpack dye when you want to change or darken your backpack’s color. Any off the shelf fabric dye suitable for use on natural fibers will more than suffice. I use Rit, since it is cheap, I can get it anywhere, and it also has a lot of colors on the shelf most times.

Do note that if your backpack is synthetic fiber or is a majority synthetic fiber blend, you need to seek out the appropriate formula of dye for that kind of fabric or get a truly all-purpose fabric dye that can handle it.

***This first set of steps covers natural fiber backpacks and natural fiber blends only! See the next set of steps if you have a synthetic fiber backpack, or one made from a synthetic blend. ***

Step 1) Determine Ratio

Before you do anything else you’ll need to figure out how much dye you need to use. Generally speaking, you will need a single small bottle of dye or two small packets of powder or gel for every two pounds that your dry backpack weighs.

This is important if you want a controllable, consistent result so use a good scale and get an accurate measurement. But when in doubt always check the manufacturer’s instructions before you commit.

Step 2) Locate Container

To pull this off successfully with the minimum of aggravation you’re going to need an extra large plastic or stainless steel container that can hold your backpack.

Make sure it is large enough that your backpack, unzipped, unbuckled, and otherwise expanded as much as possible can float freely in the dye solution.

Also note that most stainless steel containers will not be stained or otherwise affected by your dye, but the majority of plastic ones likely will be. Choose accordingly.

Step 3) Make Ready

It goes without saying that any dye products will stain pretty much everything they come into contact with, and if you are performing this operation in an area that you need to keep clean you need to go all in on laying down some heavy plastic and drop cloths to mitigate any spills.

Also, make sure you are not wearing any clothing that you cannot stand to lose while you are dyeing a backpack.

Step 4) Safety Gear

While most dyes are not particularly dangerous, you definitely don’t want it to stain your skin and you will be working with some pretty hot water throughout this operation.

Heavy-duty rubber gloves that come up nearly to your elbows along with a heavy canvas or rubber apron is a good idea.

Step 5) Water

The water you use must be hot, around 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Add 3 gallons of water for every pound that your backpack weighs, or at least until the backpack is covered.

Step 6) Additive: Salt

Adding salt to your solution is optional, but it does serve as a color enhancer when you are dyeing natural fabrics or majority natural fabric blends.

You don’t have to seek out any specialized sodium for this application; common table salt will work. Add approximately 16 tablespoons.

Step 7) Additive: Dish Soap

The same as with the salt above, adding common dish soap is strictly optional, but it does help to ensure that the color is taken up evenly by the backpack after you mix in your dye. No matter how much water and dye you are using, a single teaspoon is all that is required.

Step 8) Agitate

Swirl, stir or otherwise agitate your water with the salt and dish soap, if using, until everything is well blended. Move swiftly, since the cooler your water gets the poorer your results will be.

Step 9) Mix Dye

Liquid dye will need to be shaken vigorously in order to combine the pigments with the binder before adding it to your water solution.

If you are using a powder or a gel dye, make sure you follow the package instructions since they will typically tell you to mix them separately and their own water before adding them to the main container.

Step 10) Agitate

Once again, stir everything together until you are sure it is perfectly blended. If you use powder or gel dye, make sure there are no clumps floating around.

Step 11) Prep and Dunk Backpack

Before you toss your backpack into the dye bath, unbuckle every buckle, undo every strap and unzip every zipper. You want it to float around as freely and loosely as possible to ensure complete coloration.

Also, make sure you separately soak your pack with clean water before you add it to the dye bath. This will help ensure more even absorption of color.

Step 12) Stir, Stir, Stir

Now comes the boring part. You need to stir your pack constantly and slowly for a minimum of 10 minutes to ensure it gets complete coverage from the dye.

You might have to do this as long as an hour, although most packs are completely colored within 30 minutes. Using your gloved hand or a tool, lift the pack out gingerly and periodically to see how the color looks. Keep in mind that a wet backpack will look darker than a dry one.

Step 13) Remove and Wring Backpack

Once you think you have your color about where it needs to be, it’s time to carefully remove the backpack from your dye bath and then wring it out as good as you can. It goes without saying that this will be extremely messy.

Step 14) Dunk Backpack in Color Fixer (Optional)

If you really want to give your backpack the royal treatment, have a separate container of color fixer mixed up nearby according to the package directions.

After you remove your backpack from the dye, wash and wring it out, then put it straight into the color fixer to help stave off bleeding of color and pigment loss.

Step 15) Rinse and Wash

With everything else done, now all that is left to do is rinse your backpack with cool water until the rinse water goes clear.

The final step is just to wash your backpack according to the manufacturer’s instructions with a soap or mild detergent appropriate to its fabric. That’s it, you are all done! Enjoy your newly colored backpack!

Dyeing Your Backpack – Synthetic Fibers and Synthetic Fiber Blends

The set of instructions you see below is for a backpack that is made with synthetic fibers or a majority synthetic fiber. Make sure you get a dye that is specific for these types of man-made fibers, or one that is truly universal.

Step 1) Determine Ratio

Before you break out the rubber gloves you’ll need to weigh your pack. The weight of the pack determines how much dye you will need to do a good job.

In general, one small bottle of synthetic-specific dye will be needed for every 2 lb that your pack weighs. A pure polyester pack will need more dye than normal.

Step #2) Locate Container

This is the part where things get more challenging compared to all natural fiber backpacks. You will have to apply intense heat to your vessel in order to bring the water to a near boiling temperature for the duration of the procedure.

That means you’ll need some type of burner apparatus to maintain this temperature. It is unlikely that you will be able to fit something like this on your stovetop, and carry this off without making a gargantuan mess.

For that reason, I recommend you do this outside with a large steel that either on your grill or on a utility propane burner. Ensure that whatever container you choose can stand up to this level of heat.

Step 3) Make Ready

Once again you must take the time to protect your work area from spills this time with the added challenge that you will be working with open flame or a screaming hot heater element. Ensure all precautions are followed so that you and your drop cloths do not catch fire.

Also remember that you’ll be working with water near boiling temperature, so the environment around your work area will need to be specially protected in case of a spill.

Step 4) Safety Gear

In addition to working with dye again you are now dealing with water near boiling point. Don’t screw around here! Wear heavy-duty, insulated rubber gloves, a sturdy apron and closed-toe shoes at the minimum.

Step 5) Water

The water you use must be near-boiling this time, around 200 degrees Fahrenheit (90 Celsius). Add 3 gallons of water for every pound that your backpack weighs, or at least until the backpack is covered.

Step 6) Additive: Vinegar

Adding vinegar to your solution is optional, but it does serve as a color enhancer when you are trying to dye synthetic fabrics or majority synthetic fabric blends. Add approximately 6 ½ ounces of common vinegar to your water.

Step 7) Additive: Dish Soap

The same as with the vinegar above, adding common dish soap is strictly optional but it does help to ensure that the color is taken up evenly by the backpack after you mix in your dye. No matter how much water and dye you are using, a single teaspoon is all that is required.

Step 8) Agitate

Swirl, stir or otherwise agitate your water with the vinegar and dish soap, if using, until everything is well blended. Be cautious, and don’t splash it.

Step 9.) Mix Dye

Any synthetic specific dye must be extremely well shaken before you add it to the boiling water.

Step 10) Agitate

Once again stir everything together until you are sure it is perfectly blended.

Step 11) Prep and Dunk Backpack

Before you toss your backpack into the dye bath, unbuckle every buckle undo every strap and unzip every zipper. You want it to float around as freely and loosely as possible to ensure complete coloration.

Also, make sure you separately soak your pack with clean water before you add it to the dye bath. This will help ensure more even absorption of color.

Step 12.) Stir, Stir, Stir

Luckily you will not need to stir a synthetic backpack nearly as long as one made from natural fibers. About 10 minutes should do it, although full color penetration to the desired tone could take anywhere up to half an hour.

Generally speaking, though, you only need thirty minutes or a little longer if your backpack has a high polyester content, which makes it notoriously tough to dye.

Any nylon majority blend will take on color very rapidly. Don’t forget to periodically pull out the backpack with tongs and check it while you are stirring.

Step 13) Remove and Wring Backpack

Using extreme caution on account of the hot water, once you have attained the desired color remove the backpack and cautiously wring it out as well as you can.

Step 14) Dunk Backpack in Color Fixer (Optional)

After you remove your backpack from the dye wash and wring it out, put it straight into the color fixer to help stave off bleeding of color and pigment loss.

Make sure any water you use to mix up your color fixer is very warm so you do not damage your backpack and its hardware via temperature shock.

Step #15. Rinse and Wash

With everything else done now all that is left to do is rinse your backpack with warm water until the rinse water goes clear.

Then you will turn down the temperature of the water to room temperature before rinsing it again until the rinse is once more clear. Lastly, turn down the water to cool and give it one more rinse until clear. Again, this is in the interest of preventing temperature shock of your fabrics and hardware.

The final step is just to wash your backpack according to the manufacturer’s instructions with a soap or mild detergent appropriate to its fabric.

Conclusion

If you ever decide to dye a light-colored backpack in order to darken it down and make it more discreet, or to get it ready for proper camouflage, you can easily take care of this yourself with just a little bit of prep, and a few basic materials.

Using the guides we’ve provided above, you can ensure that your first dye job will at least be passable and suitable to the task. Make sure to read over the included instructions thoroughly before you begin, and you shouldn’t have any difficulty.

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