How to Dye a Ripstop Nylon Backpack

There has been a lot of discussion on backpacking forums and other hiking blogs about the subject of how to dye a (coated) ripstop nylon backpack or whether it can even be done. I love a detailed discussion as much as the next person, but there’s usually only one sure way to know whether or not something can be done and that’s by actually doing it.

If there’s one thing you know about me by now it is that I am not afraid to hack and modify my backpacking gear in order to make it serve or function better. There are times though when all you want to do is modify your gear for the cool factor – this is one of those modifications.

The Candidate

It just so happens that I have a lot of backpacks. One of those backpacks, my all-time favorite Gen1 Gossamer Gear Gorilla backpack, is of a suitably light color that would be perfect for a dyeing experiment. Even though I have other packs, my trusty Gorilla pack is still my favorite and I do not intend on ruining it in the name of experimentation. Hence, I will be somewhat cautious.

How to Dye a Nylon Ripstop Backpack

I’ve used Rit powdered dye successfully in the past for several other DIY projects. It’s cheap and readily available in a wide variety of colors. I’m using black to create a very stealthy looking Gorilla backpack. With an expectation that the coated ripstop nylon is going to be somewhat resilient to taking the dye, I’m going to use the whole packet in as small of a container as possible – that should provide me with an intense mixture to maximize coverage and absorption. In theory.

How to Dye a Nylon Ripstop Backpack

Stovetop Dyeing Instructions

There are many different techniques for dyeing materials using Rit dye, their website contains a wealth of information. I’m going to be using the the “stovetop” technique because it is said to deliver the best results when using black or other dark colors. I’m using a large stainless steel saucepan big enough to accommodate the Gorilla pack when scrunched up.

Before I get started I need to remove hip belt and cordage as neither of these need to be part of the dyeing process. I also need to remove the internal frame/stay so that the pack can be bundled up. I’m also going to turn the pack inside out – I don’t know why, it just felt like the right thing to do.

How to Dye a Nylon Ripstop Backpack

How to Dye a Nylon Ripstop Backpack

I filled the large saucepan three-quarters full and brought it to a simmer on my stove. The Rit dye instructions say to pre-dissolve the powdered dye in two cups of hot water and then add it to the dye bath. I decided to skip this steps and poured the whole packet into the large pot of warming water and stir while letting it come to a simmer.

How to Dye a Nylon Ripstop Backpack

The Point of No Return

Once the dye bath had come to a steady simmer and after a few extra minutes of stirring to ensure the powder was adequately dissolved, I carefully began submerging the Gorilla backpack. You have to be careful not to force the pack into the saucepan too quickly because the air inside the pack will not escape fast enough to avoid forcing the simmering black liquid dye up over the edges of the saucepan. I took my time and let the air escape and the dye absorb into the nylon fabric of the pack.

How to Dye a Nylon Ripstop Backpack

If you look carefully at the photograph above, you’ll se that despite the pack having already been submerged in the dye bath, it has hardly colored the nylon material at this early stage. The Rit stovetop instructions recommend simmering the material in the dye bath for 30 minutes, stirring constantly, up and down. Good things come to those that wait – patience.

How to Dye a Nylon Ripstop Backpack

Rinse and Repeat

After draining the saucepan and removing the Gorilla backpack I could finally see just how well the dye had worked on the ripstop nylon. I have to admit that I thought this wasn’t going to work at all. When I saw how resistant the nylon was to absorbing the dye bath when I first submerged it I thought this was going to turn out badly. It actually turned out extremely well and the darkness of the black is better than I had expected.

I rinsed the pack in cold water several times to remove as much of the excess dye as possible and until the water ran clear. Then I put it in my washing machine for another rinse cycle. Finally I put the pack in the dryer on a hot setting to “fix” the dye and dry out the damp backpack.

How to Dye a Nylon Ripstop Backpack

Stealthy Gorilla Backpack

Here are a few photos to show how well the custom dye job turned out. If you look carefully you will see that the parts of the Gorilla pack that were originally black, like the harness and mesh pockets, are a much darker shade of black than the light gray ripstop nylon sections. I don’t know if that’s because the lighter material didn’t dye as well or if the already dark/black pieces got even more black. Blackerer as my kids would say.

How to Dye a Nylon Ripstop Backpack

How to Dye a Nylon Ripstop Backpack

How to Dye a Nylon Ripstop Backpack

So there you have it. It is definitely possible to change the color of a ripstop nylon backpack using Rit dye. I have not tested the backpack to see if it has lost any of its ability to repel water. I suspect that it has, but that’s an easy fix and not all that important if you pack using a liner.

So what do you think? Would you dye your backpack just to change its color? Do you like the result or hate it? Be honest.

How to Dye a Backpack: Flickr Photoset

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  • http://woodtrekker.blogspot.com Ross

    Great post. Thanks for the info. I’ve been thinking about doing this to one of my packs.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Ross, you’re welcome. To be honest, this was so simple that it took twice as long to write the blog post explaining it than it did to actually do it. No rocket science here, just an easy weekend modification project.

      • ben

        So why make a convoluted post and waste all that time. Just have a twitter for this kinda “duh” stuff. But that’s most blog posts these days.

        • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

          Convoluted – ouch! The times in the past when I’ve kept things short and to the point, in what I thought would be fairly simple and intuitive steps I’ve been hit up for details that I thought would have been self-explanatory. So if I have the time I don’t mind expanding to be as clear as possible.

        • charles cunningham

          I just love it when someone takes the time to show and explain things only to be put down by a rude person. Good going Ben. BTW I am going to dye my pack and this is exactly what I was looking for.. Thanks Brian and don’t pay attention to the self appointed critics out there. They have nothing better to do.

  • Colin

    This is a pretty cool idea, but it seems like you’re mostly tinting the backpack a certain color. I’d be curious what the results would be if you applied something like Red… because then everything would be redder (including the orange highlights etc).

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Thanks, yes, probably. I don’t disagree and the main reason I used black was to avoid the color layering issue. Do you have a pack you can do a red Rit dye experiment on and share with us? I’m pretty sure we both know how it would turn out. It is what it is.

  • stickyc

    Great looking result. I’d be curious to know if it ‘bleeds’ when dealing with sweat or rain on a hike.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Ha! That was one of my concerns. I’ve worn this pack on a few occasions recently where it was both humid/hot (I sweated a lot) and where it rained. I’ll admit that I was more than a little worried that the dye would bleed out and onto my clothes, but it didn’t. I think the wash cycle and hot air drying fixed the color as intended. So far this new pack is awesome.

    • Jan “The Beekeeper”

      I met a gal hiking the PCT who’d dyed her GG Mariposa purple, it looked more like dark gray. She said it bled on her sweaty clothes. Your methodical method seems to have been more successful.

  • Erik Haaland

    Excellent result – but when it comes to colour of the pack, if nothing else of what I wear is, then I would have like to have my pack dyed in a colour that would be very visible, in case of emergency. Seeing as I backpack a lot on my own it is a safety precaution :-)

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I had thought about that too, and you raise an interesting point. I don’t want to go off on a tangent here, but there was recently some lengthy discussion going on about the brighter colored gear that we’re seeing more and more of. A lot of people didn’t like the vivid colors and wanted more muted tones. A few hard core LNT’rs even went so far as to suggest that brightly colored gear goes against the principles of LNT because it disturbs the visual beauty of the scenery – ridiculous nonsense.

      The pack I experimented with was already a light gray color and in my honest opinion would not have looked good if I were to have used a bright color (orange, red, blue, green) on it. And I didn’t want the hassle of bleaching the pack first…

      I happen to like the all black Gorilla backpack, but can completely see where you are coming from. I might even add a few strips of SOLAS tape to the pack to make it visible in low light and via headlamps.

      What color would you have used Erik?

      • Erik Haaland

        Each to his own of course. My day pack is red, my multiple day pack is blue. I do not have a rain cover but if I did it would be yellow. I would personally not use a pack that would blend in the elements. I am thinking of adding some coloured strips or something else on the pack to make it even more visible. I always try to have some clothing with coloured elements as well.

        When hiking alone far away in difficult to reach locations, as I do, safety is the first and foremost precaution for me. I would be a lot more visible for those looking for me if laying unconcious somewhere and unable to call for help on my own.

        Next natural step would be be to get a Spot or something similar I assume.

        I see another article in the future here – “Safety – what to do before, during and after a hike……”

        Guess all the oilfield training is kicking in :-)

        • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

          Oh I agree. If I’m hiking on my own for an extended period of time, I want to be easily spotted incase of an emergency situation. That doesn’t mean I have to carry or wear brightly colored gear, but it’s the easiest way to go about it. There are other clever options such as the MPIL (Marker Panel, Individual, Lightweight) from my good friends at ITS Tactical – however the MPIL this assumes you are able to deploy it in an emergency, that may not always be the case, but it’s an option.

          I have nothing against brightly colored gear personally and it does come down to personal preference and function. Personal GPS devices can be extremely useful too, but I have had terrible results with my SPOT II device and if you read the comments on my article about it you’ll see that I am not the only one. I cancelled my SPOT subscription and will be looking for an alternative.

        • alysdexia

          laying what?

  • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

    Diane, so far the dye has been extremely water and sweat resistant – more so that I have expected, much to my delight. I’m not at all worried about the fading, but appreciate your link and feedback on better quality dyeing solutions. As I said in the article, I used Rit dye because of it’s availability and cheap price. Were I to do this again in a more serious manner I might pay for more professional dyes.

    • Diane Pinkers

      Yeah, I figured the convenience was what led to the choice of the Rit dye, that’s why it gets used. I mostly made the comment about the prochem dyes in case someone else searched your blog. If it does fade, it likely will fade greenish, and might look cool.

      • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

        Funny you say green, I originally wanted to dye it dark green! So if it does fade that way (and I’m inclined to agree with you) I’ll be more than happy with it. Besides, there’s some thing to be said for a weathered and worn looking backpack :) Seriously, thanks for the heads up on ProChem – that’s going to be a handy resource for me and others.

        • Diane Pinkers

          Well, it could come out purplish or brownish! Black is not a single color dye, rather it is made up of multiple dyes, and how it fades depends on the main dye used for the base. My recollection of Rit is that it is green-based, but it has been a while! It will be a dull color, so no matter what it should fade, and could be overdyed again if necessary.

  • http://sectionhiker.com/ Philip Werner

    I love this – been wondering what to do with my pre-Dyneema Gossamer Gear packs. These would make cool holiday gifts (in purple).

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Black was a bit boring I’ll admit. If you do dye one of your older GG packs purple, be sure to share the before and after photos.

  • TaoKeo

    How did the gossamer gear logo escape the dye?

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Good question. I certainly didn’t cover it up or give it any special treatment. Must be the thread used for embroidering it – rit dye proof!

  • Ron

    Thanks for this post. I was just talking to my wife last night about dying one of my packs with RIT and wondering if it could be done. I’ll be using a red pack and dying it black.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Ron, you sound very much like me. Once you get an idea in your head you want to give it a shot. It should work fine, mine did. See if you can take before and after photos and if you do I’d love to share them on this blog post as an update (no pressure!)

      • Kenneth

        When does the rit turn from brown to black?

        • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

          I’m not exactly sure what you are asking Kenneth?

  • David from Alabama

    One experiment is worth a thousand expert opinions. Thanks for making the effort & risking your favorite pack so the rest of us know it can be done.

  • http://professorerrant.wordpress.com/ Professor Errant

    I cannot thank you enough for this; it was my guide to my new blue Gossamer Gear Mariposa.

    I made a few adjustments: I used two packages of the Royal Blue. Following the RIT directions, I added a tablespoon of detergent before simmering, and about a cup of vinegar once the pack was in the bath (which, according to the manufacturer, should help the color adhere to nylon). I only kept it in the dye bath for about 20 minutes, as it had already reached my desired color and I didn’t want it to get any darker. Fearing to damage the pack, I only ran it through a rinse cycle, then about four spin cycles, and dried it on super delicate setting for perhaps twenty minutes. That dried it most of the way; I let it air dry for the rest.

    It’s interesting that on mine, it did not affect the white crosshatch stitching. Since my dye job was just for aesthetic appeal, I don’t mind that, but it’s something to keep in mind for folks looking for a solid color.

    In any case, thanks again for going first. I’d never have tried it without seeing that it had worked for someone else.

  • Viscion

    I know Im a little late to the party on this one, but I have been mulling over trying this on my new, awesome, but awkwardly light blue GoLite Jam. Quick question… since I read through most of the comments and saw no mention of it. Does this work with the newer dyneema fabric like that in my pack. I love some of the new UL gear coming out lately, but these crazy colors?! Not a fan! I saw they had a black version last year, but I guess I missed the boat on that one too.

    • http://professorerrant.wordpress.com/ Professor Errant

      When I showed the above pack to the Gossamer Gear folks at the PCT kick-off this past weekend, they were kind of stunned that the pack took any color at all. When I asked about the white stitching that kept its color, the rep said that that was the dyneema which resisted the color. From that, I’d guess it would be pretty difficult–but Brian managed to get his to take the dye. I’m not certain how old his Gorilla was, here; perhaps they switched materials. (My Mariposa is a 2013.)

  • Shuhei

    Thanks for the post. It’s a great information. I would definitely try with my own GG Gorilla with blue. One concern is, my ner version Gorilla cannot remove pads inside shoulder strap. I wonder is the pas withstands the heat of “stovetop” processing. Have you ever tried the same simmering procedure with pads on?

  • Kissker

    Don’t know if it’s been mentioned but thought I’d put $0.02 in here. Using RIT before, and learning about dyes in general, it is my belief that your “black” was actually a “super dark navy blue” so when dyed the Gray – it turned out “lighter” than the black you were thinking. The black previously on the packs also got dyed “black” (dark navy blue in RIT’s black) but since they were black to begin with (or a darker color choice from whoever made them) they indeed did go “darker than black” or “Blackerer” as you were using.

    I noticed this when I swapped monitors and viewed your pictures, one of them is set to warm colors the other is normalized. It showed a “dark navy blue” color on the previously gray areas vs the “dark and black”.

    It’s not a bad thing, it means that with a “better quality dye” of black – you could indeed go as black as black gets. But RIT an other cheap dyes use a “darker blue” or even “darker green” to achieve a “black like result”

    This does however solve one of my problems. Yes.. .my stupid ACU camo military pack is dyable.. now… to get a stainless steel pot big enough for it.

  • jake

    yo if i want to do this but don’t have a pan big enough could i just do it in a mop bucket with boiling water or not???

  • Robert Kimball

    how would you tie dye ripstop? would it even be possible?

  • Angela

    Hi, can a bright yellow canvas bag be bleached to turn white/off-white? Or it must be dyed from light to dark colour? Please advise, thanks!!!

  • NewHampshire Bound

    You just made my buying decision harder. I was almost hoping this wouldn’t work. Now I have twice as many packs to choose from knowing I can dye all those crude distasteful colors. I wonder how well earth tones would take to bright yellow and orange? At least we know black works. Thanks.

  • Harry

    Thanks for the advice – good stuff – I dyed a bright orange camera bag following your instructions – It turned to a great shade of dark brown

  • Kimberly Bautista

    THANK U SO MUCH FOR THIS POST! I WAS ABLE TO CHANGE MY PURPLE CAMELBAK TO BLACK SO PERFECTLY IN LOVE WITH THE RESULTS.

  • Kimberly Bautista

    Love love love!

  • Shane Cutting

    # years later and I must ask, How has the pack held up? Did the dye fade? Did it bleed? What was your overall experience. Thanks for the helpful information!

  • alysdexia

    You got dark blue and dark yellow.