I know, everyone wants to talk about shelters, sleeping bags, backpacks. But what of the lowly repair kit, relegated to some back corner of your pack, forgotten until – that’s right – it saves your butt out in the middle of nowhere.
Skip the temptation, however, to pack a Binford Tools box.
What are we really repairing, after all, way out here in the backcountry?
Tarps, Clothes, Shoes, Socks, Packs, and Inflatables. At least for me.
- Tarps. Usually, a leaky seam or pinhole. Hardly critical, but extremely annoying.
- Clothes. Most often, my wind shirt or rain jacket: a blown seam or small rip from bushwhacking. Again, not critical, but annoying, especially in a rain shell. I’d do well by taking heavier wind gear that’s more durable, which I very well might do if I had to bushwhack in the desert or Australia.
- Shoes. Holes and blown stitching that let in dirt that cause foot anguish. Definitely a critical repair. Holes are more common that blown stitching.
- Socks. Holes from wear can border on the verge of disaster when they’re your only pair. Who wants to darn docks in the field? I have blown socks several times, and only take two pair, even on my longest unsupported walks. I alternate my hiking socks daily, and sleep in the other pair. So, if one does blow, I have a good pair left, but I know that’s a time bomb, which causes some distress. Sixteen months ago I switched to Darn Tough Trekking Full Cushion socks for 90% of my hiking (the only exceptions: hot weather, when I switch to their mid-height crew, which is thinner, and winter hiking, when I use specialized footwear such as VB fleece socks or ski boots). Since I switched, I haven’t had a blowout while on a hike. I have 700 miles on one pair of Trekking Full Cushions, and still no holes.
- Packs. My expedition packs are "more durable" (i.e., more durable than some of my "less durable" weekenders), so I rarely have to deal with rips, even when bushwhacking. Punctures are common, but can usually be ignored. Harness seams are the critical repair I worry about.
- Inflatables. I can’t speak to doll repair, but I’ve repaired inflatable sleeping pads and packrafts in the field many, many, many (!) times. You’d think I’d learn my lesson with pads, and I have, so my inflatable pad only goes with me on short trips. Otherwise, it’s closed cell foam. Packrafting is an invitation for getting beat up, especially if the water is a little whiter than greener. I’ve torn floors on both of the packrafts that I currently use (a Curtis and an Alpacka) by scraping over snags, and my tubes have developed punctures on a few trips (usually from snags), but I’ve only ripped a tube once – floating a river in the Yellowstone Ecosystem with a very sharp bottom of volcanic rock). It was a bad scene.
OK, so on to my repair kit. It’s 0.7 ounces and contains four items:
- Patch it with DUCT TAPE. *Yawn* – I know – but it works. I use the cloth kind. This is my patch, for clothes, tarps, packbags, shoes, rafts, pads, you name it. Any major holes or rips always – always – get a patch. But don’t stop there –
- Glue it with ADHESIVE. That’s right, glue the tape to the gear with a strong, fast-curing, urethane-based adhesive. That way, the patch won’t come off – ever! I use a mixture that can be stored in a teeny foil tube dispenser and is ready to go. All sorts of brands available, get it at industrial supply houses, then test. It should cure within 30 minutes. You don’t want to wait for repairs when you’re on the go. The one I use is awfully toxic and non-eco-friendly (toluene, urethane, diisocyanate, etc. etc.). But there are no green options, yet. The adhesive glues the patches, strengthens seams, seals pinholes and small punctures on its own, and is the most important piece of repair kit you can carry for any kind of inflatable.
- Sew it with a NEEDLE and THREAD. The only critical repairs that require needle and thread are pack harnesses and shoes. So, make it stout. I use a thick but sharp tapestry needle with a huge hole that accomodates my thread – no dental floss here – I go for the waxed poly used by leathercrafters.
There you have it. Four items that can be used to repair virtually any type of soft goods you have. As for broken buckles, stoves, lights, compasses, etc., that can’t be repaired with tape, adhesive, needle, and thread, well, my advice is that you choose your gear wisely!