If you spend much time camping, hiking, hunting, and backpacking, at some point, you’re going to have gear breakdowns. Powerful winds might snap your tent pole, the zipper on your warmest puffy jacket stops pulling, the dog puts a claw through the tent’s mesh door, or a buckle on your pack snaps off. Knowing how to make necessary repairs to busted gear will make your outdoor adventures a lot more fun and comfortable.
Before heading into the wilderness, be prepared to mend broken gear by bringing a repair kit. While you can buy a prepackaged kit at most outdoor shops, it’s best to put together your kits—an ultralight kit for backpacking and a deluxe kit for car camping.
Before assembling your kit, make a list of everything that you typically bring backpacking or camping and what could go wrong with that gear. For the most part, a do-it-yourself wilderness repair kit should include:
Duct tape and/or Tenacious Tape
Pocket knife or multi-tool with pliers, scissors, and blades
Nylon or thin utility cord (50 feet) and a couple cord locks
Sewing kit with nylon thread, an assortment of needles, and safety pins
Dental floss or fishing line
Tent pole repair sleeve or ½-inch PVC pipe coupler
Side-squeeze one-inch buckles (2 pin and 1 pin), Slik clip, and ladder-lock buckle
Hip-strap buckle for packs
Cable zip ties
Nylon patches (6×6 inches) or specialty repair patches for tents and mesh
Seam sealer and Superglue
Zipper repair kit
O-rings for liquid fuel stove
Plastic zip-top bags
Now that you have your kit put together, here are a few of the more common gear problems you might come across and quick hacks to fix, mend, and repair gear in the field.
Duct tape is your number one tool to repair broken and torn gear in the field. The hacks for duct tape when you’re in the backcountry seem infinite—your fix-it imagination is the only thing that limits its uses. As the old saying goes: If you can’t fix it with duct tape, then you’re not using enough duct tape! If you’re car camping, toss a roll in the gearbox. If you’re backpacking or off in the woods, wrap 10 feet worth around a water bottle or trekking pole.
Tears and holes in fabric are the most common backcountry repair you’ll have to make. It’s easy to put a foot through a mesh screen in your tent, catch the sleeve of a raincoat or puffy jacket on a tree branch, or stab your inflatable sleeping pad on a sharp rock. The easy hack is to apply a strip of duct tape on the wound. If it’s a tent tear, put a patch on both sides of the fabric.
You can use duct tape to fix a broken tent pole or roll it into a long tube to take the place of rope. With that, you can use it as a missing guyline for a tent or a broken shoelace on your boot. Glow-in-the-dark duct tape can come in handy as well—wrap it around the tent guylines to keep from tripping over them at night. On the first-aid front, you can use duct tape to cover a cut or blister, attach a splint, and pull thorns and cacti spines out.
While duct tape works great for temporary repairs, Tenacious Tape from Gear Aid is an even better, long-lasting tape. It’s durable, machine-washable, and waterproof, and doesn’t leave a gooey, sticky residue behind. The tape comes in rolls, precut strips, and rectangular patches in a variety of shapes and sizes and different colors so you can match your fabric. The clear version with a non-gloss finish is almost invisible. Ultra-strong Tenacious Tape is a permanent solution to the rips, tears, and holes that happen to your outdoor gear. Peel and stick the tape for a permanent bond to any fabric and if it sets up for 24 hours, then it’s there for good. Round the edges with scissors from your multi-tool, so corners don’t catch and peel off.
Temperamental zippers are another common problem when you’re camping or backpacking. Zippers get stuck so you yank on them in frustration and the slider stops sliding, the teeth separate, or fabric jams the slider. Fabric snagged in the zipper teeth and slider cause most stuck zippers. Solve by holding the fabric tight against the zipper and carefully tugging with small movements. To help a stuck zipper move, rub the tip of a pencil on the teeth. The graphite helps to unlock and clear dust from stuck zipper teeth.
Other handy lubricants include soap, lip balm, and candle wax, but remember to clean these off the zipper when you get home because they collect dirt. If there aren’t fabric snags and the teeth are intact, then you have a slider problem which is easily solved by replacing the slider. If you planned ahead, you’ll have a zipper repair kit with an assortment of sliders in the repair kit, and a multi-tool with pliers and nippers to remove the zipper stop. After installing a new slider on the zipper, crimp a new stop at the zipper base.
Modern tents are designed to withstand strong winds and pounding rain, so a quality tent usually sustains little or no damage from the elements. The most common problems are broken tent poles and rips and holes from carelessness, falling branches, and nearby campfires. Sturdy poles can break in strong storms, so you need to repair them quickly to stay dry. Your best bet is to pack a repair sleeve, a larger diameter section of pole or PVC pipe, in the repair kit. Just slip it over the broken section and apply duct tape. Without a sleeve, an easy hack is to make a splint with a piece of wood and tape it on the pole.
Holes in tents are usually small so they’re an easy fix. For small tears, apply a seam sealer or Super Glue and press the fabric together. For larger holes, use or make a repair patch (often included with the tent) and glue or sew over the hole. Make sure to cut the patch so there is at least an inch of fabric around the tear and the corners are rounded. Use duct tape for a quick patch job.
Of course, no matter what you have with you, there will come a time when you’re missing that one thing you need. Guess what? That’s a part of camping. Part of the fun is in jury-rigging a fix that can get you home. If you invest in high-quality gear, these problems will be few and far between—but it’s still nice to know that you’re prepared should the need arise.
Written by Stewart Green for RootsRated in partnership with Catoma.
Featured image provided by Catoma