If you’ve spent any time backpacking, you’ve likely been the victim of gear that rips, wears out. or just malfunctions at the worst possible time. When gear fails on a day hike, it’s an inconvenience; on a through-hike, however, it can throw months of planning into the garbage, or worse, put your party in danger.
The good news: All it takes to laugh in the face of Murphy's Law is some basic supplies and a pinch of know-how. Follow these quick on-the-trail tips from industry experts to get you home even when your sole separates from the upper or your tent springs a leak during a thunderstorm.
Repair a Separated Sole
The situation: After spending a cozy night with your feet propped up by the campfire, you wake up in the morning to find the sole of your boot has separated from the upper. The nearest resoler is a long ways away. How do you continue your trek?
The fix: If you packed a tube of Shoe Goo and can spare a day, the sticky adhesive let you tack your shoe back together. Make sure the surface is dry and clean of all dirt before applying the glue to both the top of the sole and the bottom of the upper. Wait about five minutes before bringing the surfaces together. Push down so the boot sits flush with the sole, and wait 24 hours. Keep in mind low temperatures will increase cure time.
If the thought of sitting in camp all day induces cabin fever, forgo the goo—which also adds weight to your pack—for an extra pair of shoelaces. Peggy Battershill, owner of Rocky Mountain Resole, has seen shoes jury-rigged with laces and duct tape to keep the sole from falling off. It’s not a permanent fix, but should get you off the trail and into a shop.
Even boots just sitting in the closet will eventually delaminate, but there are a few ways to delay the inevitable. Keep the shoes away from hot places—don’t prop them up by the campfire or leave them in a hot car—and go for a test walk before hitting the trail.
Mend a Ripped Tent
The situation: As you unroll your tent for the night, you notice a long, jagged tear in the fly. Lighting flickers above a nearby peak, and you know you’ll need the waterproof shell during the night. How do you keep from getting soaked?
The fix: While duct tape might be the obvious choice, the powerful adhesive can leave behind a sticky residue that’s difficult to remove if you decide to have your tent professionally repaired.
The experts at Kelty recommend McNett’s Tenacious Tape for tears in the tent’s fly, body or screen. Clean and dry the rip, then lay a piece of the tape over it. The versatile, lightweight stuff can also mend gashes in sleeping bags and pads, backpacks, clothing, and vinyl rafts. The same company makes a seam grip, if you want to make more permanent repairs in the field.
How do you prevent these tears from happening in the first place? Stay away from the sun—which causes UV damage to fabric just like it does to your skin—and be wary of sharp objects.
“Just being careful to keep your tent away from low, sharp branches, abrasive rocks, and cacti is probably the easiest way to prevent tears,” says Phil Mesdag, Kelty tent product manager. “Campfires can also kick off embers that will burn holes in your tent, so it’s best to pitch far away from the fire ring.”
Fix a Collapsing Trekking Pole
The situation: Your twist-and-lock trekking poles keep slipping as you pick your way down a treacherous scree field. What do you do to keep the poles from collapsing?
The fix: Pull the poles apart and clean the screw threads with a section of fabric. Cleaning the lock mechanism and lubricating the threads with chapstick or bicycle grease might solve the problem, but if it doesn’t, scrape the exterior of the plug with sand or pebbles. Adding a little roughness can prevent unwanted slipping, Pacific Crest Trail Association Information Specialist Jack Haskel says.
If the main shaft of the trekking pole fails, splinting the pole with a sturdy stick and duct tape could work in a pinch, though it won’t always stand up to impact.
Mend a Gash in a Backpack
The situation: You set your pack down to get a bite to eat and rest your feet. When you pick it up again, you realize the sharp granite has torn a hole in a worn section of fabric. How do you mend the tear?
The fix: If you brought along needle and thread, this is no-brainer. If you forgot the thread, try dental floss: The multipurpose material will bind a torn backpack, sleeping bag or down jacket. Burning the edges of the tear before you stitch the sides together will prevent unwanted fraying.
“Needle and thread is about the most important thing a person can have with them,” Jason Boblitt, quality assurance associate at Osprey Packs, says. “Not only does it repair your pack, it repairs your clothes, your sleeping bag and your tent.”
Common sense goes a long way toward keeping your pack in hiking-condition. Don’t step on buckles, don’t back your car over the pack, and remove all food before bedding down for the night to keep rodents from chewing through the fabric. Keep it away from cacti and shrubs, and you should be set says Boblitt.
Worn shoulder straps bugging you? Try wrapping padding—the faux sheepskin found at gas stations across the country works well—around the straps to give yourself a little extra cushioning.
Make a Meal Without a Stove
The situation: You’re halfway through a four-day hiking trip when your stove malfunctions. You can’t get a flame and there’s a campfire ban in the wilderness where you’re trekking. How do you consume enough calories to get you home?
The fix: Chow down on high-calorie snacks like trail mix, peanut butter, bagels, and summer sausage to keep trekking. Powered electrolyte drink mixes also help — they’re small, lightweight, and chock full of calories.
Before you set out on a multi-day expedition—and especially one that will take you through areas where campfires are banned—it’s important to bring a variety of high-caloric food that doesn’t require cooking.
“People don’t want to be carrying more weight than necessary, but at the same time, should you have some sort of malfunction like that, there should be food available to eat as a meal that is not cooked,” NOLS Cooker Editor Claudia Pearson says.
Seal a Punctured Sleeping Pad
The situation: You’ve spent a few night on your inflatable sleeping pad, but when you wake up in the morning, all the air has seeped out. You stick a corner of the pad in a bucket of water and notice a small leak. How do you fix your trail bed?
The fix: For a small leak, the experts at Therm-a-Rest recommend using a glue such as SeamGrip or AquaSeal. Clean and dry the area around the tear before applying a dab large enough to completely cover the hole. Let dry for 24 hours. If you can’t wait a day and the mattress fabric is smooth, try a peel-and-stick bicycle tube patch.
Larger hole repairs might have to wait until you’re off the trail: Get an adhesive fabric patch, cut to slightly larger than the tear, cover the hole, and wait 24 hours for it to dry.
If water has gotten into the ripped mattress, roll it up starting from the end opposite the open valve. Repeat as many times as necessary to squeeze out the moisture, then hang the pad upside down with the valve open in a warm spot.