Backpacking and hiking gear has a nasty habit of failing when you least expect it or you need it the most – in the dark, when it’s pouring rain, or in the middle of nowhere. Knock on wood, I’ve never been stranded by gear failure, but it can be damn annoying. Here are some of the ways gear has failed on me and how I adapted in the moment, or by changing my gear list to prevent a similar incident from affecting me in the future.
Backpack Shoulder Strap Breaks
I was hiking a section of the Long Trail in Vermont when the shoulder strap of my backpack came unsewn at the bottom. I pinned it back on with the pair of locking baby pins I carry in my repair/first aid kit, hiked another 30 miles with it, and then sent it back to the manufacturer to have the strap resewn.
Water Filter Hose Tears
I used a First Need XL Water Filter when I hiked in the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine the first time. About 4 days into my trip, the pump pressure started drop intermittently as I was pumping water. I figured it was a hole in the intake hose, but I couldn’t find it by visual inspection. I started cutting off pieces of the hose to see if I could locate and remove the bad section. This worked, but it reduced the length of the intake hose by half.
Chlorine Dioxide Tablets Fail to Dissolve in Water
I got a batch of Katadyn Micropur Chlorine Dioxide Water Purification Tablets this summer that failed to dissolve when added to water. I use them to purify a big batch of water overnight while I’m asleep so I have water in the morning for breakfast and the first half of the day. I always carry two forms of water purification when I hike, so I simply filtered the undissolved tablets and unpurified water with my Sawyer filter, but it was annoying. I’ve since switched to liquid Aqua Mira drops instead of Micropur tablets.
Forgotten Wind Screen
I occasionally forget to bring a wind screen when cooking with an alcohol or liquid fuel stove. This is easy to fix by positioning the stove behind a wind break like a big rock or by surrounding the stove with an accordion-style closed cell foam pad, like the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite. You can also use a plastic ground sheet as a wind break – see Jim Woods Kite Screen article about how to do this.
Carbon Fiber Trekking Pole Shaft Snaps
I’ve broken a lot of carbon fiber hiking poles in my time. The solution – I don’t use them. If you rely on one to pitch your shelter and it snaps, use a broken tree branch instead.
Tent Stakes Bend in Frozen Ground
Have you ever tried to pound an ultralight aluminum tent stake into frozen ground? They bend and don’t go in. Your best bet is to use a freestanding shelter instead, and fill it without enough gear so that it doesn’t blow away on a windy day.
Hiking Pant’s Seat Splits
If you have a sewing kit you can sew them. I never carry one, so I just suck it up and keep wearing torn hiking pants as is until I get home. No one really cares if you look like a hobo on the trail.
Hydration Reservoir Cap Comes Undone
The cap of my platypus hydration reservoir worked loose when I was hiking the Long Trail, filling my backpack with about 2 liters of water. Luckily, I’d lined my pack with a trash compactor bag so none of my gear got wet, but that’s the last time I carried a reservoir full of water inside my backpack.
Headlamp Stops Working
Not much you can do about this if you only have one headlamp, which is why I carry two.
Hard Shell Zipper Breaks and Falls Off
The zipper on my hard shell broke last autumn – on a relatively new coat. Not much you can do about this in the field, especially if it’s raining cats and dogs outside except to wait for it to stop raining. The manufacturer replaced my hard shell when I returned it.
Canister Stove Piezo Stops Working
The Piezo lighters that come on canister stoves eventually break and stop working – it’s happened to me several times. I always carry a fire steel in my gear repair /first aid kit to ignite fuel or start a fire, so this is never a problem for me. That fire steel has saved my butt a few times, though.
Inflatable Air Mattress Leaks
If your inflatable mattress starts to leak, you can try to field repair it with duct tape or a patch kit if you happen to carry one, which I don’t. Another solution is to always carry a piece of closed cell foam with you like a Gossamer Gear sitlight pad, which will insulate your torso in a pinch. You can also lie on your backpack, clothing, or pile forest duff under you to insulate your core from the cold ground. I’ve done them all.
External Pack Frame Pin Breaks
Back in the day, external frame backpacks used to be connected to the body of the backpack using a metal pin. These would occasionally break, so I’d always carry a few extras by attaching them to the zipper pulls on my pack’s external pockets.
How about You?
What annoying gear failures have you experienced and what did you do to carry on?
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