I had a reader contact me recently asking about the products I use for gear repair and maintenance, which I do a lot of because I’m really rough on gear. But you’d be surprised at how inexpensive it is to fix or modify your hiking and backpacking gear using just a few commercial products and scrounging the other parts you need from old gear.
While I buy some of the gear repair and maintenance supplies I use, I cannibalize a lot of components from clothing or hiking gear that I wear out from overuse. I’ve got buckles, toggles, straps, and swatches of fabric from dead backpacks; more fabric, buckles, pole repair sleeves, stakes, tones of cordage, and noseeum netting from tents and shelters; hand straps, fittings, and used baskets from hiking poles that I’ve snapped or bent; mini-biners, mitten hooks, even the mesh stuff sacks that many manufacturers use to package new products. It’s worth harvesting and hanging onto these spare parts to replace ones that you break or to augment existing gear with.
I use several rolls of Tenacious Tape every year for repairing backpacking clothing and gear. Tenacious Tape is a sticky tape that can be used to patch rips and punctures of synthetic materials like rain jackets or rain pant shells, insulated jackets shells, sleeping bag and quilts, hiking pants, noseeum netting in tents and bivy sacks, ripped up backpacks and so on.
It’s best to cut a patch with rounded corners so the corners don’t catch and peel off. While Tenacious Tape will stay on for multiple washes afterwards, it’s still easy to peel off and doesn’t leave behind any sticky residue like duct tape. This is useful if you decided to send out your torn clothing for a professional repair, which is made harder if there’s a sticky residue left behind.
While you can buy Tenacious Tape in pre-cut patches, it’s best to buy it by the roll because it’s less expensive that way.
I also use cord locks to secure gear to the outside of backpacks like snowshoes or ice axes. Most good backpacks have extra fabric loops or daisy chains on their exterior for this purpose. I pass both ends of a non-elastic cord through a cord lock and knot it on the other side. The cord lock clamps down on the cord when you cinch the gear tight against the pack, creating a custom external attachment point for whatever you need it to do.
I collect most of the cord locks I own by cannibalizing them from dead backpacks, but you can also buy them in 2-packs as Gear-Aid Ellipse Toggles.
Mitten Hooks and Mini-Biners
Plastic mitten hooks are great for hanging noseeum netting or inner tents under tarps and can be left on the tarp between uses for this purpose. Mini-biners are also very useful for everything from attaching a underquilt insulation system to a hammock or clipping frequently used items to the outside of your pack, like a multi-tool or Inca pen. I prefer using mini-wire-gate carabiners for this purpose because I find them more durable, though any mini-biner will do.
If you use a Platypus hydration reservoir with a screw-on water filter, like the Sawyer Mini, it can be difficult to get a tight-fitting seal between the two. This is important because you want to avoid cross contaminating your filtered water with dirty water leaking from the reservoir and dripping into your water bottle where it can make you sick.
That’s why I wrap the threads of my hydration reservoirs with plumbers tape, a thin plastic tape, which helps create a very tight seal between the too. Plumbers use it to create a tight fit between pipes for just this reason. This technique works great and I’ve used it to prevent leaks between filters and other hydration components for years.
Spare Buckles and Webbing
I occasionally bust backpack buckles, either on the hip belt or on a webbing strap, so having spares can be real handy. Most backpack makers use the same buckles across all of the backpacks in their product lines, so if you own multiple packs from the same company, be sure to harvest the used buckles to replace ones you might break in the future.
I also collect webbing straps from old backpacks when they bite the dust because they can be used to add external attachment points to a pack or replace a sternum strap. No backpack is perfect for all conditions, but it can be bent to your will if you have extra buckles and webbing straps lying around to extend its capabilities.
Tri-glides are great for attaching pockets or accessories with a vertical webbing strap to vertical daisy chains on backpacks to form a strap-to-strap connection. Some examples include adding a camera or GPS pocket to the daisy chain on a shoulder strap or adding a crampon pocket between the daisy chains running down the sides of a pack, as shown below.
Spare Trekking Pole Baskets
I save and collect the small summer and winter baskets from busted or bent trekking and snowshoeing poles since I buy replacement poles from the same manufacturer whenever I bend or snap one. However, you can often mix and match baskets from multiple pole manufacturers since many pole tips and baskets are based on standard Leki pole sizes, making the parts interchangeable.
Line Locks are guy line tensioners commonly found on ultralight tents and tarps, but they’re so useful and intuitive that I like to add them to all of the tents, shelters, or tarps that I buy. While not expensive, but I mainly harvest mine from old backpacks and shelters that have bitten the dust.
Seam Sealer, Zipper Lube, Mirazyme, and Shoegoo
I use a variety of potions and lotions to waterproof tent seams. lubricate zippers, build preventive toes caps for boots and shoes, and deodorize clothing and gear that’s gotten funky smelling.
- Seam sealing: I use McNett’s Silnet cut with paint thinner to seal the seams of silnylon tents and tarps. I go through a few tubes of this every year. McNett’s Seam Grip is good for seam sealing and repairing tents with a PU coating, gluing patches onto sleeping pads, waterproofing boot or glove seams, and gluing together clothing seams that have come undone.
- Deodorizing and mildew removal: Mirazyme is an enzyme-based solution that you add to a big tank of water. I use it for deodorizing train runners and wet suits, and eliminating mildew on backpacks and shelters. I’ve been using it for over 10 years and a little goes a long way. Great stuff.
- Zipper lubrication: Zippers are probably the most fragile component of backpacks, tents, and outdoor clothing, but keeping them clean and lubricated can help prevent bad snags or fabric tears. I lubricate my zippers with McNett’s Zip-Tech, another product I’ve been using for years.
- Building toe caps and miscellaneous shoe repair: I use Gear-Aid Freesole or Shoe Goo to build protective toe caps for trail runners or boots, rebuild heels, repair fabric tears, and glue soles back onto shoes. Hiking shoes are expensive, but you can save money if you can extend their lifetime.
That’s a quick overview of the main products and components I use to repair and maintain most of my backpacking gear, including the cannibalized parts that I collect from old worn out tents, backpacks, and clothing. Backpacking and hiking gear is expensive to buy, so it can really pay to keep yours well maintained and to fix minor problems yourself.
What cool backpacking repair hacks have you come up with?
- How to repair hiking pants with Tenacious Tape
- How to repair mesh backpack pockets
- How to seam seal a tent or tarp
- How to fix a leaky hydration system with plumbers tape
- Annoying gear failures: how to prevent catastrophe
Disclosure: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) has received free samples of gear repair products from McNett and Gear-Aid but is under no obligation to review or endorse them. The views presented here are based on years of experience using these products in the manner described.