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How to Use a Sewing Awl to Repair Outdoor Gear

I wear a pair of Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters in winter to keep snow out of my mountaineering boots and to provide some protection for my legs against self-inflected crampon strikes. I’ve owned a pair for going on 4 years and they are in rough shape, but rather than replace them, I decided to have a go at repairing them myself to save $70.

First Sewing Repair (Bottom Right)
First Sewing Repair (Bottom Right)

Crocodiles are tough high gaiters made out of Gore-tex and pack cloth with a thick velcro strip running down the middle of the boot. They also have a very tough, replaceable plastic strap that runs under your boot to keep them situated properly. My pair have a few duct tape covered holes from crampon strikes, but my big area of concern are the heavy cloth patches that attach the bottom strap to the gaiter. The stitching holding them in place has almost completely torn out and they need to be reattached to the pack cloth.

I imagine this happens to a lot of people who use this gaiter, which is certainly one of the most popular ones available for general mountaineering, so here’s how I did the self-repair.

First, I bought myself a Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl ($14.) This is a very sharp sewing needle that is tough enough to punch through heavy material. It locks into a handle containing a spool of waxed polyester thread, although other thread types and thicknesses can be used.

Speedy Stitcher
Speedy Stitcher

To use the awl, you thread the needle with about 6-8 inches of thread and push it slowly and carefully through both layers of cloth or material you want to sew together. Take care, the needle is very sharp and you want to avoid self-inflicted damage by pushing it through your finger or hand.

One through, you pull the thread through the fabric, pull the entire needle out and then push it back through again a little farther along the area you want to sew. To make your first lock stitch retract the needle slightly so that a loop of thread forms along side it (and running back down to the spool.) Pass the free end of the thread you pulled through earlier, through the loop and pull tight at both ends. Continue to do this for the length of the repair until the last hole. Pull 3 more inches of thread from the spool through it, cut the thread, tie it to the other end of the string using a square knot, and trim the excess thread.

Final Repair (Interior)
Final Repair (Interior)

The stitching gets much better with very little practice.

Final Repair (Exterior)
Final Repair (Exterior)

That’s all there is to it. I was able to teach this to myself and repair three boot strap patches in less than 90 minutes. This repair saved me at least $50 and I can think of lots of other repair and customization projects where I can use this awl in the future.

Who knows where this could lead?


  1. Thanks for this info. I assume that, while duller and without preexisting thread, the sewing awl on a Swiss Army knife works the same way? I really had no clue how to use these things and chocked it up to me just using a thimble and a carpet needle at home to sew the old fashioned way.

  2. Great post. I'll have to get me one of those and start some repairs!

  3. I've owned a swiss army knife since I was 8 years old and never realized that that tool was a sewing awl. Geez. It doesn''t have a hole in it for the thread, does it?

  4. Amazingly simple Mike – and I never have to rely on another member of my family – who will not be named – for sewing!

  5. A friend of mine used to carry one of these on trips (he was into preparedness). Amazingly, I needed it one time when a marmot chewed the straps off my pack!

    Since we are talking about gear repair, I'll mention that Barge Cement comes in handy for a lot of things. It's the stuff that cobblers use to glue soles on boots but it's good for fabric/leather/closed cell foam and a lot of other materials too.

  6. That's a pretty amazing story Jarra. I once repaired a torn out shoulder strap with a locking safety pin, but nothing as dramatic as a pack-eating marmot!

  7. ? used to chew through soles of my basketball shoes as a teenager from playing on cement court everyday. I would sit in front of a shoe repair guy every other month or so, watching him expertly wielding his awl and stitching on another pair of soles. One amazing thing I remember was how he lubricated the needle by rubbing the needle against his scalp, they all do that for some reason. I wonder if it is the same for shoe repair guys in the states, never been to one.

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