Trail tips for broken gear: fix-its and cautionary tales
Spend enough time adventuring far from civilization, and you’ll eventually see it all: your backpacking tent will collapse in a windstorm in the middle of the night, your only sun hat will blow away during a weeklong sea-kayaking trip, you’ll lose a contact lens on a river trip, or the front zipper of your rain shell will bust during a chilly downpour. (Tragically, yet not without comedy, all of these things have happened to this article author.)
Before setting out for any adventure, large or small, it’s really important to ask what could ruin your day … or your trip … or your safety. Some snafus are a mere annoyance or fodder for a funny story later, but some are downright life-threatening. If your camp stove craps out on a glacier trip in which you were relying on melting snow for drinking water … it’s not just a bummer—it’s an emergency.
Consider everything that could go wrong, then consider fixes.
When you plan any trip (or even a daylong adventure), think through what you’re really depending on for survival—and for comfort. For survival, remember you need food, water, shelter, warmth, and a way to get back to the trailhead (like trail shoes, raft, bike, etc.).
These requirements might translate to needing a functioning cookstove to prepare your food, a filtration pump for your water, a puffy jacket and sleeping bag for cold nights, a tent, and more. Think about anything that could render those items unusable: a worn-out O-ring in your stove, a snapped tent pole, a clogged water filter.
Also consider malfunctions that would not spell certain doom, but would still be damn uncomfortable. For instance, if your sleeping pad is leaking air, you’ll experience a string of sleepless nights—not the best way to enjoy a fifty-miler.
With a little thinking ahead about what could go wrong, you can then compile repair supplies that would save the day and pack accordingly.
Stock up on the multipurpose items that might come in handy.
The internet is full of fixes … research them from the comfort of home well ahead of your trip and stock up on the little things that make a huge difference.
Depending on the planned adventure (and possible calamities), we keep the following stockpiled in our gear rooms:
Paracord: Can fix or replace any number of things, like a backpack waist belt or sternum strap. It can even hold your tent up if you string its corners to nearby trees, which saves the day if tent poles are broken.
Multi-tool: Get a robust multi-tool with lots of tools—pliers, scissors, knife, screwdriver heads, etc. It’ll save the day frequently. (Note, read online how to repair a busted zipper with pliers … you’ll be glad you knew, and glad you had the multi-tool with you.)
Voile straps: These notched rubber straps come in a variety of lengths and will hold pretty much anything together. We’ve used them to hold ski boots to bindings when backcountry touring bindings were broken miles from the trailhead. They have infinite additional applications.
Safety pins: Not only can they hold fabric together, but they come in handy cleaning and repairing cookstoves.
Zip ties: These can replace broken zipper pulls, broken buckles, and more.
Stormproof matches: Lighters and stove starter buttons can easily fail you. (For some reason, lighters get really finicky at altitude.) Always bring stormproof matches so you can start a fire or light your stove.
Water purification tablets: Life is good until your water filter gets jammed and won’t produce any clean drinking water. Always stash enough water purification tablets in your pack to get you through the trip if your filter dies.
Duct tape: Don’t leave home without it—and certainly don’t leave a trailhead without it. We get the ultra-durable Gorilla Tape brand that will do anything from holding torn tents together to holding peeled-off soles on your shoes for miles.
Superglue: A tiny tube of superglue will be your best friend if your eyeglasses or sunglasses get broken. You can even hold together small tears in fabric or torn shoes or sandals.
Think through any unpleasantries that may transpire on your adventure and take pride in packing thoughtfully. Also keep in mind what might not “break” but could easily get lost or malfunction. (For example, what if last summer’s tube of sunscreen dried up and you don’t find out till you’ve just started down your multi-day river trip? What if your bug-spray bottle leaked over the summer and is now but a hollow shell of its former self?)
Bolster your “Oh Sh!t Kit” with fix-it items and spare items that may come in handy, then set out into the wild yonder knowing you’re ready.
Now, you can replace “Oh no!” with “I got this.”
Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.
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