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Pre-adventure gear inspection: 

An approach, a few fixes, and one sad boot story

I was proud of my old-school, broken-in mountaineering boots and proudly packed them to the French Alps for some alpine adventuring. Enduring a few teases from my companions about the age of my boots, I staunchly defended my choice of well-worn gear rather than the latest and greatest ultralight mountaineering footwear. New is good, I argued, but comfy is far more important. And I deeply value the sustainability of getting every last bit of use from gear before replacing it.

I made this argument until, five pitches off the ground, I stepped onto my next foothold and watched in horror as the rubber sole peeled right off my boot. The sole tumbled down to the nearest ledge, leaving me with one usable boot, one useless boot, and a belayer cackling at the irony of my misfortune.

It was then that I learned UnNew is great—as long as the item has been inspected for safety and usability. Clearly, my boots should have been retired or repurposed by then, or perhaps refurbished by a good cobbler.

I survived thanks to duct tape and heavily downgraded climbing expectations, but it was a lesson well learned: any mission-critical gear should be inspected before use—especially before a big trip. 

“How to inspect” starts with “what to inspect”

Turn it into an interesting thought experiment before your next adventure: What pieces of gear are utterly crucial to have working flawlessly? (Such as, say, a climbing rope.) What would mess up your day? (Such as a broken tent pole in a windstorm.) What would just be annoying or uncomfortable? (Like a broken waist belt buckle on your backpack.)

A few things that are mission-critical for safety include:

  • Climbing ropes

  • Bike brakes

  • Harnesses

  • Climbing hardware like trad gear, carabiners, and draws

  • Ski bindings

  • Complete first aid kit

Of course, that’s not a comprehensive list, but it gives you an idea. Think about what your immediate safety really hinges on. Inspect your bike brakes and tires before going full send. Take a good, long look at your ski bindings (and maybe have a trusted shop test them) before skiing a no-fall line or shredding at mach ten in the resort. Examine the webbing on your draws before a big climb to ensure nothing is frayed or compromised. Sometimes it’s not the high-speed, high-drama gear failures that get ya: if your rain coat has lost its waterproofing, a long hike can turn into a brush with hypothermia if nasty weather rolls in.

Things that could be a trip-ender include:

  • Broken tent poles, guy lines, or rainfly attachments

  • Camp stove failure (particularly if you’re relying on it to melt snow for drinking water)

  • Empty lighter or water-damaged matches

  • Flat bike tires if you’re without a proper repair kit or replacement tube

  • A hole in your raft or ducky

  • An exploded hydration bladder

Whatever you’re really relying on—parts of your tent, your bike, your footwear, your water vessel—warrants careful inspection and testing before you go out for a big day or a big trip.

For instance, take your tent apart, assemble it, look over any parts that might be worn or frayed, and repair or replace anything that looks compromised. Once, high winds snapped the carbon fiber poles holding up my tent, leading to full structural collapse that no amount of duct tape could make up for. We improvised a way to get through the night by using paracord tied to nearby trees to (sort of) hold up the tent roof.

Think about what you might need a backup for—waterproof matches in case your lighter fails, a Nalgene in case your CamelBak bladder explodes, or a spare bike tube. 

Things that can just-plain mess up your day include:

  • Broken ski boot buckles

  • Broken waist buckle on a heavy pack

  • Sun hat without a secure chin strap flying away

  • Crushed or broken sunglasses, especially during snow travel

  • Dead batteries


If you were relying on your sun hat for face protection and a gust of wind catches your hat and blows it off the mountaintop, you’ll become a very sad (and sunburned) panda. And if you’re on a long ski tour and a crucial boot buckle breaks, it’s gonna be a much longer haul out of there as you struggle not to fall with every turn through breakable crust.

Keep a good fix-it kit on hand

For most of the above scenarios, not only is a good pre-trip inspection vital, but a robust repair kit will be your best friend. Not only do you need a solid first aid kit (which you inspect before adventures, too, to make sure nothing needs to be added or replaced), but you need a fix-it kit. Items like baling wire, Voile straps, super glue, a multi-tool, duct tape, and zip ties can temporarily repair any number of issues. (See our ski touring-specific Oh Sh!t Kit checklist here, too.)

Not that any of those items could really make my mountaineering boot climb properly the day the sole ripped off mine. But a thorough pre-trip inspection would have revealed just how cracked and yellow the glue was that held the sole of the shoe on. And maybe, just maybe, I would have caved and bought less old UnNew boots for my journey.

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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