What you can and can't fix: How to breathe new life into tired old faithfuls.
By Dan Nelson, April 1, 1999
The Gore-Tex pants were toast, but at least the ice ax missed my leg. The accident happened last spring on the way down Washington's Mt. Adams. Hiking to the top of the 12,276-foot volcano is a long, exhausting slog, but getting back down is such a hoot that it makes up for all the effort. Just put on a pair of slick rainpants, sit down, and let gravity take over.
By the time I started my descent, so many hikers had glissaded down the route that it resembled a luge run. Down in the trough, I didn't see the rocks around the slight bend until it was too late. I bounced over them, and in the tumbling tangle of limbs that resulted, my ice ax caught my pants midthigh. I was uninjured, luckily but my expensive rainpants were in tatters.
Once home, I took them to a shop specializing in Gore-Tex fabric repair. My pants were in perfect condition in a week at less than a fifth of the cost of buying a new pair.
Much of today's gear is too expensive to toss and replace when something breaks, tears, or unravels. Fortunately, there are repair shops specializing in just about every type of outdoor equipment. To find one near you that can fix that broken tent, pack, boot, bag, or item of clothing. To determine whether your gear has suffered a catastrophic injury and needs replacement or whether the damage can be fixed easily, here's a rundown on repairs that shops can and can't fix.
Torn seams or holes in uppers. Cobblers can usually repair a seam that has unraveled or torn open. Likewise, a cobbler can patch holes caused by chewing critters, though repair of extensive damage to the upper can be expensive.
Separating toe guards and rands. If the rubber or plastic panel that covers the toe or sides of some boots (known as a rand) separates at the glue line, a cobbler can use a permanent adhesive to stick the pieces back together.
Broken lace hooks or lost eyelets. Cobblers can replace lace hooks on virtually any boot.
Hot spots in otherwise well-fitting boots. If you have boots that fit fine except for one irritating tight spot, take them to a cobbler, who will stretch the material slightly.
Worn soles. A cobbler can replace the soles on high-quality hiking and climbing boots.
Damaged leather uppers. If the leather has worn so thin that you can poke a finger through it, or if there are tears and abrasions covering more than a third of the upper, you should replace the boots.
Worn soles on lightweight hikers. Generally, lightweight boots that sell for less than $150 new aren't good candidates for resoling; cost and difficulty of repair add up to more than the boots are worth.
Degraded leather. Boots that aren't cleaned and dried after use will sprout mold and mildew that literally eats the leather. Replace boots if leather is in poor condition. If your boot leather is too soft to support your ankle-often the result of too much conditioning and waterproofing- replace the boots.
Broken midsole or shank. Many boots today lack a true midsole. Instead, a stiffener or shank is incorporated in the sole itself. If the shank breaks, you'll need to replace the entire outersole unit, or more likely, the boot.
Dirty bag. Every time a sleeping bag is used, it accumulates body oils and dirt, which reduce the efficiency of your bag's insulation (see Gear Works, May 1997). You can use a commercial front-load washer to clean your bag an expensive down sleeping bag is worth sending to a repair shop for cleaning. Don't use a home washing machine: its agitator will tear up the baffles that hold the insulation in place.
Unraveling seams or holes in shell. Repair shops can fix separating seams and put patches on torn shells and liners easily.
Lost loft in a down bag. If proper laundering doesn't bring back the old loft, the bag; may need fresh feathers. Many repair shops can inject new down into the baffles. Just make sure they use a down rated to at least 550-fill power. If your bag was made with a higher quality fill, such as 750-fill, ask the repair shop to match it.
Broken hardware. Shops can mend or replace zippers and slip new drawstrings into hoods.
Lost loft in a synthetic bag. Sorry-there's no way to restore the loft to synthetic fills once they go flat.
Improperly laundered bag. If you ran your sleeping bag through your home washing machine only to find that all the fill material gathered in the foot, it's time to buy a new bag. Repair shops can't rebuild ruptured baffles that once held fill in place.
Broken buckles, straps, or hardware. It's a quick and easy job for repair shops to replace broken or lost buckles, torn compression straps, and lost lash straps. Zippers, grommets, clevis pins, and zipper pulls all can be repaired or replaced inexpensively.
Holes, tears, or blown-out seams. If a critter gnawed into your pack to get to that peanut that fell out of your gorp bag, don't dump the pack. Just have a shop slap a patch on the hole. If you overpacked once too often and blew out a seam, the shop can restitch that for you, too.
Dirty pack. If the pack bag and shoulder straps are filthy, take the pack to a repair shop for a thorough, safe cleaning.
Bent framesheet, stays, or external frame. A good repair shop will have the skill and tools to shape stays and frames, ensuring you get a good fit.
Tired, compressed padding. When the padding in hipbelts and shoulder straps refuses to rebound, it can no longer be called padding. Repair shops can replace the compressed foam and the semirigid foam panels found in some internal frame hipbelts and back panels.
Mangled external frame. If the metal tubing is bent, broken, or crimped in more than one or two places, it might be wise simply to buy a new frame for your pack.
Broken tent poles. A repair shop can usually replace an old, broken pole or fix just the busted section.
Broken or worn-out shock cord in poles. A repair shop can easily replace a broken elastic cord or one that has lost its bounce.
Torn or pierced mesh or fabric walls. Repair shops can stitch in a patch over a hole burned into a tent wall or replace an entire mesh panel.
Broken zipper. One of the most common repairs for tents is zipper repair or replacement.
Broken hardware or components. Lost grommets, ripped guy anchors, and unraveled seams are all easily repaired.
Mild mildew on walls or floor. A little moisture can cause a lot of mildew. Repair shops can clean your tent and remove mild cases of mildew.
Delaminated seam tape or worn-off durable water repellent (DWR). Repair shops can retape seams and reapply DWR finish on most fabrics.
Heavy mildew. If the walls of your blue tent are green, it's time to invest in a new tent. Extensive mildew can't be removed without damaging the tent itself.
Brittle or cracking tent or rainfly. Ultraviolet light breaks down the nylon structure of the tent over time, making it brittle and prone to cracking or tearing. There is no repair for this.
Stoves, Water Filters
Clogged stove jets or burners. Most stoves can be maintained at home, but sometimes gunk clogs jets and burners so thoroughly that the cooker needs to be disassembled and cleaned.
Lost or dried-out O-rings, gaskets, or hoses. Whether you lose or damage one of these filter and stove components, or the rubber simply dries out, it needs to be repaired or replaced with a new one (see Gear Works, December 1998).
Broken pump housing. If the plastic housing breaks on a water filter or stove pump, there isn't anything to do but replace the whole unit.
Broken or leaking stove generators or preheat tubes. Once a hole has been worn through a solid metal fuel tube, the stove is unsafe, and the tube-or entire stove-should be discarded.
Broken zipper. An easy fix. Just have a new zipper installed.
Unraveled seams, small tears in fabric, etc. Another easy fix. Any repair shop can stitch up a modest-size hole, but if the garment is made of a waterproof/breathable fabric, make sure the repair shop is authorized by the manufacturer to do repairs on that particular technical fabric.
Unraveled seam tape on raingear. A certified repair shop can retape seams and patch waterproof/ breathable garments without compromising their waterproof/breathable nature.
Raingear that doesn't repel. When the durable water repellent (DWR) finish on raingear wears off, it often can be restored at a reasonable price.