Making gear go further: repair it

There is a feeling I really love about using a piece of gear until it is totally worn out.  It helps me to feel that I have both gotten my money’s worth, but also that I have been staying active and getting outside.  Looking at stuff that is well-used brings back memories.

Unfortunately some gear doesn’t end up lasting me that long as I would like.  Crampons take their toll, I get impatient and tug too hard on a zipper, or the wind carries my pack 50m down hill and slides it into boulder.

The cool thing I’ve come to see is that there are a lot of ways I can repair (or even improve) the items I own so they may continue to meet my needs, even after these incidents.  I’ve made an effort to pay attention to the gear of other climbers to see how they have altered the clothes, shoes, backpacks, tents, or hardware. I would like to share some of the observations I’ve made and my own personal experiences with a thread and needle.  First, in brief, here is a more detailed set of reasons for which I enjoy repairing my climbing gear.

Four reasons I have been enjoying repairing my gear

It lasts longer

This is obvious, but I think there have been greater implications than I originally considered.  First, of course, gear is expensive. If you can consistently wait another few months on buying a few new items, like a set of approach shoes or gloves (or maybe even a whole season), you can potentially save hundreds of dollars a year.

I think there is a another more interesting aspect to making your gear last longer though.  I’ve found that the longer I’ve owned an item, and the more times I get to use it, and the more I understand the intricacies of that piece.  Let’s take a particular set of clothing layers.  With any given layer, I notice it being good for a couple of specific things. I start to understand how warm it is and how it moves when layered.  The same could be said about crampons marrying to boots, or packing a pack. Observing some details about how to use your stuff best takes time, but is worth it.  As I get to know my gear better, the selectivity of choosing the right stuff for each day out is fun.  It becomes another marginal yet cumulative improvement to the set of skills I can controllably improve.

Its a fun satisfying process to fix things

In addition to learning how to use the things I own better – learning how to repair something in a way that it will last, or how to improve something to make it more useful, is fun.  Its like putting on the Mr. Fix-it hat and going to work.  Below in the examples I discuss are some of the items I have fixe.  You’ll see where some jobs have turned out a lot better than others.  Those repairs and improvements I done well have inevitably been pretty gratifying.

Its easier on the environment

Did you know that most of the climbing gear you use is made of plastic?  Ropes, performance clothing, webbing – all made of stuff like polyethylene and nylon.  Not only is the process to make this stuff bad, but gear most often goes un-recycled.   Yes, like many people I can get stuff at good discounts (i.e. ‘bro’ deals,) but I try not to use that as a license to just buy new stuff once it gets a stain or a tear.

Austin Siadak rocking a nice patch job on his right arm.

Patches are in!

…pr at least I like to think they are? I guess I have never known anything about what is fashionable.  Either way, my backpacks and pants look like they have endured attacks by vicious raccoons, and then been patched by mom to be worn by the fourth kid in the family. I don’t know for sure if patches are the new black, but I do feel like they differentiate your stuff!  By the way, the raccoon thing actually happened….

Convinced you should repair your stuff now?  Let’s talk about what you’ll need.


Repair kit tools and materials

The below is a list of items I keep around to ‘fix stuff’.  It is also the repair kit I bring on longer trips. Not noted are some of the tools necessary for working with crampons on ice axes, like the small allen wrenches they come with or new picks. I’ve put in a few notes for the items that are not obvious and need a bit more discussion.

Tenacious Tape – This is a sort of tough fabric tape that can be used to patch lightweight fabric.  Its more useful than duct tape as it is a little more tactile, and thus can move and crease more easily.  Note that there are a couple different thickness and types:  Each has its applications.  Nothing to over-complicate, just put it to use and see what works.

Tenacious tape + a thread and needle are a great way to fix those pesky crampon holes in your pants.

Speedy Stitcher + sewing kit – I obviously don’t need to describe what a thread and needle are, but a Speedy Stitcher is not something that I had heard of before a year ago, so I will elaborate there. Essentially, its a sewing tool for heavy duty fabrics that uses a tough, string like thread to implement more durable stitching.  Its quite amazing what these things can do – see examples in the next section.   Note that for either a Speedy Stitcher or with a thread and needle, you can use waxed/flat dental floss for a thicker, more durable thread where the standard craft stuff won’t last.

Seam sealer – Not only is seam sealer useful for waterproofing seems, but it also comes in handy when trying to make patches on waterproof garments last longer.  Use it to seal the edges of the Tenancious Tape you put on to prevent them from getting caught, or layer it on stitching to protect the threads.

leather conditionner – Here I am talking about something like that discussed here:  You can make your gloves last A LOT longer with a frequent leather treatment, and its a super easy process.  I’d say my gloves have lasted 3 times the duration they would have otherwise, all for the cost of a few dollars and a rag. In a pinch, I’ve even used olive oil or coconut oil as a replacement to leather treatment when I wanted to condition my gloves but didn’t have the right stuff.  The one problem with coconut oil is that it dries with a white residue.  Be warned…

leather-man type of pocket knife, scissors, and lighter

extra materials like thin bungee cord, 3/4″ tubular webbing, accessory cord, and string – I keep this stuff around from old gear, or pick it up at a local fabric store.  Whenever I need to fix something, I just reach into the bag of goodies!

Other things that come in handy but might not be part of the “standard” kit

Shoe Goo – My approaches in the past have made it to the point that the sole is flapping open in the front.  Nothing a little shoe glue cannot fix!

Splicing tape – Climbers use this stuff to improve the grips on ski/trekking poles or ice axes.  I’m sure that some brands are better than others.  Here is a link to an example online.

Repair and Improvement Examples

I think the best way to see what’s possible with the above implements is to share some of the improvements or repairs I have made.  That is probably more interesting than step-by-step instructions on how to use a sewing awl. Check out all the things you can fix, and then let your creativity run wild on your own stuff:

No gator, no problem

Have you noticed that most climbing pants come without any sort of built in snow gator these days?  Did you know that knee high gators went out of style in the mid-2000s.   Gators tend to be extra weight and bulk when you don’t need them 99% of the time.  An easy fix is to thread a bungee between the eyelets on the bottom of the pants as shown in the picture below.  You can then wrap this bungee under your boot to keep your pant leg down and the snow out.

A photo of climbing in snow pants in Chamonix. The white bungee near my foot allowed me to secure my pant legs down when walking through wet snow on the way to the climb.

Durable, rip-stop nylon repairs on packs and clothing

Note that the bungee cord on the outside of this pack has been replaced – I ripped it when I got close-lined by a tree 😉

Other random pack improvements

I own a second small pack that I use for day outings.  The problem is that it came without many of the features I needed, or I guess, just wasn’t well suited for climbing – no problem.  We can fix that!  See image on left for the set of improvements made, including:

  1. Making the sync chord that closes that pack larger so I could fit my helmet inside.
  2. Added a way to attach an ice axe.
  3. Fixing the back pad in place using a thread and dental floss (I ended up sewing it in two different locations but only one is shown).

Using a speed stitcher

Here are two examples of what a Speedy Sticher might be able to do In it.  Niether are long-term fixes, but rather examples of of where I was able to fix important items of gear mid climbing trip.

Below, I have used the speedy stitcher to reinforce strap that is ripping away from my pack.

This second example is my piece-de-reistances. The zipper stay had broken off the top of my boots, and I needed a way to ensure the zipper didn’t just float right off the top. Some tubular webbing and sitching to the rescue:

I cut off a piece of tubular webbing, then sewed it onto the top of the boot to prevent the zipper from coming off.

Making gloves go farther

The following photos show a few sets of old gloves I have had that made it through a lot of climbing and skiing.  I now primarily use them for easy ski days where I am not worried about cold hands.  Re-stitching some of the blown out sections and applying leather treatment has allowed me to get a lot more user-days out of the them before buying new pairs.

Improved grips on ski poles and ice axes

My friend Jimmy showed me how he replaces the grips on his Petzl Nomics using self-sealing splicing tape from the local hardware store.  Its a cheap, simple solution that works great.  I’ve subsequently used splicing tape to add additional grip areas to my ski poles, and as a way to add grip to the shifts of my Petzl Quarks so that I could remove the slidable grip (without the grip and the hammer, they are now much lighter).


And to close out, here is a further list of repair examples of friends or others of which I have run across online: (send me a link if you want me to include yours!)

Luke’s shoo goo fix for resoled TC Pros on which the rubber is tearing from the upper


4 thoughts on “Making gear go further: repair it

  1. Chris, formalizing all this knowledge into a well-written and approachable article is so awesome. In a better world we would know all of these techniques before we bought any gear at all! Thanks for the writeup

    1. chris

      Thanks, Marcus!

  2. Aaron Trowbridge

    Great article, A few thoughts : yes, repair is super important for all the reasons you identify. I’d like to add that I think folks take too much advantage of amazing warranty offers. As gear gets lighter and lighter it fails more easily. It’s important people take some effort to repair items and nurse out their lifespan and not unfairly milk warranties.

    Zipper repair is a key skill too as many times when the teeth won’t won’t quite engage right it can be fixed by closing the zipper pull jaws with pliers.

    I highly recommend home and field repair kit include a sail type needle tree that has a triangular end. I like to use waxed synthetic thread that can be split for a variety of thread weights.

    Find a good fabric store with someone knowledgeable. I’ve got a local shop that is always happy to talk through more involved clothing repair ideas. I also like the smallest needle nose vice grips, and I use them with the speedy sticher needle in place of the wood handle.

  3. Chris

    Aaron – thanks for the reply on this. I definitely agree that “no-questions-asked”
    warranties are influencing all of us in the wrong direction. It would be nice to change the culture a little bit towards repair instead of buy. Hopefully circulating good knowledge will help.

    I liked your good tips. I definitely have my own fabric stores in mind. I am actually going to try your zipper repair tip soon.


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