Sooner or later, we’re all due for an epic backcountry gear fail. And if Murphy’s Law holds true (which it usually does), the next one will come at the very worst possible time.
Thankfully, most gear failure can be predicted. With a little know-how and some basic repair skills, most can also be fixed on the fly or even prevented altogether.
1. The boot breakdown
A backcountry boot fail can leave you with weeping blisters ripe for infection. It’s not something you want to deal with two weeks into the wilderness.
Worse still, a worn sole can leave you slipping and sliding when you need traction the most. That’s not how you’ll want to feel on a a cliff’s edge or a knife ridge.
- Test run your boots before a long trip. Walk a mile or so in the socks you will bring on the trip.
- If it’s been a while, look over your boots for cracked leather, broken stitching, missing eyelets, or wear on the soles. Repair before you head out.
- Re-waterproof your boots before a big trip. I recommend Sno Seal.
- For a quick fix for worn soles, apply Freesole urethane gel. This will repair and add traction in cases of moderate wear. For long trips or serious wear, though, you’ll want to have a professional resole your boots.
- For long or remote trips, be prepared to fix your boots on the fly. A good boot fix kit includes a sewing awl, Gear Aid Tenacious Tape™, aqua seal or shoe goo, and Welt Seal to fix leaking soles or glue important bits back together. This kit comes in handy for tents and backpacks as well.
2. Sudden headlamp death
In the best-case scenario, a dead headlamp is just a major pain in the neck. In a survival or rescue situation, light can be the difference between life and death.
Headlamps are often packed as an afterthought, but they demand the attention afforded to essential gear.
- Always carry extra batteries. Pack batteries and the headlamp close to your body in cold weather.
- Change out batteries before you leave. It’s hard to tell how much juice is left in old batteries, and it’s rarely worth the risk.
- Don’t leave batteries in your headlamp. Batteries corrode when left in headlamps for long periods of time, and the acid can do damage to the headlamp itself.
- If your trip is long or remote, carry an extra light source.
3. The deconstructed tent
Even the best tent is ultimately just a bunch of fabric held in shape by thin metal poles. When hit with gale-force winds or toothy wildlife, it can quickly go from bombproof shelter to expensive tarp.
Thankfully, the tent’s (usually) simple design makes for simple repairs. Provided you have the right equipment, that is.
- Choose the right tent for your campsite. An ultralight shelter might do great in thick woods, but you’ll want something sturdy on a windy mountainside.
- Learn to patch holes with Tenacious Tape™ Repair Tape and Patches. The stuff is good for up to 3″ holes. Seal the edges with aqua seal for a solid fix.
- If you anticipate damage, bring a spare tent pole or a Gear Aid Tent Pole Splint. If you don’t have one, or the tent carnage is too wide-spread, you can easily jimmy-rig a pole splint out of green sapling branches and fiber tape attached over the break.
- If the elastic in your tent poles snaps, rethread it with the MSR Shock Cord Replacement Kit.
- Leaking seams will ruin a good night’s sleep. This tutorial shows how to re-seal those with aqua seal.
Avoid a backcountry gear fail by inspecting items for weakness before a trip. Having the know-how to deal with gear fails in the backcountry will keep you alive when things don’t go as planned. Human ingenuity is a huge asset when combined with a few of the right tools.