Care and Feeding of Outdoor Equipment


Outdoor gear is expensive. For this reason alone, damage and failure are a tragedy. Even if it was free, anyone who has shared a tent with a torn-down jacket or sleeping bag knows that being able to fix your stuff on the fly is useful. A small tear in a tent’s mesh might be inconvenient when you become mosquito bait. A leak in a drysuit or rain fly could lead to severe hypothermia. A backpack without a shoulder strap is going to hurt, and if your boat doesn’t hold air, you might have a long hike ahead of you.  

Fortunately, with a little extra preparation and ingenuity, many problems can be solved in the field or at home. Remember, nothing fuels ingenuity better than pure desperation.

Follow the Instructions

Most companies have detailed instructions for storage, maintenance, cleaning, and repair for their products. I’m providing some generalities or tricks not generally considered the best option unless they’re among the only options. Whenever possible, do your best to follow manufacturer instructions. If nothing else, maybe you won’t void the warranty.


The best field repair is the one you don’t have to perform.


Heat, ultraviolet radiation, humidity, and vermin are not known for prolonging the life of equipment. Some fanatics use small electric pumps for their sleeping pads, to avoid the accumulation of moisture from breath.

For best results, sleeping bags and other warm fluffy things perform better and last longer when not squished into a compression sack.  Most sleeping bags come with a large mesh bag to keep the bag more organized, but not overly compacted.

Tents and sleeping bags prefer not to be stuffed into the bags we use in the field. A loosely rolled tent will be a happier tent.

When possible, inflatable boats and sleeping pads prefer to be unrolled, and partially inflated. If this isn’t an option, the looser the roll the better.

Use a ground cloth

Ground cloths can be made from an old shower curtain, a cheap poly tarp, a tent footprint, Tyvek, or painter’s drop cloth, to name just a few options.

I cringe a little every time I see a camper throw an expensive inflatable sleeping pad in the dirt, especially in deserts full of sharp rocks and sharp plants. Using a ground cloth reduces the likelihood of your sleeping pad gently letting you down in the middle of the night. It also helps keep your gear cleaner.

Use a sleeping bag liner

Sleeping bags, especially down-filled, don’t like being washed. A ground cloth is a good way to protect the bag from the outside world, and a sleeping bag liner protects the bag from you. Humans are nasty, sweaty, oily, dirty, farting beings, especially in the backcountry. An inexpensive sleeping bag liner adds comfort and warmth, helps soak up some of the nastiness, and can be easily washed.

Keep it clean

Although it hasn’t happened to me yet, I’ve seen backpacks chewed apart by rodents with a salt craving. The salt from sweat, crumbs, trash, food stains, or a six-year-old granola bar might attract rodents who don’t care how much the Osprey pack costs, all they know is it was tasty.

Check before you go

Trust no one and trust nothing. If something is critical, say a stove or an inflatable boat, take the time to make sure it’s in working order. Repair or substitution is more easily accomplished in the frontcountry. The downside: you don’t figure out how to fix a backpacking stove with rusty wire and nylon webbing.



Aquaseal FD (flexible and durable) is the patron saint of gear repair. One of its outstanding features is it works on almost anything. You can glue the sole back on your 5.10 approach shoes or fix a hole in a neoprene wetsuit. It will attach patches to vinyl, rafts made from pennel orca (the rubber formerly known as hypalon), or a sleeping pad or jacket. Aquaseal is incredibly versatile and should be in everyone’s houses and repair kits. Gear Aid also makes a version that cures in UV light, so on a sunny day, it’s cured in minutes instead of overnight, as long as the sun can hit it. An accelerator is available, which can be used to prepare the surface, increase the strength of the bond, and decrease the time it takes to reach full strength.

Seam Grip

Seam Grip is not quite as versatile as Aquasel but allows for a thinner coating. It works well on tent seams or most fabrics. 


Silicon impregnated fabric is a strange animal. Aquaseal and Seam Grip won’t adhere, but Silnet will. For most fabrics, it’s useless. When it is useful, it’s pretty much the only option.


Everyone should have duct tape everywhere. Wrap it around a water bottle, trekking pole, ski pole, lighter, paddle, whatever you have. It’s very rarely the best choice for anything, but often, it’s good enough. Some more specialized alternatives are incredibly durable and when done properly at home or afield, may never have to be replaced.

Like Aquaseal and other glues, a good scrub with isopropyl alcohol helps degrease, clean, and dry the surface so the patch will last longer. Don’t skimp on patch material; making the patch too small means it may not work at all or will have to be replaced sooner. Rounding the corners helps avoid the patch from peeling off prematurely.

Tenacious Tape

Tenacious Tape is almost as amazing as Aquaseal. It sticks to pretty much any fabric and can be used to patch small holes in packrafts.

Some varieties of Tenacious Tape are designed specifically for silicon impregnated fabrics or Gore-Tex. It’s also available in a variety of colors, including reflective and clear, so the repair can be more discreet. They also make mesh patches for tents.

For the more artistic people, they offer some pre-cut in fun designs, like a seductive sasquatch.


Tear-Aid comes in two types, A and B. Type A sticks to pretty much anything besides silicon impregnated fabrics and vinyl or vinyl coated. Type B sticks to vinyl or vinyl-coated only.

Honestly, Tear-Aid is not my favorite. In my informal Tear-Aid versus Tenacious Tape bake-off, Tenacious Tape lasts longer. Tear-Aid is also more expensive; however, it is an excellent option for temporarily patching small leaks on inflatable boats. I’ve once used a strip of Tear-Aid to hold two sides of a large slash in a raft together. I was then able to sew the two sides together, remove the Tear-Aid, and apply a better patch. That being said, the same can be done with Tyvek tape.

Tyvek Tape

I love Tyvek Tape. One of my Nalgenes has Tyvek Tape, duct tape, and electrical tape wrapped around it. It’s lightweight and it seems to stick to everything. I’ve repaired tears in my ground cloth and tent bags with it. I’ve also placed it over holes in rafts, traced seams and other things to work around onto the tape, and used it as a stencil on patch material. According to Alpacka Packraft, “With 15 feet (4.5 meters) of tape, you can literally re-assemble your boat after a Grizzly bear uses it for a chew toy, and it will probably get you home.” Sounds like the voice of experience to me.

A downside of Tyvek tape is if it’s not removed in a relatively short period of time, it becomes a permanent part of whatever you put it on.


With patience, a stitching awl gives you the ability to sew heavy-duty materials like webbing, leather, or boat rubber at a cost closer to $20.  

The needles they typically come with are scary as hell, with three sharp edges instead of one point. If you’re not careful, or if a needle snaps, there’s a very real possibility of driving the needle clear through your hand.

These massive needles aren’t always the nicest to fabric, especially lightweight clothing or tent fabric. Fortunately, industrial sewing machine needles fit in these awls, so you can still do the lock stitch, but with finer thread and smaller needles.

My favorite repair thread is fishing line. Recently, I discovered Spectra (also known as Dyneema) fishing line. Spectra is known for its low stretch, high tensile strength, and abrasion resistance.

Other fishing lines make good repair thread. Dental floss is also an inexpensive, high strength option. If you’re buying thread from a fabric store, they usually have some heavy-duty synthetic options. For lightweight and ultralight materials, a finer synthetic thread is a better option.

Regular boring hand sewing needles are super lightweight and compact, and they work well if you’re not trying to sew a boat or backpack.

One inch tubular webbing

1-inch tubular webbing is a staple among rafters, canyoneers, cavers, technical rescue folks, and occasionally climbers. It’s typically rated to 4,000 pounds or more and is relatively cheap compared to rope. I try to keep about 20 feet in my backpack even if I’m not planning a technical adventure.

Tubular webbing is only limited by your imagination. You can use it with an improvised tourniquet to hang bags away from chipmunks and bears, as a clothesline, a handline if the terrain becomes too spicy, or as a repair material.

I’ve used webbing to hold parts of car together in the backcountry, to hold my stove together, and to repair a sandal strap, to name a few.

Pole splint

A pole splint is a small aluminum tube that hopefully slides over a broken tent pole, making the pole still usable and protecting the fabric from the broken pole.


A broken buckle on a backpack is bad news, especially if the pack’s heavily loaded. If the buckle is on a drybag, your drybag may not be so dry after all.

Gear Aid makes plastic buckles with a snap bar. This would thread through the webbing on the pack and clip it together. Given other options, these are not my favorite.

Sometimes called G-Hooks, these devices are simple, strong, lightweight, and made out of aluminum. They allow the strap to still be adjustable and are easily removed. Some packs intentionally use these before they even break. Most of mine have been poached off of NRS paddleboard bags at work.

Sea to Summit buckles have a threaded bar. With a screwdriver, this bar can be removed and another one put in place. You can buy the buckles separately so you can use them on pretty much anything with a buckle.

Washing and Cleaning

We have access to an overflowing cornucopia of soaps, washes, and treatments for our gear. It’s a little overwhelming. Before using any of these products, double-check the manufacturer’s instructions and completely read the instructions on the product.


Nikwax makes some of my favorite clothing treatments. They sell a down wash to help preserve the loft and moisture repellence of jackets and sleeping bags. There are specific washes for Gore-Tex and similar materials, as well as other treatments to restore the Durable Water Resistant finish. UV treatments and other waterproofing treatments are available as well.

Gear Aid

Gear Aid makes shampoos for wetsuits and drysuits, as well as a variety of washes and treatments for other materials.

One of their products that really stands out is their zipper lubricant. On waterproof or even airtight zippers like on a packraft or drysuit, this helps the zipper last longer and seal better. On jackets, tents, duffel bags, and so on, it helps the zipper glide smoothly and last longer. The before and after experience is infomercial worthy.


303 Aerospace Protectant is one of the best things you can do for anything made out of plastic, especially rubber. If you use Sorrel boots or something similar, this will help the rubber from cracking.  Likewise, it extends the life of vinyl seats, inflatable and hardshell boats, and especially latex gaskets on drysuits.

It’s not recommended for use on packrafts because it makes patches less likely to stick and packrafts are more likely to need patches. NRS recommends it be used seasonally on NRS and WRSI helmets. Petzl specifically says not to use it on theirs.

A treatment specifically for fabric is also available.


Sno-Seal is a beeswax and silicon-based treatment for leather. Using a hairdryer or heat gun to melt it, it soaks into leather and does a fantastic job of keeping it waterproof. Generally leather doesn’t like to be wet, but it also can dry out and crack. Sno-Seal prevents both problems.  

Tools and other stuff

Having one Leatherman-style multitool per group is a good idea, but not everyone needs the extra weight.

Years ago I accidentally bought a pair of 3-inch trauma shears. To give you an idea, normal trauma shears are 8-inches, and compact ones are 5-inches. These look like a Christmas tree ornament. Turns out, they’re great for cutting first-aid tape, moleskin, and repair tape.

First aid alcohol wipes are great for prepping surfaces for tape and glue. A small Nalgene vial full of denatured or isopropyl alcohol accomplishes the same purpose. I used to bring Everclear, but for some reason it kept disappearing.