How to Repair Outdoor Gear

October 25, 2017
Repair Outdoor Gear
Courtesy of Gear AidRepair outdoor gear with care and attention—e.g., using tape specifically designed to adhere to synthetic materials.

With proper care, quality outdoor gear is built to last through years, even decades, of hard use and abuse. And yet all it takes is one neglectful or absent-minded moment to cause substantial damage to your equipment. Here are some of the most common fails and their accompanying fixes.

In the rush to unpack and stow your gear, you forgot to dry out your damp tent or sleeping bag, and now it’s a stinking Petri dish of mold, mildew, and funk. You’ll need to give it a thorough hand washing with warm water and a nondetergent soap or gear-specific cleanser, such as ReviveX Pro Cleaner or Nikwax Tech Wash. (Skip bleach, which can damage the fabric.) Scrub affected areas but be sure to use a nonabrasive sponge to avoid damaging the fabric, especially the waterproof coating on the inside of the rainfly.

For heavier damage and fouler smells, consider using MiraZyme, a time-tested, microbe-based solution that effectively kills stink-producing mold, mildew, and bacteria. If the damage is substantial, you may be left with permanent stains and discoloration, even after your gear returns to functional status. Consider it a visible reminder to never, ever put away your gear when it’s wet or damp. By extension, avoid storing your gear in damp locations, such as soggy basements or garages, and instead find dry indoor space.

A hole has appeared in your gear, perhaps from an avoidable mistake: wearing your fancy GORE-TEX shell near an ember-launching, fabric-melting campfire; carelessly snagging a sharp crampon on your pants, tent, or backpack; or bushwhacking through dense brush while wearing a lightweight shell or pack.

Your best repair option is nylon tape, such as ultradurable Tenacious Tape from McNett. Its adhesive works on any smooth nylon or polyester fabric and stays in place almost indefinitely, even when exposed to rain and moisture.

To apply the tape, first round off the edges of your patch to prevent a sharp corner from working loose over time. Next lay the damaged fabric flat against a hard surface, smoothing out any folds. Press the patch firmly against the fabric to ensure it adheres securely. For more substantial holes or tears, consider applying a patch to both sides of the fabric.

You can also use duct tape, although it’s more conspicuous, tends to slowly peel along the edges over time, and leaves behind a sticky residue. Note that nylon repair tape won’t stick to the slippery silnylon used in some ultralight tents or to heavier fabrics with a rough surface, such as those used in many durable backpacks. For the former, you’ll need a specialized adhesive, such as McNett’s SilNet. For the latter, duct tape is a better bet.

Let’s say you’ve neglected to keep your rain gear clean. Now dirt and campfire smoke embedded in the fabric are attracting moisture and clogging the microscopic pores that allow water vapor—a.k.a. your sweat—to escape. (Body oils have a similar clogging effect.) To rehabilitate your jacket and regain some of its breathability, you’ll want to hand wash it with a mild liquid detergent or specialized cleaner for rain gear, such as Granger’s Performance Wash. Avoid powder detergents, which are more likely to leave residue, and anything with bleach, fabric softeners, or conditioners, which can damage the fabric. 

You also may notice your rain gear’s durable water repellency (DWR) wearing off with time and use. This chemical treatment is what makes water bead up and roll off the surface and is essential to maintaining breathability. You can restore some of it with an aftermarket product (Nikwax TX.Direct Spray-on is an eco-friendly, PFC-free option), although the unfortunate truth is DWR will never be as effective as the day you buy your rain gear.

You set up your tent guylines to prepare for rain and heavy weather—and then promptly tripped over them, damaging or completely ripping the attachment loops off the rainfly. (You can avoid this common mistake by hanging something over the guylines to increase their visibility or placing an object in front of them to remind you of their presence.) To repair a torn rainfly loop, the easiest fix is a Grip Clip, a two-piece, plastic attachment that secures directly to the fabric for a quick, no-stitch solution.

You loved and used your down jacket and sleeping bag so much that they’re starting to lose some of their loft and warmth. The down itself isn’t the problem; it’s the body oils and dirt you’ve bestowed upon the down, causing it to clump and retain less warmth.

To address this issue, hand wash your down-filled gear in the tub using a mild detergent, such as Nikwax Down Wash or ReviveX Down Cleaner. (Never use a top-loading washing machine with an agitator, which can tear apart the delicate internal baffles that separate down into individual compartments.) After thoroughly and repeatedly rinsing your gear, squeeze out as much water as possible then tumble it on low heat in the dryer with a few tennis or racquet balls, which help break up the sopping down clusters and reduce drying time.


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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.