When To Repair Or Replace Gear
Salvage Your Trusty Favorites & Know When To Upgrade
Pining after the latest gear technologies and the all-new lightweight performance fabrics that come out every season is something we’ve all done. Shiny new gear can be particularly tempting if what you have in your gear closet is faded and has some scuff marks and holes. But outdoor gear can be expensive—especially bigger ticket items like tents, sleeping bags, and waterproof jackets. Not only can replacing these items drain your bank account but discarding old pieces isn’t environmentally thoughtful.
Luckily for all of us, a lot of gear is repairable. There are products and easy-to-learn techniques to fix holes and seal leaks. You can find detergents and treatments to properly take care of your gear and to help extend the lives of your favorite pieces. When your gear isn’t performing as designed (or your safety is compromised) and you’ve done everything in your power to fix it, then it’s finally time to replace it.
Different types of gear have different life expectancies, repair processes, and rigors and demands they’re put through during your adventures. Safety gear like climbing harnesses, for example, require a different approach to repair than a down jacket. Regardless of gear type, there are a few general guidelines you can follow when making the decision to repair or to replace.
1. Check repair policies
A lot of outdoor brands are able and willing to repair your old gear to help keep it out of landfills. Companies like Big Agnes, Patagonia, and Fjallraven will repair broken gear for a reasonable fee (or even for free). This option is perfect if a repair is beyond your skillset. However, since turnaround times for gear repairs can sometimes be lengthy, this option might not work for you if you’re trying to get out on a last-minute trip.
2. Repair it yourself
YouTube and blog tutorials can help solve even complicated repairs—and you don’t have to be a seamstress to pull them off. For a lot of repairs, a simple sewing kit can save the day. For more involved repairs like a busted clip, leaky waterproof membrane, or large holes, you can find replacement parts, seal kits, and patch kits.
3. Take it to a gear shop
If the manufacturer can’t take it back for repairs and a fix is beyond your skill set, you might be able to find a local gear shop that can handle it for you. Through this process you’ll be able to support a repair shop instead of buying new, and you’ll get a little more life out of your favorite gear.
If what you’ve got in your gear closet is too beat up and is beyond repair, your repairs can jeopardize the safety or performance of the item, or a newer model is actually safer, it might be time to retire your trusty gear and replace it with something new.
These general rules apply to all types of gear, but read on for a breakdown of specific pieces to learn how to keep your favorite gear on the trail and out of the landfill as long as possible.
Basic articles of outdoor clothing such as sun shirts and moisture-wicking shorts can be replaced when they’re no longer performing as intended. You can sew blown-out seams as many times as you can, patch up holes, or wash with the proper detergent to rid them of stains, but if they just aren’t wicking moisture or keeping you cool as intended, you can justify purchasing new.
Performance clothing, however, can have a longer life. Ember hole in your down jacket? Slap some Tenacious Tape on. Waterproof jacket not shedding moisture anymore? Give it a good spray down with a DWR rejuvenation spray. You can also find Gore-Tex patches and tapes, seal glue, replacement buckles and zippers, and more to breathe some new life into your favorite pieces.
Most hiking boots have a projected lifespan of 300 to 500 miles, though this is dependent on the type of terrain you’re on and how heavy your pack is. Until your boots are totally blown out or are starting to cause pain, you can repair them to make them last longer. Stitch up popped seams, resole worn tread, or replace fraying laces and keep on trekking.
Tents can easily last a lifetime—if you take care of them properly. You can expect to repair or replace poles, zippers, and mesh during their lifespan, but luckily these are easy fixes. Even though tents are in it for the long haul, you may want to upgrade your old, heavy tent to lighten your pack on backpacking trips. A new backpacking tent can make a huge difference on ultra-light thru-hikes and weekend trips alike.
Sleeping Bags & Pads
Like down jackets, your sleeping bag’s holes can easily be repaired with a patch or some tape. Another issue you might run into with old down sleeping bags is their loft. The loft in the bag is important for maintaining its temperature rating and keeping you warm on cold nights. You can help keep the bag lofty by not storing it in its stuff sack. When the bag loses its loft, simply toss it in the washer and dryer with tennis balls to fluff it back up. Broken zippers—the bane of most bags— on the other hand, take a little more work to repair. You might be able to send them back to the manufacturer for repairs, or it might be time to upgrade to a new bag.
Small holes and tears in your sleeping pad can be repaired with a patch kit as well. Tiny holes can be difficult to find, but if you spray your pad with soapy water then apply pressure, you can see small bubbles where the hole(s) is and can confidently apply a patch. On fabric-covered pads, you can also apply glue (like the one that comes in this Gore-Tex repair kit) for a more long-term fix.
Life on the trail can be rigorous, and your backpack often takes the brunt of it. Broken buckles, zippers, and holes are common, but not impossible to fix. As mentioned before, you can send in gear in need of repair to the manufacturer, and several companies, like Osprey, will repair your pack for a reasonable fee. You can also replace broken buckles yourself and sew patches over holes to give the pack more character and to keep it on the trail and out of the landfill. However, once the padding in the shoulder strap and hip belts begins to deteriorate, it’s time to start looking into getting an upgrade.
Rachel Jorgensen is a freelance writer based in Michigan, but doesn’t stay put for long. She’s lived in three countries, four states, and is always after the next adventure. When settled, you’ll find her climbing, skiing, or trail running with Scuba, her Thai rescue dog. Follow along @rjorgie