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Backpacker Magazine – April 1999

For Broken Gear, Don't Despair...Repair

What you can and can't fix: How to breathe new life into tired old faithfuls.

by: Dan Nelson

The Gore-Tex pants were toast, but at least the ice ax missed my leg. The accident happened last spring on the way down Washington's Mt. Adams. Hiking to the top of the 12,276-foot volcano is a long, exhausting slog, but getting back down is such a hoot that it makes up for all the effort. Just put on a pair of slick rainpants, sit down, and let gravity take over.

By the time I started my descent, so many hikers had glissaded down the route that it resembled a luge run. Down in the trough, I didn't see the rocks around the slight bend until it was too late. I bounced over them, and in the tumbling tangle of limbs that resulted, my ice ax caught my pants midthigh. I was uninjured, luckily but my expensive rainpants were in tatters.

Once home, I took them to a shop specializing in Gore-Tex fabric repair. My pants were in perfect condition in a week at less than a fifth of the cost of buying a new pair.

Much of today's gear is too expensive to toss and replace when something breaks, tears, or unravels. Fortunately, there are repair shops specializing in just about every type of outdoor equipment. To find one near you that can fix that broken tent, pack, boot, bag, or item of clothing. To determine whether your gear has suffered a catastrophic injury and needs replacement or whether the damage can be fixed easily, here's a rundown on repairs that shops can and can't fix.


Can Fix

Torn seams or holes in uppers. Cobblers can usually repair a seam that has unraveled or torn open. Likewise, a cobbler can patch holes caused by chewing critters, though repair of extensive damage to the upper can be expensive.

Separating toe guards and rands. If the rubber or plastic panel that covers the toe or sides of some boots (known as a rand) separates at the glue line, a cobbler can use a permanent adhesive to stick the pieces back together.

Broken lace hooks or lost eyelets. Cobblers can replace lace hooks on virtually any boot.

Hot spots in otherwise well-fitting boots. If you have boots that fit fine except for one irritating tight spot, take them to a cobbler, who will stretch the material slightly.

Worn soles. A cobbler can replace the soles on high-quality hiking and climbing boots.

Can't Fix

Damaged leather uppers. If the leather has worn so thin that you can poke a finger through it, or if there are tears and abrasions covering more than a third of the upper, you should replace the boots.

Worn soles on lightweight hikers. Generally, lightweight boots that sell for less than $150 new aren't good candidates for resoling; cost and difficulty of repair add up to more than the boots are worth.

Degraded leather. Boots that aren't cleaned and dried after use will sprout mold and mildew that literally eats the leather. Replace boots if leather is in poor condition. If your boot leather is too soft to support your ankle-often the result of too much conditioning and waterproofing-replace the boots.

Broken midsole or shank. Many boots today lack a true midsole. Instead, a stiffener or shank is incorporated in the sole itself. If the shank breaks, you'll need to replace the entire outersole unit, or more likely, the boot.

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