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Gear School 2009: Packs

Learn how to fix snagging zippers, re-waterproof material, deal with frayed fabric, and more.

Fast Fixes … At Home

Problem Grime and stink

Solution “Never put your pack in a washing machine or dryer,” says George McCloskey, technical specialist for Gregory. After long trips and before each season, clean it inside and out with a dry brush to loosen dirt and debris. Vacuum out the remains, then wipe it with water and a non-detergent soap such as Woolite. Never use hot water, bleach, dishwashing liquid, presoaking solutions, or spot removers. To dry, stuff the pack with newspaper and hang in the shade.

Problem Water-repellent treatment no longer beads

Solution Recoat the pack with Nikwax Tent & Gear Proof ($12,

Problem Snagging zippers

Solution Vacuum dirt out of zipper crevices, then scrub with a toothbrush and cold water (this is good prevention, too), especially after camping in dusty or sandy areas. Phil Mesdag, product manager for Sierra Designs, recommends lubricating the zipper chain with McNett’s Zip Care ($5,; lip balm or paraffin wax will do in a pinch. (Note: This technique works for all zippers—tents, bags, and apparel included.)

Problem Frayed fabric

Solution Critters love to chew on salt-soaked shoulder straps and foam backpanels. Pinch the torn edges and use Super Glue to create an instant “stitch” (smear it along the rip). Then apply Seam Grip to make the repair more permanent.

Problem Hole or tear in packbag

Solution Patch it with Coghlan’s Nylon Tent Repair Kit ($5, “Make sure the fabric is clean and dry before applying,” says McCloskey. Trim the hole’s edges (this improves adhesion), then stick the patch on the inside of the pack. Press firmly from the center out.

Fast Fixes … In the Field

Problem Broken buckle

Solution If you break an essential buckle (like a hipbelt or shoulder strap), find another (try a compression strap or the lid) and cut it it off. Locate the thin plastic bar that the webbing loops over on the broken buckle. Cut a small slit in the center of the same bar on the replacement (use a lighter or stove to heat your blade if the plastic is hard to slice). Thread the strap through the slit on the buckle and secure with duct tape. Tip: Stock a Quick Attach buckle ($4 for an assortment,, which comes with a precut slit.


Problem Zipper blowout

Solution If the coil is split open, gently squeeze the slider with pliers and move it up and down to realign the coil. No pliers? Close the gap with safety pins and get it repaired.



1. First, measure your torso to find your size. Go to for a primer.

2. Loosen all straps, put the pack on, then tighten straps in this sequence: 1) hipbelt 2) shoulder straps 3) load lifters 4) sternum strap 5) hip stabilizers.

3. Assess fit. The bottom of the pack should curve snugly in the small of your back, weight should feel evenly distributed between shoulders and hips, and shoulder straps should hug shoulders with no gaps at the top.

4. Try different brands to find one that fits you best. And don’t be afraid to test a pack marketed to the opposite sex. Slimmer guys might find a women’s pack fits better, and vice versa.

5. Bend removable stays: Curve them to match your spine by placing them over a counter edge and applying gentle pressure. It will take a few rounds of trial and error to get the perfect shape.



Skilled sewers (like Stitchlines; can fix major strap blowouts (a popped shoulder harness or load-lifter repair costs about $20) or big gashes ($20-$45).


Packs can last a lifetime—but large swaths of threadbare fabric mean it’s time to go shopping.

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