It was a tough few days in the woods. Day after hard day no-see-ums streamed through the tent like curious neighbors at a house warming, only instead of so many green bean casseroles they left behind scores of smarting red welts. But it was my own dang fault. I thought I could squeeze another trip out of my ancient pup tent, the one with the rusty zipper and the bug netting than looked more like chicken wire than fine mesh.
Back home, I replaced the tent's screens and zippers in a two-day frenzy of cutting and sewing. My fix-it job sure wasn't pretty, but it worked. Fine for a starving grad student with more time than money and a simple repair job, but what if more complex problems develop that require involved repairs? Or what if you lack the inclination and skills to sit at the sewing machine and play tent seamstress? That's when it's time to find an expert fixer-upper.
The repair shops we've listed specialize in restoring outdoor gear, and these experts can almost always patch, mend, or replace your equipment's busted seams and broken parts for far less than the cost of buying new. Keep on reading to find out whether there's hope for that ripped rainfly, popped grommet, or splintered tent pole, and which shop can do the trick.
Talk about a school of hard knocks. Your boots flex and twist thousands of times every mile, and they get kicked, scuffed, scratched, and drowned along the way. All of this abuse eventually takes its toll on even the hardiest stompers, resulting in injuries to the uppers, hardware, and soles.
Most cobblers can repair separated seams in a boot's upper or tongue, give the leather a thorough cleaning and waterproofing, reglue peeled toe guards and rands, and replace or restitch busted eyelets and hooks. These jobs are generally quick and inexpensive. More costly are major structural repairs. If you need a midsole or outersole replaced or an upper completely retooled, your best bet is to contact the manufacturer for the name of an authorized repair shop, then get an estimate. Because retooled boots don't always fit as well as the originals, you may want to think about investing your cash in a new pair.
Many cobblers also provide custom services, from boots and footbeds made specifically for your feet to in-shop fittings. If your boots are giving your toes the squeeze or your Achilles tendons the pinch, a cobbler can stretch and soften the leather or use heat to reshape the heel counters.
When your favorite sack of feathers isn't as warm as it used to be, chances are it has lost a lot of loft. Dirt and bodily oils infiltrate sleeping bags and gradually compress the fill, reducing its ability to expand and thus to insulate. Compression also diminishes loft over the long haul, weakening the fill ever so slightly each time you stuff your bag. A good cleaning will usually remedy the first problem, and an infusion of fresh down may be your answer to the latter. If you have a synthetic bag, you're out of luck in the loft department since man-made fibers can't be replenished.
While you can generally clean most sleeping bags at a local Laundromat, repair shops know how to launder your sack without rupturing the baffles that hold insulation in place. They're also masters at removing nasty stains and odors. Some down specialists can also add feathers to boost your sack's temperature rating, upgrade your down with a higher fill-power, add baffles to lengthen your bag, or make you a form-fitting sleeper from scratch. If you add feathers, make sure the shop uses down rated to 550 fill-power or above. High-quality down-a fill-power of 750 is the current top of the line-may cost more, but the feathers loft exceptionally well, providing more insulation for less weight.
Some folks just can't part with a faithful old pack, and there's really no reason to ditch that workhorse just because a buckle busted, a stay snapped, or the foam in a shoulder strap collapsed. Repair shops can perform minor and major repairs at reasonable rates and make your veteran load-monster good as new. Their services include cleaning packbags, welding and shaping frames, upgrading suspension parts and materials, and replacing everything from stays and clevis pins to hipbelts and shoulder straps.
For a small fee, most pack specialists will also reshape the stays in an internal frame pack to fine-tune the fit. If your dimensions don't agree with any of the packs on the market or if you're looking for unusual features, other shops will build packs to your specifications.
Say an unexpected windstorm just snapped your poles in two but left the rest of your shelter intact. Rather than spend hundreds of dollars for a new tent, take the poles to a repair shop. Most tent specialists stock pole sections of different lengths and thicknesses so they can refurbish or re-create your poles, or even upgrade them from heavy fiberglass to high-performance aluminum.
The same rule of repair holds true for other typical tent maladies, including worn-out fittings, shredded rainflies and mesh panels, loose tabs and grommets, and decrepit shock cording. Many shops will also clean your tent for a few bucks if you're the type who refuses to launder anything that doesn't go into the washing machine.
Stoves And Lights
Regular cleaning will usually keep your flame blazing, but sometimes it's necessary to visit a stove or lamp doctor. Moving parts experience mechanical failure, jets get clogged with soot, and lamp globes have a way of shattering. Repair shops can fix these problems.
General Sewing Repairs
Many fix-it shops perform a variety of repairs outside of one or two specialties. The most common jobs in this catch-all category are zipper, fabric, and stitching repairs involving tents, packs, bags, boots, outdoor apparel, and miscellaneous backpacking gear like pack covers or gaiters. Check with your local specialist if you need a rainfly patched, a failed zipper replaced, a chipmunk-chewed hole mended, a seam restitched and sealed, or a rainsuit restored to its original waterproof condition. Also keep an eye on our Gear Works department for inexpensive, do-at-home solutions (see "Repairs 'R' Us" for an index of recent articles).
Before you ship your pack, boots, bag, or tent to a gear doctor for major surgery, consider some advice we've heard from repair shop owners. These tips should save you a headache or two, and maybe even a few bucks.
- Get on the phone. Call the manufacturer about warranty service or in-house repairs. Many companies will fix failed gear for free if you cover the cost of shipping. If this doesn't work, ask for the name of an authorized repair specialist, then call the shop to check on the availability of parts. With any shop, inquire about the experience of the repair technicians with the type of repair you're requesting.
- Make an appointment for repairs well in advance. If you wait until the week before your big trip, a repair shop may not have time to stitch your gear back together.
- Don't expect a diagnosis or firm estimate over the phone. Repair technicians work best when they can inspect your damaged gear face-to-face. That said, you should tell the repair staff not to start work until you've approved an estimate.
- As a courtesy-and to save yourself cleaning costs-give your gear a good bath before shipping it away. Scrub dirt and sap off of tents, launder ripe smells out of sleeping bags, and brush caked mud from the treads of boot soles. Don't apply any new waterproofing, though, because a fresh coat of glop can make repairs more difficult, especially with boots.
- Tag each piece of gear you send with your name, address, and phone number to guarantee that nothing gets lost. To get the repairs you desire, enclose a detailed note spelling out exactly what needs fixing.
- Ship the broken stuff only. There's no need to include the poles and stakes.