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Gear Repair

Hike Smarter: 7 Ways to Fix and Maintain Gear

How to fix zippers, wash a sleeping bag correctly, waterproofing and make boots last.

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1. Save your zippers

Midnight yanking on the sleeping bag and tent door (who hasn’t done that?), overstuffing a pack (ditto), and accumulated dirt and grime all can cause snags and damaged teeth.

Keep zippers clean: At home, use water and a toothbrush, or a vacuum cleaner. For problem zippers, apply Gear Aid Zip Care ($5;, a lubricant and cleaner in one. A drip of candle wax works in a pinch.

Zippers have either coils or teeth, and they can both get damaged. Straighten bent coils with a knife or needle. For a misaligned tooth, gently pinch it with needle-nose pliers (if it breaks off, you’ll need to replace the zipper) and it should return to its place.

Damaged (loose, worn) sliders stop weaving the zipper coils together. They can often be fixed by pinching with pliers. Squeeze evenly on both sides (shown, right), and check the fit often so you don’t over tighten.

Broken sliders can be tricky to fix, depending on the type of zipper. Separating zippers (they come apart at the bottom, like on jackets) are easier than non-separating zippers (like on tents and backpacks). Separating: Use wire cutters to crack off the “stop” at the end of the zipper track. Remove the old slider (it’ll slide right off), replace with a new one, and use needle-nose pliers to crimp a new stop in place (find cheap zipper parts at sewing stores). Non-separating: Pry or cut off the broken slider, then install a new one using a screw-on FixnZip slider (

2. Wash your sleeping bag

Prevent dirt and body oils from diminishing loft. Before tossing it in a front-loading washer (it’s worth the trip to a Laundromat), turn the bag inside out to allow the water and soap to flow freely through the insulation. Zip it up and fasten any Velcro closures. Wash in warm water on the delicate cycle. Use a synthetic- or down-specific cleaning product (about $10 each) from Nikwax ( or ReviveX by Gear Aid ( Run it through an additional rinse cycle, and dry on low heat (with a couple tennis balls) through several cycles. At home, unzip the bag and let it air dry overnight.

3.Make your boots last

No toe cap on your boots? Boost protection by building a cheap and easy one out of strong, clear polyurethane.

Clean the rand; wipe it down with rubbing alcohol; let dry.

Sand the leather on the toe with extra-fine sandpaper.

Apply masking tape across the front of the boot to section off the area for the cap.

Buff the sanded area twice with a rag dipped in rubbing alcohol, air-drying in between.

Paint the toe surface completely with Gear Aid Freesole ($7;

Remove the tape after 45 minutes; let dry overnight.

Defunk your hydration bladder

Fill with clean water, add a half teaspoon of bleach per liter. After an hour, drain, rinse, and prop open to air dry. (Note: Remove any bleach taste by repeating the wash cycle with a tablespoon of baking soda.) Store in the freezer to prevent mildew from growing. Clean gunky hoses with a gun barrel brush.

Roasted: Wet boots? A campfire can crack leather and melt rubber. Remove insoles and add a hot water bottle, or hang them upside down.

5. Prep your tent

Clean it:

Pitch your tent and hose it down inside and out; sponge off dirt using a bucket of water mixed with a few drops of mild dish soap. Let air dry (while set up).

Eliminate mildew smell:

Off the shelf: Add a cup of Lysol to a tub of water and let both the fly and tent body soak in the mixture for a few minutes. Rinse off and air dry. Repeat the process with 1 cup of table salt, 1 cup of concentrated lemon juice, and a gallon of warm water.

Inspect tent for wear and tear:

To repair holes in mesh walls, use back-to-back micromesh adhesive patches (we like MSR’s Tent Fabric Repair Kit; $20; If you spot separated seams in the floor or rainfly, adhere a Tear-Aid patch ($10; to the inside and apply a sealant (Gear Aid SilNet for siliconized nylon or Seam Grip for polyurethane-coated nylon; to the outside of the repair. Let it cure overnight.

6. Refresh waterproofing

Boots Even if your boots have a waterproof membrane, the outer layer of leather or fabric can still get saturated if not properly waterproofed, which causes your feet to feel heavy and cold (even if no water penetrates the membrane). Before each season, apply a sealant. Nikwax and ReviveX make waterproofing products for both leather and fabric boots.

Jackets All waterproof/breathable jackets have durable water repellent (DWR) finishes that eventually wear off. Test yours: Spray your jacket with water; if it doesn’t bead off, first try machine-washing and drying (medium heat), then ironing the outer layer (on low steam with a towel or cloth placed between the jacket and iron). Retest. If those techniques don’t reactivate the repellent, apply a spray or liquid treatment finish, such as Nikwax TX.Direct Spray-on ($14 to $22, depending on size) or ReviveX Durable Waterproofing ($17).

7. Repair a pack’s mesh side pocket

Sew the rip with a large needle and #46 or #69 bonded nylon thread (dental floss and medical suture also work). Use the first few stitches to close the tear (if it’s large, run the stitches from the outer edges of the pocket). Sew horizontally over the gap, then repeat vertically to create a grid-like patch.

More tips!
Get advice from record-setting distance pros; see pages 64 and 78.

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