Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hiking With The Ten Essentials, #7: Repair Kit & Tools

#7: Repair kit and tools, the ten essentials of hiking

Admittedly, a “repair kit” might be a little bit of an overstatement for what is essential for a day hike. Even then, however, having a backpack strap break, a water bladder burst, or another simple failure can turn an otherwise great day into an ordeal. When backpacking overnight, the opportunity for failure only grows as tents, sleeping pads, stoves, etc. can cause problems. The best way to prevent any of this is to simplify your kit as much as possible, with as few “moving parts” in your gear as possible. This, of course, is subjective and one hiker’s “blissful simplicity” is another’s “uncomfortably primitive.” So, with that caveat covered, it is wise to bring a few items along that can help you doctor up a gear failure should it occur. Below are a few items you might want to consider as well as some links for online purchase (I have zero affiliation with any retailers or manufacturers, I'm just providing links for gear I use, like, and have purchased myself.)

Knife or Multi-tool
 The ability to cut cord, fabric, kindling, tape, etc. is essential, and the knives/tools discussed here are primarily for those simple tasks. These are not intended to be serious survival or bushcraft knives. Lord knows, there must be thousands of words floating about online discussing such matters. Our purpose here is to enjoy hiking, not to gut alligators or build elaborate forest huts from found timber. A humble blade of some sort, however, should be with you. Multi-tools can also be very helpful, but beware the extra weight and unnecessary gadgets some of them can bring. Having a flathead screwdriver tip (one tapered to also fit a Philips slot is even better) and some small scissors along with your blade can be helpful. I almost never need anything more than that, though, so consider your gear and personal tendencies when deciding on a knife and/or multi-tool.

backpacking, hiking swiss army knives
Simple Swiss Army knives are great (I only go with the Victorix label – beware of cheap knock-offs.) I have owned several models over the years, and my personal favorites are the ultra simple and tiny keychain-sized Swiss Army Classic (only 1.3 oz.), which can usually be had for $10-15, or the stripped down Spartan model (2.6 oz. and usually $20-$25). Both come with the signature tweezers and toothpick. The Classic has the advantage of scissors and very low weight, but the blade is pretty tiny. The Spartan has the advantage of a larger and better blade, plus a bottle opener, can opener (who wants to lug cans into the woods, though?),  reamer, and cork screw. I have also owned pimped out models of Swiss Army, Leatherman, and Gerber multi-tools with all manner of tinkering bits – you can find models that offer enough gadgets to restore a classic car it seems. In my opinion, simple is better for hiking and backpacking. Save the other models for car camping or general use. I also find that scissors are often more useful than a blade, despite them being far less sexy and far harder to find in useful form on a pocket tool.

multitools and knives for backpacking
These days, I actually carry a small multi-tool and a small folding pocket knife. The knife is a small half-serrated Gerber model with a plastic grip that has lasted beautifully for years. It is light, made from good steel, and durable. Unfortunately, the model is no longer made. I suppose a comparable model today (and what I would probably choose if I ever have to replace mine) is the Gerber Mini Paraframe at only $12 and 1.4 oz. I also carry the Leatherman Style CS for $20 which has a pretty damn decent pair of scissors, a (not very good) blade, tweezers, a bottle opener carabiner clip, and flathead screwdriver tip that is tapered on the end and can be used on some Phillips screws. It only weighs 1.4 oz., and I use it daily on my keychain. I actually love this little gadget despite its crappy blade (fix this flimsy, easily-loosened, impossible-to-tighten-even-with-allen-wrenches blade, Leatherman, and you have a hall of fame gear gadget for the ages, IMO.)

Two or three yards of simple duct tape can be a lifesaver. What can’t you fix with enough duct tape? You can buy prefab small rolls made for camping/hiking kits. You can also just wrap some around an object your already carrying (a water bottle, for instance) and use later as needed. I see this a lot, but I don’t quite trust it. I’d rather have fresh tape and fresh adhesive at the ready given how small and light a mini-roll can be. Such “luxuries” can have a way of disappearing from one’s kit over time, so maybe I’ll also be wrapping my water bottles in the future to save weight and space.

I have come to truly love Gear Aid Tenacious Tape. This stuff sells for $5 for only a small amount (3" x 20") but it is worth it. The adhesive is fantastic, and the tape is made from a solid and durable nylon similar to that found in tents. I have found the clear tape is made from a different material than the other colored tapes and is a little stiffer and harder to manipulate. 

Patch Kits
silnylon repair adhesive
If backpacking, you might consider bringing an adhesive patch kit, particularly if you’re using any type of inflatable mattress. A leaky mattress renders it useless in terms of comfort and almost useless in terms of insulating you from the cold ground. A small repair kit usually comes with reputable models – throw it in your pack. Patch kits can also be used for tents and backpacks. If you’re using silnylon for your shelter or other gear, however, note that its slippery surface eludes even some of the best adhesives. You’ll want to consider bringing something specifically made for silnylon (only silicon bonds to silcon) like Silnet. I wish they sold these in smaller “one time” use tubes. If they do, I haven’t found them. They come in largish 1.5 oz tubes for about $7.

Other Items
Other items that can come in handy are extra cord to tie or bind. If backpacking with a tent that uses poles, consider bringing a repair sleeve. A needle and thread (or dental floss) can be useful, too, and can double as a first aid device should you be faced with having to sew up a deeply serious flesh cut (gauze and tapes are obviously the better option – I know I would only consider sewing flesh as a last resort!) And, on that grisly note, this covers the basics of what you want to consider for a repair kit. Like a few other items on the Ten Essentials list, you bring a repair kit hoping you won’t have to use it, but you’ll be damn glad it’s with you if the time comes that it is needed.

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