Fix Your Old Gear

January 18, 2008
Filed under Feature Stories

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It seems that gear failures only happen while we’re in a remote campground. The good news is that, if we’re prepared, most failures can be handled pretty easily. You can either MacGyver a solution with bubble gum and bailing wire, or use the components of a ready-made repair kit to keep from having to pack up and cut the vacation short. The type of equipment we normally take camping includes a tent, sleeping bags, inflatable mats, lanterns, a stove, a food cooler, and some miscellaneous toys. So let’s take a look at what can go wrong with each item, and how we can fix it without heading home early.

Don’t worry about broken toys. There’s still camping to be done, hikes to take, marshmallows to toast, and ghost stories to tell beside a late night campfire. In fact, a good old-fashioned camp is a relief, as loud music is replaced the quiet sounds of wind and birds and rushing water.

Cooler. Food coolers are nearly bombproof, but I have had lid hinge screws pull out of the cooler’s foam-filled plastic shell. Rather than twist the screw back into an already failed hole, move the hinge a few inches to one side of the old holes and put the screws into virgin territory. Fill the old holes with a dab of Shoe Goo (a standard in my emergency repair kit) to seal the voids left in the empty screw holes.

Stove. The most common failure of a camp stove isn’t mechanical – it just runs out of fuel. Take extra. Liquid-fuel stoves have pump systems to pressurize the fuel tank, and this can be a point of failure. Fortunately, there are stove maintenance kits available from stove manufacturers. For example, Coleman liquid fuel stove maintenance kits come with a new generator assembly, a pump cup, and push-on nut. Other stoves come with the necessary gas tips, o-rings, probe seals, screens, cam, fingerplate and wrench. These kits range from about $9 to $13, depending on model.

Lantern. Camp lanterns are among the most fragile accessories. It doesn’t take much abuse to shatter a glass globe or cause a mantle to suddenly evaporate into a cloud of ash. There’s no way to MacGyver a globe or a mantle, so the best thing you can do is to carry spares. Extra mantles are so lightweight and compact that you can easily have a half-dozen tucked away, but the globe is another matter, and a protected case is the only way to keep it safe. Some manufacturers offer wire-mesh globes instead of glass – they’re unbreakable, but still pass lots of light. Due to fire hazard, it’s best to not try to operate a lantern without a globe.

Inflatable Mattress. Inflatable mattresses have forever been the bane of campers. They promise a comfortable night’s sleep, then mysteriously deflate just as you hit the depths of REM mode. I’ve had varying (mostly disappointing) experiences with cheap vinyl repair patches, but there is one product that makes successful repair on vinyl. It’s called Tear-Aid (Tearepair, 800/937-3716; tear-aid.com). This product comes in two versions, Type A and Type B, for use on different materials, and each is available in continuous tape or patches. Type A is for use on canvas, most fabrics, rubber, neoprene, most plastics, and a host of other materials. Type B is for use on vinyl and vinyl-coated materials, in which the vinyl oils cause other adhesives to fail. Whether your inflatable mattress is fabric covered or vinyl, one of the Tear-Aid products will do the job.

Sleeping Bag. Sleeping bags can suffer rips, burns or a failed zipper. Over the years, I’ve been through all of these problems. If the bag is filled with synthetic insulation material, a rip or burn through the shell won’t release all of the stuffing (as would happen with down), although a burn can swiftly turn a synthetic bag into a molten mass of melted goo. To keep the rip or burn damage from spreading (after the fire is out), use either Tear-Aid Type A or far less expensive duct tape. Because most sleeping bags use nylon material for the outer shell, another option is to use Coghlan’s Nylon Tent Repair Kit, which supplies a couple of adhesive-backed rip-stop nylon patches. This will hold things together until you get home. After all, you’re not making a 3-month crossing of the Great Plains on a wagon train. A substantial needle, a thimble and a spool of strong nylon thread should be part of your repair kits, because these will help with stitch-up repairs, including securing a zipper that has come loose.

Tent. And that brings us to tents. Our outdoor shelters are made of a combination of component materials, including canvas, nylon, elastic shock cords, screens, zippers, and aluminum or fiberglass structural supports. Some of what we’ve already talked about can be used to repair rips or burns through the material. Coghlan’s offers separate fabric repair kits for canvas and nylon tents. The canvas kit comes with a couple of 8×8-inch canvas tent patches, some canvas cement, a piece of 8×8-inch window screen and a needle and thread. The nylon tent repair kit has similar essentials, but is designed for nylon tents. Coghlan’s also sells the shock cord in 18-foot lengths and replacement tent pegs in several different styles. Look for these products in the camping accessory section of your favorite outdoor store. Stansport offers tent pole replacement kits for under $10, including 4 fiberglass poles and all the hardware to connect them, as well as shock cord. The MacGyver method for tent pole repair might involve the use of a couple of hose clamps and a stout limb to serve as a splint.

Gear First Aid Kit
An emergency repair kit for camping equipment should include:
o 1 roll of duct tape
o A few hose clamps
o Shoe Goo
o Spare lantern mantles and a spare globe
o Stove maintenance kit for your model of stove
o Tear-Aid patches
o Tent repair kit to match your tent material
o Seam Seal or paraffin wax to seal seams or needle holes after stitching
o Tent screen patch kit
o Tent pole repair kit
o Substantial needle, spool of strong nylon thread, and a thimble
o Shock cord
o Some 1-inch-wide nylon straps and a few spare buckles

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