Anyone who has been backpacking a few years will have invariably accumulated a plethora of repair tapes and patches along the way, be it a roll of tape from the local hardware store, self-adhesive flashing tape when making pot cosies, or repair kits supplied with shelters or sleeping mats. But what, if anything, to actually carry on trail? This is what Three Points of the Compass is packing along.
Many hikers and backpackers continue to reply on the old favourites- duct tape, gorilla tape etc. Perhaps including a few turns around the shaft of a trekking pole or around a plastic water bottle. I have used them myself in the past and continue to use them for some applications. There is little else that is tough enough to patch up holes in a blown pair of trail shoes. It can get pretty grubby when carried on the shaft of a pole and adhesive can suffer under sunlight. At the very least, it should be changed every season. I prefer to carry up to half a metre inside the pack, either in a ditty bag or wrapped around my spare lighter.
The heels in Altra Lone Peaks always seem to wear through far too quick. I used to get five hundred miles before holes appeared, it was little more than two hundred miles with my last pair. I often carry a foot or two of duct or Gorilla tape just in case I need to put a few inches inside these shoes.
Advances have been made in both repair tape material and adhesives and a glance at alternatives to duct tape may provide something not only lighter and more effective, but can also be peeled off without leaving the sticky residue that duct tape leaves behind when removed. Though a touch of meths on a rag will clean off much of the residue left from duct tape. Cloth backed gaffer tape leaves less of a residue when peeled off. For the cash conscious, note that modern repair tapes can be eye-wateringly expensive when compared to a simple cheap roll of duct tape.
Most lightweight/ultralightweight backpackers are now including items of gear made of Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), formerly known as Cuben Fiber. This is a non-woven composite material comprised of two dimensional monofilaments of Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE), known as ‘dyneema’, sandwiched between two sheets of polyester (mylar). While expensive, this is a lightweight, waterproof and tough material, though it doesn’t handle abrasion at all well. It handles repeated flexing and is resistant to UV light. You can purchase packs, stuff-sacks, packing cells, shelters, waterproof clothing and other gear made from DCF. The material is available in various weights and colours. It is an amazing fabric and ideal for making truly lightweight waterproof shelters. It isn’t indestructible however, and you can expect occasional punctures, rips or other damage. Strips and patches of DCF repair tape are also available in various weights and colours and can be cut and sized as required. This is frequently purchased with an aggressive 3M LSE adhesive, though other types of adhesive are available. Tapes and patches are protected by silicone release paper until use.
I have been using one of two lightweight tents over the past few years, each made of DCF. These are a ZPacks Duplex and an MLD Duomid XL. Both are in a ‘foliage’ colour for more discreet wildcamping, though most people seem to refer to the appearance as ‘camo’. Either shelter can look a little out of place on official campsites amongst family tents and caravans. For slight damage to either of these I also carry a rectangular clear DCF repair patch and a thin strip of ‘camo’ DCF repair tape that matches my particular DCF shelters. Beside pinholes in my shelter walls and floor, barbed wire and thorns can also be a menace on trail and this tape has also been used to repair holes in my food bag, waterproofs, pack and stuff sacks.
Due to the lightweight nature of the material, DCF repair patches are also lightweight with most weight comprised of the necessary silicone release paper. It will work with other fabrics such as XPAC, PU and TPU, also with most inflatable sleeping pads, while other adhesives are less successful. Note that DCF repair patches or tapes are not suited for use with silnylon, silpoly, or any other silicone coated fabric, more on that later. Because of the high cost of DCF, some manufacturers are moving to other materials, some pretty high tech. Wild Sky Gear is one of these, in addition to DCF, he now produces gear using materials such as Liteskin (polyester with a non-woven resin face). XPAC (plain woven polyester face with polymer XPly reinforcement, 0.25mil PET waterproof film and 50D polyester taffeta backing), and GXD gridstop (nylon ripstop with strong hybrid reinforcement).
Not all adhesives on DCF repair tape are created equal and it may be best to contact a seller to check if you have any doubts as to an intended use of repair patches or tape. None of these mentioned tapes or patches are particularly suited for use with rougher textured materials as found on some heavy weight packs etc. They are more for smoother fabrics.
In addition to my DCF shelters, in 2023 I am trying out an innovative shelter design from Durston Gear. When I purchased this, instead of buying the DCF version, which I felt was too close in design and material to the Duplex and Duomid, I opted for the double skin ‘solid’ version that uses a 20 denier polyester fabric for the fly and floor, this has a heavy coating of silicone on the outside for waterproofness and a thinner coat of polyether urethane (PEU) on the inside. These two different surfaces benefit from different types of repair tapes. A repair tape or patch with the incorrect adhesive would come unstuck.
The first of these that I carry is a rectangular “Tenacious Tape Silnylon patch’. This has a silicone based adhesive and is for use on the outside of the Durston Gear shelter. The second is an older product, simply called ‘Tenacious Tape’. I carry a rectangle of this, cut from a longer strip. This has a PU based adhesive so is suited for use on the inside of the shelter. This is now also produced in a sage colour that matches the colour of my particular shelter (unlike the Silnylon patches that only come in translucent light grey).
Many repair tapes from Gear Aid/McNett are, or at least used to be, provided in a handy lightweight plastic case. The two parts of the tubular case screw together and protect the tapes from crushing, debris and sticking to anything else. It does weigh 6.5g by itself however but I have noted recently that suppliers are not including this. Whether this is part of any wish to reduce use of plastics I am unsure. But if you like using them, and I have now stopped, it may be best to get one while you still can, if you still can. I will mention here that I also carry a tiny 1g tube of superglue gel (gel being far more usable in the field than less viscous adhesive) in my repair kit and this tube was a good place to store it, slipped down inside any rolled repair patches. I have tried the 0.5g tubes of gel but they do not include enough to effect most repairs and the larger tubes contain too much. At a pinch, this glue could also be used for skin repair in the event of a particularly bad injury. Finally, on occasion in the past, I also added a little self-adhesive hook and loop Velcro.
Use is simple. Clean the area of damage with an alcohol pad or soap and water and cut patch or tape to shape and size with a pair of scissors with about a centimetre of clearance beyond the damage when applied. Rounded corners are less likely to subsequently peel. Apply over the damage, avoiding bubbles beneath the tape. and press firmly from the centre to the edges. If this can be completed with the damaged material loose on a firm surface and unstretched, all the better. If incorrectly positioned it is usually possible to carefully peel off and reposition for a short period of up to a couple of hours. The adhesive will then begin to ‘cure’. These are invariably pressure sensitive adhesives so if pressure can be applied to the two layers during this bonding process, all the better. This will take between six hours and two days, depending on the tape and adhesive, but you have to settle for what you have. Life is frequently less than ideal. A single repair may be all that is required, larger areas of damage might require a repair on both sides. There are other ways of repairing holes. A shaped piece of like-material, without pre-applied adhesive, could instead be stuck over damaged fabric using a seam sealant that comes in a tube, but that is a far messier and more difficult task to complete in the field and is best left for home repairs. But it is an option for very large areas of damage. Often it isn’t even necessary to buy an additional piece of material for such repairs as tent bags are frequently made from the same material as the shelter.
Gear Aid sell 75mm wide rolls of a stiff PVC tenacious tape that can be cut and shaped. This is thicker and less flexible than the precut TPU patches that Gear Aid supply for use with fabric, vinyl, metal, steel and plastic. Gear Aid also sell dedicated repair patches and tapes for use with Gore-Tex, neoprene, rubber, lycra, fleece, vinyl, non-oiled leather and other materials.
I have only mentioned those tapes and patches that I have experience of. There are many others, from suppliers beside Gear Aid, some of which will be particularly suited to other specific requirements outside of gear normally used within a lightweight or ultralightweight backpacking set up. You can also buy patches with handy loop, toggles or hooks already attached.
Some repair tapes require specific techniques to use. For example, nylon patches fray at the edges and cut edges may need sealing off with a lighter before use. I don’t carry major items of gear made from nylon, so have no need for nylon repair patches or tape. It is for the individual to look closely as what major, or important, pieces of gear are being carried and what they are made from and decide if dedicated repair items should be carried for them.
It is simply impossible to carry sufficient repair for every type of gear failure or damage. Nor should anyone attempt to do so, that really would be ‘packing your fears’. Some types of repair are best carried out at home or by professionals anyway. Damage to mesh screens can be particularly difficult to handle. I discussed one such repair in a dedicated post on the subject.
Most small holes in a sleeping pad can be repaired though larger tears might prove impossible. While duct tape or DCF tape can be used on pinprick holes, the dedicated repair kits and patches often supplied with pads on purchase do a better job.
I carry Thermarest Type A repair patches and their glue dots but complete more major work at home. I covered a simple repair to a punctured sleeping pad in a dedicated post here. It is not a difficult task and carrying just a little repair kit on trail can lessen the chance of some very uncomfortable nights attempting to sleep on a hard, cold, unforgiving ground.
So what repair tapes and patches is Three Points of the Compass including on backpacking trips? This year, while trying out my silpoly Durston Gear shelter, I have two additional types of repair patch, one for the interior, one for the exterior. I also have my usual PVC Tenacious Repair Tape patch (cut from a roll) for use on just about anything other than silicone covered textiles, and a fairly large clear DCF repair patch (cut out of a much larger square) for much the same use, but more for DCF gear. Any of these can be further cut down in size with the small pair of scissors I include in my First Aid Kit. I have a short strip of ‘camo’ DCF tape that can be cut down for small pinholes in either my Zpacks or Mountain Laurel Designs DCF shelters, though I have often used this for thorn and barbed wire tears in my pack. I have two Gear Aid patches and two glue dots for simple repairs to small leaks to my sleeping pad. These are all kept in a poly baggie in my ditty bag, along with that small tube of gel Superglue. Finally, there is a short length of Gorilla Tape wound around a Mini Bic lighter, that sits in my poop kit. This is what I include, and is aimed at the specific types of gear I carry and the materials they are made from. It may not suit you. It is more important to have a closer look at what exactly you are using and how you might like to address repairs, or not.
Most of the tapes and repair patches that I have mentioned can be quite easily sourced from a number of suppliers but just a few outdoor specialists carry a good enough range to almost be regarded as a one-stop-shop.
Note that all adhesives on unused repair tapes begin to break down after a couple of years so you might like to look at those repair tapes and patches in your ditty bag that have happily sat there unrequired and unused for the past five years…
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