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The Art of Duct Tape: How to Make Your Gear Last Longer

Patagonia snowboarding ambassador Forrest Shearer proudly flies the Worn Wear flag on his pants. Forrest Shearer Photo

We beat the crap out of our gear. Long days, harsh conditions and remote, wild places are par for the course in the quest for adventure. Unfortunately, the gear we take along for the ride absorbs the bulk of the punishment. Somewhere along the way, through all that abuse and wear, the gear becomes a part of us, a part of the story—and a part of our lives.

Few understood this connection better than Delia Martinez Togoan. As head of repairs at Patagonia’s Reno, Nevada repair center, Delia had a crystal-clear view into the way people developed loyalty to their used Patagonia garments.

“We take care of each piece by hand because we know how much people care about their gear,” she said. “We love our goods too. They’re well-traveled and well-loved, and it’s the patches we put on that remind us of a good adventure.”

An inside look at the scores of damaged jackets that hang, awaiting repair, in the Reno Worn Wear center, which is billed as the largest garment repair center in the U.S. Jonathan Desabris photo.

Delia eventually built her repair-and-reuse philosophy into what we know today as Patagonia’s Worn Wear initiative. Tragically, after founding Worn Wear and pushing its philosophy into the public consciousness, in 2014, Delia lost a battle with Leukemia and passed away.

But her fight for longevity and for reducing consumption continues—and so, we at TGR have teamed up with  Patagonia to develop a three-part series as a roadmap for you to follow to cut down on gear consumption, make your stuff last longer and—ultimately—save a little money for those all-important après beers.

Build a Relationship With Your Gear

I was six months into a year teaching in China, and at last, I’d found the holy grail of knockoff surf/skate/snow brands in a dingy, sweaty market: Gulou. They had all the best stuff, or what looked like the best stuff. But I didn’t care either way; the line between fact and fiction is often just a sewn patch away.

Gulou was gritty—the type of place where back-alley deals were the norm—and if you payed full price, you were a sucker. Haggling in broken Mandarin, I managed to buy some great stuff, but my favorite is still a hooded down jacket that I continue to wear today.

A lesser-known aspect of Patagonia's Worn Wear program: They're willing to repair other branded clothes. They just want your crap to last longer. Patagonia photo. 

To be clear, I’ve trashed this puffy. Everywhere I go, a trail of feathers follows me like some dirtbag’s version of Hansel and Gretel. Every time I wear it to work, I run the risk of having colleagues whisper and judge. But despite the jacket's poor state, I’ll never get rid of it because of the adventures it’s gotten me through.

The experience I had finding it, the memories it kindles of my time in China and the powder turns it’s kept me warm through are all reasons I’d rather repair it than buy something new. This relationship—the loyalty and bond we develop with our favorite stuff—is what Worn Wear is all about.

It may sound contrived, but when you extend the life of your gear through patches and fixes, that piece of gear–be it an old pair of burly ski gloves covered in duct tape or some puffy bought in a Chinese market–inherits aspects of your character. Think about the times you saw a middle-aged ripper waiting in a liftline in a bombed-out jacket and immediately knew that the guy not only can probably handle himself on a hill, but likely has a few decent après stories to tell as well.

It’s not exactly rocket science, but step one to making your shit last longer and keeping a few more dollars in your pocket is to actually put effort into how you procure said gear, and putting effort into maintaining it.

Resist Fast Fashion, Wash Your Damn Clothes

The idea of Worn Wear runs contrary to how our culture consumes. Or, as Worn Wear’s current head, Kern Ducote, puts it: “The fight against fast fashion is the essence of Worn Wear. But it also really comes down to the stories we wear, and how we can be good stewards of what we already have.”

Echoing Ducote’s words, as a young snowboarder living in the San Juans, I learned early on to see the scratches, scuffs and tears of my outerwear as badges of honor—proof I was out getting after it, claiming lines, sending projects and chasing dreams.

“When you’re a poor dirtbag, you have to be efficient with what you have, and you have to make it last,” Ducote told TGR. “You, me—we all get so connected to what we’re wearing, because of the experiences we have while wearing that stuff.”

But paying a visit to any upscale ski resort offers a very different look into the state of modern consumerism. A paradigm where people seek out the freshest designs—without necessity—season-to-season.

It's amazing (and a little scary) how many people are terrified of washing their outerwear. You spend all day sweating in it. It probably smells horrible. Learn the proper way to wash it and make it last longer. Patagonia photo.

But there’s an art to extending the lifetime of your outerwear. Whether you’re a surfer, skier, climber or world traveler, we’ve all had the shared experience of loving a piece of gear so much that we’d rather repair it than buy something new.

Both Ducote and Patagonia snowboarding ambassador Alex Yoder are big fans of washing their outerwear to extend its overall lifetime. Most people view washing a waterproof jacket or puffy as something to be avoided at all costs—perhaps even catastrophic—so it’s surprising to learn that putting your outerwear through the laundry can help revive overall performance.

Yoder views laundering his outerwear as a form of maintenance and aims to do it at least a couple times per season.

Patagonia wants you to know that no repair job is too big for them. Jonathan photo.

“It's sort of like a paint job on a car,” he told TGR. “If you wash and wax it, it won’t rust. But if you don't wash your outerwear, the dirt particles will wedge into the fabric and diminish the waterproofing.”

To that point, don’t just toss your jacket in the wash with the rest of your clothes and think everything will be cool. Just as you wouldn’t go skiing in that old thrift store t-shirt you’ve nearly worn through, you shouldn’t devote the same amount of tender loving care to washing your $600 shell as you do the old t-shirt.

Washing your gear isn't going to ruin it. It will prolong its life. And while it may never look totally new again, at least you'll have a good story to tell of all the places it has been. Patagonia photo.

To start, you should be washing your outerwear garments individually or with one or two other pieces of outerwear versus just tossing it on top of another load. You should clean out any residual detergent from your washing machine soap dispenser, because traditional detergents can damage some outerwear garments, which is why you’ll want to use a tech wash detergent like NikWax.

When you go to actually wash the garments, make sure all zippers are closed and wash and rinse thoroughly, taking direction from the garment’s tag for what kind of wash and drying cycles it can withstand (many outerwear garments need to be washed in cold water, and others aren’t meant to be tumbled dry).

By doing all that, you will unquestionably extend the life of your gear, but Ducote maintains it’s also important to be realistic.

“Will [the fabric] bead up like it’s brand new?” Ducote asked rhetorically. “Or is it going to be better than where it’s at currently? You have to manage those expectations a bit. Something won’t be brand new again after you’ve washed it, because you’ve been beating it to smithereens for the past 3—5—10 seasons. But it’s going to improve.”

The Art of Duct Tape

So, you’re in the backcountry, and your outerwear fails. Many of us have been in this situation, and regardless on if you plan to buy something new when you return to town, the here-and-now demands ingenuity, resourcefulness and getting your kit dialed. Maybe you snagged your pants on a tree branch—maybe your ski edge sliced through that new $600 jacket—either way, you’re now at the top of a line, or hunkered down in a wilderness hut—and your shit’s busted.

The more you use your gear, the more it becomes a part of you.  – Forrest Shearer

Fixing your own stuff can be intimidating, especially when you’re in the middle of nowhere, but it doesn’t need to be, and the confidence gained from deploying a field-fix is empowering and makes you into a more solid skier or rider.

“There are a lot of simple things that we need to be reminded of,” Kern said. “For instance, the proper use of duct tape, or Tenacious Tape. You’re not necessarily going to have Tenacious Tape in the backcountry, but the same principles apply to both—you want to round off all of those corners and the patching will last way longer.”

The classic go-to solution is to slap some duct tape on the damaged area and hope for the best, but a well-prepared backcountry skier or rider can also throw some extras into their pack that go well beyond the performance of regular old duct tape. Patagonia snowboarding ambassador Forrest Shearer likes to bring a simple toolkit that he can bust out when things head south.

“Usually, I’ll carry some small items in my backcountry kit that vary depending on the day or trip that can be used for practical repairs to my gear and outerwear,” Shearer wrote in an email to TGR. “Small list: patches, gear-aid sealant, Tenacious Tape, a small  Leatherman tool or knife, duct tape, sewing kit, and ski straps are all good to help build a strong repair kit.”

For especially big rips, Sierra Club AddUp Manager and perennial dirtbag Ryan Dunfee likes to MacGyver-fix his outerwear with electrical tape and an open flame.

“Trim the corners [of the electrical tape] so they won’t catch, then put the tape on the rip so it pulls the fabric together,” he told TGR. “Once you’ve done that on both sides, run a lighter along the tape’s edges so it bonds with the fabric, but don’t do it too much, otherwise the electrical tape will curl back. When you put your finger on the tape beforehand, you can feel an edge to it, but after you run the flame over it a little, it should feel more seamless.”

Forrest Shearer’s Field-Fix Essentials:

1.) Patches

2.) Gear-Aid Sealant

3.) Tenacious Tape

4.) Small Leatherman Tool/Knife

5.) Duct Tape

6.) Sewing Kit

7.) Ski Straps

But the Worn Wear philosophy doesn’t only prep you to be savvy in the field; it also teaches you to approach longer travel differently as well. When Yoder’s out slaying powder all over the world for months at a time, the resources and knowledge Patagonia provides helps to lessen what he brings along.

“My lifestyle demands simplicity when it comes to stuff,” he wrote. “A simple repair kit takes up way less space than backups, so instead of an extra jacket or backpack, I bring patches and buckles.”

Patagonia supplies Tear-Aid Type A (also available on Amazon) for in-store repairs of down sweaters, etc.  I have used it for years with great success.  It lasts longer and is less damaging in the long run than duct tape.  Tear-Aid differentiates between their product meant for fabric/nylon and that meant for vinyl (Tear-Aid Type B).  For that reason, I suspect it might out-perform the Tenacious Tape referenced here, though I have no experience with Tenacious Tape and would be interested in hearing feedback from someone who is familiar with both products.

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