November 5, 2021 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Claire Barber | Photo by Aida Hasson

“One time a bear stole all of our iodine but none of our food.” 

That’s a comment from a casual Instagram pole I conducted this past week. In desperate need of content, I asked folks to give me a rundown of some of their funniest, most treacherous, and most interesting gear malfunctions and hacks. They did not disappoint. 

Pants seem to be a theme. Lamenting that my own beloved Lee Jeans have been ripped and sewn to smithereens, I was met with empathy: “The ass of my favorite jeans is also completely blown out.” Another commented: “Ripped a pair of pants fully in half dancing once.”

But you are probably wondering: Claire, why are we talking about pants and the ass-less-ness of yours? 

Well, because gear and the malfunction of it is par for the course in the outdoor, active world. 

Some practical, but arguably less entertaining comments I received are as follows.

“Water jug hole on a backcountry trip… melted rubber of a hiking boot and gum will fix.” 

The water jug hole solution is innovative. Although, reader be warned, I cannot attest to the ugly chemicals emitted by your smoldering shoe, nor can I guarantee that you won’t melt your water jug or water bladder in the process.

“My binding blew up on the top of a tight couloir last season with some awful snow, Voile straps.” 

Now, I’ve seen bindings and boots come apart before — never at the top of a couloir, but still, it’s never fun wherever you are. In the backcountry, always make sure to have a repair kit of some sort to jerry-rig your setup. 

For starters, ski or “Voile” straps are a must and your Gold Card is a perfect device for removing clumped, icy snow from underneath your skins. Consult employees at the Ahlberg Gear House and Ski and Bike Co-op (arms of Colorado College Outdoor Education that rent and repair gear at subsidized prices to students) to access repair kits and tools. 

“Outdoor equipment can really be such a barrier to a lot of people who are trying to enjoy the outdoors,” said Chris Tobin ’22, an employee at the Ahlberg Gear House. 

Tobin himself is an experienced outdoors person, thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail southbound in 2017 from Maine to Georgia. Tobin’s biggest advice: “If you get a hole or anything, you can sew it up.” 

Hand sewing usually does the trick. Try embroidery thread, sticky patches (or duct tape), and even dental floss to create a stronger bond. If you need some fabric patches, places like Pottery Barn give upholstery samples away for free… but don’t tell Pottery Barn I told you that. 

But what’s almost better than fixing your own gear — finding free gear. 

“Finding gear in the woods that has been lost by someone else is really nice,” Tobin says. 

It’s true. Target the right gullies on hiking trails and you might walk away with a beat up but functional Hydro Flask. If you’re particularly good at wrenching pieces of gear from rock crags, enjoy what Tobin and the climbing community call “crag swag.” 

But the biggest threat to your gear autonomy? 

“Mini bears, man, rodents and critters, they will get in your food,” Tobin said. 

Chewing through a Cuben Fiber bag, Tobin recalls how a rodent infiltrated his food stash on the Appalachian Trail. 

“This mouse ate like half of a hostess bun. [It] probably had enough calories to put it in cardiac arrest,” Tobin said. “I definitely recommend just going way over the top with your food protection.”

For those under threat of critters, rodents, or worse, the Ahlberg Gear House rents everything from fauna-safe canisters to kayaks.

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