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Gear: What breaks when and why?
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Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
Gear: What breaks when and why? on 02/07/2012 11:28:32 MST Print View

Because I have been living outdoors for almost 4 years straight (hiking the Triple Crown amongst other trails) I am now in the rare position to be able to report about the longivity of gear out of my own experience. I buy a new piece of equipment and use it until it completely breaks or fails - and after 4 years I have a very good idea of what breaks when and why. When reading this post keep in mind that all the times given are referring to the period of constant use, not to the age of the gear.

Tents: I have been using Tarptents through almost all my hiking career and I am extremely happy with them. I started with a Virga, then a Virga II followed by a Contrail and now I am using a Rainbow. After a couple of months of use the tent floor will get little holes, but this has never bothered me and I don't use a ground sheet either. The first thing of consequence that will break is the slider of the tent zipper. Depending on what sort of environment you are moving in (lots of sand or not) this will happen after 4 - 6 months of constant use. The slider will wear out and you will not be able to zip up the tent any more. This is a gradual process and you should act as soon as you experience the first difficulties. Of course this always happens in mosquito country where you depend on your tent being closed.... The problem is quite easy to fix with a needle and thread if you have spare sliders with you - don't leave for a long trip without the appropriate spare sliders and familiarize yourself with how to change a slider. I change sliders up to 3 times before the tent dies of old age! After about one year of use the tensioners for the guy lines will wear out and/or the guylines itself will become too slippery to tension them anymore. You can work around it by putting little knots in the guylines or using them with their maximum length, but it will be difficult to tension the tent then without restaking. This is not a life threatening problem but a sign that you should think of getting a new tent. Three times in my 4-year long outdoor career a tent pole has broken and I could always repair it with a repair sleeve. This usually happens when you do not insert the tent pole segments into each other correctly before bending them - they will then break at the thin segment end. Do carry a small repair sleeve on long trips! In my experience a Tarptent can easily withstand 1 - 1,5 years of constant (ab)use before it has to be replaced and this is an excellent life expectancy for an UL piece of equipment.

Sleeping pad: I am using Therm-a-Rest Prolite inflatable sleeping pads of all sizes and thicknesses and no matter what you do they will delaminate sooner or later. Delamination means that the air chambers break and create a bigger and bigger bubble in your pad until it becomes too uncomfortable to use. It usually starts with two little chambers merging into one bigger and then gradually progresses. Act as quickly as possibly when this happens and replace the mat as you cannot stop the delamination process once it has started. It is a major quality problem that seems to concern all brands of pads that use perforated foam. It has nothing to do with strain or pressure put onto the mat. It will happen no matter whether you fold the pad for transport and storage or not. It has nothing to do with the age of the pad - only with the amount of time it has been used. I want to emphasise that this has happened to every single one of my sleeping pads and I had to exchange pads under warranty 8 times! The only reason why I am sticking with Therm-A-Rest is that this problem concerns all perforated foam mattresses, but with Therm-A-Rest at least you have a world wide life long warranty service. The maximum amount of time a Therm-a-Rest has survived constant use without delamination is 7 months. Once the delamation process has started you have anything from one day to 2 weeks before the bubble becomes too big to use it comfortably.

Sleeping bag: I have been using Western Mountaineering sleeping bags most of the time and depending on the climate I am alternating between the Summerlite, the Ultralite, the Versalite and the Puma. Generally speaking the bags are high quality and very durable. After about one year of constant use the slider of the zipper can wear out. As all WM bags have two sliders and usually only the top one that is most used wears out this is not a life-threatening problem. The slider can be replaced very easily if you have the appropriate spare. After about half a year of constant use the down in the bag will start clumping and thus reduce the warming capacity of the bag. Washing will restore the loft, but still it is my experience that no matter how and how often you wash the bags, after one year of constant use they will have reduced loft and after 2 years of constant use the down has so much deteriorated that I am now thinking of replacing it after about 700 nights in it. I am now using a BPL 240 synthetic quilt.

Platypus water bottles: Like Therm-A-Rest they are another Cascade Designs product with a serious quality problem for long-term users. No matter what you do and how you treat a Platypus bottle it will start leaking after some months of use. I think in 4 years I had to change about 10-12 bottles under warranty. Typical leaks will form at the mouth of the bottle, but I had leaks all over the bottles. Never ever trust a Platypus bottle - it will break! Always carry at least two bottles. If you are in a real pinch you can temporarily repair the leak with Seamgrip. If you want a something bombproof, use Ortlieb water containers. They are way too heavy for UL hiking, but I use them for cycling and paddling.

Gas canister stoves: I started my hiking career with MSR Pocket Rocket stoves. After about 6 months of constant use the thread will wear out and you will not be able to screw the stove down to the canister any more. As long as the canister is completely full of gas the stove will still work on a low flame, but after a couple of days the gas pressure will be too low and your stove useless. In a pinch you can try to press the stove down onto the canister with a string/rope and wedges construction, but this is not a long-term solution. This has happened to me with two different Pocket Rocket stoves despite careful handling. MSR has refused to exchange them under warranty. I would never ever carry a Pocket Rocket on a long trip again and can only advise against them. I have now changed to a Snow Peak Giga Power and to my big surprise the thread is still holding up after almost 2 years of constant use. Apparently Snow Peak uses a better material for the thread than MSR. One last word on stoves with Piezo ignition: When I bought my first Snow Peak I wanted to give it back after a couple of weeks of use because the Piezo would not ignite the gas any more. Luckily the sales person explained and fixed the problem for me: The metal end of the Piezo where the spark comes out has to be at a certain angle towards the stove head. By just moving this metal rod a fraction of a millimeter the Piezo worked again.

Trekking poles: I have been using Leki trekking poles for my whole hiking life and they seem to be unbreakable. After about 3.000 to 5.000 km you will have to exchange the tips but this is about it. Always start a long trip with new tips or carry spares and you will have no other problem with Leki. One pair of my Leki poles has survived more than 15.000 km of hiking with no problem - great quality I can only highly recommend.

Backpack: I started with Golite Gust packs and they survive about 1,5 years of constant abuse before you will get holes on the bottom from abrasion. A fantastic pack with a great life expectancy that unfortunately has been discontinued. I then changed to the Gossamer Gear G4 and now I am equally happy. The G4 has a lot of sewing on it and after about 4 - 6 months of constant use the sewing will break because the yarn is wearing out. This is a gradual process and can easily be fixed by re-sewing the seams with dental floss. Always carry a needle and thread, preferably dental floss for that purpose. If you poke holes into the pack body repair them quickly as otherwise the tiny hole will rip further and further and eventually turn into a life-threatening huge tear. I use repair tape for that but I sew the tape on to prevent it from peeling off through dirt and moisture coming in from the edges. If you are not doing hardcore bushwhacking for months on end the G 4 has a life expectancy of about 12 - 16 months of constant use. Considering the weight and the moderate price of the pack this is an excellent value.

Rain jackets: I have tried both Goretex Paclite and eVent - and have been disappointed with both of them. I first used a Hagloefs Oz Paclite Pullover and after a couple of months of use it started leaking like a sieve. I returned it under warranty and got a brand new one, but after a couple of months the same thing happened. I then changed to eVent and bought a Integral Designs jacket. Everything was fine, but after about three months of constant use it was leaking despite washing and ironing it. I am not back to cheap Tyvek rain gear - it might not be perfect either, but at least it is cheap.

GPS: On some trips I have used a Garmin GPS of the etrex series. The first GPS died after about 3 months of use just like that without any warning. From one moment to the other it could not be switched on again. As it was out of the warranty period I bought a new Garmin etrex - not realising that Garmin offers a flat-rate repair service. The brand new Garmin died after 2 months of use - all of a sudden the background lighting died rendering the device useless. Garmin replaced it under warranty, but still a broken GPS in the middle of nowhere created a lot of problems for me. I will now have to see how long this new device will hold up. I don't know whether I have just had a streak of bad luck but I can only say: Do not rely on your GPS as your only navigational device! Always carry a backup in whatever form (maps, compass, cell phone GPS etc.)

Shoes: I have been using Keen trail runners on all my last hikes - either Voyager or Targhee. I am very happy with them and prefer them to the Merrell shoes I have been using before. Keen shoes have a longer life expectancy and last about 1.000 - 1.500 km before they have to be replaced. That means that on the trail I need new shoes every 4 - 6 weeks and this is a major factor on my monthly budget. Even if the sole still looks good, do change trail runners after a maximum of 1.500 km. After that the foam has been compressed to a degree where it does not have a cushioning effect any more and your feet will start hurting. Do not try to save money here: This can cause serious and long-lasting foot problems.

If you are interested in the longivity of other pieces of equipment, please let me know. If I have used them I can tell you how they fared on the long run. I have posted my gear list and gear recommendations for specific trails on my blog:

I am also interested in other hikers' long term experience with their equipment as I am constantly trying to improve my setup.

Christine aka German Tourist

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Fantastic on 02/07/2012 11:45:40 MST Print View

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! These long-term reports are hard to come by, and are very helpful. Considering that most of the gear you mentioned in your post lasted at least several months of constant day-to-day use, a casual user could expect to get years of service from many of those things.

For example: I've been using Platypus water bottles for the last few years and they've been great. With a product like that, there is some expectation of a relatively short life span because of the thin and light materials used. That being said, the casual user could get many years out of a single Platy.

Thanks again for your great post!

Kier Selinsky
(Kieran) - F

Locale: Seattle, WA
Re: Gear: What breaks when and why? on 02/07/2012 11:53:55 MST Print View

That's some awesome info. Especially glad to see that my TarpTent investment will be so long lasting.

Ron D
(dillonr) - MLife

Locale: Colorado
Re: Fantastic on 02/07/2012 11:54:25 MST Print View

+1 Great post with a lot of helpful info.

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Re: Re: Fantastic on 02/07/2012 11:59:45 MST Print View

That is very useful information. Don't hesitate to write about all the gear you have used, even if you only tackle a few at a time. Thanks!

John Nausieda
(Meander) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Gear: What breaks when and why? on 02/07/2012 12:01:11 MST Print View

A VERY good article. Where have you been able to buy new zipper sliders?

Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
Zipper Sliders on 02/07/2012 12:08:13 MST Print View

The first zipper sliders where provided by Henry Shires after I had reported the problem to him. When I realised that this is a problem that will happen again and again I bought some in Germany from I am not sure where you would get them in the US.
And when my sleeping bag zipper failed and I posted a question about it here on BPL another BPL member sent one out to me onto the Arizona Trail. Thanks again for that - what a great community.

John Nausieda
(Meander) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Zipper Sliders on 02/07/2012 12:12:11 MST Print View

I bought this one at Amazon and repaired the metal slider on my Chinese bought Timberland fleece.Free shipping on orders over $25.

Edited by Meander on 02/07/2012 12:13:11 MST.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
Zipper question on 02/07/2012 12:47:27 MST Print View

I have an MLD Superlight bivy with a slider that no longer works (thankfully the other of the two still does). Is there an easy way to figure out what size of new slider I'll need or if the McNett kit linked to above will work?

Matthew Perry
(bigfoot2) - F

Locale: Oregon
Re: Gear: What breaks when and why? on 02/07/2012 13:04:51 MST Print View

"Mary-Ellen Moffitt...she broke my heart".

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Gear: What breaks when and why? on 02/07/2012 13:05:18 MST Print View

Interesting info, thanks!

My Prolite started delaminating too, after about 180 nights. Sounds about the same as your 8 times in 4 years. It's where I used to put my hand on it with full body weight which I don't do any more, but from your experience I guess that doesn't matter. That's all right, 180 days of use is okay.

I've used my Garmin 60CSx for maybe 250 days - about 8 months of continuous use - so I seem to be doing better. I agree, can't rely on it.

Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
Zipper Sliders on 02/07/2012 13:07:03 MST Print View

All zippers on my gear are produced by YKK and I assume you will have a YKK one as well. If you look closely onto the slider you will see a number. For Tarptent sliders it is 3C, my Hilleberg has a bigger 8C. This number determines what slider you need.

John Nausieda
(Meander) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Zipper Sliders on 02/07/2012 13:09:23 MST Print View

Here's a link to the repair kit which lists the # of the sliders.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
Re: Zipper sliders on 02/07/2012 13:30:20 MST Print View

Ah, that's so easy. Thanks, I'll check it out my slider and the repair kit.

And thinks for the original post--lots of good info there.

Tipi Walter
(TipiWalter) - F
Longevity on 02/07/2012 13:45:13 MST Print View

That's a neat list German Tourist, and I can agree with many of your points after 32 years of near constant gear usage.

TENT---Like you I found three things to go out on a tent after long hard use: The floor develops pin holes or loses its hydrostatic head (where a person's weight can sponge up water thru the floor from wet ground. Pin holes are not good where I camp because we often get rainstorm deluges resulting in the "lake effect" where the tent sits in a half inch pool of water. No pin holes, please! My Hilleberg tents have the best floors I've ever seen in this regard. 100 denier, triple coated, etc.

The next thing to go out is a door zipper, as you noted. THEN if the tent is set up long enough, the fly dies from UV damage. All of my old tents pulled apart this way. And of course along with zippers busting the tent is ready for the dust bin.

SLEEPING PAD---I've had delamination many times on my Thermarests and heck maybe the store clerk was right and they're not made for long-term use. When the bubble forms you try and use it and then the bubble gets big and you still try to use it . . . . what a hassle. I emailed Thermy about it and they say it's caused by "body oils and overuse" or some such verbiage. I always demand a replacement free of charge.

SLEEPING BAG---A new down bag will definitely keep me warmer than an old down bag, and this is easy to test. Pop it out at -10F and there's the taste test. Since a good down bag is so expensive, I've made them last at least 10 years of no-wash, butt hard use. Like with tents, a sleeping bag shell will get UV damage and pull apart easily if covered in standard ripstop nylon.

Beyond this, the zipper will go out on a bag "towards the end" and this can be a real hassle on a cold winter trip. It happened to me when out and I didn't have any extra zipper sliders, etc so I used dental floss and sewed the bag completely shut along the zipper. Later at home I took an old bivy bag zipper and replaced it, a long job.

RAIN JACKET---I've been thru many different permutations of the Rain Jacket---anorak, poncho, cheap urethane, paclite goretex, etc. Then I stumbled on Arcteryx ProShell goretex and love it and it keeps on ticking.

These are just some of my observations.

Edited by TipiWalter on 02/07/2012 13:59:14 MST.

Craig Rowland
(craigr) - MLife

Locale: Pacific NW
Zippers and UV on 02/07/2012 13:59:44 MST Print View

When I met with Bo and Renate Hilleberg they commented specifically on the zippers as the #1 place a tent will have problems. They specifically use the bigger zippers because they hold up best to gritty use in sand, etc. which is very hard on zippers. They also hold up best in freezing conditions where a broken zipper can be a big problem on a tent. They won't use lighter zippers on their tents because of these reasons. They also stated that UV damage was also a big problem. High altitude camps can destroy a tent fabric quickly. They were using thicker fabrics because of this so the tent will have a longer useful life.

I have had multiple pieces of rain gear fail through the years. When I know absolutely I'm going to have many days of very bad sustained rain I tend to take Helly Hansen Impertech jacket/pants. Yes they do not breath outside of the vents. But they are really durable and won't let water in no matter how many hours you are in the rain. They are heavier than ultralight rain gear, but in freezing rain they keep me dry. I am trying eVent (hope springs eternal!) however I keep the Impertech in reserve because I'm sure it will be used again.

Thanks for your interesting post.

Edited by craigr on 02/07/2012 14:00:37 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Gear: What breaks when and why? on 02/07/2012 14:23:51 MST Print View

Hi Christine

Lots of useful comments. Thanks.

Zippers - yes, the slider does wear over time, but that does not mean it has to be replaced. What has happened is that the inside surfaces have worn away a bit so the zipper teeth are not being correctly aligned any more. This can be fixed very easily: give the slider a LITTLE squeeze to reduce the gap. Too much squeeze and the slider won't slide any more. I have 'repaired' quite a few sliders this way. The message here is that cheap sliders are usually made of a softer cheaper metal than good ones, so they wear faster.

Guy ropes getting slippery - I have never seen that, but even so, I really don't think that means you need to replace the whole tent. Just replace the guy ropes. Brick layers or mason's string is very cheap and reliable, and holds knots well.

Sleeping pad delamination. Yes, there have been QC problems. But in the last 30 years I have never had any of our pads delaminate. We do treat them very gently. Yes, the TaR brand is good.

Stove screw threads - yeah, they wear out. Lousy thread on the steel canister. Don't screw the stove down too hard: develop gentle fingers. But do check the O-ring is sealing!

Goretex - even that stuff leaks after it has been through the scrub. It gets little pin holes from the sharp leaves. Sigh. Too heavy and expensive anyhow.

GPS: this should be a backup device for bad fog etc, not a primary means of navigation. Map and compass. Hard line!

Shoes - agree totally about the foam sole breaking down. Once you can feel the hollows, change. Better brands, better foam.


Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
Gear: What breaks when and why? on 02/07/2012 14:34:19 MST Print View


Thanks for your observations - I am glad to hear I am not the only one going through so many Therm-a-rests....

Tents: Interestingly enough I have never had a problem with damage due to UV exposure. I cannot say whether this is due to TT's silnylon or to the fact that I never leave my tent set up during the day.
Therm-A-rest: I have gotten the same sort of reply from Therma-a-rest once attributing the problem to funghus growth due to contamination from body oils. Still this explanation did not make sense to me. Body oils can only affect the outside of the pad. How could those body oils cause damage inside the pad?
Rain jacket: I have immediately googled the Arcteryx jacket and of course it is outrageously expensive. But if it really works it would be worth it. How often or how long have you used it?


David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
sliders and inflatable pads on 02/07/2012 14:45:07 MST Print View

Even good quality zipper sliders wear over time. The only ones I know of to really hold
up were stainless steel sliders YKK offered, but the sliders were hand made in
Japan and very expensive and a minimum order was about $25,000. North Face used them on
expedition tents.

Squeezing does help but you will still need to replace the
slider at some point to get maximum use. Even number 10 zippers wear from grit
and use. Salty sand environments are the worst.


One cause of bubbles in inflatable foam pads is the glue releasing due to the pad
being exposed to high temperatures such as is found in a car on a hot day. Hiking
and climbing shoes soles will come off too if treated such.

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
[x] on 02/07/2012 15:04:53 MST Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 02/07/2013 16:32:27 MST.