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Gear: What breaks when and why?
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Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
gear durability on long distance trail use on 02/17/2012 00:25:52 MST Print View

Having done the three long trails over the last four years, I’ve had some gear issues too; I think I tend to trade out my gear/clothing more often than Christine. Certainly more than some other folks I’ve hiked with; for example, the guy I finished the CDT with in November had used the same jacket on all three trails (and it showed).

So a few thoughts along this line:

Ditto Christine on the thermawrap jacket, and vest, with the caveat that it depends on which year you bought it. My thermawrap jacket originally had the sort of “hidden zipper”, which had a rubbish zipper pull (partly plastic). Montbell was very good about replacing the whole zipper when it went out, cudos to them.
I bought an OR Helium jacket for the CDT, and after wearing it a great deal on that trip (a lot more than I wore a jacket on the PCT or AT), it still seems in quite good condition, despite more sort of bushwhacking action than on the other trails. Since it’s a pretty lightweight jacket, I was impressed with that.

Pants indeed wear out, though “function over fashion”, one can wear them fairly ragged for a while when needed. As Christine said, shirts get wear marks on the back and shoulders. But you sort of look like a hobo a lot anyway, so … I’ve not really managed to wear a shirt out, though I’ve started each trail with a different one.

My underarmour boxer briefs lasted extremely well, somewhat of a surprise as I pretty much only change them for washing in town.

Golite shoes got better over time for durability, but also somewhat narrower in the toe box so I switched to Asics. I actually felt kind of bad throwing out my Asics every 500 – 600 miles last year as they looked to be in good shape each time I did so, apart from some bits of sole that were sort of almost designed to calve off (?!).
eVent gaiters and eVent mittens lasted better than expected, and w.r.t. the latter note that I’m a full-time two-stick hiker, so for those times when deployed (and again, more this last trip than others) they got a fair bit of use with trekking poles constantly in hand.

Sun gloves wear out after a while, I think I can get basically half a thru-hike out of a pair, unless I lose them (they’re sort of earth-colored after a while, can blend in if I set them down).

My OR sunrunner hat held up well into my third long trip, but I felt like my bald head was getting more tanned than it should have right through the hat so I replaced it along the way on the CDT last year.

I used Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus packs on the PCT and about half-way into the AT. I felt like it’s true that you get about one thru-hike from one of these. In both cases it was primarily waist-belt wonkiness that triggered a shift, other stuff seemed field-repairable. My hiking partner for much of the AT had about 5000 miles on his ULA pack, so I bought a Circuit, used that for half the AT and all of the CDT and it’s still in good condition.

I think I replace my platypus bladders just as a “this seems like a good idea” thing more often than Christine. I’ve never had one leak, it’s more about (despite only putting water in them) a sense of things growing inside that leans me to replacing hose, bite valve, and/or actual bladder at times.
I used a cuben pack cover this last year, a fair bit, and had to repair one small hole with duct tape, but this held up well, I think, still in good condition. Ditto a cuben rain skirt.

Some things get so little actual wear that it’s not an issue. Tiny pocket knife, for example. Tiny reading glasses. These sorts of things one might manage to inadvertently break in a careless moment or lose, but I think never wear out.

Inflatable pads: I’ve used various, never had delamination, but have had a leak or two. My neo-air did fine on the AT, developed a slow leak shortly afterwards. Another neo-air got a slow leak along the CDT, as did my montbell inflatable pillow, but I used the latter on much of the PCT and all of the AT and CDT, so don’t feel too bad about that. It wasn’t repairable, however; it’s a shaped pillow, and the patch just wouldn’t completely seal at the specific point where the leak was.

Polycro groundcloth is pretty tough stuff; seems like I’ll go hundreds or even thousands of miles with no significant change and then something will happen so that linear tears begin and eventually they start splitting apart. But pretty cheap to replace via a local hardware store, and also something that I can certainly do without at need.

Ccf pads certainly get worn and somewhat flat over time, but remain nevertheless useable for a good long, long time. Thinner ccf pads perhaps a bit less so, but even there with care I’ve gotten more than a thru-hike out of a 1/8” ccf pad that I used most if not every night.

I too have WM bags, one summerlite and one ultralite; I’ve swapped between these to do all three trails plus other hiking. Finally now have them in to WM to restuff and in fact overfill them; even if you just lose a feather or two now and then, after more than a years worth of nights of use it does add up so that when you hold the bag up to a bright light you see why there are cold spots. Great bags, though. No zipper problems for me. One pull cord got a big wonky so that it’s a little fiddly to tighten up into true mummy mode, but otherwise holding up great.

I’m afraid I’ve swapped kitchen pieces on different trips, to include going no-cook for the first thousand miles last year. My Caldera UL compact system took some fiddling to keep going, but it does still keep going and is still my preferred cook system now when I do cook (so I’ve used it on all of the AT and more than half of the CDT). The quart sized freezer bag cooking cozy I bought from Sarbar has held up great through all three long trips.

I had been a fan of REI branded Komperdell carbon fiber trekking poles until I slipped on a patch of ice in the Smokies and snapped one. Now I’m happy with the lightest titanium leki’s I could find.

I used a TT Contrail pretty much every night on the PCT starting in the Sierras. Carried it on the AT but mostly slept in shelters. Still works great. Driven initially by wind concerns I bought a cuben upper Lightheart Solo for the CDT, and like that somewhat better. Indeed, one of the zipper pulls on that got to be unreliable, but there are two zipper pulls on that particular zipper, so I just take care now to use the other one and things are fine. No other issues, it’s a great tent.

I think that the real answer is that, for the most part, things don't often truly wear out, even “ultralight” things for the vast majority of users if some basic care is taken. Put another way, apart perhaps from packs I don’t think that durability should be stressed so much by those that question this whole “no doubt it’s just a passing fad” ultralight movement. :-)

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Same gear brands here on 02/17/2012 01:33:00 MST Print View

Christine, Thanks for this info. I'll never use my gear as intensly as you do but I get out quite a bit.

>I too have a Tarptent (Moment) and a WM bag (overfilled Megalite) so I'll get the spare sliders for both.

>My stove is a Brunton Crux (made for Brunton by Optimus)and so far so good.
I also nave a Trail Designs Sidewinder ti stove W/ Inferno woodburning inert so I may take that for trips where I know there will be wood most of the time. Otherwise I'll use ESBIT or FireLite tablets B/C the Sidewinder is VERY efficient using ESBIT.

>And yes, I have a Thermaest Prolite also (new and replaced under warranty this year due to the very old Thermarest Lite delaminating).
That's the 2nd Thermarest they have replaced for me.

My pack is a three year old REI Cruise UL 60 and I've had to sew it up a few times as well. (with button and carpet thread or take it to a ahoe repair shop to re-sew part of the belt's lumbar pad.

So yes, most gear has a "point-of-no-return" in terms of durability. But I haven't yet found that point with my ancient SVEA 123. :o)

Edited by Danepacker on 02/17/2012 18:59:48 MST.

Mark Olah

Locale: New Mexico
Garmin Vista on 02/17/2012 01:45:50 MST Print View

I've had my Garmin Vista HCx for several (5?) years. It comes with me on every hike/bike/backpack/ski trip I've done and stays on the whole trip to record my travels. It's been dropped in wet snow, onto rocks, and into water with no discernible problems. It's attached to my handlebars biking and has taken more than one direct hit on an over-the-handlebars tumble. One of those tumbles stripped the threads on the original battery case screw mount, but there are replacement battery covers available. The screen has many deep scratches but is readable still. The only problem I've had is the rubber sides come unglued after some time. I have tried re-gluing them with epoxy and gorilla glue, both of which eventually failed. Last time I used super glue which seems to be holding up OK. The device still works great and I don't see it failing me any time soon. My favourite gadget, and I never leave home without it. I hardly ever need to use it for navigating, but I love having a GPX of everywhere I've been, kind of like a journal of locations rather than words.

Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
Gear: What breaks when and why? on 02/17/2012 02:01:32 MST Print View

@Samuel: I am curious what kind of Leki poles you are referring to. I had a similar problem with my first Leki poles that you had to screw tight (not the new speedlock flip thing). If you had used the poles a lot and then stored them for a while, the inside threads started sort of corroding. The plastic locking element could then not be screwed down enough any more because of the “corrosion” on the thread and therefore the poles could not be tightened any more. This could be repaired very easily: Take the segments apart, remove the red plastic locking thing and clean the thread with a knife or a steel brush in order to remove the corrosion. Reassemble the whole thing and you will be able to tighten the pole perfectly.

@ Tad: My repair kit consists of a lot of duct tape that a carry around my trekking poles. You can solve a lot problems with duct tape the quick and dirty way.... I also carry a small patch of dedicated repair tape for long-term repairs. A small tube of Seam grip repairs little holes in TAR, tents and very temporarily fixes leaks in Platypus. I also carry one or two sewing needles, but I mostly use dental floss as thread. I always carry an extra zipper slider for my tent and depending on the tent a repair sleeve. You can see my full gear list on my blog here:

@Eric: You brought it right down to the very point: For me half of my gear is consumables and I have to plan accordingly. Especially shoes that have to be replaced every 4-6 weeks are an important factor here. When planning a long hike (I am right now planning a 5,000 km hike across Western Europe) I always look up the following: Where do I resupply on food, gas canisters and shoes. For other stuff that is a bit more durable, but will break eventually like backpacks, clothes, tents I always have a “supply” in my storage unit. I have to admit that I once bought 3 GG G4 backpacks on sale because I like them so much and I knew that I would get through them eventually. I am currently using no 2... With stuff that will be replaced under warranty I unfortunately have to wait till it eventually really breaks - which it always does with TAR Prolites and Platypus.
Unfortunately my “consumable” approach is not really considered in most gear reviews. Gear that might be great for other people who do not use their equipment very often is a waste of money for me if it breaks after a couple of months.

But generally I hope to send a very positive message: Most of my dedicated UL gear like backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, gaiters, wallet is surprisingly durable considering its weight and moderate price. The prejudice that UL gear is not very durable is just not true.

wander lust
good tread on 02/17/2012 05:03:54 MST Print View

thx for posting german tourist.

it is true that most ul stuff is quite durable, it just really depends where it is used.

not all ul gear works under all conditions.

I wasn't that happy with my simblissity gaiters, but I am also really hard on my footwear and bushwhacking is the best way to test gear. I could have known better :)

Babak Sakaki
(persianpunisher) - F
Re: Gear Test on 02/17/2012 17:56:08 MST Print View

Walter, what shell do you use?

Brett Peugh
(bpeugh) - F - M

Locale: Midwest
Chacos on 02/19/2012 10:26:41 MST Print View

Chacos for shoes, they last for years and then you just get them resoled.

Daryl and Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
Broken Poles on 02/19/2012 11:47:55 MST Print View

"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."

This is sometimes caused by a weak or weakened elastic shock cord within the poles. Here's one possible solution.


Edited by lyrad1 on 02/19/2012 11:56:11 MST.

Daryl and Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
Cannister Threads on 02/19/2012 11:55:23 MST Print View

"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."

Leaving the stove and cannister connected while hiking might reduce the thread wear. Here's one way to keep the two connected while hiking:


ed hyatt
(edhyatt) - MLife

Locale: The North
stove in a bottle on 02/19/2012 12:12:02 MST Print View

I bet you're brilliant with ships :-)

Daryl and Daryl
(lyrad1) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest, USA, Earth
Re: stove in a bottle on 02/19/2012 13:02:11 MST Print View


Thanks. You made me laugh.

Reassembling the stove wasn't hard but I had to use surgical instruments to reassemble the canister.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Gear: What breaks when and why? on 02/19/2012 13:20:17 MST Print View

Hi Christine

> Especially shoes that have to be replaced every 4-6 weeks
That may be a little too harsh. I take a fairly new pair of New Balance joggers to Europe each time, and they alsways last the full 2 months, with some km left at the end.


Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
shoe wear on 02/19/2012 19:26:59 MST Print View

"I take a fairly new pair of New Balance joggers to Europe each time, and they alsways last the full 2 months, with some km left at the end."

I suggest that the better metric might be miles walked rather than time worn. My household slippers are going strong after several years of use! :-)

Seriously, it's also about the "when to replace" algorithm. My experience is that younger and/or more thrifty thru-hikers tend to err more on the side of "wear them until they're really falling apart". I had foot surgery after the PCT, so am now even more inclined to replace my shoes after 500 - 600 miles of use. In normal life, I have no idea how many miles I have on my footwear, but for long trips it's an easy calculation.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: shoe wear on 02/19/2012 20:06:38 MST Print View

Hi Brian

> My experience is that younger and/or more thrifty thru-hikers tend to err more on the
> side of "wear them until they're really falling apart".
I like the 'younger' bit - yes please! :-)
I admit the 'more thrifty' bit.
But reality is that finding replacement joggers of a 4E width in Europe is next to impossible. Trust me, I have searched.
So I make sure I take reasonably robust-looking joggers.


ed hyatt
(edhyatt) - MLife

Locale: The North
shoe life on 02/20/2012 00:36:32 MST Print View

Another subjective thing......mine last the 4-6 weeks as suggested by German Hiker; that's if I am lucky. I always go through the inner heel liner really quickly.

This is an expensive pain with seemingly no solution. The only shoes that did not do this with me were Montrail Hardrocks (the 'originals' bought in the US) and Vasque Velocity's (the sole unit wore really quickly instead).

Martin RJ Carpenter
(MartinCarpenter) - F
Terrain too on 02/20/2012 03:18:35 MST Print View

Footwear surely distance/terrain mediated rather than purely time? Just had to retire a pair of rockridges after maybe 300 miles because I'd totally destroyed the EVA. But quite a lot of roads in that. Sole units a little bit battered, uppers basically untouched.

Thats annoying of course! I do wish someone would do something resolable with a thinnish PU midsole. Tough uppers needn't be heavy - my Walsh extremes look terribly tough and they're not heavy at all.
(with the Ecco shoes I walk to/from work with (~4 miles/day on pavement) its the sole unit which finally goes and then it has to actually wear through to kill them. No eva involved I think.).

Inaki Diaz de Etura
(inaki) - MLife

Locale: Iberia highlands
Shoe life on 02/20/2012 05:50:35 MST Print View

my experience goes to at least 8 weeks of everyday, 10-12 hr/day use and that was with some Innov8 shoes that were lighter than what I usually use. Vasques and Salomons I usually wear 12+ weeks or more. I thru-hiked the PCT in just two pairs of Vasque Velocity shoes (and discarded the first one when it was still usable). I certainly use the shoes until they're literally falling apart and never had a problem with my feet/joints/whatever.

I understand this is a very personal thing, just wanted to state my case.

Christine Thuermer
(GermanTourist) - F - M

Locale: in my tent
Shoe life on 02/20/2012 09:38:21 MST Print View

I think there are three aspects that determine the life expectancy of a shoe: Mileage, weight of the hiker and terrain.

The most important one is definitely the mileage a shoe is used. For me and Keen shoes it is about 1.500 km max. For me and Merrell shoes it is only around 1.200 km, so I guess there really is some technological difference in the make of the sole. After that the foam in the sole is so compounded that me feet hurt, but I guess other hikers might have a higher tolerance. Mileage effects the cushioning of the sole and the inner liner (I have the same problem as Ed Hyatt there, also it does not give me a lot of foot pain).

Another factor determining the life of the cushioning is the weight of the hiker. As the material of the cushioning is always the same no matter what shoe size I think it will take a heavier hiker less time to compound it than a lighter person.

And then of course there is the terrain but this mostly affects the abrasion of the sole. After hiking 1.200 km on easy terrain in Germany the soles of my shoes looked almost like new, whereas 600 km on the rugged Arizona Trail almost destroyed the sole.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Shoe Life on 02/20/2012 10:07:39 MST Print View

Roger said:

"But reality is that finding replacement joggers of a 4E width in Europe is next to impossible. Trust me, I have searched.
So I make sure I take reasonably robust-looking joggers."

The longest I've hiked in Europe at a stretch was just a few hundred miles, so --- rats! The U.S. approach of mailing something ahead to yourself doesn't work?? I.e., I would have thought in terms of flying over with one or more spare sets of shoes and mailing them ahead or at worst, finding some other way (?) to essentially cache them at or near points along the route. Because I certainly hear you on the 4E thing, it's hard enough to find shoes that work for me here.

Not something I need to know about anytime soon, but hopefully someday --- ! My wife and I hope to do the Camino together sometime, but I'm sure one pair should be fine for that.

Christine mentioned weight as a factor; true, but of course after a few hundred miles, most people are looking pretty lean, and generally have discarded most extraneous stuff they don't need. Trail quality certainly is a factor, a couple of times I've been more eager to replace my shoes, but ultimately for me at least, it's about the remaining cushioning --- you can get by just fine in shoes that look pretty raggedy.

Feet are so danged complicated; every long trip I seem to get some new foot problem to deal with.

Martin RJ Carpenter
(MartinCarpenter) - F
Terrain on 02/20/2012 10:32:16 MST Print View

Surely how hard the terrain is also considerably effects how compacted the foam gets?

Stuff like roads/hard packed tracks etc kills it pretty quickly, but walking on natural terrain it'll last much longer. Sadly its roads when you need it :(

Walking style too maybe. I'm certainly not heavy but my feet are relatively small for my height and I am normally going quite fast so they must get quite a bit of force.

Doesn't stop me wandering if EVA isn't mostly getting carried over from running shoes whilst walking can do with a bit less/firmer stuff that doesn't compress. Or is there some other reason that its so ubiquitous now?

It certainly seems to be a (the?) major limiting factor in terms of shoe durability.
(the non eva everyday shoes I use can manage 1000+ miles on tarmac before they start dying, and no problems with stuff hurting etc. If they resoled they'd keep going well beyond that until the uppers died.).

Edited by MartinCarpenter on 02/20/2012 10:34:24 MST.