Extending the life of outdoor gear makes our favorite activities more affordable AND environmentally sustainable. 

One of my proudest, most beloved possessions is my grandmother’s vintage Eastern Mountain Sports backpack from the late 1970s. She brought it on hikes in the Adirondacks and along the Appalachian Trail with her many children, nieces, and nephews. Eventually, she took it to every single continent as she became a world traveler and self-described bon vivant.

Thirty years later, this pack is what I took on study abroad trips during college and spring break backpacking trips with my roommates. No matter where in the world I was, from Dubrovnik, Slovenia to Fiery Gizzard, Tennessee, I kept finding her distinctive business cards at odd moments and in sticky situations. I thought I’d cleared them all out of the backpack, but there they were with their image of a train in green ink, reminding me that if she could do it, I could, too.

Forty years after she first bought this pack, it’s what I used to carry my clothes when I moved from Tennessee to Oregon.

The plastic lining is flaking and the navy blue color has faded to a purplish grey in places, but the zippers and fabric have held fast. As a lady who moved all alone from rural Alabama to New York City at nineteen, I think she’d be thrilled to know it accompanied me on a similar one-way trip. And as someone who grew up during the Great Depression, I know she’d be pleased that pack has held up so well.

How to Extend the Life of Your Outdoor Gear

Repairing your gear and opting for brands with reliable warranties can turn a one-time purchase into a lifetime favorite. It will lesson the cost of getting outside, and lessen the amount of waste we produce whenever we buy new stuff.

Here are some tips and some brands that will help you extend the life of your outdoor gear.

Fixing Your Favorite Pieces

It’s kind of a no brainer that so many outdoors companies emphasize durability. After all, these are products that are intended to be used in tough, unpredictable conditions for as long as possible. They also tend to be an upfront investment; one that is well worth it if the equipment lasts as well as my beloved backpack. 

As it turns out, a second hand backpack can be a very fine thing to have. Even if it has a rip or tear, these things can be fixed. Gortex patches, Seam Grip adhesive, utility knives, and outdoor sewing kits are all readily available from Gear Aid, and make it a cinch to stitch up a busted pack. 

The Gear Aid Camp Kit comes with everything you need to repair small tears in tents, sleeping bags, and jackets. So whether you inherit an imperfect hand-me-down, or snag your puffy on a branch while hiking, you’ll be relieved to have a repair kit on hand, to extend the life of your gear.

Look for Dependable Warranties

Warranties are a great customer service practice, but they’re also incredibly smart from a sustainability standpoint. Repairing or replacing a product for free can reduce waste and consumption, and keep perfectly good pieces of gear in play rather than seeing them thrown out for minor defects.

Take a look at Patagonia, which repairs over 40,000 garments a year, and empowers customers to learn how to maintain their gear.

Instead of hoping their customers will need to purchase more gear, they help them extend the life of their favorite pieces, and even offer a used gear section on their website.

Making products that last as long as possible, even it means handing out the occasional free replacement, is environmentally sound and makes people happy. Just ask the customers of DarnTuff socks, who are promised a replacement pair if they find their big toe poking out. 

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Danner Boots is another example of a brand that responsibly repairs their products. Their boot uppers can easily be removed from the outsoles, allowing for a whole “reworking” process on which they pride themselves. Instead of wasting leather and rubber, individual parts of the boot can be restitched, replaced, or mended.

It’s been decades since we thought about shoes as anything but disposable, but when they’re handcrafted from natural materials, it’s easier to kick it old school. 

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Another brand that will give a shot at repairing your gear before throwing in the towel is Canada Goose. That’s right, the jacket brand that New Yorkers are especially infatuated with. These coats are investment pieces, but as long as you buy them new, the company will help you keep them up. That means repairing seams, replacing down leakage, manufacturing faults, the whole nine yards.

Those kinds of warranties would have impressed my grandmother, who once spent all her money on a winter coat when she arrived in New York and had to eat patients’ leftovers at the hospital where she worked. Knowing she could keep her new coat nice and her feet dry would have meant the world to her, both in her broke teens and her globetrotting seventies.

Gear keeps you going even when you’ve got a broken leg on an Indian train platform (my grandmother) or a broken arm in a Tennessee gorge (me). A piece that lasts is good for our budgets and the environment. It keeps our stories alive, too. 

Meghan O'Dea

Meghan O'Dea

Meghan O'Dea is a writer and aspiring world traveler who grew up in the foothills of Appalachia. She has written for the Washington Post, Fortune Magazine, and Eater Magazine, amongst others. One day, she hopes to have a team of adventure cats to help her achieve world domination.