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Patch Your Gear: These Affordable and DIY Repairs Bring Joy to Your Hiking Kit

Posted by Loren Drummond at Feb 08, 2023 01:00 PM |
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In the darkness of winter, a patch is the cheap fix for down jackets and wool sweaters everyone needs to bring light and originality to their hiker-wear wardrobe.

In the darkness of winter, a patch is the $10 fix everyone needs to bring light and originality to their hiker-wear wardrobe. In Washington, black fleece and Carhartt are practically office casual. They're classic, but this time of year, we need some shots of color! Because what are we, New York? So, breathe life (and maybe do a little repair) on all the stuff you wear from work to the trailhead. (Not crafty? Me either. We've got you covered.)

Darn it! Repairing and patching wool layers

When one of our staffers came in with a hole in a beloved sweater, our magazine editor (and one of many incredibly talented knitters and makers among the WTA staff) Jessi Loerch offered to knit a fix for him. The results turned an already great sweater into something special with a pop of color.

Before and after of sweater hole fix by Jessi LoerchWhen a WTA staffer mentioned he had a hole in a beloved wool sweater, our magazine editor Jessi Loerch offered to knit a colorful block as a repair. "I used duplicate stitch for the bulk of it, to reinforce the edges. Then, where yarn was actually broken and gone (It was actually only three stitches, all in a vertical row) I just knit one stitch." Good as better than new. Photo by Jessi Loerch. (See the sidebar on why wool makes a great base or insulating layer.)

Visible mending is nothing new, but when it comes to your outdoor gear, it's one of the best ways to eke more life out of a piece of gear (or a way to turn a thrift store find into something your hiking crew covets). It also tells a story. You've been out there! Doing fun outdoor things! Things that messed up your gear. As a bonus, patching and mending keeps our hiking gear out of landfills, which is one reason that outdoor companies are investing more in their own repair and resale shops.

Here are a few tutorials and resources that Jessi recommends for darning and patching wool layers:

The art of the visible mend

Working with technical fabrics can be kind of tricky when you are trying to keep fluffy down in or rain out of a waterproof fabric. But you might be pretty proud of what you can pull off if you try. I am constantly amazed by what my colleagues and the hiking community turn out in terms of repairs.

Catherine Lee (@cathrnelee) shared their custom whale patch on Instagram after we put out a call, and had this to say:

"Look at this cute custom patch I cut for my puffy two years ago! I was briefly devastated by the hole that was losing feathers before a pal inspired me with a puffy repair of her own and offered to give me some of the left over repair tape. It turned a jacket I loved into something uniquely mine. I bring this jacket with me on almost every hike (worn in the cooler months or as emergency preparedness in the summer). I've had it for eight years so far and hope to repair and enjoy it for many more to come."

Two photos of a whale patch on a teal down jacket. Photo by Catherine Lee @cathrnelee
This whale patch on a teal down jacket was a custom job by Catherine Lee @cathrnelee

One you dip your (darned) toe into visible mending, you might realize how much life is left in your outdoor gear (or the rest of your wardrobe, for that matter). Over on Instagram @teroutside shared a few of the repairs they've done, everything from some fleecy tights to socks to jeans.

Four photos of repairs. Colorful circle patches on black fleece tights, darned socks and a pair of jeans patched with colorful fabric. @teroutside@teroutside is passionate about visible mending and shared a few repairs: "i practice reduce reuse reclaim recycle repair #WashingtonTrails. I love visible mending."

The classic, quick fix: Buy a $10 patch and paste it on

Visible mending doesn't have to take intricate knitting or sewing skills. My first down jacket, a purple hand-me-down from my mom, was held together with duct tape. It was ugly and warm and lasted a lot longer than it had any right to. Duct tape will still work in a pinch, but for a quick, affordable fix on technical fabrics, we've got better options these days.

GearAid's Tenacious Tape has extended the life of our family tents (puppies and toddlers are hard on tents) and one down jacket that I tore open raking snow off a roof in Maine. I've used the basic, boring clear tape for repairs, but GearAid also has some fun, nature-themed patches. (Sadly, only in black.) Regardless, they are a solid, affordable fix for those of us with little skill or patience for more serious repairs.

And if you are working with a colorful coat or layer already, you can take inspiration from Michele McNulty Finnegan (@granolamum), who has somehow turned her vest into a Tenacious Tape work of art.

Purple down vest patched with Tenacious Tape. Photo by Michele McNulty Finnegan via Instagram

If, like me, you are craving color and are trying to liven up some of your winter layers, Noso has a mind-boggling number of colorful patches. I'm partial to the ferns, fungi and snails found in the designs of Seattle designer and illustrator Kate George.

Noso patches. Graphic designs of mushrooms, ferns and snails by Katie George

Noso has a lot of different patch colors and designs to choose from. These two would dress up a drab grey raincoat and feature PNW vibes from Seattle-based designer and illustrator Katie George.

Have a repair you're proud of or a patch you love? Share it with us on Instagram.

More on repair and budget-friendly gear