Repair kits: rarely used, always celebrated when needed
By Sarah Carpenter
Backcountry skiing can be so much fun: exploring new places, skiing powder with friends, moving efficiently through the mountains. But every once in a while, something goes wrong. A binding breaks, skin glue gets cold and loses its stick, that old ski boot rivet finally blows out. Or worse yet, you hit a buried stump and tweak your knee or your partner slices her head open on a tree branch.
It’s times like these that the people and gear repair kit at the bottom of the pack comes in handy. The kit is an item that lives in my pack at all times. I’ve added, subtracted and substituted items over the years of guiding, teaching and touring in the backcountry and the problems I’ve experienced. It’s that piece of gear that I almost never use, but am psyched I have it when I need it.
Gear repair kit
My gear repair kit lives in one ziplock bag and my people repair kit lives in another. I store both of them in a small zippered bag, or if I’m headed to the northwest, in a small lightweight drybag.
The obvious pieces that live in my repair kit are the multi-tool, 4-5 ski straps, duct tape, and 10-15 feet of p-cord. For anything other than a really short tour, I also throw in a binding buddy or screwdriver and an assortment of bits, including the pozidrive #3 bit that works with my bindings. These are the pieces that can fix the simple problems -– loss of a skin tip, skins with no skin glue, loss of a snowboard binding strap. Most days, I also throw in glide wax, as well as skin wax for spring time adventuring. The glide wax is a recent addition, after a day with old skis that decided they didn’t want to slide downhill on a powderday.
Additionally, I always carry a headlamp, a lighter, and fire starter (the pre-packaged kind, chunks of bike tube, or dryer lint with or without petroleum jelly) just in case I get caught out in the cold. I also carry a light-weight rescue sled by Alpine Threadworks that can act as a bivy sack or tarp in case I need to stay out or keep a patient warm, and a chunk of bright flagging in case of needing outside help.
Two small hose clamps and aluminum from the body of a beer or soda live in my pack to splint a broken pole, and an assortment of binding screws that work with my (and my partners’) bindings, plumbers putty, and steel wool are in a small bag for binding repair. This came in handy high in a couloir a few years ago when a student on an avalanche course made a turn and stepped out of his ski, with the binding toe piece still attached to his foot. It wasn’t a permanent fix, but it was good enough to get him down the couloir and out from the day.
One of the less obvious pieces that I carry is a large hose clamp. It came in handy once when a partner exploded his heel piece while on a ski tour. I strapped his boot to his ski with the clamp and we skied out. This was the other fix that I had in my pack for the binding that pulled off the ski on the avalanche class.
People repair kit
Regarding the people repair kit, I carry medical tape, blister repair including moleskin, mole foam and 2nd Skin, and steri-strips. I carry a pair of gloves, mini trauma shears, ibuprofen, Aspirin and Benadryl. I also carry a few tampons. They are hard to improvise, and you are the superhero if you have them when they are needed. I put a couple in my husband’s first aid kit each winter, too. During days when I’m working, I add an ace wrap in case someone tweaks a knee. I don’t carry many gauze pads or band-aids, as I can improvise these from clothing and other items in the first aid kit.
Editor’s Note: for more on first aid, check out Louie’s play by play of building his first aid kit.
Tweak your kits depending on goals
The people and gear repair kit changes size based on the objective. Multi-day or multi-week trips merit a larger repair kit –- more of the essentials and added pieces that might be needed on an extended trip. Ski objectives where weight matters might lend to a lighter kit and a triple check on the condition of your gear. A guiding day calls for a larger kit than a ski day out with my husband.
The important thing is to have a repair kit for gear and people and some practice using it. Ask yourself what could go wrong with gear and then practice ‘fixing’ it before you’re facing an emergency in the field. Those practice repair sessions wrapping the ski straps around a boot or unrolling the duct tape may tell you that your straps are too short or long or that your duct tape is too old. I keep a document on my computer that lists my current gear and people repair kits, so putting these kits together early season isn’t like reinventing the wheel each year. And I make adjustments based on quizzing my partners about what they carry or from learnings on the days when something or someone breaks.
Once my general repair kit is honed in, I keep the essentials in two zip lock bags and add or subtract as my objectives dictate.
(WildSnow guest blogger Sarah Carpenter has spent most of her life on skis. She is the co-owner of the American Avalanche Institute and an AMGA certified ski guide. She lives in a strawbale house with her husband, Don, in Victor, ID. A year spent building a house convinced Sarah that backcountry skiing, climbing, and working in the outdoors is easier than working in construction.)