Shoe Repair, on and off trail

Angie and I just both blew out another pair of shoes. Here's a picture of mine (with a repair)


And here's one of Angie's with a hole clear through the heal

Anyway, this made me realize just how many times I've blown out shoes on the trail, and that I'm using a number of tricks to deal with this that I got from esoteric sources, experience, or face-to-face conversations... so I thought I'd share them here. These two pairs of shoes were dropped in a nearby trashcan. Here's another of my shoes:


On trail repairs: Torn shoes

Here's a picture just after a quick trail repair on the presidential traverse in the White Mountains.


See the thing that looks like a metal worm in the middle of the picture? That's what's called an "S-needle". This is the single biggest secret to on-trail shoe repair. I prefer to use a waxed linen twine to do my repairs (partly because I use it for everything, but also 'cause it holds up pretty well). Another good alternative is tooth-floss (the old style, rather than the ribon stuff). That's what I used here, when I blew out a shoe on the JMT:


That last repair was actually done with a straight needle- but with great difficulty. The curve of the S-needle gives you something to get a grip on and really shove, so you can do things like shove it straight through the sole of a shoe.

Note that the first two are repairing worn out leather, where the last is actually repairing the sole coming unglued from the shoe. For the last repair,  to maximize milage before the shoe fails completely you want to stall until the sole is really pealed back a little, with maybe 3/4" unglued , but not until you catch it on something and separate it further. The thread on the toe will bust through fairly quickly (maybe 100 miles), but that's 100 miles farther than you would've gotten, and you can keep doing this repair until the shoe-sole or leather uses structural integrity.

Too make things a little easier I have a leatherman squirt PS4 on my keychain (the PS2 is even better, but no longer made). The pliers are really helpful if trying to repair heavier boots, which they have been used for on more than one occasion.

On trail repairs: Uneven soles

There is one other on-trail repair I will perform, and it can gain you a lot of milage. Many people, like myself, do not wear shoes evenly. If you wear more traditional shoes than I do these days (as I did on the AT), you may find that your shoe has worn, or the EVA midsole has collapsed such that it's hurting your knees, or such that it's created a ridge between your toes and the ball of your foot and is giving you blisters.

My solution to this is duct-tape. Take your insole out, and layer duct-tape on to the insole to "shim" the low spots back up level. If you do it right, graduating the sizes of the duct-tape you can get the shoe back to level. I've gotten an extra 200 miles out of a pair of shoe at least using this trick, and saved my knees some injury to boot.

Off trail repairs
On trail I pretty much restrict my repairs to sewing. Shoe Goo is useless in my experience, pealing off within just a few miles usually, even if you let it sit. If I wear through a shoe-sole I just hike on it (as I did on the JMT). My belief is that this is because you can't get the two surfaces clean enough... At home though, you can do this right.

For shoe sole seperation here's the trick:
1) Clean the top of the sole, and bottom of the shoe as well as you can with water, let it dry completely
2) Clean them *again* with mineral spirits, keep cleaning until your rag or paper-towel comes away CLEAN. Again let it dry...
3) Use "barge" cement, preferably original formula. I've heard the new "the fumes won't kill you as fast" formula does not bind as well. Put it on fairly liberally
4) Clamp the shoe as best you can, bar clamps or c-clamps work well. Particularly make sure you clamp near the tip of the toe, and that a little glue gooshes out as you do so.

And there you go! If you are used to repairing your shoes, especially on the trail, you can stretch them a lot farther before throwing them away. "Oh this shoe might blow out while I'm out" stops being a reason to replace them immediately... and with the average shoe lasting between 600 and 800 miles, the extra 200 you squeak out of each pair really add up.


Why I'm avoiding plastic

Some time in 2016 I started working on my no plastic backpacking kit: http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2017/03/less-plastic-backpacking-trip.html


I started backpacking when I was a kid, and got in to ultralight backpacking around when I graduated from highschool in 2002. Through college I built up my ultraight kit. My college graduation gift from my parents was an ultralight ULA pack http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2010/02/gear-review-ula-circuit.html (to this day one of the most read articles on this blog).

Anyway, around 2009 I hiked the AT with a base weight of ~14 lbs. Though not strictly ultralight (variously defined as <12 or <10 lbs base weight), I was getting in to that ballpark, particularly as I was carrying gear sufficient for comfortable edge-seasons, and below 0 survival temps.

All of that was fine and dandy, but at some point, making my gear lighter just involved spending more money, and it got boring. On a thru-hike you're rarely carrying over 4 days food (~4-8 lbs), and as I got better at managing water consumption, 1 liter of water ~2 lbs. That means ~14 lbs, you have a total *max* weight of 24 lbs, and an average weight of ~18 or so... really, at that point my pack just doesn't bug me.

At the same time I got more and more interested in bushcraft and primitive skills. I started experimenting with more minimal gear, ponchos instead of tarps, building shelters, cooking on fires, finding some portion of my food while I'm out, etc. Those who've been reading for a while know what I'm talking about. Some of my gear wore out, and I looked at replacing it, and it was expensive. I got more and more interested in the history of outdoor pursuits and wanted to try older techniques whether settler, trapper, or native. Also... I discovered that what I loved about being outdoors was the connection with nature, and that the less I carried with me the more of that feeling I got. There is nothing like the feeling of waking up in a shelter you built, walking over to a lake in the cool morning as you shiver out the cold from the night before, and taking a deep drink directly from the lake... It's spiritual and amazing, and I craved more of it.

My now ex girlfriend Jess Mink did a stone-age backpacking trip, where she made all of her gear herself from "wild" things, and all the food had to be wild gathered food as well. While really cool as an effort, it was less comfortable than I wanted... I wasn't interested in going all the way back to dropping metal. That said, on that trip she realized that anything they left in the woods basically wasn't litter. If they forgot a pot, it was just pot shards... stone really. If they left an arrow, just a rock and a stick. If they left clothing, just animal hide or wool. I thought that was cool.
Anyway, eventually I decided I needed an interesting goal to chase, to drive my experimentation and keep me moving forward in a cohesive direction. I wanted to play with making more of my own gear, carrying fewer items (not less weight). I considered historical recreation, but recreation didn't interest me. I like seeing how people did things, but mostly so I can see how I could do things... I see no reason to drop things we've learned in the meantime for "purity" along these lines. This level also allowed me to use canvas, which allows for pretty comfortable backpacking.

So, eventually I settled on avoiding plastic in my kit. Really, I'm trying to avoid modern materials, or something like that, but "no plastic" is an easy way to summarize it. This gives me something like the "anything I leave behind isn't really liter" property, which is neat. It's just sticks, rocks, plant fibers, animal hide, or maybe a chunk of metal (not that I'd leave anything behind intentionally, particularly a chunk of metal). All things that are approximately naturally occurring, if not quite in that shape. It also pushes me towards making more and more of my gear, which I like.
Now... that's why I got started. A little while ago I started thinking about Koche industries, and all of the horrible things they do to the environment. Many people hate the Koche brothers due to politics (they support republicans generally), but lets set that aside for this discussion. If you read this blog, I'm sure you like the outdoors. Whatever your political affiliation, You like to drink water and breathe air.  If you like the outdoors, clean rivers you can drink from being a prime example, the Koche brothers are not your friends. If you're thinking "I filter my water anyway"... well, firstly, why should you have to? And secondly, most filters are designed for biologicals, and don't filter out things like heavy metals or dioxins.

The Koche brothers use their money to oppose keeping rivers clean, pushing for lowering standards on things like how much mercury is allowed in rivers (which is now well over what is known to be healthy by the way, as of the Bush administration). Fundamentally Koche industries is a chemical company, and not poisoning rivers costs them money... but I want clean rivers, so our goals are at odds. You can call it politics, but this isn't about right/left-wing, this is about loving our outdoor places.

Now, look up some products made by Koche. https://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/4/1/1288957/-Sign-the-pledge-Don-t-buy-these-Koch-products
Lycra, Coolmax, Cordura, and Dacron are all manufactured by Koche. In practice it is very difficult to buy commercial products made with synthetics and NOT support the Koche brother's efforts to lower clean water standards. In fact, just today I learned that Darn Tough socks have lycra in them.

As a result I've added an additional reason for my project. I want to stop buying these products, and to prove that I can backpack comfortably without these products... because I'm tired of supporting lowering clean water standards. For this reason I've been slowly extending my project to other aspects of my life, trying to avoid Koche products in particular, but plastics in general across the board more and more, in an attempt to stop giving my money to folks who use it to ruin the very places I'm backpacking to be in.

Less plastic backpacking trip

I keep getting closer! We went for a 3 day trip, covering about 35 miles, down the Wild Azalea trail in Louisiana in March. We planned for ~40F night, ~60F day, but got ~60F night ~80F day... and rain.

(Left: My treated-cotton poncho shelter. Right: Angie's silnylon tarp shelter)

There are only a couple of major things left on the "still plastic" list.

Plastic gear used
  • Backpack frame end caps
  • Shoes
  • 3 dry sacks
  • Food packaging (ziplocks and prepackaged)
  • albutorol inhaler
  • wool tights had elastic waist
  • plastic zipper on pants
  • plastic buttons on canvas shirt 

Food packaging has always been out of scope for this project. It's interesting, and very relevent, but for something like an AT hike it's not possible with the style of hiking I like (shoot from the hip, buy from grocery stores as you go). Similarly drugs to keep my alive are off the list.

I'm not sure if I'll ever move away from using plastic soled shoes. Nothing has as good a grip... but maybe. Originally I didn't think I'd ditch the sleepingbag either when I set about this, and that's long gone.

Next is some futzy stuff... buttons and zippers... Maybe I'll get to that eventually too, but that doesn't lead to interesting experimentation or learning about new or old ways to backpack, so I might do it just for completeness, but meh.

The big obvious one left is the dry sacks. That will be interesting to figure out for sure. No treatment of canvas I've tried so far keeps things completely dry. Leather would, but it's really heavy. My plan right now is to try canvas and see if it's good enough, but I'm also considering options like only vaguely waterproof sacks, and a canvas pack cover, which by not being tight against the sacks would keep rain off. This is the idea with the poncho as well, another possible option.

(Note: linen/cotton pants, knife in leather sheath on my belt, no hipbelt, and pack uses leather shoulder-straps with hemp string for the bottom adjustable attachment. The string is tied to the pack frame with a rolling hitch and a half-hitch, and I'm using a double-taughtline hitch for adjustability)

All Gear:
 Base weight: ~19.5 lbs
 Skin out weight: ~21.5 lbs

The treated canvas shirt is a canvas shirt from cabellas, treated using methods from http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2017/02/waterproofing-cotton-poncho-experiment-2.html, 1 whole small can of mineral spirits, 3 handfulls of wax pellets, and maybe 2 ounces of pure food-quality linseed oil, applied in 2 coatings, with extra applies to shoulders and sleeves. All wax was absorbed by the fabric, and none is on the outside to flake off. I think I could get it to take more wax and be even more waterproof.

(A rusting antique car we passed on the trail, I found a tiny geocache capsule stuck in the frame actually)

The Trip

It was very warm for this trip, I didn't need the sweaters, tights, or hat. It rained a fair bit, particularly the first day, so I did get a chance to spend some time wet. I never used the poncho, finding the treated canvas shirt basically sufficient. In fact... I've been thinking and I've been on numerous trips with not-really-waterproof raincoats (say, they wore out, or whatever), and I've always been comfortable and fine. Jess did the AT with a windbreaker as a rain-coat, not waterproof at all. With all of this I'm now thinking I don't need perfect waterproofness, meaning I don't need the poncho. The effort I spent on it though has payed off. The treated canvas shirt I made using those techniques worked well. It worked far better than my old experiment with a poly/cotton mix shirt http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2015/12/diy-raincoat.html.

So, in the future I could drop ~1 lb by going to an untreated tarp instead of the poncho. I could drop another almost pound by swapping to a lighter lantern. That'll help make up for weight added when I replace the stuff-sacks.

One great find this trip was the hemp cord, bought at Michael's. It's rated to 120 lbs and is about the size of paracord... this was a huge improvement and brought down my expected weight enormously. I used it for everything, as you can see in the gearlist.

Biggest failing on this trip was the pants. They worked okay, but I got chaffing after only 3 days and 36 miles covered... that won't do. I'm now looking in to switching to a kilt of some kind and maybe greasing my thighs with lard/fat on hot days. We'll see!

All in all it was a fun trip, and I'm excited to be at such a light weight with hardly any plastic.