Keeping mobile aka tool kits for outdoor sports

Bike chain held by wire

So, by now you should be packing a first aid kit. You should have the appropriate clothing to prevent hypothermia or exposure. You have enough water to last the day or the means to obtain more. And you should have a stash of calories to avoid the dreaded “bonk.”

All of this is important stuff to pack, but if a gear failure immobilizes you, you may have to spend an unscheduled night outside, your folks will worry, and you will generally have a Bad Time.

Tool kits are ultra sport-specific, which makes it quite hard to give a definitive list of stuff you need to pack. But the actual process of making your own is simple:

  1. Look at the gear you use for transportation.
  2. Identify likely failure modes.
  3. Bring tools/spare items/methods of coping with failures.

I will apply this to three different sports with ascending order of complexity: trail running, splitboard touring, and mountain biking.

Trail running

Transportation equipment: Running shoes

Likely failure modes: Broken shoe (snapped/broken laces, broken eyelet, detachment of sole, etc.), inability to see at night

Measures: Headlamp if you expect to be running any time near dusk – 100+ lumins if you want to be able to keep running

Duct tape for emergency repairs to shoes

Comments: Snapped laces are not such an issue with traditional lace-up shoes – you can just fix them with a knot. But with more complex lacing systems such as the Salomon Quicklace, a lacing failure can be catastrophic. You would still able to walk but running might be difficult. Worth keeping a replacement in your pack? If not, how about some duct tape??

Splitboarding

Transportation equipment: Splitboard (touring mode; snowboard mode), skins, goggles

Spark R&D splitboard pins
Spare pins for older Spark R&D splitboard bindings. Without pins the bindings do not function. Credit: SparkR&D

Likely failure modes: Loose/detached binding, broken binding strap, detached skins, fogged/missing/broken goggles, broken boots, inability to see at night

Measures: Headlamp – at least 100-150 lumins and spread of 70 m if you want to be able to ride using it, less if you only want it for hiking.

Skins – loss of adhesion, so duct tape again?

Bindings – spare screws and the tools to tighten them. Spare pin for karakoram Spark R&D bindings? Spare straps

Goggles – spare goggles or sunglasses, or at the very least least cloth for wiping

Boots – lace ups are probably fine but like the Salomon lacing system above, failures in Burton and other advanced lacing systems can be catastrophic. Measures include duct tape and wire.

Comments:

The most likely issue to occur will be binding related. Loose screws mean unresponsive bindings, which seriously impact the precision of your turns and are dangerous. Eventually, loose screws can fall out, leading to the risk of the binding becoming detached. Anyone for one-footing in high-consequence avalanche terrain? Nah?

Similarly, binding straps break every now and again. You may be able to appropriate spare parts from retired bindings you have lying around, otherwise think about purchasing a set of spares.

Depending on the year and model of your bindings, you whole binding system may rely on a single pin in each binding to keep them in place in both touring and riding modes. Definitely worth having a spare one of these.

I always carry a spare set of goggles and/or some sports sunglasses. Goggles are the first thing to fly off when you stack it, and can be difficult to find afterwards. Lack of goggles is a BIG impediment to riding, and you really don’t want anything slowing you down.

Use duct tape to hold your boot together if the lacing system breaks.

Also, Burton and other companies now sell packs of replacement parts to take with you, such as the Burton OH SH**! Parts Kit.

Ohs*itkit
The Burton OH SH**! Parts Kit. Most binding problems covered. Credit: www.fixmybinding.com

Mountain biking

Transportation equipment: Bike

Likely failure modes: Serious failures will come under the categories of how you put the power in (pedals and cranks), how it is converted (chain and mech) and how the bike engages with the ground (tires and tubes).

Measures: I am still only a beginner rider, so I spoke with mountain bike guide, instructor and Specialized ambassador Yachiyo Maruyama, known to her friends and students as “Yacchan.” Here is a summary of what she had to say:

With modern bikes becoming as complicated as they are, there is a whole bunch of issues that can occur, but most of these will not immobilize you. In fact you can cover most eventualities with just a few items that should be standard in your pack.

Standard tools and spares for the trails

  1. Allen Keys. You will usually need 4, 5, or 6 mm keys, but most sets and MTB multi-tools will include 3mm to 8mm keys. Bolts can and do work loose and tightening them with fingers won’t work.
  2. A chain-breaking tool and a spare link. Larger MTB multi-tools will have one, but a dedicated chain tool is usually more effective and less frustrating to use. Also carry a spare link compatible with the chain you are using (that is, with the number of gears on your rear hub).
  3. Tyre levers. With strong thumbs, good technique, and a little determination you may be able to remove and re-seat a tire, but tire levers are small and light, and make the job heaps easier.
  4. A puncture repair kit and a spare tube. Yes, even if you are using tubeless tires, because these can get punctures too! Simply replacing the whole tube is perhaps less hassle than finding and fixing a puncture on a trail but a repair kit provides a back up in the event of more than one puncture. Modern patches require no separate glue and can be fitted in seconds. Also make sure to have tweezers to remove any thorns you find.
  5. A pump/CO2 canister. CO2 canisters are single use so a pump will serve you better in the long run, but tubeless tires initially need an explosive output to seat properly in the rim, and this can be easier to achieve with a CO2 canister than a pump.

    Specialized road bike clinic
    Specialized ambassador Yachio Maruyama (center) explains the mech at a workshop

Top 3 multipurpose items for gear-fixing

Well, I mentioned a lot of different kit there! I am a firm believer in traveling as lightly as possible, so ideally, your tools and repair supplies will serve multiple purposes, thereby reducing the amount of gear you need to bring. While they won’t cover every single eventuality, the following three items will help in a very wide range of situations.

Duct tape

SOL duck tape
Small rolls of duct tape. Possibly to most adaptable “tool”. Credit: Amazon

If you can’t duct it…. As you might have noticed, the perennially useful duct tape is mentioned several times above. Duct tape is cheap, light, and can get you out of a lot of sticky situations with regards to gear failures. It can even come in use in first aid, such as when setting a splint. Either buy a mini roll or make your own – its a no-brainer.

Wire

Although packing a few short lengths of wire might not be intuitive, wire is super useful for fixing stuff in the same way as duct tape. It also weighs next to nothing. You can use it to hold snowboard bindings together or when fixing a broken chain.

Multi-tool

A good multi-tool will last 10-20 years and is well worth the investment. Here it is important to identify the overall purpose of the tool before purchasing. For example, a tool for mountain biking will probably have Allen keys, a chain breaker, and tire levers, whereas a more general tool for outdoor recreation will have a knife, saw, pliers, and the like. In terms of general multi-tools, Letherman and Victorinox are solid and dependable.

This was a basic overview of how to approach keeping mobile outdoors and putting together a repair kit. I would love to hear what your repair kit looks like, so please let me know in the comments.

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  • Deirdre Dawdle

    Duct tape got us out of a fix recently when a tent pole split in a fierce wind, as we were pitching. M wrapped it round the split part and it held up until we struck camp-4 days later.

    • Rowan White

      Yup, absolutely the must-have item – especially for multi-day trips where equipment failures are that much more irritating.

      Incidentally, I note your refer to it as “duct tape.” Another reader contacted me querying my choice of “duck.” Although it seems to have been called “duck tape” to begin with (and now there is a Duck tape brand), perhaps “duct tape” is more common…
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duct_tape

      As such, I have edited the post accordingly.

      Thanks!

      • Naoko Komuro

        Duct tape is such a handy tip! We have a 4 days hiking & camping coming up in a week. I might have to put it on our list of things to carry. Cheers Rowan 🙂

        • Rowan White

          Cheers Naoko! It’s the magic item that fixes everything!! Haha