By Cameron Ownbey

The definitive answers on gear care and repair from the guy who’s spent the last 25 years making his living fixing the stuff you break.

Bob Upton is the founder and president of Rainy Pass Repair, inc. Bob began his career in the outdoor industry and financed his pursuits as a hiker, skier and climber working at REI in Seattle. At the same time he attended Seattle Central Community College to earn a degree in apparel design. Skip forward 25 years and you can now find Bob in Whitefish, Montana where he runs Rainy Pass Repair and stays close to the rugged outdoors through the pleasures of hunting, fishing and skiing.


Bob was kind enough to answer a few of my long-burning questions and has given some definitive answers and offered up some professional insight on gear that we all use.

Cameron: Is today’s gear made as durably as the gear manufactured 25 years ago when you first came onto the scene?

Bob: Gear is better now. One of the big shortcomings of old gear is they used cotton thread that disintegrates more quickly than, say, nylon. All of the major brands are producing top of the line gear these days.

C: Which gear do you repair most?

B: It seems that the more expensive the item, the longer a person keeps it and the more attached they get. Mostly backpacks and rainwear. (He mentions that backpacks seem to get the most attention.) It’s not uncommon for enthusiasts to have extra pockets added and alterations of many kinds.

C: What gear stands out as superior to you?

B: Always look for products with a good warranty. Major name brands are really good and as they say, you really do get what you pay for.

C: Where do you see most of your work coming from?

B: Most of the repairs come from consumers, through the manufacturers. Warranty type stuff.

C: So new gear is more durable. What are some of the innovations you like?

B: The introduction by ArcTery’x of the waterproof zipper.

C: Single or double wall tent?

B: Both are necessary, depending on the environment. I mostly prefer a double wall design for 3 season backpacking and a single wall for alpine and winter camping.

C: Tent footprint?

B: Yep, I use one. (Bob’s choice is polyurethane cut about 2 inches smaller than the tent to avoid water pooling under the tent. He feels the protection is worth the extra weight.)

C: What is the biggest culprit for gear damage?

B: Sharp objects and improper storage. Keep gear dry and free of dirt and abrasive grit and always air out your gear after a trip.

C: Bob, how can we put you out of business?

B: Gear repair is not as difficult as taking it apart so it can be repaired. Not realizing how difficult repair work really is, customers often complain that for much less cost they could have had a friend or family member do the repair. Probably won’t happen any time soon.

C: What does your personal repair kit contain?

B: If I’m out for more than a couple days it includes:

1) Gorilla tape or flexible repair tape

2) a zipper slider or two (He has the knowledge to field repair this)

3) one inch buckles

4) thread and needle

5) tent pole repair kit

6) Aqua seal or Shoe goo

C: So Bob, can you give us some professional insight on our purchases?

B: Don’t buy cheap tents. Stay away from the cheap superstore tents, especially the ones with short rain fly’s that don’t go all of the way down. They typically have a poor waterproof coating.

C: What kind of sleeping bag, synthetic or down?

B: Both, actually. For wet climates a synthetic would be the right choice. If you’re choosing one bag for the Pacific NW, it would be synthetic. However synthetic is a little heavier and it does permanently compress after time, reducing loft and the rating. Down is light weight and lasts for decades, but it can not be dried in the field, so it is more suited for dry environments. Take warning that a few nights of soaking up condensation from the inside of your tent is very bad. Many people ask Rainy Pass to add down to old sleeping bags. Professionally, Rainy Pass has concluded that down is very resilient and so we won’t add any down until they have done a proper wash and dry cycle. This usually revitalizes the down and only on very rare occasions will our customers end up adding any. The exception, of course, would be if the bag was torn and original filler was lost.

Never wash sleeping bags in the bathtub as you will never get all of the soap out. You want to always use a front loading washing machine and be sure to choose one that is large enough. Also, be sure to use a large dryer, one that you think you could crawl into. Bags dry on the drop (Falling from the top of the drying cylinder to the bottom during rotation in the drying cycle) only so larger is better. Always use tennis balls in the dryer to help fluff your bag.

Bob concluded the sleeping bag question with: If you can get away with down, it is the best option, but you MUST keep it dry. The second best option is synthetic. He didn’t have much to say about waterproof down bags but he indicated that even though there are similar products on the market, Gore-Tex really is the best. Bob mentioned (tongue in cheek) when he has the money he will splurge on a Gore-Tex down bag for himself.

C: What is the longest living product you have seen repaired?

B: The old Eddy Bauer down sleeping bags.

C: More advice?

B: For field repair of your zipper, if you apply a very slight pressure on the tail end of the slider , and don’t pinch it not too hard, it should start working long enough to get you home. Be sure to always keep zippers clean.

C: I think that is good advice to end on. “Always keep your zippers clean.”

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