Articles - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: How to look after your climbing gear
Jez Portman - Posted on 20 May 2010
I also wanted to call this piece ‘The three Rs’; not reading, writing and ‘rithmatic as it was back at school, but the much more contemporary ‘Reduce, Re-use, Recycle’. This environmental maxim is very relevant to outdoor gear as all three of these actions can help you save money and reduce your impact on the environment.
As someone who works in outdoor retail, I shouldn’t really be telling you to reduce the amount you buy! What I really mean is that you should reduce the amount of extraneous and un-needed gear by making sure that you buy the right thing for the job to maximise its usage, and also by buying quality, well-designed gear that will last. There are many maxims around such as ‘buy cheap – buy twice’ that have some truth about them. If you are always led by price, then you are less likely to get the ideal item for the job and this can often prove to be a false economy. This is especially true where the fit of the gear is crucial e.g. pretty much all clothing, rucksacks, gloves, and all footwear. If you do your research, go to good shops that know what they’re talking about and take your time, you should end up with something that works really well. This means that you are more likely to use or wear the gear rather than consign it to the ‘not quite’ pile of kit (or have to sell it).
What is meant by reuse is repair, fix or maintain - ways of making your gear last longer and repairing it if it gets damaged, all of which will save you money in the long run.
If any of the main components of a piece of climbing kit e.g. karabiner gate, the wire on a wired nut etc, becomes damaged, then it should be discarded. No question. Your life is worth far more than the cost of any piece of gear and I have heard tales of death resulting from relying on gear that ‘should be ok’. If you can see or feel that damage has occurred from a fall, corrosion or from being dropped, then bin it.
What you can do to maintain your gear and extend its life is, as with any metal, make sure it is protected from the corrosive effects of the environment. This is especially true if it has any contact with the sea (or water in general). A day or two of sea cliff climbing can cause any karabiner or cam to seize up and become totally unusable. After a week on Lundy one year, my entire rack of cams seized solid and it was a week’s work to return them to full working order.
Gear (Ropes, harnesses, slings)
Ropes, harnesses and slings are all items that obviously cannot and should not be repaired if damaged, as their strengths will have been seriously compromised. However, keeping them clean and dirt free will again, prolong their lives. Washing your rope will definitely benefit it, as it will remove internal grit that can damage the rope.
If the fabric is waterproof, you have a number of options, dependant on the extent of the damage.
1. Use a professional repair service if the damage is extensive. A good repairer will be able to fix the damage and re-tape afterwards to maintain waterproofness. The three UK companies that are authorised to repair Gore-Tex products are Lancashire Sports Repairs, Scottish Mountain Gear and Tundra. Some manufacturers e.g. Rab, also have in-house repair facilities. A rip or tear repair will usually be chargeable of course!
2. Use a proprietary waterproof repair patch e.g. Gore-Tex Repair Kit (£7) from good outdoor stores. I would recommend also using Seam Grip (more on this later) to prevent the patch peeling. Make sure the edges of the patch have been rounded off as, again, this helps reduce peeling.
3. Small cuts and tears are probably best repaired by using a combination of Tenacious Tape (£6) or duct/gaffer tape and Seam Grip. I cut a piece of the tape large enough to comfortably cover the damage and then make sure the edges are rounded off. I then glue the tape over the inside of the damage. This means that you get a smooth, un-patched finish to the outside of the garment, which is less likely to get caught next time.
1. Washing and tumble drying (if your garment allows this) is the first thing to try in order to rejuvenate the DWR. Wash in a non-detergent such as Nikwax TechWash (£4.50 for 300ml) or Grangers 30° Wash. Other ‘high street’ soap based cleaners can also work. Using one of these helps prevent the cleaning product stripping any more DWR off the fabric. A clean garment will always repel water better than a dirty one.
2. Reproof your waterproof as well. This can be done via a wash-in proofing such as Nikwax TX Direct (£8 for 300ml) or Grangers 30° Proofer (or 30° 2in1 cleaner and proofer (£9 for 300ml)) or via a spray on version such as Nikwax TX Direct spray on (£8 for 300ml) or Grangers XT (£8 for 300ml). There is some debate as to the relative efficacy of wash in versus spray on. Those who have researched this in detail, maintain that a spray-on treatment is more effective, as you are only targeting the part of the garment that you wish to repel moisture i.e. the outside. However, a wash-in is less labour intensive so if you prefer that, you’re still doing good things for your waterproof. Again I have found that the final result is better if you can apply some heat (tumble dry or iron) to the dry garment after reproofing. Always check the care labels before doing this!
Another item of clothing/equipment that takes a lot of battering is gloves. An excellent way of improving their longevity and water resistance is to apply Seamgrip (£8 for 2 x 7g tubes) to the seams (surprise surprise!) of the gloves. It is a flexible urethane glue that is great for protecting the seams, especially around the finger ends which wear quickly, especially when you are climbing rock or mixed routes. It doesn’t look that great admittedly but if you spend some time doing it, it’s not too bad.
Speaking of kit that gets battered, your long suffering footwear may also need repair at some point and will certainly need some regular maintenance. Repair is often a professional job as it is likely to involve re-stitching or replacing a broken eyelet or hook. If your boot has a waterproof lining, a substantial repair may be tricky without going through the lining and rendering it un-waterproof. Companies such as Lancashire Sports Repairs and Feet First are adept at this sort of work, as indeed are many local cobblers. Minor peels and detached areas of the sole are best stuck back down with a glue such as Freesole (£8). This needs to be applied to clean and dry surfaces but can be a lifesaver, especially on longer trips. It will obviously work well on peeling rock shoe soles as well.
In many cases that I have seen, repair work on footwear could have been avoided entirely if the correct care and proofings had been applied in the first place. This particularly applies to lighter weight suede and fabric footwear. When these have waterproof linings, there seems to be an assumption that you don’t need to apply any proofing. Suede and leather needs cleaning and proofing in order to remain flexible. There are numerous proofings available from Nikwax, Grangers and the boot makers themselves.
A good pre-emptive treatment for mountain boots, especially the new breed of lightweight synthetic ones, is to protect vulnerable stitching with a smear of the ubiquitous Seamgrip. It works really well as an anti-abrasion covering and can seriously extend the boot’s life.
So what can you do with your well-loved and cared for bit of kit when it finally gives up the ghost? Very little to be honest as recycling of outdoor fabrics is in its infancy. The one program I know of is Patagonia’s Common Threads programme. This allows recycling of their Capilene baselayer, Patagonia fleece, Polartec fleece from any manufacturer, their organic cotton T-shirts and an increasing number of other garments in their range. This can be done via Patagonia in France (see Patagonia.com) or one of their store or pro-dealers.
Of course, you can do what people have be doing forever, before the word recycling was invented – give the bit of kit to someone else, whether it be someone who can’t afford to buy it new, or to encourage someone outdoors. You get to feel doubly angelic as well!
The bottom line to all this is that, with a bit of care and attention, and a very minimal financial outlay, you can save loads of money and stop wasting resources at the same time.
TOP CLEANING TIPS
How to clean your rack
If you need to clean your metalwork, some warm water, a little washing up liquid and an old toothbrush are the weapons of choice. Once clean, allow to dry and then treat them with a lubricant such as Metolius Cam Lube, WD40 or GT85. Wipe off any excess after treating otherwise you will attract more dirt.
How to wash your rope
Wash the rope in hand warm water with a mild detergent, either in the bath or in a pillowcase in the washing machine (on a wool setting). Allow it to dry slowly and naturally in a dark place – the recommendation is to lay it out flat rather than hang it up. The same treatment can be applied to harnesses and slings.
Feet First - www.feetfirst.resoles.co.uk
Lancashire Sports Repairs – www.lsr.gb.com
Scottish Mountain Gear - www.imagescotland.com/scottishmountaingear-home.asp
Tundra - www.tundra-repairs.co.uk