Author’s Note: Gear Rx is a new column on F&S.com designed to teach you practical tips on gear repair, maintenance, and care— so you can get even more life out of the stuff you already own.
Synthetic fabrics are petroleum-based materials like polyester, nylon, spandex, and acrylic fibers. From jackets, pants, tents, hammocks, and sleeping bags, it seems like synthetic fabrics make up most of our outdoor gear textiles.
Although synthetic materials have become somewhat of a standard in the industry, they tend to have a much higher environmental impact than natural fibers throughout their entire life process. When possible, buying products made from natural fibers is a great choice, but many of us already own gear made from synthetics.
During use, these materials shed microplastics, which we cannot necessarily control or prevent. What we can do is try to prolong the life of the product for as long as we can. Some textile recycling programs have helped divert some materials from the landfill, but other environmentally-minded options include donating, consigning, repairing, and maintaining your equipment.
Prolonging the lifespan of outdoor equipment will differ from product to product. If you have a piece of gear made from materials like polyester or nylon, their repair process will look relatively similar across the board.
We recommend always following the manufacturer’s guidelines for product maintenance and cleaning. Keeping your equipment clean can help extend its lifespan, but even for folks that take special care to store and maintain gear properly, they’re used outdoors. Getting the occasional rip or tear in tents, jackets, or sleeping bags happens, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of life for that product.
To help you get the most out of your gear, we’ll share some of the fastest and easiest ways to mend and repair minor rips in synthetic fabrics.
Prep Before You Patch
No matter the patching method or the material, the fabric needs to be clean and dry before it is patched. It may not be as necessary if you’re sewing something, but it may make the materials easier to work with and help you see the damaged portion.
Gear like down jackets and sleeping bags are much harder to wash before repair because you can’t toss them in any washing machine. The best advice for washing down jackets or bags is to read the manufacturer’s instructions. Some products can be washed in front load washers while others should be hand washed. For best results, use a down cleaner.
For other things like backpacks and tents, we also recommend reading manufacturer instructions on cleaning and care. However, most of these can be washed by hand quite easily.
Once you’ve washed the items and given them ample time to dry, you can proceed to the patching process.
Iron-On Patch Repairs
Iron-on patches have long been an option for all types of fabric repairs. While they are relatively easy to perform, they do have their limitations. The primary drawback to iron-on patches is that they require heat to activate the adhesive. That means they aren’t very practical for in-field patching and repairs.
The good news is that they are very accessible when performing repairs at home. For iron-on patches, you need two things:
- Your patch of choice
- A heat source: iron, hairdryer, machine dryer
Ensure the patch is the appropriate size. For repairs in high-wear areas, like knees, choose heavy-duty or extra strength patches for best results. You can get rolls of patch tape to cut to size. Otherwise, there are patches available in varying sizes, shapes, and designs.
Once you have your materials, the process is relatively easy and should only take you about 10-15 minutes to complete.
How to use iron-on patches for fabric repairs:
- Clean and dry fabric or at least clean off the area you plan to repair.
- For down jacket or bag repairs, make sure all feathers are stuffed back inside the material. Any excess feathers leaking out can interfere with the patch adhesive.
- Peel off the backing on the patch.
- Apply the adhesive side of the patch to the damaged area.
- Smooth out and apply pressure to the patch, starting from the center and moving out to remove any air bubbles.
- Once the patch is flat and air bubble-free, use your heat source to complete the process.
- Iron: set to medium or permanent-press heat. Using slight to moderate pressure, move the iron in a circular motion, covering all patch areas evenly for at least 30 seconds.
- Hair Dryer: Hold the hairdryer just about an inch away from the patch on the highest heat. If it is a small area, less movement is required, but hold and heat the patch for a few minutes.
- Matching Dryer: tumble dry the garment on a low or normal heat setting for 10-30 minutes (depends on the patch).
Although the patches should stick without the heat, they will not hold or bond to the fabric. The heat activates the adhesive and creates a stronger repair. If you use NOSO patches, they say that you can use them in the field by placing the patched area in the sun. I have not personally tried NOSO patches with the sun-only heat. However, these patches work well when used at home and with access to a dryer.
Peel and Stick Patch Repairs
Peel and stick patches are a far more effective way to repair rips in the field. Even for at-home repairs, peel and stick patches take slightly less time, but they don’t always provide as strong of a hold as the iron-on patches.
You only need a few things to perform this type of repair:
- Peel and stick patch of your choice
- Isopropyl alcohol
Whether in the field or at home, a peel and stick patching session will likely only take about five minutes.
Use the following steps to perform a repair with a peel and stick patch:
- If possible, wash and dry the fabric you are repairing. If that is not possible, clean off the area around the rip.
- Once dry, wipe down the area around the rip with isopropyl alcohol. A wipe from your first aid kit works for this.
- Remove or cut off any loose strands and tuck any down inside the jacket or bag.
- Peel off the back of the patch to expose the adhesive side.
- Apply the adhesive side of the patch directly to the fabric. Try to keep the sides of the rip aligned to the best of your ability. The patch should extend at least ½ inch (12 mm) out from the edges of the ripped fabric.
- For hardshell jackets and even some pants, you can apply the patch on the interior of the clothing to disguise the patchwork.
- Smooth out the patch by applying pressure from the center and moving out. Do this to push out any air bubbles and to encourage all of the adhesive to stick, especially around the edges.
Patches with rounded edges tend to stay on a bit better. Try rounding the edges with scissors to help it hold longer. There are several great color options and clear Tenacious Tape so you can disguise the repair.
Mending and Other Options
For some fabrics, sewing and mending the material may be an option. There are still patch options for things like pants and sweaters, but mending them may be better. If you are not overly confident in your sewing skills, try practicing on low-risk items. A sewing machine can make your fixes more precise. There are several online tutorials to learn how to sew, or there may even be an in-person class in your area.
The manufacturer may cover more complex mending as a part of their warranty. Some companies replace the item completely, so be sure you understand their repair policy fully. Companies may also accept repairs from other brands for a small fee. Utilizing these services tends to be more accessible when local, so before sending it out in the mail, research local repair options.
We do not recommend donating or attempting to consign gear or clothing that has not been patched or mended in any way. Damaged items will be thrown away at many donation centers.
Can you sew a rip in a down jacket?
We do not recommend sewing a rip in a down jacket. The lightweight exterior material of the jacket requires an extremely fine needle, and most standard sewing kit needles will leave holes large enough for down to escape the jacket. Use a patch following the instructions above instead.
How do you repair ripped tent mesh?
To repair ripped tent mesh, you can patch it or sew it. Sewing it can work, but it is likely to bunch the fabric and add stress when pulled tight. We recommend using a Tenacious Tape mesh patch for small rips or holes in tent mesh. These are easy-to-use peel and stick patches that you can utilize both in and out of the field.
Is Tenacious Tape better than Duct Tape for fabric repairs?
Yes, Tenacious Tape utilizes a stronger material and adhesive for their patches than Duct Tape. You can use Duct Tape for repairs, but it won’t last as long, and the glue will wear off over time, especially after washing. Tenacious Tape is a better option for long-term fabric repairs, and the peel and stick tape also allows you to reposition within 24 hours without leaving much of a residue.
How do you repair a rip in nylon?
The best way to repair nylon is to use a patch. Ripstop nylon, in particular, is difficult to sew effectively, and patches will provide a longer-lasting repair. Follow the steps above for patching options.