Kim Kinney doesn’t believe in throwing away gear. In fact, she’s made a career out of sewing, repairing, altering and tailoring gear to extend its lifespan.

Broken zipper? You can save it. Torn crotch on your waterproof pants? It can be patched up.

Kim Kinney learned how to repair and tailor outdoor gear after dropping out of college to ski. Photo: Courtesy Rugged Thread.

Kim Kinney has two decades of repair experience under her belt. Photo: Courtesy of Rugged Thread

After dropping out of college to ski, Kinney was trained in the art of tailoring while working at the Little Cottonwood Tailor Shop at Snowbird, Utah.

Now, 20 years later, her Bend, Oregon-based gear-repair shop, Rugged Thread, is a hub for savvy outdoorsmen and women snubbing fast fashion in favor of a more sustainable relationship with their favorite boots, sleeping bags, backpacks and more.

“A lot of people get attached to their gear because they’ve been to a lot of places and have great memories together,” Kinney says. But the reasons for caring for and repairing gear go beyond nostalgia.

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“Buying and selling used clothing and gear fills the gap at a fraction of the cost of buying new,” says Kinney. “And people don’t think about the lifecycle of donating broken items to charity.

“Donated items in good working order have a greater chance of being used.”

With the winter season upon us, Kinney says a little TLC can go a long way toward extending the life of your gear for another season or more. Here, her best tips for keeping your cold-weather gear functional so it can avoid a one-way trip to the trash.

Give your gear a checkup before the snow hits

Fix your gear now and you'll save hundreds of dollars later. Photo: Johnie Gall

Fix your gear now and you’ll save hundreds of dollars later. Photo: Johnie Gall

Unpack your winter gear and give it a once-over now, before you’re too deep into the season.

Replace Velcro and shock cord, and patch up torn jackets and pants with a needle and thread or Tenacious Tape, a high-quality fabric tape that doesn’t get sticky and lasts through multiple washings.

“Never use duct tape, because it leaves a sticky mess over time,” says Kinney.

Reapply durable water repellent (DWR) to waterproof jackets and pants

“Waterproof, breathable fabrics perform well because of the exterior durable water repellant (DWR) coating and the inner waterproof membrane, like GORE-TEX®, eVent™, NeoShell® [and] H2No®,” explains Kinney.

The DWR coating is a wax-type treatment that reactivates with heat in your dryer. Eventually, the coating breaks down and needs to be reapplied.

Check with your garment’s manufacturer to see if you need to use spray-on or wash-in products. Kinney recommends aftermarket products like Granger’s, Nikwax, McNett or Penguin.

Wash your outerwear

A dirty down jacket (left) can't function as well as a clean one. Photo: Courtesy Rugged Thread.

A dirty down jacket (left) can’t function as well as a clean one. Photo: Courtesy of Rugged Thread

Outerwear is designed to be rugged and go a long time without a washing, but dirty outerwear doesn’t just smell; it functions poorly.

Manufacturers recommend washing outerwear at home in a front-load washer and advise against dry cleaning, so follow the care tags on your down sweaters, pants and jackets and be sure to patch up holes before you wash anything.

“For fluffy down, add three tennis balls to your dryer and dry on medium-low heat,” says Kinney.

Tailor your new gear for your snow conditions

“There is a place for new gear. It’s fun to get new stuff that has the latest technologies, but before you buy new, know your snow,” says Kinney.

“In wet climates like the Pacific Northwest, it’s worth it to spend the extra money to buy fully seam-taped and high water-repellent and waterproof jackets and pants.”

Know the difference between critically seam-taped and fully seam-taped, and understand water-repellency ratings. When buying new pants, look for the best fit through the waist and hips and buy long if you have to; pants can be hemmed easily.

Take advantage of warranty and repair departments

Even tough weatherproof fabrics have the potential to be repaired. Check if your garment comes with a manufacturer warranty. Photo: Courtesy Rugged Thread

Even tough weatherproof fabrics have the potential to be repaired. Check if your garment comes with a manufacturer warranty. Photo: Courtesy of Rugged Thread

Torn seam? Broken zipper? Your repair could be covered under a manufacturer’s warranty or repaired at a substantially discounted price — with enough lead time.

“Sending your garment in mid-season may take up to eight weeks, so get it in during the shoulder season,” says Kinney. “Some of the best in-house repair companies we know are Patagonia, Outdoor Research, Arc’teryx, Osprey and Kuhl.”

Fix your zippers; it’s easier than you think

Kinney says a broken zipper is usually a quick and inexpensive fix. Photo: Courtesy Rugged Thread

Kinney says a broken zipper is usually a quick and inexpensive fix. Photo: Courtesy of Rugged Thread

“It’s rare to find a person who knows that zippers can be repaired,” says Kinney.

“People are pleasantly surprised to know that most jacket zippers can be repaired on the spot and most tent zippers can be repaired in about 30 minutes.”

Kinney estimates that 75 percent of broken jackets, tents, bags and backpacks only need new sliders. How to tell? If your zipper separates when you zip it closed, then the repair is most likely a new slider.

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