Timber Wolf, Lake Superior, Ontario

A lone timber wolf greets
paddlers along the north shore
of Lake Superior, Canada
(Photo by Michael Neiger)


A stitch in time
saves nine.
   -- Anon.


I cannot remember
the number of needles
I broke
in sewing the tent
as I had to work
in the quiet
of the night
by the flickering light
of an oil lamp,
made from
a corned-beef tin.
   -- Felice Benuzzi
   No Picnic
   on Mt. Kenya


Once home,
I attacked it with
a Speedy Stitcher.
That fix was
still holding strong
when I yard-saled
the pack
10 years later.
   -- Dave Getchell


Preparing for
the worst
is the only way
of giving the best
a chance to happen.
   -- Laurens
   Van Der Post
   A Far Off Place


A time to rend,
and a time to sew.
   -- Holy Bible:



But it would seem
that with
this needleplay
she has discovered
the perfect means
of adventure,
stitch by stitch,
point by point,
along a
road of risks
and temptations.
   -- Sidonie G. Colette
   My Mother's House,


Her most
important tool
is the ulo,
a curved knife
with a handle
in the middle
of the blade.
From intuition,
she cuts her skins
in the proper pieces
and sews them
together, rarely
measuring anything.
   -- Peter Freuchen
  Book of the Eskimos


If anything
can go wrong,
it will.
   -- Murphy's Law


Feel its strength,
sense its aura,
get yourself a roll
Now you're set
for any scrape
with your ol' friend . . .
duct tape.
   -- Mark Jenkins
   & Sue Ibarra
  The Essential Gear


As ye sew,
sew shall ye rip.
   -- Anon.


Sew much fabric,
sew little time.
   -- Anon.

The Rucksack Masthead
By Michael A. Neiger (aka: LandNavMan), Marquette, Michigan
Wilderness tripper: backpacking, winter camping, swift-water canoeing
Web site URL: http://therucksack.tripod.com • E-mail: mneiger@hotmail.com
Contents copyright © 1984-2007 by Michael A. Neiger • All rights reserved.

Bush skills

A RuckSack primer on...
and repair
your own
gear using
these links,
books, and

By Michael A. Neiger
Copyright 2001


Last revised November 15, 2007

Speedy Stitcher

The heavy-duty
Speedy Stitcher
with waxed thread
sews through leather,
webbing, and canvas.
Campmor no. 21788.
(Photo by Michael Neiger)

Contents of page

   Sewing and repairing bush gear
      Repair kits for bush trips
      6 ways to bombproof your gear
      How-to sewing links
      Books--create, sew, & repair gear
      Books--sewing in general
      Vendors of sewing supplies

Looking for
wilderness tripping
equipment and
For 100's of sources for wilderness tripping equipment and supplies, visit the sources for gear page on this Web site.

Need help
finding a book?
Trying to buy a new or used copy of a book, but can't locate one? Want to find a library somewhere in the country that will lend you the book at no cost? Then visit the handy book finder page on this Web site.

a book, catalog,
or Web site.
If you know of a useful outdoor-related book, catalog, or Web site not listed on this Web site, e-mail the book's title, subtitle, author, publisher, date of publication, and short description; or the catalog's address and phone number; or the Web site's URL to Michael Neiger at mneiger@hotmail.com.

** Recommended

Sew & Repair Your Outdoor Gear Book


A little ingenuity and a well-stocked repair kit can prevent a broken ski tip or a flattened mountain bike tire from becoming a serious problem deep in the bush. To assemble your own wilderness repair kit, review the suggestions below, customizing them to meet the space, weight, and repair needs of your outdoor adventure.


Duct tape

Developed during WW II, duct tape is at the top of everyone's list. Its innumerable applications include sealing a leaky tent seam, mending a torn rainsuit, or reattaching a delaminated boot sole. Splinting a broken arm or a busted ski is easier with duct tape too. Hikers use it on their feet to prevent blisters. Cross-country skiers with a broken binding have avoided spending a long, cold night in the woods by simply taping their ski boot to the offending ski. To carry, wind a piece around a pencil or ski pole. Or better yet, pick up a pocket-sized, 5-yard roll of 3M Scotch No. 127 "Cloth or Duct" tape at Wal-Mart.


Pocket tools

With their pliers, screw drivers, files, knife blades, scissors, tweezers, and awls, a Swiss Army knife and a Leatherman or Gerber multi-tool are essential tools in the outdoors. While both sport plenty of tools, neither one alone will allow you to simultaneously secure the head of a screw AND twist loose a stubborn nut at the other end. A short section of a coarse-tooth hacksaw blade can also be useful.


Sewing kit

Whether you need to simply replace a button or reattach an all-important shoulder strap to your rucksack, a good sewing kit is a must. It should include a couple buttons, small squares of fabric, and some mosquito netting. For sewing, include 2 fine needles with a length of light nylon thread, 2 heavy-duty needles with some carpet-grade nylon thread (use dental floss in a pinch), and a couple of 3-sided, large-eyed leather needles with a piece of heavy-duty, waxed nylon thread. A leather or metal finger thimble is essential for hand-sewing with a large needle. If an extra three ounces is not a problem, carry a "Speedy Stitcher" sewing awl instead of the leather needles for demanding repairs. At only $7 (Campmor no. 21788), they're a real bargain, and a spool of thread and extra needles store conveniently in the wooden handle.


Cordage and wire

A 50-foot chunk of 1/8-inch, braided nylon cordage has dozens of uses including lashing a broken paddle shaft together, rigging a tarp, replacing a boot lace, and improvising a traditional snowshoe binding to replace a broken "high-tech" one. A 12-foot length of bailing wire is equally handy.


Miscellaneous items

Include a piece of a hot-glue stick, adjustable-flame lighter, matches, and maybe even a couple of small hose clamps. Four large blanket safety pins and a 6-inch-long piece of wide, sticky-back Velcro can quickly take the place of a blown zipper on your parka or sleeping bag.


Activity-specific items

While you're at it, add a few activity-specific repair items to your repair kit. For example, cross-country skiers will want to carry a spare ski tip, extra screws to replace a binding, and perhaps even a hard-to-find, no. 3 pozidrive-type screwdriver (Tognar Toolworks no. SVT-THD). Fishers should be prepared to repair a damaged rod or a sluggish reel. Backpackers will need items to repair a clogged stove or a leaky inflatable sleeping pad. Mountain bikers will want to pack a spoke wrench, Allen wrenches, chain tool, adjustable wrench, tire repair kit, tire irons, spare tube, and an air pump.


Repair kit resources

To learn more about assembling an all-purpose repair kit as well as how to make field-expedient repairs to tent zippers, neoprene gear, cook stoves, optics, skis, snowshoes, canoe hulls, paddles, and lots of other gear, read "The Essential Outdoor Gear Manual: Equipment Care and Repair for Outdoorspeople," by Annie Getchell (Ragged Mountain Press, 1995, ISBN 0-07-023169-9, 1-800-822-8158). Your local hardware store, backpacking outlet, ski shop, Campmor (www.campmor.com, 1-800-230-2153), and Tognar Toolworks (ski tools, www.tognar.com, 1-800-926-9904) are excellent places to purchase items for a repair kit.

To make sure your next wilderness adventure comes off without a hitch, stow a compact repair kit in your rucksack today. See you in the bush.


After years and years of fabricating my own gear as well as retroing and repairing commercially made gear, I've learned what sewing techniques work best for gear that sees tough, month-after-month service under harsh, wilderness conditions. To make your gear last longer, consider the following construction techniques when fabricating or repairing your wilderness gear:

  1. When sewing clothing for the wilderness, always make sure the finished size of the garment will be cut large enough to allow for maximum layering and freedom of movement later. Several loose-fitting layers are the warmest and most versatile in the bush.
  2. Sew with non-cotton thread, either nylon or polyester, as cotton rots too easily in wet environs.
  3. All fabric edges--even those with waterproof coatings--should be bound to prevent unraveling later. Either zigzag stitch the edge or bind it with one-inch-wide grosgrain ribbon. Hot cutting or flame sealing the fabric edge is also a good idea, but in time, it too will unravel unless it's backed up with hemming or binding.
  4. To prevent seams from tearing out under stress, never sew closer than 3/8 of an inch from the edge of fabric. Staying 1/2 of an inch away would be the best for long-term, trouble-free use.
  5. To prevent perforating a fabric with closely placed needle holes and having the fabric fail along the stitch line, always choose the longest stitch length. Eight to ten stitch holes per inch is best.
  6. On Velcro, stay 1/4 of an inch away from the edge to prevent unraveling later.



How-to sewing links

A to Z outdoor fabric directory
   Great place to learn more about individual fabrics

Backpacker Magazine gear repair page
   Learn how to repair your gear

Chet Fromm's Backpacker Guide--Gear Repair

Fashion sewing Internet connectons
by Sheree McKee
   Over 300 sewing-related links

Lily Abello's Sewing Resource Guide
   100's of sewing-related links

Make your own backpacking equipment

Message Forum--Sewing backpacking gear

Product knowledge center--backpacking
   Great place to learn more about individual fabrics

Sewing your own gear
by Seth Meisel

Sew something exciting
by Sheree McKee
   General sewing info

Tips and Techniques For Sewing Your Own Outdoor Gear
by Penny

Wilderness Wear
   Select "camping and hiking," then "clothing and fabrics"



Budget Backpacker--How to Select or Make, Maintain, and Repair You Own Lightweight Backpacking and Camping Equipment, by L. A. Zakreski (Winchester Press, 1977)

Building Outdoor Gear--The First Do-It-Yourself Outdoorsman, by Gil Gilpatrick (Gil Gilpatrick, 1999)

** Essential Outdoor Gear Manual--Equipment Care & Repair for Outdoors People, by Annie Getchell (Ragged Mountain Press, 1995). See pages 1 through 77 for an excellent primer on sewing wilderness gear.

For Campers Only--Sewing and Cooking, by Cameron Yerian and Margaret Yerian (Children's Press, 1975)

General Repair of Tents, Canvas, and Webbing, Field Manual, FM 10-16 (Department of the Army, 1974)

How to Make Your Own Camping and Hiking Gear, by Duncan S. Blackwell (Tab, 1981)

Lightweight Camping Equipment and How to Make It, by Gerry Cunningham and Meg Hansson (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976)

Made for the Outdoors--Over 40 Do-it-Yourself Projects for the Great Outdoors, by Len McDougall (The Lyons Press, 1995)

Make It and Take It--Homemade Gear for Camp and Trail, by Russ Mohney (Pacific Search Press, 1977)

Make Your Own Backpack and Other Wilderness Campgear, by Hugh Nelson (Swallow Press, 1981)

Make Your Own Camping Equipment, by Robert Sumner (Drake Publishers, 1976)

Making Camping and Outdoor Gear, by David Platten (David and Charles, 1981)

Mountain Man Crafts and Skills, by David Montgomery (Horizon, 1980)

Outdoor Gear You Can Make Yourself, by Marcia Lamoreaux and Bob Lamoreaux (Stackpole Books, 1976)

Outdoorsman's Fix-it Book, by Monte Burch (Harper and Row, 1971)

Secrets of Eskimo Skin Sewing, by Edna Wilder (Alaska Northwest Publishing, 1976)

** Sew and Repair Your Outdoor Gear, by Louise Lindgren Sumner (Mountaineers Books, 1988)

Sew for Snow, by Renee C. Schulz (Stackpole Books, 1980)

Sewing for the Outdoors--A Seamster's Guide, by Hal Zina Bennett (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. Publishers, 1980)

Sewing Outdoor Gear--Easy Techniques for Outerwear that Works, by Rochelle Harper (Taunton Press, Inc., 2001)

Sewing Packs, Pouches, Seats, and Sacks, by Betty Oppenheimer (Storey Books, 1998)

Taking Care of Outdoor Gear, by Rich Kline (Stackpole Books, 1983)

Wilderness Gear You Can Make Yourself, by Bradford Angier (Collier, 1973)


Adventure With Polarfleece--A Sewing Expedition, by Nancy Cornwell (Krause Publications, 1998)

Complete Book of Sewing, by Deni Bown (Dorling-Kindersley, 1996). A great sourcebook for beginners and professionals alike.

Complete Guide to Sewing--Step-By-Step Techniques for Making Clothes (Reader's Digest, 1995). Regarded by some as "the bible of sewing," and "the best all-around handbook."

Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Home Sewing, by Jeanne Argent (Chilton Book Co., 1990)

Experts Book of Sewing Tips and Techniques--From the Sewing Stars--Hundreds of Ways to Sew Better, Faster, Easier, by Marya Kissinger Amig (Editor), Stacey L. Klaman, Karen Kunkel (Editor) (Rodale Press, 1995)

Fieldbook (Boy Scouts of America, 1984)

Idiot's Guide to Sewing, by Lydia Wills (Alpha Books, 2000)

More Polarfleece Adventures, by Nancy Cronwell (Krause Publications, 1999). Covers techniques for sewing with fleece.

Okpik--Cold-Weather Camping (Boy Scouts of America, 1995). Lots of good info on making cold-weather camping gear.

Sew the New Fleece--Techniques With Synthetic Fleece and Pile, by Rochelle Harper (Taunton Press, 1997)

Sewing Activewear, by Singer (Cy DeCosse Inc., 1986)

Sewing Essentials, by Singer (Cy DeCosse Inc., 1984). A great book for beginners.

Sewing for Dummies, by Jan Saunders (IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., 1999). Good basic manual.

Sewing Made Easy, 5th edition, by Dorothy Sara (Overlook Press, 1985)

Sewing with an Overlock, by Singer (Creative Publishing International, 1989). Covers sewing with a serger.




Vendors for sewing supplies: fabrics, patterns, & notions

Arrowhead Fabric Company
Outdoor-related sewing supplies

Atlanta Thread and Supply Co. (ATS)
Commercial-grade sewing supplies

Beacon Fabric and Notions
Outdoor-related sewing supplies

Big Daddy's Gypsy Caravan
   Online fabric store, renaissance fabric, vestment brocade supplier.

**Cloth Spot, Inc.
   Outdoor-related sewing supplies

   Lots of sewing notions

Denver Fabrics

Dharma Trading Company
   Fabrics, fabric paints & dyes, etc. 

Dollar Fabric
   Discount fabric outlet

Fabric Depot, Inc.
   General sewing supplies

Fabric Direct
   General sewing supplies

   Great search engine for finding all things fabric.

Frostline Kits
   Outdoor-related sewing supplies

Green Pepper Patterns
Outdoor-related sewing supplies

G Street Fabrics
   General sewing supplies

Malden Mills Retail Store
   Good deals on Polartec material

Nancy's Notion's
   General sewing supplies

**Outdoor Wilderness Fabrics Inc.
   Outdoor-related sewing supplies

**Quest Outfitters
   Outdoor-related sewing supplies

Ragged Mountain Equipment
Outdoor-related sewing supplies

**RainShed Inc.
   Outdoor-related sewing supplies

RCT Fabrics (Rose City Textiles, Inc.)
   Outdoor-related sewing supplies

RJR Fashion Fabrics
   General sewing supplies

Rockywoods Outdoor Fabrics
   Outdoor-related sewing supplies

Seattle Fabrics, Inc.
   Outdoor-related sewing supplies

Steinlauf and Stoller, Inc.
   General sewing supplies

Textile Outfitters
   Outdoor-related sewing supplies

Timmel Fabrics
   Outdoor-related sewing supplies

Wy'East Fabrics
   Outdoor-related sewing supplies

For additional vendors of fabrics, patterns, and notions visit these Web sites:

   Fashion sewing Internet connectons
   Over 300 sewing-related links

   Great search engine for finding fabric suppliers.

   On-line Fabric Directory
   Use this directory to find a fabric retailer near you

   http://www.yahoo.com (search for "fabrics")
   Lots of general fabric listings.

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In God's wilderness lies the hope of the world,
the great, fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.
— John Muir 1838-1914, Alaska Wilderness, 1890

Content Copyright © by Michael A. Neiger
All rights reserved.
Comments? Suggestions? Dead links? Inaccurate info?
Contact the WebMaster at mneiger@hotmail.com