Brian McLaughlin, a keen traveller, writer and inventor, tells us how to prepare for every eventuality by putting together his genius Do-It-Yourself Repair Kit…
Every backpacker needs a repair kit. No matter if your inclinations take you deep into the wilderness, or onto the streets of a developing country. If you travel long or far enough something will inevitably break, wear out, or tear. When it does— you better be prepared.
Sunglasses get sat on, buttons pop off and shoes lose their soles. The list goes on. When bad things happen to good travellers you can turn a catastrophe into a minor nuisance if you have the tools on hand to mend your gear. All you need is a little space in your pack, about the size of a pack of cigarettes, and you’ll have everything you need to make most repairs on the road or trail.
I have used at least one item from my repair kit on almost every trip I have taken. Many times I have made repairs for friends or strangers. How many times have you heard another traveller ask “does anybody have any duct tape or super glue?” If you have a backpacker repair kit in your bag, then that knight in shining armour could be you! If you travel alone, being the hero is a great way to make new friends.
Feel free to make this kit your own. Use whatever combination of components you prefer to fill your kit, this list is just my favourite, designed to be versatile, yet compact. If you don’t have an Altoids tin, use another type of container. There are many suitable containers just sitting on the store shelves that were designed to last longer than their contents. Why not give one of them a second life doing something useful? You most likely have something that’ll work already stuck in a drawer somewhere or if not, raid your parents’ cupboards! Almost everything you need is probably already at your disposal, so you can build this kit for little or no cost. At some point during one of your travels you’ll be glad you did.
You don’t have to add the compartments if you don’t want to, but they will make your kit more organised. If you don’t have a large popsicle stick, you can glue two regular ones side by side, or use another material all together. Just have fun and reminisce back to your Blue Peter-watching days…
The main components needed to build your own Backpacker DIY Repair Kit.
①. Superglue (1 small tube)- Sold under many names but its usefulness remains the same. Can fix almost anything from broken sunglasses to worn-out flip flops. One of the most essential items in any repair kit.
②. Duct Tape (about 2.5 m/8.5’)- NASA never leaves home without it, and neither should you. Can be used to repair broken space craft and lunar rovers, as well as more down to earth items like torn backpacks, shoes, or patch tubes of toothpaste and medicine. Perfect for silencing that snoring stranger on the overnight bus…
③. Small zipper storage bag (1)- Can keep snacks and other sundries sealed. Makes a great waterproof bag to keep important things dry while tubing in Laos and protects from pesky ants elsewhere!
④. Rubber bands (6)- A handy hair band for your new hippie dreadlocks, a way to organise clothes in a tightly packed backpack or use them to roll up that propaganda poster you bought in Ho Chi Minh.
⑤. Sewing needles and thread (2 needles and an assortment of threads)- Very minimal, so keep track of those buttons that pop off. If have room you can throw a few buttons in for good measure, but don’t worry too much as backpacker styles allows for the odd hole, patch and missing button…
⑥. Straight pins (6)- Great for temporary mending. These can also be used for map pins on that map you taped to your hotel room wall Leonardo DiCaprio style.
⑦. Safety Pins (6)- Excellent for quick repairs when you can’t be bothered to sew. From customising baggy ‘Tubing in the Vang Vieng’ vests or Full Moon t-shirts to hitching up your Fishermen’s Pants.
⑧. Cable ties (6 small)- Almost as versatile as duct tape. I once used these to tie a rose given to me by a pretty Vietnamese girl for Teacher’s Day on the front of my motorcycle. It stayed there all week. Also handy as a disposable padlock on your backpack… just be sure to have your scissors somewhere accessible!
⑨. Small knife (homemade)- Included in the kit in case you forgot to take your Swiss army knife out of your carry-on before walking through airport security. Don’t forget to pack your repair kit in your check in luggage, or you may lose it as well! This can be used to cut duct tape and thread, hack into your bag when the zip annoyingly snaps off or remove those Tubing bracelets when they’ve collected dirt from all over Southeast Asia.
How your finished DIY Repair Kit will look.
Materials needed: 1 clean Altoids tin or similar container, 2 wide (tongue depressor size) popsicle sticks, 1 regular size popsicle stick, white craft glue, hobby knife, pencil, small ruler, a few Q-tips, tape and 1 refill blade from a hobby knife/scalpel knife (optional).
① Before cutting the popsicle sticks trim off the rounded end on one side.
② Cut 1 popsicle stick 92 mm.
③ Cut the remaining stick into one 42 mm and one 51 mm piece. (The 51 mm piece is for the tape dispenser).
④ Make the tape dispenser before proceeding. Slowly wrap duct tape around the 51 mm piece. Wrap about 40 times carefully aligning edges. Be sure it is not too thick for the lid to close securely.
⑤ Put the longest piece across the top, about 13 mm from the back edge. Hold in place with tape. Be sure it is wide enough to hold the superglue tube turned on its side.
⑥ Place tape dispenser in the container and put the short piece in about 34 mm from left side.
⑦ Mark the positions of the dividers with a pencil, and remove everything from the tin before gluing.
⑧ Glue the dividers into the tin, long piece first. Reinforce joints with an extra seam of glue. Wipe away excess glue with a Q-tip/cotton bud. Let this dry for 1 hour before packing.
⑨ It’ll take a little practice to make all the components fit inside. Try to compact everything by using a little tape or rubber bands.
⑩ Final optional step! Cut two 25 mm pieces (1”) from the regular sized popsicle stick. Using the rounded ends makes the knife handle a little more attractive. Glue hobby knife blade between.
The Backpacker DIY Repair Kit fully assembled!