Sunlight fights through the canopy of redwoods. Dirt sticks to my ankles. The still air feels cool and sharp with each breath. Nope—this isn’t a scene from Into the Wild. I’m in the heart of Big Sur—a massive region of mountain and forest in Central California—and it’s my first time backpacking.
And I’m prepared. I have a hodgepodge of belongings including a tent, a water filter, and an extra pair of socks. But also strapped to my back are three packs of sugru. Despite my novice efforts to trim every unnecessary ounce off my pack, I brought the self-setting rubber for two reasons: A) I wanted to put some of sugru’s wilderness hacks to the test, and B) working at iFixit has taught me that when things break—which they inevitably do—it’s best to have a tool around.
Here’s the tale of my 20-mile, weekend backpacking trip—and why sugru made me a backpacking badass:
We’re about four miles in—and I’m cautiously walking along a 3-foot wide dirt ledge (yes, dirt ledge) when my shoelaces start to undo themselves. Not the best of situations when your life depends upon sure footing. With the speed of a lemur, I slowly lean down and tighten the lace. And when I make it to safe ground, I pull out my first pack of sugru.
I rip open the thin, aluminum pack and start to mold four individual balls (using the open pack as a small work table) to wrap around the ends of my laces. Dirt from my grimy hands and dust from the laces get into the white rubber. But, even if it’s not pretty, the hack works: it stops my laces from coming untied. Hallelujah!
After six more grueling hours of hiking, we reach camp—tired, sore, and grimey. As the sun starts to lower, so does the temperature. It’ll be uncomfortable soon. We start a fire for tea. But my stainless steel cup, filled to the brim with boiling water, gets too hot for me to hold. I grab my second pack of sugru.
Slowly, I manipulate the rubber into a grip for the cup’s handle. I will not be denied precious tea. But placing the cup in my lap and holding the sugru in my hands makes it hard to execute a decent shape. I eventually make it work and, happily, I can hold my cup without discomfort. Sugru has proven itself useful again.
I thought those would be my only sugru hacks on the trip. But on day two, we left the campsite a bit too late—and by 2:30PM I could tell we weren’t going to make it to our destination before nightfall. I decided to make one more modification.
The outer back pocket on my backpack had a couple layers for clothes when temperatures drop. And I didn’t want to take off the pack and search for the zipper in the dark when that happened—so I pulled out my last stash of sugru. I molded the rubber into a casing over the zipper’s tab, so I would easily be able to find the pocket in the dark. It worked (and looked) like a charm.
But as it turns out … you can never have enough sugru around. Night fell and we climbed the side of the mountain. Terrified, we heard the rustling of nocturnal animals, echos of the wind swooping through branches, and our own struggling inhales and exhales. The light on my headlamp wasn’t quite robust enough and suddenly I slipped on a loose rock, sliding to the cliff’s edge. I was shaken, but fine. In the scramble I somehow broke off the band of the watch I was wearing—a watch that belonged to my late-grandfather. It’s one of my most treasured possessions.
I quickly grabbed it and tucked it safely away. No sugru to rescue me this time. Instead, I brought the watch back to the office Monday morning and repaired it in our teardown room, with black sugru. Now it’s good as (almost) new. And I know my grandfather, a lifelong tinkerer, would approve of my modifications.
All in all, sugru improved my backpacking trip (and it certainly improved my watch). Plan on taking some along to your next excursion into the wild? Great. Here’s some tips for better wilderness sugru-ing:
What have you used sugru for lately? Tell me below. Happy trails!
An abridged edition of this article was originally published on Sugru.com/blog