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I've had a 60 L backpack for almost seven years now. Nothing on it is broken and it fits my needs, so right now I don't have any thoughts about replacing it (Getting a light pack might be the only reason to do so).

However, I've started to think about what I will do if buckles, straps or zippers break. They've taken quite some abuse in the past; while I will do my best to prevent damage, I can't guarantee much. To prevent an unfortunate situation: What things should I be especially aware of and how - if possible - do I take care of such issues?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Slightly different take here: prevention

You should regularly inspect the pack

  1. The joining of straps to seams. Can you see stitching? Can the strap move independently of the seam (even a little)? This is easy to reinforce. I turn it inside out, add a piece of fabric over the inside seam, and stitch just a bit past the original (note this can only really be done once). Alternatively you could use a seam ripper (if the seams aren't taped) and restitch.
  2. Straps -- If a strap is worn severely, or torn, you can fix by just stitching a reinforcement strap on top. I use this style of webbing strap. (You can buy strapping material from a fabric store without the buckles.)
  3. Zipper -- Are the teeth worn down? Are the stitches showing? If so you may need to replace the zipper, the details of which are a bit beyond this answer.
  4. Zipper (part 2) -- Check the "stopper" thing at the bottom. This stops the zipper from zipping open too far and coming apart. If it is too worn or loose, simply stitch ten or so loops of thread around it and they will stop the zipper.
  5. Buckles - Your bag probably has plastic buckles. The buckle will be a whitish color, at a spot where it's been bent too far or too much and is starting to fail. If you see that then you need to replace the buckle.
  6. Overall -- If you see really worn fabric, a tear, or a hole, even a small one, then you have a major rip waiting to happen. First carefully stitch a stop circle around the hole or tear. Then add a patch of the same fabric as the pack. Do not use iron-on style patches. They create hard edges which will just make things wear faster and create a larger hole. Honestly though, if you're at this point, it's going to be time to replace it soon.
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Buckles, straps and zippers are all relatively easy to replace, but it can be worth taking a spare strap with you in case one fails in the wild.

I usually keep one spare 6 ft strap and a pair of 2 ft bungee cords in the bottom of my camping pack - they also have other uses, so aren't entirely dead weight.

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2  
I'm not sure I really agree that zippers are easy to replace on backpacks, at least not the ones I got. –  Henrik Hansen Apr 14 '12 at 13:51
3  
My usual tactic if the whole zip goes is just to strip out the entire zip fabric and replace. You might need a sewing machine but you should be able to do it with just a strong needle and thread. –  Rory Alsop Apr 15 '12 at 10:07

I've never had a pack failure 'in the wild' but I think my usual repair kit of duct tape, tie wraps and a bit of paracord should be able to handle most things.

Minor strap and buckle failures aren't likely to cause you major problem - but if a shoulder strap fails, that's quite a challenge: Just remember your pack is a vital part of your gear, and look after it well!

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I think exactly how to look after it well was the question. –  Paul Paulsen May 22 at 7:47

Generally speaking, straps and buckles don't just fail one day, you can see signs of wear a while in advance. Of course there are exceptions and you should arguably be prepared for these too, but giving the essentials a glance over once in a while can't do any harm.

As a general pointer, bear in mind your use case as well. If you know your pack is about to endure a tough 5 days that would stretch it even when new, bear in mind that anything even minor that you spot could give way suddenly - so fix and replace when you can rather than taking the risk.

In terms of the time to replace the pack, I'd say it's when multiple things start failing within a short time frame. A strap coming a bit undone once? Fair enough. A strap coming undone, couple of zippers failing and a small hole appearing in a month? Replace it.

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