Updated December 21, 2017
What’s the deal with duct tape? Why is it on so many travellers’ packing lists? When I finally packed a small quantity, the reasons became clear. The dangling straps on my bags were driving me crazy so I reached for the duct tape. A tear on another traveller’s bag was magically mended with the stuff. A loose hotel air vent cover rattled until it was suitably constrained. On a cycling trip, a bandage covering a nasty scrape was reinforced with duct tape. I grew to learn about the benefits of travelling with duct tape. Now, this versatile companion is a permanent fixture on my packing list.
Uses of duct tape
For travellers, the uses of duct tape seem to be limitless.
Repair clothing. A tear in outerwear can quickly reduce its functionality. Place a strip of tape inside the item with the adhesive side facing out. Carefully press both sides of the tear together. Then, press firmly on the tape so the original damage is hardly detectable. Check the strength of the repair. If reinforcement is needed, apply another piece of tape on the outside. When possible, replace the tape with a professional patch. Dropped hems can also be taped from the inside (and with any luck should survive a few washes). Because it’s waterproof, duct tape is perfect for repairing ski gloves.
Fashion a plug. Seal a drain without a sink stopper to do laundry. For best results, apply the tape to a dry surface.
Make glasses serviceable. A broken pair of glasses can be taped until a proper repair is possible. For active adventures requiring a retainer strap, make one with duct tape.
Create a headlamp. Create a hands-free solution by taping a flashlight to a hat or helmet.
Fix luggage. Reinforce luggage in worn areas, fix a broken hinge, cover a tear, or secure a luggage tag. To deter tampering, wrap tape around checked baggage. Position the zipper pulls under the tape. Colourful tape will make it easier to distinguish the bag from others on the luggage carousel. There’s a wide selection of colours and designs on the market.
Use as a packing aid. Tape unreliable tops of bottled liquids to prevent spills. Tape shut a plastic bag containing wet clothing or muddy shoes. Use tape and bubble wrap to protect breakables.
Fashion a sling. Fold a length of tape down the centre so it is half the original width and no longer exposing the adhesive side.
Eliminate chafing. If a backpack or child carrier begins chafing at the hip belt or shoulder straps, tape a piece of soft fabric to protect the susceptible areas.
Stabilize a sprain or broken bone. Immobilize a broken limb by taping it to a stick, tent pole or other body part. Use padding. Don’t place duct tape on bare skin. Pad the crotch of a forked branch with some cloth and duct tape to make a crutch.
*Create makeshift plasters. Craft a waterproof plaster to cover a blister or cut when it’s important to keep it protected from the elements. Create butterfly strips by cutting two small pieces of tape, and adding a smaller strip across their centres. Always place a sterile dressing over a wound before applying tape. If in a pinch, use a piece of clean absorbent clothing to protect the open wound.
*Prevent blisters. If prone to blisters, or when the symptoms of a developing blister first appear, cover the susceptible areas with duct tape. Clean the area, and dry it thoroughly to give the adhesive the best chance to stick. Apply the tape as smoothly as possible. Finish by rolling on socks to avoid moving the tape out of place.
*Placing duct tape on bare skin can cut off oxygen to the skin’s pores. It also prevents sweat from being able to leave the body. This can result in the build up of toxins. The glue on duct tape can irritate the skin. Therefore, try to avoid applying duct tape directly on bare skin. Do so only if the consequences of not doing so could be more harmful. Carry plasters, a small roll of surgical tape and blister prevention tape in a small first-aid kit. It’s a healthier alternative.
Repair a cracked water bottle. A leaking water bottle can be bad news when remaining hydrated is critical. It’s tough on the environment if it needs to be discarded. Duct tape usually doesn’t adhere to wet surfaces, so empty the container and thoroughly dry the surface before attaching a patch. For extra reinforcement, completely wrap the water bottle in tape around the area of the leak.
Construct cordage. Attach an end of one or several lengths of tape to a fixed object. Twist to create a sturdy duct tape rope.
Make a shelter. A few garbage bags take up very little space. The large orange ones used for collecting yard waste offer enhanced coverage and visibility. Make a poncho, ground sheet, tube tent, sleeping bag cover, survival shelter roof, or windbreak… with the help of some duct tape.
Create ankle straps. Tighten pant legs at the ankles to keep footwear clean and dry inside. Prevent bugs or leeches from climbing up inside. Keep loose pants from interfering with a bike chain.
Repair a book. Reinforce the spine or dog-eared covers of a travel guide or journal.
Reseal food containers. Seal a bag with duct tape to maintain freshness, or to keep things leakproof. Create a makeshift lid for an opened can by placing pieces of tape across the opening.
Cover a prominent logo. Are you carrying expensive gear in an electronics bag with a logo or branding? A piece of duct tape over the label might help deter theft. Some travellers cover expensive equipment with duct tape to make it as unattractive as possible to thieves.
Announce your presence. Blaze a trail or make a distress signal using brightly coloured or reflective duct tape. Travelling in the dark? Add a piece of reflective tape to your bag or clothing.
Repair camping gear. Apply tape over a ripped screen or broken zipper to keep bugs out. Repair a tear in a tent to keep it waterproof. Patch a torn sleeping bag to keep the insulation where it belongs. Use it to keep the ends of rope from fraying, or as a temporary fix of a leaking air mattress.
Tape footwear. Shoes stay dry longer when covered with strips of duct tape. Wrap duct tape around shoes when the glue attaching the sole gives out, or a sandal strap breaks. My friend Lynn Chen blogs at A heart in sharing travel tales. Duct tape enabled Lynn’s hiking boots to finish a trek in Patagonia.
Eliminate intrusive noise, light and other irritations. Tape the gap between curtains to shut out those patches of light that interfere with sleep. Seal the door of an air conditioning unit that rattles during the night. Cover an air vent that’s letting in obtrusive smells or noise. Tape a tray table to the back of the seat in front of you when faced with a broken hinge. Seal a tear in mosquito netting or a screen door to lessen the risk of contracting mosquito-borne diseases.
Remove lint. With the adhesive side facing outwards, form a loop over your hand. Presto: lint brush. Tap lightly and the offending particles should stick to the tape.
Hide valuables. Tape valuables such as a passport, cash and financial cards to the inside of clothing. Place them in a zip-top bag to keep them dry, and protected from damage from the tape. Tape items under furniture, or in other hiding places.
Travelling with duct tape
For a long time, I resisted packing duct tape because I visualized the weight and space demands of a full roll of tape. This changed after stumbling across an article about a useful travel gear hack. It described a cylindrical roll or flat rectangular card containing a desirable length of tape. Each requires a sturdy core such as a short pencil or plastic card, the starting point for wrapping the tape.
Another approach is to use something in your luggage as a wrapping core. Tent poles? Hiking poles? First-aid kit? Water bottle?
Adhesive tape is a restrictive item on some airlines. Carrying a small amount in these forms might pass the scrutiny of screening agents.
Duct tape: a traveller’s friend. Don’t leave home without it.
How have you used duct tape on your travels?
If you found this post useful, you might be interested in:
- My favourite travel gear hacks;
- MacGyver kit for travellers; and
- Tame dangling straps with Web Dominator.
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