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 abundantly 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. And 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 and this versatile companion soon became a permanent fixture on my packing list.
For a long time, I resisted packing duct tape as I visualized the weight and space demands of a full roll of tape. However, this all changed after stumbling across a post describing a useful travel gear hack resulting in a cylindrical roll or flat rectangular card containing a desirable length of tape. Each requires a reasonably sturdy core such as a short pencil or plastic card, the starting point for wrapping the tape.
Adhesive tape is a restrictive item on some airlines so carrying a small amount in these forms may pass the scrutiny of security agents.
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 and then firmly on the tape so the original damage is hardly detectable. Check the strength of the repair and if further reinforcement is needed, apply another piece of tape on the outside with the adhesive side facing in. When possible, follow up and 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). And duct tape is the perfect solution for repairing ski gloves because of its waterproofing and adhesive qualities.
Accessorize with duct tape. To keep pants or socks from slipping down, use duct tape to fashion a makeshift belt or garters.
Make glasses serviceable. A broken pair of glasses can be taped together until a proper repair is possible. For rigorous activity requiring a retainer strap for sunglasses, make one with duct tape.
Create a headlamp. Tape a flashlight to a hat or helmet and become hands free.
Fix luggage. Reinforce luggage in worn areas, fix a broken hinge, cover a tear or secure a luggage tag. Wrap tape around checked baggage with the zipper pulls under the tape to deter tampering. Depending on the colour, the tape will make it easier to distinguish the bag from others on a conveyor belt or carousel.
Use as a packing aid. Tape unreliable tops of shampoo bottles and other 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, bag or child carrier begins chafing at the hip belt or shoulder straps, tape a T-shirt or piece of soft fabric to protect the susceptible areas.
Stabilize a sprain or broken bone. Until medical attention is available, stabilize a broken limb with splint material, padding and duct tape. Immobilize the area by taping it to a stick, tent pole or other body part. If at all possible, do so without placing the tape on bare skin. Pad the crotch of a forked branch with some cloth and duct tape to make a crutch.
*Create makeshift Band-Aids. Craft a waterproof plaster to cover blisters or cuts when it’s important to keep them protected from the elements. Create butterfly bandage strips by cutting two small strips 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 or tissue paper to protect the open wound from the tape.
*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 and finish up 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, which can result in the build up of toxins. The glue on duct tape can also cause skin irritation. Therefore, try to avoid applying duct tape directly on bare skin and do so only if the consequences of not doing so could be more harmful. Carrying Band-Aids, a small roll of surgical tape and blister prevention tape in a small first-aid kit is a healthier alternative.
Repair a cracked water bottle. A leaking water bottle can be bad news when remaining hydrated is critical, and bad for 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 and twist to create a sturdy duct tape rope.
Make a shelter. A few garbage bags take up very little space and combined with duct tape can be indispensable in sheltering travellers from the elements. Pack a large orange bag (the type for collecting yard waste) for enhanced coverage and visibility. Make a poncho, ground sheet, tube tent, sleeping bag cover, survival shelter roof or windbreak.
Devise ankle straps. Tighten pant legs at the ankles and around the tops of footwear to keep shoes clean and dry inside. It can also prevent bugs or leeches from climbing up inside, or to keep loose pants from interfering with a bike chain when cycling.
Repair a book. Reinforce the spine or dog-eared covers of a travel guide or journal with tape.
Reseal food containers. If a built-in zip-lock feature is missing from the design of a bag, seal it 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. When carrying expensive gear in a bag with a logo or branding that clearly gives it away as an electronics bag, a piece of duct tape over the label can help deter theft. Some travellers cover expensive equipment such as a camera or laptop with duct tape to make the items as unattractive as possible to thieves.
Announce your presence. Blaze a trail, mark a backpack or make a distress signal using brightly coloured or reflective tape.
Repair camping gear. Apply tape over a ripped screen or broken zipper to keep bugs out, or to a tear in a tent to keep it waterproof. Patch a torn sleeping bag to keep the internal contents where they belong. Use it to keep the ends of rope from fraying or as a temporary fix for a leaking air mattress.
Tape footwear. Shoes stay dry longer when covered with strips of duct tape. Tape the inside of boots to make them a little warmer. With the shiny side of the tape facing towards the feet, heat from the body will be reflected to provide additional warmth. Wrap duct tape around shoes when the glue attaching the sole gives out or a sandal strap breaks. My friend Lynn Chen who blogs at A heart in sharing travel tales was thankful she’d packed duct tape when her hiking boots needed a helping hand to finish a trek in Patagonia.
Eliminate intrusive noise, light and other irritations. Tape the gap shut between curtains to eliminate those patches of light that interfere with sleep. Seal the door of an air conditioning unit that rattles during the night, or cover an air vent that’s letting in obtrusive smells or noise. Tape an aircraft 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.
Fashion a plug. Seal a drain without a sink stopper to do laundry.
Remove lint. Turn a piece of the adhesive side out and form a loop to put over your hand to create a 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-lock bag to keep them dry and protected from damage from the tape. Tape items under furniture or in other hiding places.
Duct tape: a traveller’s friend. Don’t leave home without it.
How have you used duct tape on your travels?