You’ve got to carry at least a few feet of duct tape when you backcountry ski; but how do you pack it? The most macho method I’ve seen for hauling duct tape was a guy who traveled with an 8-inch roll thrown over the shovel shaft sticking out of his pack. More elegant methods include re-rolling into a small package and carrying in your backcountry skiing repair kit. You can wrap a wad around your ski poles, but you’ll end up with a stick that feels like a war club (A handy item in bear habitat, but hard on the biceps).
One thing is certain, if you don’t have at least one duct tape repair on your touring gear, you are not true to the spirit. And if you don’t carry some, you are brain damaged.
Last spring, a friend and I groaned through a pre-dawn start to a first ski descent. The groans turned into moans when we found our lightweight spring pants wouldn’t keep snow out of our boots. No worry. Said friend grabbed the ubiquitous sticky ribbon and mummified his lower legs in fine fashion. Then there was the guy who forgot his cup and eating bowl. A few yards of tape later he was scarfing with the best of us. Forget your potty paper? I’ve heard it said. Never tried it. Ouch.
Duct tape comes in different flavors. Beware of a lame version that’s thin, has meager glue, and is tough to tear off the roll. Better grades are sold with the words “weather proof” or “professional.” The best I’ve seen for backcountry skiing is sold as contractor grade, and is easiest to find online Pro grade duct tape makes a terrific stocking stuffer!.
The better tapes have super-thick glue and flexible backing that molds around your repairs unlike anything else.
Remember that duct tape also works for bandaging and blister control. Before such use test a small patch on your skin in case you’re allergic.
Using duct tape to patch your backcountry skiing clothing? The trick is to iron it on. Set your iron on a low temperature, and cover with aluminum foil in case the tape starts to melt. Done correctly, you can weld the tape to the fabric for a bomber repair. In the field, a super light touch with a butane lighter can do the trick.
Speaking of different “flavors,” be sure to check out Gorilla Tape. This is a bit too sticky sometimes, but worth experimenting with as is resembles the pro grade duct tapes and is black so it can blend in better for permanent or semi-permanent repairs.
History: Adhesive tape was invented in the 1920’s by Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, Co. (3M). A military version of duct tape was first created and manufactured around 1942 by Johnson & Johnson.
Duct tape’s original use was to keep moisture out of the ammunition cases. Because it was waterproof, people referred to the tape as "duck tape." Also, the tape was made using cotton duck, so the name "stuck." Military folks discovered that the tape was very versatile and used it to fix their guns, jeeps, aircraft, etc.
After the War, duct tape was used in the booming housing industry to connect heating and air conditioning duct work together. Soon, the color was changed from Army green to silver to match the ductwork and people started to refer to duck tape as "silver tape" or "duct tape." Presently, most people say it out loud as "duck tape," though it’s usually written as "duct." Names such as duck tape aside, as one of the most useful innovations of modern mankind, this is the tape that holds the world together — and is essential for backcountry skiing.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.