How to survive with a broken pair of boots – Field repair tips MacGyver style

I have always love outdoor, ever since the compulsory military training, I returned to the woods with friends on either sports shoes or the old school army boots. Until my friends invited me to the trek to Everest Base Camp, I have finally invested in a good winter Timberland boots in order to withstand -15 degree (after the salesman convinced me). Little did I found out later that Timberland was pretty well known for its good urban design and poor durability. The boots have been my faithful companion later on for entering Fukushima tsunami nuclear affected zone and touring Europe into the abandoned theme park in Berlin, as well as my motorcycle boots sometimes. My first Timberland boots finally gave way after trying to hold itself together for exactly 3 years and 297 days.

Photograph of my boots and I taken by our team leader/photographer Chin Shi Yao in Dec 2012, the first trek I wear with the boots.
The earliest picture I found of the boots while its still in good condition, photographed on 4 Dec 2013 at Fukushima affected zone, I took this picture of the bug questioning if the specie has been affected by the nuclear radiation.
The boots after summit the 2nd mountain – losing its outsoles. Oct 2016
The fantastic view of Mt Bromo, the final trek the boots have brought me.


Why the field repair? It was because:

  1. The first outsole gave way right after we summit mount Ijen in Indonesia, and we were on our way down. I did a quick black tape repair, knowing that the tape will tear, but as long as it’s enough for me to reach back to the car and do a more proper repair.
  2. The second outsole gave way without I realizing it. I lost the outsole, I wanted to prove that the improvised field repair can allow me to finish the 2nd mountain and take me home.

What the tools I have with me and what’s the limitation?

  1. Nail clipper (I was taking budget airline, so no knives were allowed. I was so glad that I brought the nail clipper which proves itself useful in cutting the string)
  2. military comms cord (basically nylon string)
  3. black tape.


The simple and durable fix if you still have the outsole



Blacktape is easy quick fix but useless in a long run, the bottom will tear as you walked. Since I do not have a knife with me taking the budget airline, I borrowed a kitchen knife from the local, cut 2 holes near the toes area of the outsole. There are 4 strings that hold it:

  1. The toes strings that go through the 2 holes to hold the outsole from sliding forward
  2. Center string that goes around the cutting of the boots; so that the string will not get in contact with the ground as you walk.
  3. Heel string that goes in between the cutting, same reason as no.3
  4. Rear string to prevents the sole from sliding forward.

This design holds together for the entire climb of Seruni Point from bottom to summit to see Bromo mountain, until I took the flight back home.


Make your own outsole – The MacGyver style – make do with what you can find.


After the first climb, we have basically 2 hours to rest in a small inn before we heads out for the next climb. I have no choice to spend the 2 hours look around for materials I can use; borrowed a tiny scissor, plead the inn keeper to give me the following materials:

  1. Air-con duct
  2. Inner tyre tube cut into strip bought from the shop next to our inn (it should have been free)
  3. Hose tube (This is the best harden rubber I can find, but the inn keeper is refusing to give me longer than 10cm to make something useful.
  4. Comms cord from me.
Mapping out the length and shape of the shoe.


The air-con duct is very soft, but that’s the only spongy kind of cushion I can find. So I wrapped it with the inner tube rubber to provide some protection and grip. All was done with that tiny scissor I have with the cords.

The tying method is basically similar to the early method. A plus point for the Timberland: there’s a small ring for the lace, perfect for tying knots.


The Aftermath

Right after summiting the 2nd mountain

The climb is actually not a big issue, as long as you place the footing carefully without tearing it so much. The fateful damage done to the boots came from the picky airport officer when I want to check-in my backpack with a tripod; not allowed at Indonesia airport. I was running to and fro check-in counter, that’s when the boots gave way really badly.

The plastic bag was added simply because it was raining, and the sole gaveway with a giant hole through.
The string method holds surprisingly well after 3 days, with only 1 string broken, and the boot is still pretty much in one piece.
The MacGyver sole isn’t doing so well, but I managed to wear it all the way back home from airport.


Buy a new pair of boots.

Oh well, I learnt how to make a sole, and I feel the important needs of having a good footwear. This incident sparks my interest in a social enterprise project to recycle tyre for making shoes for the needy people in the developing countries, except that if you google ‘recycled tyre sandals’ you are going to find many products already. Who knows, maybe some day I can come up with a more useful and cheap design.


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