How to Do Surgery on Your Trail Shoes

About: Ben Mattice is an ultrarunner who loves to DIY most of his wilderness survival techniques. Stay tuned for ways to be self-sustaining as a long-distance runner.

Ultra runners run anything from 75-150 miles a week when training. Before his Western States bid, Jim Walmsley hit 150 miles a week. Trail running shoes are notorious for sudden blowouts, especially when you're putting rugged miles on them.

What do you do if you're out on the trail and you have a blowout? If you have nothing in your bag to fix it, you're stuck making do. But if you have a simple sewing kit, you can at least attempt surgery and hopefully make it back to camp.

This happened to me a few weeks ago. I had some duct tape and that didn't work. Had to bear rocks and dirt in my shoes entire run down back to the cabin.

Here's what I wished I could have done when I was up on the mountain.

Step 1: Gather Supplies

I used what I had laying about (as always). I quickly found that regular sewing kits are difficult to use on a shoe with a tough upper like my Altras. And you'll never be able to use a sewing machine on a shoe unless you cut the upper off first.

The best thing to use on a shoe is a suture kit. My wife is a veterinarian and we used to have a bunch of extra kits laying about. I don't know what happened to them, but I'm definitely going to ask her to order some extras so I can carry them on my long runs. I don't want to be 20 miles into a run or race and have my shoe split in half on me with no way to repair it.

You can get a kit for $20 on Amazon right now. Trust me, you'll be glad you used this instead of regular needle and thread. Not only is suture material stronger, the needle is curved. When you're trying to sew something from inside a shoe, you don't want to constantly catch your needle on the bottom of the shoe.

Here's what you'll need to perform surgery on a shoe.

  • Suture/thread
  • Suture needle or sewing needle
  • Pliers or needle holders (I used a hemostat cause I had that laying about)
  • Super Glue (optional)

Step 2: Begin Sewing

Thread your needle or just open the suture package. Pickup the needle holder or pliers. You'll want to grip the needle near the pointy end. This is especially true if you're using regular needles. If you hold it too far back toward the eye, you're going to break the needle when you push it through the shoe.

Now start on the far end of the gash and push the needle into the fabric until it pokes out the other side. Let go of the needle once it pokes through and put the needle pliers inside the shoe to grip the pointy end and pull the needle through. Make sure you pull the need through and don't try to push it through from the outside. You'll break the needle.

Make two or three stitches and then tie it off. Move down the gash a little and start over. Do this until the gash is closed up.

Step 3: Optional: Add Super Glue for Extra Strength

This is a pretty self-explanatory step. Once you've sewn up your shoe, you can squeeze some super glue onto the gash. This is something you should do only if you're not going to use the shoes for at least 12 hours. The glue will get on your socks and you'll have some socks stuck inside your shoes if you don't let the glue dry before you use the shoes.

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