5 Ways to Extend the Life of Your Beat-Up Old Running Shoes
DIY repairs for your aging, busted-but-beloved trail shoes
Shoes are a trail runner’s best, most reliable adventure partners. We love them. We take them with us everywhere we go. But they don’t last forever. Mesh tears, rubber cracks and wears thin. Pretty soon toes are popping out, soles are flapping and fabric is disintegrating. You could just buy a new pair, but these ones are so perfectly broken in. The lacing is dialed, the mud-splatter pattern is perfect.
We’ve all tried the desperate duct-tape technique: wrap it, stick it back together and keep on running as if nothing is different. But there are plenty of creative, classy and longer-lasting ways to extend the life of your favorite trail shoe.
1. Torn mesh
At first it’s just a snag, so small you can barely see it. Soon, though, it gets a little bigger. Your sock pokes through. Then your toe. Eventually it is a full-on gash and it can’t be ignored.
Pick up a large needle at the hardware store and sew up the hole with thick nylon thread (or dental floss). Use a grid pattern, sewing horizontally first across the gash, and then vertically, starting a half-inch on either side of the tear to ensure that the nylon thread can’t rip out.
2. Internal wear and tear
High-pressure zones—like the heel—tend to get worn down faster than others. Not only can this cause painful hotspots where the body rubs against the exposed inner fabric, it can also cause the shoe to deteriorate as sweat, dirt and water seep into the shoe’s innards.
For a quick fix, try cutting out a piece of moleskin and fitting it over the worn area. This will add padding and protect the shoe from the elements. If you’ve got a little more time on your hands, find a scrap of heavy-duty fabric like felt or denim, glue it over the worn area, and reinforce it with some stitches around the edges. If neither of those are an option, slap on a piece of tent-repair tape—it's rip- and water-resistant!
3. Busted Outsole
Use a piece of old bike tire or old climbing-shoe rubber to patch the worn-out areas on the bottom of your running shoe. The tire tread works great in muddy conditions, while the sticky climbing rubber is helpful on rocky, scrambly terrain. In either case, use a knife to cut the worn area out of the sole. Cut the tire or climbing shoe rubber to the same size. Line the new indentation with super glue and stick in the tire or climbing rubber. The patch should lie flush with the rest of the sole.
It may seem counterintuitive to take a knife to your favorite pair of shoes, but Jennifer Pharr Davis, who held the overall speed record for the Appalachian Trail until this summer, says she’s done it several times: “I’ve definitely had to 'doctor' my shoes in the backcountry, including taking a pocket knife to the back of my shoes when it puts too much pressure on my heel and Achilles.”
4. Busted Eyelets
Trail Runner’s own Jeremy Duncan was in college, working part time at Home Depot, when the eyelets on his three-year-old running shoes tore open. He used a knife to punch a new hole, threaded the laces back through and kept on running.
For a little additional structure, try reinforcing the edges of the new hole with super glue or clear nail polish. Let it dry before retying the laces.
Wear is inevitable, but there are ways to ensure that your shoe lasts as long as possible. For starters, if you know you’ll be running more than two days a week, shell out the money upfront for two pairs of the same shoe. Label each with different-colored sharpie and rotate between them every other run. It will give the midsoles more time to recover in between runs, and they won’t weaken or wear as quickly.
Another tip: Avoid the dryer at all costs! The heat can shrink the fabric and weaken the structure of the midsole, speeding up the shoe’s aging process. If your shoes get wet, stuff them with paper towels or a light cloth. Pharr Davis also uses newspaper when she’s out on multi-day trips. “It helps them dry out faster than they would otherwise,” she says, and it maintains the integrity of the shoe’s materials.