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After producing such losers as cyclamates, the Edsel and brown cigarette paper, technology, that fickle handmaiden of science, has struck a vein of pure gold—or aluminum in this case. Someday, say its admirers, and they are legion, aluminum duct tape will probably be ranked alongside penicillin and solid rocket fuel as one of the great discoveries of the 20th century.

Duct tape, like most boons to civilization, is basically simple and altogether an old-fashioned item. Says Jim Pratt, of the 3M Company, one producer of the product, "It is just a refinement of old cloth bandage tape. It works so well because there's lots of adhesive—you must use it on a cloth backing. There really is no aluminum in it at all, that's just the color. It's actually 100% cotton." Manufactured by several companies, duct tape has as many applications for sportsmen and outdoorsmen as there are things that rip, snap, crack and leak. Mechanics at the Indy 500 carry rolls of the stuff to repair rips and holes caused by a stone or bolt from the track in the fiber-glass racers, restoring in an instant the smooth contours of the cars.

Since the tape is easily removed without damaging cloth, wood, metal and even skin, and because it peels off the roll easily, it is ideal for almost any emergency. It will hold a torn canoe bottom for a while and repair the nylon cloth of sleeping bags and jackets as well as mend tents, water jugs and cook kits. It can be used in the wilderness to fix broken eyeglass frames or a loose fly-rod guide; it can lash together a lean-to. You can temporarily repair a bicycle blowout with it, wrap a hockey stick, or hold together the cord nibbled by a squirrel from which the bird feeder is suspended. Sports photographers, who often have to repair gear on the spot, always pack a roll in their camera bags. They call it gaffer tape. The stuff is so amazing, cementing together almost anything the imagination can connect, that one architect, returning from a backpacking trip with duct tape, crowed, "I think there's a way to build a house with duct tape! If you just stretch it over the two-by-fours and then...."

When you go to your local hardware store to buy a roll of the tape, you must first assess the age of the guy behind the counter. If he's over 40, walk right up and ask for a roll of "duck" tape. If he's younger, you're safer to pronounce the consonants of duct tape precisely. Whichever, the stuff costs about $4.50 for a 2" by 60' roll.