Care and maintenance of your outdoor gear is crucial to its longevity. You pay a lot for quality gear, so you’ll want to make it last.
Besides the monetary value in caring for your stuff also consider the environmental impact. As soon as something is purchased its slated for the landfill, so it only makes sense to prolong that for as long as possible. Care and maintenance are not difficult or overly time-consuming if you keep some key points in mind. First, only store clean, DRY gear. Mold grows quickly so be sure to dry any wet gear as soon as possible and very thoroughly (I’ll mention this a lot; its very important). Second, repair any damaged or torn gear as soon as possible. There are a few reasons to do this. Tears, especially in places with tension could get worse if left or forgotten. Imagine a small, forgotten tear on a tent for example, that splits even further when the tension from pitching puts additional pressure on it. It could be problematic on that first night out in the spring. Damages can also be a safety issue. Consider a damaged trekking pole. You don’t want to realize you have forgotten to repair it when your relying on it to safely cross a river with 30lbs on your back. In this post I will go through some gear categories and discuss how to effectively clean, store and repair your stuff.
Caring for most outdoor apparel is relatively simple. Keep it washed, dry wet gear promptly and store rain gear hung whenever possible. For base-layers, pants and tops you’ll typically just want to follow the manufactures instructions. Most can be machine washed and dried using gentle detergent. There are several tech specific washes out there. Grangers makes some good ones and their wool wash has cedar oil which is an effective moth deterrent. They also make a great option for down. Most Down jackets can be machine washed and dried as well, again be sure to check the label. Front load washers are ideal as they are gentler and drier balls or rolled up socks should be tossed in the dryer to help keep the down from clumping. For waterproof materials including Gore-Tex or anything with a DWR (durable water repellant) washing is your first line of defence for maintaining the water repellency and breathability. Again, you’ll want to check the manufacturers instructions, but most can be machine washed and dried at a low to medium setting. For most of these items, heat is an effective way to reactivate the DWR so if you find your shell jacket is wetting out than a washing might just be the answer. However, if washing doesn’t fix your waterproof jacket or pants than it may be time to retreat the item. There are many options for this. Some wash in while others are spray on. There are 2 in 1 wash and repel options as well. Again, grangers make some great ones and they are gentle on the environment. Grangers products are all PFC free and Bluesign accredited. When choosing your detergents just remember that simpler is better. You’ll want to avoid any unnecessary fragrances or additives and never use fabric softener on your outdoor apparel.
In terms of repairs there are some that you can do yourself and others that may need to be handled by the manufacturer. It comes down to both warranty and your comfort level in making the repair. Rips and tears can typically be repaired with adhesive patches, tenacious tape or duct tape without affecting the overall warranty of the piece. This is under the assumption that the damage was through wear and tear and not a warranty issue itself so if in the future a zipper failed for example, the warranty would still cover the repair or replacement of the zipper. Companies like Patagonia encourage these kinds of home repairs and offer several how to’s on their website. Small repairs like this are a simple and effective option and, lets face it, patches on your jacket adds some personality. If you find you need a repair that can’t be done at home and warranty is not an option than many manufactures offer repairs at a reasonable fee.
Most of your outdoor apparel will likely be stored with your other clothing. For wool, I like to add a little cedar to my dresser drawers to protect from moths. A cedar shingle or some pure cedar essential oil on a cotton ball does the trick. Jackets and raingear should be hung whenever possible and kept out of direct sunlight. Be sure they are dry before putting in a dark closet. Again, you don’t want to give mold any opportunities here. Down jackets should not be compressed. Store as loosely as possible to maintain loft. If your storing gear away until next season be sure its in a cool dry location. If you must store in a basement for example than be sure to use a sealed plastic tote and, I personally, add silica packs (like the ones that come in shoe boxes) to all my gear boxes. They’re great for absorbing any dampness or odors.
A little TLC goes a long way with your hiking boots. For the most part, removing the liners and drying them thoroughly will be part of your regular routine. Once dry be sure to brush off any mud or dirt which can be especially drying to leather boots. With time the waterproofing may need to be reapplied or reactivated. If your using full grain leather than you’ll likely need to condition them and then apply some kind of wax waterproofing like grangers paste wax. If they are synthetic than there is spray on options that will reactivate the waterproofing on your boots. Be sure to check the condition of your laces before any trip and replace them if you notice any wear.
During your trip be sure to dry your tent as much as possible before packing up each morning. Carefully hanging your fly across a tree branch while you pack other things can sometimes help speed things up. Shake out the tent body well. Dirt is abrasive and can wear at the fabric while packed. A footprint adds a great deal of protection to the bottom of your tent. Pushing tent poles instead of pulling them is gentler on the shock cords and collapse poles staring from the center to lessen tension evenly.
When you arrive home after a trip caring for your gear is often the last thing you want to deal with, but this is where a little extra time can make an enormous difference. After a trip your gear is often damp, smelly and dirty. You want to get your tent set up in a dry location as soon as possible. If your tent needs some cleaning, then set up outside and clean with a sponge or soft brush and mild soap. Rinse well and allow to dry. Ideally, set up inside to dry and air out, this keeps your tent out of the sun. The sun is so damaging and since this is where your tent exists almost entirely when set up, it’s worth it to take every opportunity to avoid where you can.
Like apparel tent repairs are often quick and simple. Rips and tears can be patched with an adhesive patch or tenacious tape. There are also mesh patches available for screens although I have also had great success with a woven patch using a needle and thread. For leaks, seam sealer is simply brushed on and allowed to dry and cure over time, usually 24 hours. Your Fly may need to be resealed from time to time as well. For broken poles, there are splints available that simply tape on. These are also great to have in your field repair kit. Zipper repairs tend to be more difficult so its best to avoid any issues by being as gentle as possible. A little extra time fixing and caring for the small stuff can add years of enjoyment.
When it comes time to store your tent be sure that its thoroughly dry and clean. Make sure poles and pegs are clean and dry as well. Its best to store your tent loosely and not in its stuff sack. A mesh bag or pillowcase work well for storage. Folding flat or loosely stuffing is fine and there are arguments to be made for either but as long as you are not creasing the fabric in the same place each time it’s stored you should be fine. Creases, especially under compression will cause premature wear if they are in the same location over long periods. Its for this reason that its better to store your tent loosely and fold along seams when ever possible. Your tent should be stored in a cool, dry location out of the sun. Again, if a basement is your only option than store in a plastic tote and toss in some silica packs. (We save them at River and Trail when ever possible so if you need a few just let us know.)
SLEEPING BAGS AND PADS
A sleeping bag will last you many years if cared for properly. Most can be machine washed and dried. A front load washer is ideal, and in some cases necessary and your local laundromat has oversize front load washers that can accommodate large or multiple bags. As above, use mild detergent or a tech wash specifically designed for outdoor gear. Sleeping bags should be washed at least once a season before being stored but, depending on how frequently it’s used and under what conditions it may be necessary to wash more often. Using a liner can lessen the need for more frequent washing. Even if washing is not necessary its beneficial to air out and thoroughly dry your bag after every use. Sleeping pads can be surface cleaned using mild soap and water. Wash and dry while inflated to ensure that water doesn’t stay in any of the folds or creases. Dry out of direct sunlight.
Similarly, to the gear discussed above, simple repairs on sleeping bags can usually be handled with some tenacious tape or duct tape. Sleeping pads usually come with repair kits that have patches in case of small punctures. If you don’t have one than I recommend getting one to have on all your trips. A sleeping pad that won’t hold air isn’t very useful.
Sleeping bags should never be stored stuffed. You’ll want to maintain as much loft as possible, especially if your bag is down. I store my sleeping bags spread out under my bed but hanging loosely in a closet works well too. If space is a concern a large mesh loft bag will suffice but not as ideal as the fore-mentioned. Sleeping pads can be rolled and kept in their stuff sacks if inflatable. If self-inflating, its best to leave them partially inflated as not to compress the foam. Again, just make sure everything is thoroughly dry.
For the most part common sense will prevail when addressing this category. Dishes should be clean and dry before storing. Make sure no food is left in any containers. Be sure bear canisters and stuff sacks are cleaned thoroughly and that there isn’t anything that can leak left with your gear (dish soap or bug spray for example). Stoves should be clean and dry before storing and this is a good time to check and replace any gaskets or o-rings. Left over fuel should be stored safely where your other flammable liquids are kept and certainly not near and heat sources. I keep all my gear in totes. I find its an easy way to keep things organized and tidy.
Your backpack takes a beating out on the trail and benefits greatly from a good washing from time to time. Whether you do this after each trip or at the end of the season will depend on how often you use it and what the conditions were like. To wash simply use the bathtub and gentle soap or tech wash. The harness is usually exposed to heavy amounts of perspiration and body oils so give the shoulder straps the attention they deserve. The bottom of the pack also sees a lot of dirt and mud so scrub it up as well. Rinse well and hang to dry out of the sun.
This is a good time to check for any damage to your pack. Patches will take care of any rips or tears and snagged mesh pockets are quite easy to stitch up. Broken buckles can be easily replaced for the most part and often the manufacturer will send out the right size if you need them to. For more major repairs not covered under any warranty the manufacturer may have an option to send in for repair for a reasonable fee.
Packs should be stored in a cool, dry location out of the sun. I toss a few silica packs in just to ward of any moisture or musty smells.
Although it may seem like extra work after days out on the trail, the time spent will certainly pay off. With some attention post hike and a bit of care pre storage your gear can last decades. While moisture is certainly the worst offender when it comes to ruined gear a lack of maintenance and attention can also wreak havoc so take a little time to care for your gear. It will reward you with many years of fun and adventure.
So, this has been an overview of regular care for your gear and typical repairs but not all repairs are typical. If you have questions or concerns about caring for your gear or if you need some help or advice on repairing your stuff, please stop by and see us or give us a call. We love our gear and we’re happy to help you care for yours.