Many of my fondest memories while growing up in Utah were the times when my family packed all our gear into the old station wagon and set out on week-long outdoor adventures.
My family would enjoy all the great recreation opportunities throughout the Mountain West Region. We have camped and hiked the many National Parks, and gone swimming, boating, and fishing the numerous lakes and reservoirs every year. Along with developing a lasting love for nature and the outdoors, I also learned the importance of keeping your gear in good condition with regular maintenance, repairs, and proper storage.
Just like with a car, if you don’t keep up with regular maintenance, even the highest quality, top-of-the-line outdoor gear will wear out faster. These tips will help you keep your items in good condition longer, extend the life of your gear, and keep more of your money in your pocket.
1. Clean Your Gear
What happens at the campsite does not usually stay at the campsite. Your gear will most likely get wet, dirty, dusty, smoky, sticky, or gritty at some point. Taking the time to clean them up before putting them up can keep them in great condition for years to come. Here is what you need to know…
Waterproofing: Depending on how often you use your gear, waterproofing your gear is generally recommended to be reapplied every 1-3 years.
I have found Nikwax Tent And Gear Solarproof Weatherproofing Spray to be easy to use and effective on tents. The built-in UV protection provides yet another layer of weather defense for your equipment.
Be sure that the cleaner you choose is the right water repellent for the material type of your gear for optimal results.
Daily (when in use): The inside of your tent needs to be swept, vacuumed, or shaken out, and the outside should be brushed off. Doing this daily cleaning can help avoid attracting bugs, rodents, or animals.
I have found that a simple hand broom and dustpan set works great and doesn’t take up a ton of space. If you have room for it, a full-sized broom will be easier on your back and help you brush off the outside of the tent too.
Yearly (or every 4-5 uses): Clean the outside of your tent, following the instructions provided by the manufacturers of both the gear and your chosen cleaner.
After each use, remove all items from each pocket and compartment of your bag then give the backpack a good shake to remove any crumbs or small bits of debris that may have accumulated during your trip.
Most backpacks can be spot cleaned with mild soap and a damp washcloth. Many can be tossed in the washing machine to get cleaned and then hang to air dry. Read the care instructions on the label inside the backpack for any specific details from the manufacturer.
Sleeping Bag Cleaning
Most sleeping bags are safe to go into front-loading washing machines with warm water on a gentle wash cycle, using ¼ mild detergent and a cold rinse. Unzip them completely before tossing them in.
For handwashing, it is easiest to do in a bathtub with warm water, ¼ mild detergent, and a cold-water rinse.
After washing, most manufacturers recommend drying on low heat to avoid melting the outer shell. If you have the time, you can also lay your sleeping bag out flat to dry in a warm, dry spot that is out of direct sunlight. Drying your sleeping bag this way will usually take a few hours. Whichever method you choose to dry your sleeping bag, be sure that it is completely dry before rolling it back up for storage.
Sleeping bags filled with down will require special care to keep the feathers from clumping in bunches. When drying a down sleeping bag in a dryer, toss 2-3 clean tennis balls in the dryer with it and set the heat to low to avoid any melting.
Give your dirty shoes or boots a good shake, facing down to get any sand, dirt, or debris bits out. I prefer to do this outside in my yard rather than in the house. After shaking them out, smack the soles of the shoes against each other to break up any caked-on (dry) mud stuck in the treads.
For deep cleaning, shoe-cleaning kits can help. Some shoes are designed to go straight into the washing machine so be sure to check the care instructions provided by the manufacturer. If the care label inside the shoe is no longer legible, hop on the brand’s website to see what they recommend.
To keep your footwear waterproof, reapply water repellent after each cleaning or 2 times a year (in the spring and fall).
2. Regular Inspections for Damage
After cleaning your gear, inspect each item closely for signs of wear or damage. If you do find something, be sure to fix it right away. Bringing a basic repair kit on your trip will let you fix the damage in the field rather than needing to wait until you return home. Many times, when repairs are put off until later, the damage becomes worse and can end up costing even more money to fix.
With regular inspections and basic maintenance, you can reduce wear and tear and extend the life of your outdoor equipment. Here are some things that you can look out for during your inspections or while you are using them, to catch the repairs while they are (hopefully) still small and simple fixes.
If your zipper is still acting wonky after the item has been cleaned, use a soft toothbrush and vinegar to do a more focused cleaning on both sides of the zipper, rinse with water, and then dry with a soft cloth. If they are stubborn after this cleaning, a zipper lubricant may be needed.
Rips and Tears
Many things can cause small rips and tears in your equipment. For instance, with sleeping bags, even great working zippers will sometimes snag the fabric around them when you are in a hurry or distracted.
If those zipper snags result in a rip in the fabric of your sleeping bag, having a fabric patch kit will help you repair it and stop the damage from getting worse.
While being away from home and not having access to your closet, damaged clothing can be inconvenient (and sometimes even embarrassing). Packing a small travel sewing kit will help you reattach buttons, and swimsuit straps, mend snags, or whatever clothing mishap may sneak up on you.
Peeling Waterproof Coating
Over time, the waterproof coating on your tent will start to degrade. This will show up as flaking, peeling, or stickiness on the floor of your tent, and the inside of the rain fly. When this happens, it is time to renew the waterproofing with a Urethane Tent Sealant.
Be sure that you choose the right product for the material that your tent is made of. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper application and effective coverage.
Tents seams are often sewn together with thread that contains a combination of polyester and cotton. The cotton in the thread can retain moisture and allow leaks. To prevent leaks from the thread or the tiny holes from the needle piercings in the sewing process, many tent manufacturers cover the seams with seam sealing tape.
Over time, the seam tape can lift away from the seams, leaving the seams exposed which can cause them to leak. If your tent has seam tape that is lifting, simply peel off the tape and reseal the seam with a quality sealant.
To maintain a good seal on the seams of your tent, it is generally recommended to reseal the seams every 3-4 years.
3. Storing Items Properly
It can be tricky to keep your equipment clean enough during each use to just pack your gear on a shelf when you get home and forget it until the next time you need it. Storing your items improperly can cause damage, mold, mildew, or attract bugs.
Here are some ways to minimize unintended damage from improper gear storage.
Weather happens. Sometimes you will have to pack up your tent, backpack, or sleeping bags while it is still raining, or wet from a previous night’s rain. Storing items wet can cause mold and mildew to form which not only smells bad but will also cause your gear to wear out faster.
Before storing damp gear, open each piece, set them back up, or spread them out flat in a warm, dry spot protected from the sun and allow them to completely dry for a few hours. If they are muddy or gritty with sand, give them a thorough cleaning before storing them (dry) again.
Protection from Moisture
Ideally, the best spot for storing your gear will be in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. You will want to avoid damp basements or weather-exposed storage sheds. Garages or storage closets usually work best if you have them.
I have found that when storing my gear in a garage, keeping them in sturdy totes with lids not only helps keep them dust free, dry, and protected from the weather but also makes loading (and unloading) the gear easier.
Maintaining your gear by keeping it clean, making repairs right away, and properly storing it can extend the life of your outdoor equipment. Not only does extending the life of your gear save you money by needing fewer replacement items, but it also uses fewer resources to manufacture and reduces the demand for new products.
Every adventure comes with its own unique set of challenges, moments of excitement, and quiet peace.
Join the conversation! Leave a comment and share on social media. What repairs have you needed to make on the go? What is your favorite part of exploring nature?
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