Outdoor equipment isn't cheap. And if you spend more than a couple weekends a year camping, hiking or enjoying wilderness, then you've probably invested a bit of time and hard-earned money to research, compare and get the best equipment out there. The quality of your gear is not only important in terms of comfort, but it's also potentially life-saving. Taking care of it to ensure it's functional and long-lasting is simply practical.
It doesn't take much extra time to go through the extra steps to ensure your outdoor gear lasts for years or even decades. With some patience, the right tools and a little know-how, you'll be able to keep your gear working perfectly. Here are nine easy steps to start with.
1. Air out your tent and other impermeable fabrics before storage
Sleeping in a moldy tent is not a great way to spend a camping trip. It's not just that it smells bad; it's also unhealthy — you're breathing in those mold spores all night long. Beyond being unappealing, a moldy tent is also a tent that won't last long. Either you'll throw it out in disgust, or the deteriorated fabric will rip into tatters the next time you try to set it up. Prevent all this by simply drying out your tent and any other impermeable fabrics such as the rain fly or footprint thoroughly before rolling them up for storage.
When you get home from an adventure, set up your tent and brush away any dirt, mud and grime. Set it in a location with some amount of airflow for a few hours. Check the corners, seams, pockets and so on for moisture. If it's completely dry, take it apart and roll it up carefully to be stored until your next trip.
2. Re-weatherproof your rain gear
After a few washes, your waterproof clothing and covers might not be so water-resistant anymore. Depending on the quality of the Durable Water Repellant (DWR) used on your fabrics, this could start happening in as few as 10 washes or perhaps as many as 100. But at some point, it's going to become obvious that you need to give your fabrics another boost.
First, you can make your DWR last longer by washing your waterproof items in a separate wash using Nikwax Tech Wash. Regular laundry detergent leaves behind a residue that can reduce the effectiveness of the DWR. A product like Tech Wash cleans the fabric and can actually help restore the DWR by removing dirt and oils without leaving a residue.
If your DWR still needs a helping hand, you can restore it yourself at home using products such as Nikwax, which has treatments for cotton, down and other materials. Be sure to look for a product that is PFC-free. Then, simply clean your items normally, then place them in the washer with the appropriate amount of product, run a wash cycle according to the fabric care instructions, air dry or tumble dry and voila! Water repellency restored.
The key thing is that you pay attention to when your fabrics need to be treated so that you aren't stuck on your next trip with a rain coat that is soaked through. REI notes:
Test your rainwear by sprinkling or spraying some drops on its exterior. Does it bead up and roll off? Your DWR is in good shape. If you give the fabric a single strong shake, does most of the moisture fly off? Ditto. If, however, the water sits on the fabric and that section begins to darken slightly, water is making its way to the fibers and wetting the fabric. It's time to revive your DWR.
3. Clean, condition and waterproof your leather hiking boots
The care of your boots is essential as these are one of the most critical components of your outdoor equipment. Keeping your feet dry, blister-free and protected is key to a happy outting. After each hike, especially those that were particularly muddy or wet, take the time to clean, air-dry, condition and if needed, rewaterproof your leather hiking boots.
First, brush off any mud or dust and if needed, use water or a gentle cleaner like saddle soap. Take out the removable insoles and place your boots upside down on the floor to air dry, keeping them away from heat sources like heaters, fireplaces, or even direct sunlight. Just let the air do it's job to dry them out.
If your boots appear dry or cracked, use a leather conditioner to moisturize the material so it lasts longer. If water is no longer beading up and rolling off the leather of your boots, rewaterproof them with a DWR product such as Nikwax Fabric & Leather Proof.
A key step in rewaterproofing is to get the boots wet before applying the product, which helps draw the product deep into the leather. This will make the waterproofing treatment more efficient and last longer. REI has great tips on products and process for ensuring your boots get the best care.
4. Restore the "loft" in your down vest, sleeping bag and other items
After awhile, products made with down lose their "loft" or the ability to trap air between plumules to provide its famous insulating capabilities. To maintain the insulating power of down and keep your down products fluffy, proper washing techniques and products are needed especially when it comes to sleeping bags.
To restore the loft on down items, first use a washing product designed for down and which is PFC-free, such as Nikwax Down Wash Direct. Then place the item in the dryer with several tennis balls, and dry on the lightest setting. The tennis balls help to break up clumps of down inside the item and evenly distribute it inside the pockets of fabric.
Drying is a slow process so be prepared to spend some time at home. It's also a delicate business, high heat can ruin your down jacket but you need some heat or drying takes forever. On a home dryer, low heat works best. Be extremely careful if you're at a laundromat! These dryers often get incredibly hot even on low heat so check the dryer carefully before throwing in your jacket... To air dry it, lay it flat on a towel in a warm dry spot out of direct sunlight. Just make sure to pull apart the clumps periodically and to flip it over occasionally or it will really take a long time.
Sleeping bags have their own tricks to a proper wash and dry. Here is a video outlining the basics.
And yes, you can even waterproof your down vest, jacket, sleeping bag and other items just like you can waterproof your other clothing and gear. Nikwax makes Down Proof, a liquid you add to a wash cycle just like adding DWR products to the wash cycle for rain coats, pants and so on. There are other products that you can spray on after the wash cycle and before the dry cycle. Waterproofing your down ensures it stays lightweight and insulating even in damp weather.
5. Wash outdoor clothing according to the labels
Down isn't the only material that needs particular care. Any technical fabrics used in clothing or gear should receive the care intended for it. While it's tempting to just toss in your dirty hiking clothes and wash it just like you would any of your other clothes, doing so could mean wearing down the material, shortening the life of the DWR protection, or flat out ruining the garment. This is especially true if you fail to notice the type of detergent or method of drying recommended for the item. Make your expensive outdoor clothes last longer by following the instructions for washing and drying.
6. Thoroughly clean cook stoves, utensils and other equipment before storing
It's not just fabrics, wearables and tents that need care. So too does the rest of your equipment, especially equipment that is prone to getting dirt, grease and grime all over it. Proper cleaning not only keeps your equipment in good working order but also cuts down the gross factor of old food or oils that gather dust and bacteria.
Whether it is a simple Pocket Rocket stove or a more elaborate Coleman stove, take time to clean away any grime or spilled food from your camping stove after use, check the connections, and wipe down the inside and outside of the stove.
Coleman, the beloved maker of stoves, lanterns, and other camping necessities, notes, "The benefits of regular cleanings include better fuel efficiency, flame control and no rust or corrosion. Although there isn't a set schedule for cleaning your stove, you should clean it whenever it is dirty or after a boil-over that causes buildup in the burners. Annual cleanings are recommended before storing your stove at the end of camping season."
Don't forget that proper care extends to storage. Coleman points out, "Keep in mind that storing a liquid fuel appliance with fuel in the tank can eventually cause a buildup on the fuel tube, which restricts fuel flow to the generator and burner."
For cooking containers and utensils, pocket knives and other items, clean them thoroughly and store them in a plastic bag to keep out dust and spiders.
7. Remove batteries from electronics before storing
It's so disappointing to open a camping box after a long time of storage to find that batteries have leaked or corroded the contacts and the lantern, headlamp, GPS device or other gadget no longer works. Or, things look fine until you get out into the wilderness and find the device won't turn on because the batteries are drained.
There is a simple solution: take batteries out of electronics before you put them away. Even if you're only storing something for a week or two in between trips, taking out the batteries ensures a longer life for both the device and the batteries themselves.
8. Store items in sealed weatherproof containers
One final tip to make sure your equipment lasts is to store it in a dry, bug-free place. Invest in some quality plastic storage containers that are water-tight, air-tight and have plenty of room for all your items. This prevents dust, moisture, mold, creepy-crawlies and other things from getting in and ruining your gear while it's waiting for your next trip.
Another smart idea is to invest in a few canvas bags of various sizes. You can store similar items together in a single bag, then nest the bags in your larger storage box. This keeps your items both safe and organized. You'll know what you have, where it's located, and that it isn't going to be ruined in between uses.
At the start of your next trip, you'll have an easy time pulling out your clean, restored gear and can quickly double-check your packing list and hit the road!