How to Make Your Gear Last a Lifetime
Camping expert Amy Boissonneault has some tips for keeping your gear clean and cared for so it can be with you for years to come.
The good news: If you care for your outdoor gear well, it could be with you for years to come! The not so good news: It’s going to take a bit of work. Now, I never said scrubbing boots and spot cleaning tents was fun, but it is very important to give a little love to your camping gear after each trip. With proper care and storage, you will know your gear like the back of your hand – post-trip inspections for holes and making sure everything is clean when it’s stored means you can confidently grab it and go when you’re ready to get back out there!
If you don’t make it through the full article – remember this: At the very least, routinely air-drying all of your gear prior to storing it will help extend the life of your gear.
Buying the Right Gear
The first step to making your gear last a lifetime begins when you’re shopping for it. Buying the right gear for your needs is where Curated experts (like myself) shine. Investing in quality gear and following through with the right product care could mean you are in for a long-term relationship with your camping gear. You don’t necessarily need to spend your life savings and get the nicest gear out there, but get the right gear for what you plan to do. Ultralight gear, DAC aluminum tent poles, and 4-season weather-proofing will always cost more than your average car camping tent.
Those boots experienced every step along the trail along with you – and there is probably still some of the trail in their tread! Leaving caked-on mud and dirt on your boots can cause the fabrics to dry out and wear down prematurely. Make sure you clean ‘em up before tossing them in the closet.
- Hold them by the ankles and smack the bottoms together to knock off dirt, mud, and rocks… and make sure you head outside for this step.
- Remove the laces and, if necessary, toss them in the laundry. You can also give them a simple rinse in the sink with warm, soapy water.
- For this step you’ll need a brush (you can get specialty boot cleaning brushes, but an old toothbrush works just fine, too!) and some mild soap (again, you can opt for specialty outdoor cleaner if you really want those puppies to shine). Use the soap and brush to scrub off any grime you picked up along the trail. Scrub-a-dub-dub and be sure to rinse all of the soap off when you’re done.
If you’re feeling lazy, skip the above and simply give them a good spray down with the garden hose.
- Remove the insoles from your boots and clean them with mild soap and water.
- Let everything air dry. Stuffing the boots with newspaper or placing them in front of a fan will help speed up the process. Do not use a heat source to dry your boots! Make sure the inside of your boots are dry before re-inserting the insoles.
Pro Tip: Avoid using bar soap and detergents as many contain additives which are harmful to leather and/or waterproof membranes.
- Hiking boots should be stored in a dry and well-ventilated area.
- Let’s be real… you’re probably just going to toss them in the closet. You already cleaned them, that’s enough, right!?
- If you notice your boots are no longer waterproof, the best time to add a waterproofing treatment is after you’ve cleaned them, while they are still fully wet.
- If your full-grain leather boots are getting cracks in them, apply a conditioning treatment!
Nikwax makes lots of great boot cleaners, conditioners, and waterproofing treatments. Ask your Curated expert if you need help finding this product!
There’s no doubt about it – your pack has sat in the dirt plenty. Maybe it even leaned against a sappy tree. And the shoulder straps and hipbelt definitely soaked up some of your salty sweat. Granola crumbs floating around in pockets, gunk in the zippers, and oils from your skin absorbing into the fabrics can lead to some funky issues. You won’t need to do a deep clean after every single trip, but some general maintenance is advised.
Most packs will come with cleaning instructions, so be sure to check those out for your particular pack before you get going.
- Empty every pocket – every single one! Leaving some crumbs behind could draw attention from unwanted animals while your pack is in storage. Also, no one wants to find a moldy bag of unidentifiable food a few months later. Yuck.
- Hold your backpack upside down and shake out the main compartment. You can also stick a vacuum head in there to make sure you get all the dirt, sand, and gunk out.
- Spot clean with mild soap, water, and a soft sponge.
The Deep Clean
- Read the cleaning instructions that came with your backpack. If you can’t find the hardcopy, you can most likely find directions online!
- Repeat Step 1 from Post-Trip Care, above.
- If your pack allows, remove the shoulder straps and hipbelt to wash separately with warm, soapy water. Rinse well.
- Half fill the bathtub with lukewarm water and a mild soap. Submerge your pack in the water and swish back and forth vigorously. Use a soft sponge to spot clean and be mindful that mesh areas are more delicate.
- Drain the tub and refill with cold, clean water. Rinse thoroughly. Repeat rinsing if necessary.
- Hang to dry, out of direct sunlight.
- Pop a hanger or carabiner through the loop and hang it up in a dry, well-ventilated area.
It doesn’t matter whether your sleeping bag is down or synthetic – the goal should always be to keep it dry and clean, both at camp and on the trail. While you’re camping, sleep in clean clothing or use a sleeping bag liner, and if you opt to camp cowboy style – be sure to use a sleeping pad! Sleeping bag care is simple but important – how you store it will have a direct impact on the lifespan of this product.
- Fully undo the zipper on your sleeping bag, turn it inside out, and hang it up to air it out. A bit of time in the sun can be good for it but don’t leave it in direct sunlight for long as the UV rays can be damaging to the fabric.
- If needed, grab an old toothbrush and mix together a little non-detergent soap and water to spot clean the shell. Try to avoid getting the insulation wet as much as possible, especially with down sleeping bags.
Most sleeping bags will go years without a full washing since this actually subjects the bag to wear and tear. If it’s getting particularly grimy, I’d recommend having it professionally cleaned.
- Most sleeping bags these days will come with a large cotton or mesh storage sack. After your sleeping bag has aired out and is fully dry, store it in this large sack. If you don’t have one, they are available to purchase separately or you can even use a large pillow case!
Storing your sleeping bag in a compressed stuff sack will eventually damage the insulation. Also be sure to avoid storing in waterproof sacks, as this can quickly result in mildew. Not fun.
- Zippers – Most often if you’re having an issue with your sleeping bag zipper, the problem can be solved by replacing the zipper slider. This will solve things like a broken or missing pull tab, or if the teeth of the zipper are no longer melding together. You’ll need needle-nose pliers and end clippers, plus a replacement end cap and slider to fix the issue yourself. A quick Google search will provide step-by-step instructions for this simple fix.
If the issue is in the teeth of the zipper and you need a full zipper replacement, you will want to take your sleeping bag in for a professional zipper repair.
- Tears – If your sleeping bag sustains an injury while you’re out on the trail and it has a gash pouring out down/synthetic fibres, duct tape is your best friend. If you’re really prepared, Gear Aid Tenacious Tape is a great quick-fix option to carry in your repair kit and will also work on your tent or hammock, if needed.
Sleeping pads often get overlooked when it comes to post-trip care and cleaning and generally… they don’t need a lot. BUT, if you took them out of the tent and used them on the ground, slept directly on top of it (skin to sleeping pad contact), or spilled anything on it, then think again. This one will likely be nice and quick.
- To spot clean, grab a bleach-free household cleaner (or soap and warm water) and brush and scrub the dirty area. Let air dry.
- For a full cleaning, make sure the air valve is tightly shut – you don’t want any water getting in there! Submerge in the tub or spray it down with the garden hose and scrub any dirt away with soap and water. Rinse well and hang to air dry.
- Make sure your sleeping pad and its stuff sack are fully dry.
- If you have a self-inflating sleeping pad – store it semi inflated with the valve open. This is good for the foam’s resiliency as well as being beneficial for air flow inside your sleeping pad. Not sure where to put it? Behind the couch or under the bed are handy spots!
- If you have an air pad – hang it up in the closet or roll it up and store it in its stuff sack.
Your home on the trail. The best way to take care of your tent (and all your gear) is to treat it well on the trail and at camp. Take your shoes off before going inside, be gentle with the zippers and tent poles, pack it carefully, and store it properly, and it will be with you for a good long while.
- Upon arriving home from your camping or hiking trip, pitch your tent in the yard with the doors left open and allow it to air out and dry thoroughly. If the weather isn’t on your side, wait for a nice day to complete this step before storing your tent.
- Shake out or sweep out any dirt or debris from inside the tent – check the corners and use a damp sponge to remove stubborn bits of dirt.
- Spot clean your tent while it’s set up, if necessary. A bit of mild, non-detergent soap and warm water will do the trick just fine. Allow your tent to fully dry before disassembling.
- Inspect your tent for any holes or other damage.
- Similarly to your sleeping bag, it is ideal to store your tent in an over-sized, breathable cotton or mesh bag.
- Store your tent in a dry and cool area.
Pro Tip: To extend the life of your tent – use a footprint! This is a custom cut cloth that fits underneath your tent to protect from sharp rocks and also provides a clean surface to place it on.
- Leaky seams can be repaired by removing the failed section of seam tape and purchasing a seam sealer product – ask your Curated expert if you would like to add this to your repair kit!
- Bent or broken tent pole? Ask your Curated expert to find you a replacement.
- Tenacious Tape is great for holes and patches. A solid addition to any repair kit.
The best way to make your gear last? Treat it well on and off the trail / in and out of camp. With these (mostly) simple post-trip care guidelines and the proper storage, your gear should be sticking with you for a while! If you end up needing repairs, check the manufacturer warranty to see if it’s covered. Most tents will also have replacement parts available for purchase. I suggest carrying a small repair kit with you, but if you don’t have one… duct tape is your best friend for emergency repairs (just note that it will leave sticky residue when you remove it). In the spirit of "reuse, renew, recycle"... if your old gear breaks, do your best to fix it before tossing it aside for new gear.
Now for the fun part – planning your next trip! Click on my profile below to chat with me and find the best gear for you!