How to Take Care of Your Camping & Hiking Gear in the Off-Season

Storing and cleaning our camping gear during the off-season is critical to avoiding wear and tear as well as elongating the lives of the products.

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Storing and cleaning our camping gear during the off-season is critical to avoiding wear and tear, as well as elongating the lives of the products. Gear can be expensive, and we don’t want to buy new pieces of gear every season because we did not properly care for them when they were not in use. From choosing the right place, to proper cleaning and different storing methods, a lot can go wrong. Here are some helpful tips to keep your gear safe in the off-season and save some money in the long run!

Storage Systems

There are multiple ways to store your gear. Choosing the right method for you depends on the space you have at home, what kind of gear you have, and how often you use it. Things like bins, racks, and closets all have pros and cons. Here are a few of my favorite options and what they are best used for.

Drawers / Shelves

Drawers and shelves are great solution for your gear storage problems. These are great for under-the-bed or under-the-other-furniture spaces you may have in your home. This is also an option if you have extra space in your closet. Drawers and shelves can be great for smaller pieces of gear that you don’t want to get lost in a big bin or under something else.

Shelves and drawers give us the opportunity to lay everything flat so you can survey everything you have and what you might be missing. They are also great for organization. For example, you can choose different drawers or shelves for sleeping systems, camp kitchen items, and safety items.

Clear Bins

Clear bins, similar to drawers and shelves listed above, are great for storage in closets, under the bed, in garages, or wherever you have space for clunky bins. They may not be as sleek as other options, but because they are transparent, you never have to search through multiple bins to find what you are looking for.

If you have a lot of gear and not a lot of space, this could be a great option to easily find specific pieces of gear and have them all in the same place. Besides, who doesn’t love looking at gear and imagining all the beautiful places you are going to take it to?

Pegboards

Someone has hung up metal tools on a peg board.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

Pegboards are great if you have extra space in a garage, large closet, basement, or attic. You can hang gear such as knives, pots, and sleeping bags. Pegboards are solid options for people who have more vertical than horizontal space at home and need to use every inch of room to store gear, including precious wall space.

Some suggest that this method is not always the most aesthetically pleasing, but I believe that my gear is the most beautiful piece of fabric—so why not show it loud and proud?

Closets

Closets, if you have extra space in them, are ideal if you want to hide your gear away for a while. If you are a clean freak like myself, having a lot of clutter in front of you will stress you out. My brain functions best when I only have the necessities in front of me, so having my tent laying on the floor between trips is not useful. Putting it in a closet where I can shut the door and ignore it for a while is a useful trick to keep my brain focused.

Gear Care

Now that you have decided where is best to store your gear, check out these tips on cleaning and properly folding your items before putting them away. I always suggest checking the brand’s website of your product to see how it recommends storing gear. Brands may have different care tips that will help keep your gear in good condition.

Sleeping Pads

Before you store your sleeping pad, you want to thoroughly clean it of any dead bugs, dirt, leaves, or grasses. Check especially for insect repellent and pine sap, which can speed along the damaging-your-expensive-sleeping-pad process. To wash, I simply take a rag and some soapy water and do a quick and gentle scrub. To dry it, inflate the pad and let it sit out, but don’t put it directly under the sun — UV rays can damage the fabric.

Once it is dry, there are a few methods to store it. Remember to check the specific brand’s website for the best directions. Many brands suggest you slightly inflate the pad and lay it flat under your bed or in your closet. Some recommend hanging it in your closet and avoiding harsh folds. This is true for a lot of our gear. Harsh folds can cause damage and large seams that can easily tear sooner than expected.

Sleeping Bags

Two sleeping bags sit inside a tent and are speckled with rain.

Photo by Ali Kazal

There are a few different ways I like to keep my sleeping bags, it just depends on what kind of space I have available. I have two sleeping bags, a summer quilt and a “winter” Southern California desert bag. If I have space in my closet, I will hang them up. You can also store your sleeping bags in a loose mesh or cotton bag that gives them enough space to breathe. Essentially, we want to avoid keeping them in stuff sacks that can damage the insulation loft, which is critical to staying warm.

Before storing your bag, you want to make sure it is clean and completely dry. Mold and mildew will destroy any insulation as well as the fabric of your bag. To avoid that, let your bag dry for four hours inside out, and then another four hours right-side out. Drying it near a dehumidifier can help speed the drying process along.

For more on storing your sleeping bag, check out this article!

Tents

Tents should be washed, dried, and cleared of all dirt before being stored. Read more about cleaning your tent in this article. Similar to a sleeping pad, I look for obvious dirt patches or stains and use a wet washcloth to wipe them off. Once it is completely dried, I disassemble it and focus first on the poles.

For the poles, you can help reduce damage by only partially extending them. The shock cord will thank you later. If you don’t have the space for this, I recommend breaking them down from the middle out. This helps to equally distribute tension.

The fabric and body of your tent should not be folded. Loosely bundle it up without creating any harsh seams and store it in a cool place. An old pillowcase or mesh bag is perfect for this.

Backpacks

Two backpacks sit in a green field on a clear day.

Photo by S&B Vonlanthen

First, make sure the backpack is clean and empty. Shake out any loose dirt and use a rag to wipe it clean. After letting it completely dry, I like to close all the zippers and store it under my bed or lean it against the wall in my closet. I keep it empty to avoid stretching the fabric and putting unnecessary stress on the pack. I make sure there are not any loose zippers or straps that can get caught on anything as well (to avoid a pet chewing on a random string that isn’t actually so random to us and damages our pack).

Boots

Boots, trail runners, or hiking shoes of choice probably get dirtier than any other piece of gear we own. It is also probably what we replace the most. Scrape any dried mud or dirt off the entire shoe, check for any damage to the sole or outside of the boot, and use a sponge to clean the rest. Some trail runners are also machine-washable, but I find that hand washing my shoes gives me some extra pride in my handiwork. Let them dry and store in your closet!

Clothes

The clothes we wear hiking, from our wool socks to our fancy puffy jackets, also need to be properly taken care of. Always check the label for machine washing rules, but I find that air drying all my clothes keeps them from getting any pulls or tears. If you are going to dry your clothes, put them in a mesh bag first.

If you are washing a down or synthetic jacket, put some dryer balls or tennis balls into the dryer to keep their loft and feathers evenly distributed. To store, I prefer to hang jackets and fold almost everything else. Some pants or shirts I may hang, but my Smartwool sweaters I always fold into a shelf to avoid any damage from the hanger.

Final Thoughts

A large part of loving the outdoors is living a sustainable and somewhat minimal lifestyle that helps to keep our wilderness safe. This means protecting our gear and using what we can rather than buying new items, helping to decrease fossil fuels from the production of new gear that releases harmful chemicals into our surroundings. In order to achieve this, we must take care of our beloved tent, pack, bag, and everything else we use to stay safe outside. It will save you a few bucks too!

Using the proper storage space plays a large role in the longevity of your gear. Organizing your gear at home also means having a more organized camping trip and campsite! Do you have any other tips or tricks for caring for and storing your gear between adventures? Send me a picture of your storage solution through my profile and reach out to me or another Camping & Hiking Expert here on Curated for more advice and recommendations.

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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