Protect your gear to make it last for years

camping gear

Have you priced camping gear lately? You’ll pay $50 for entry-level hiking boots, $100 for a summer sleeping bag and $200 for a starter tent. (Triple these figures if you want the very best!) When you spend this much money, you want your gear to last. And it will — if you properly protect your gear.

After each outing, teach yourself (and your Scouts) to get into the habit of caring for equipment before putting it back in the closet or garage. Use the following techniques to get the most out of your gear.

Tents

Tents that are put away dirty or wet won’t last long. Dirt abrades the coatings, and moisture promotes rot. Hose off the outside floor and sponge away dirt with diluted liquid detergent. Wash the stakes, cords and webbing, too. Ambitious scrubbing and harsh chemicals will damage the tent’s fabric and waterproof coatings. It’s better to do too little than too much. Tents are better line-dried in the sun than pitched on the ground. About once a month, apply lubrication to the zippers (such as McNett Zip Care, $4.95) and you’re done.

Once your tent is dry, stuff it (versus folding it) into an oversized sack — avoid compression that can damage fabrics. Constant creasing in the same place weakens fabrics and coatings. Don’t pack the metal poles and stakes in the same bag as your tent. Moisture that condenses on the metal might encourage rot.

Backpacks

If you have a nylon pack, start by brushing off dirt and then spot washing (by hand) with mild detergent. Dry in the sun, and you’re done. To store your pack, hang it from a peg. Don’t store packs flat — compression will damage foam-filled shoulder straps.
If you have a canvas pack with leather straps, brush off any dirt and hose off with clean water. Don’t machine-wash or use any detergents. Dry in the sun. “Chalking” on leather straps can usually be removed with saddle soap. Dry in the sun and then redress the leather with a beeswax-based waterproofing, like Sno-Seal ($7.69 for an 8-ounce jar). Canvas packs should be hung from pegs where air can circulate. Flat storage promotes rot.

Boots

Boots come in lots of different materials, such as full-grain leather, nubuck, suede and Gore-Tex. Before cleaning your boots, first check the care tag for specific instructions based on your boots’ makeup.

No matter the material, particles of dirt creep into boot uppers and grind away like sandpaper as you walk. When the mud dries, it sucks moisture from boot material, especially leather. If you want your boots to last almost forever, keep them clean!
At home, remove the laces and insoles (some are machine washable) and sponge clean leather boots with cool water and saddle soap. Use a specialized boot cleaner on fabric boots. Do not use bar soap or detergents — they contain surfactants that attract water. An 80 percent vinegar and 20 percent water mix will kill mold. To remove thickly caked mud, soak the outsoles (not the uppers) in a pan of water for several hours, then rinse and brush clean. Never put boots in a washing machine!

When you return home from a wet weekend, dry your boots at a normal temperature. Direct heat will weaken adhesives. Rolled newspaper will keep high-top boots from sagging while they dry.

Sleeping Bags

After your trip, remove your sleeping bag from its stuff sack as soon as possible and let it air out in sunlight for a few hours. Store it in a large cotton or mesh bag or hang it from a peg. Do not leave it compressed in a stuff sack. Down bags may be washed or dry-cleaned (washing is best); synthetic bags cannot be dry-cleaned. Sleeping bags lose loft (which provides warmth) with every washing, so wash your sleeping bag only when absolutely necessary.

Stoves

Many stoves last decades with proper care. Liquid-fuel stoves come with both integral tanks and removable tanks (with a pump). For an integral tank, empty the fuel canister immediately after your trip. Leave just enough fuel in the tank to start the stove, and then burn the tank dry. Fuel left in tanks will produce varnish that can clog valves.

If you have a removable tank, it’s best to empty out the fuel canister. However, you should clean a dirty stove by adding a capful of fuel-injector cleaner to a small amount of fuel and burn the stove dry. Clean the jet and oil the pump gasket. Then separate the pump from the fuel canister and seal the device in a plastic bag. Aluminum fuel bottles should be nearly full (to reduce oxidation) when they are stored.

Butane and propane stoves require little care. Keep them clean, and they’ll run forever. Never store stoves with canisters in place — they can be accidentally pierced and leak gas. A partially full canister will also leak gas when it’s removed from a stove. Exhaust the fuel before you throw it away.

Rain Gear

If your rain gear is polyurethane-coated, it can be machine washed with a cold, gentle cycle. Use a shortened spin cycle or, even better, rinse by hand. Hang dry — do not use the machine dryer. Store this rainwear in a protective nylon sack when you’re on the trail.
If your rain gear is made of Gore-Tex, washing instructions can differ for old and new Gore-Tex garments. The care tag should tell you whether to use liquid or powder detergent. After laundering, iron the garment (using a warm steam setting) to reactivate the Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment. The DWR finish will eventually wear off and need to be reapplied. Wash-in/spray-on products are available for this purpose.

7 Comments

  1. Some scouts may have limited space for camping gear, so it may be difficult to store items outside of their space saving options. Do you have any advice for scouts with limited room?

    In addition some scouts don’t have access to clothes lines for hanging their gear outside. Is their a second best option?

    • We have always hung the sleeping bags on the back of the bedroom door using a hook over the door and a skirt or slacks hanger with clothes pins more than one can hang on the back of a bedroom door. My sleeping bags 0° are still in really good shape for 20 years. Also we each have a footlocker (rubber/plastic) Which can sit in the bottom of a closet and have camping gear after it dries out. This is great for summer camp and costs less than $20 at Walmart.

  2. Storage space is always a problem I’ve hung things on hangers in my closet, used large, under the bed storage cases with wheels, and incorporated gear into wall decorations in my office. Gotta think outside the bx.

    As for hanging gear, I’ve used the shower curtain rod in my bathrooms at times.

    Entire post reminds me of something an SPL told me long ago, “Take care of your gear like you would take care of your girlfriend. Take care of it and treat it right and you will have a long, healthy relationship.”

  3. During extended periods of rain, I have dried tents and bags in the bathroom hanging over the shower curtain rod with a dehumidifier running in the room.
    All of our backpacks are hanging on a freestanding coatrack so air can circulate all around.
    Unstuffed sleeping bags hung over the clothes rod in the closet keeps the loft of the filling and is a space not used

  4. If no clothes line is available you can use the rail around your deck to dry your tent and sleeping bag over it. In addition you can run a line between two trees or from a deck post to a tree to create a temporary clothes line.

  5. These all excellent tips. I’ve used them and the sleeping bag, pad and backpack purchased for me in junior high school still serves me today. I have upgraded my tent and walked through more than a few pair of hiking boots. Though one leather pair lasted 6 years after being resoled. I wore the boots for hiking and daily use.

    For those with limited space try laying what you can flat underneath your bed after they have dried. Your backpack can be hung in a closet or even on the wall in your bedroom.

    To dry them hang them in the shower with a fan to circulate air. A few suction cups stuck to the tile will support almost any of your gear.

  6. For indoor hanging-storage or airing, hang a simple ladder horizontally from the ceiling of your storage area. You can drape larger things over it, put smaller things on hangers or hooks that are hung on it, or store things in boxes on top of it if you have the space to let it hang a bit lower. If you aren’t using it to hang or store anything, it is out of the way.

    This can be set up a temporary airing space, or long-term storage depending on your needs.

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