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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.