Keep your gear looking stellar this off-season with these 8 tips!
Check Your Tent
Set up your tent. Shake out any loose dirt or pine needles. If any visible dirt remains, hand wash with a wet rag and a mild, unscented soap (like Dr. Bronners). Test all zippers, check for holes in the mesh and body, and look for any ripped seams. Tenacious Tape Gear Patches will fix small rips or holes, and a dab of Seam Grip will stop small seam tears. Plus, they make your tent feel badass, which makes it happy. Always allow your tent to dry fully before storing, to keep it smelling fresh and free of mold. And, avoid storing it in a stuff sack. The best practice is to store your tent loosely in a dry environment. And you want what’s best for your tent, right?
Keep Fuel Far Away
Experts agree that gas is really good at starting fires. Best to keep it away from things that are likely to combust. A fire-proof box would be ideal, but the garage works well too.
Actually Wash Your Sleeping Pad (Yes, Really)
You’ve spent hundreds of hours laying on your sleeping pad with minimal regard for personal hygiene, so it’s probably a good idea to clean it every once in a while. Or at least once a season. Wipe down the sleeping pad with a warm rag and mild soap to remove any lingering dirt, sweat, or deet. If yours is inflatable, use a hairdryer or a pump to inflate the pad at least three times before storing. This flushes moisture from the pad, detering mold. Store loosely with the valve open.
Don’t Wash Your Sleeping Bag/ Quilt (Unless it Smells…Bad)
If your sleeping bag looks okay and smells okay, do not wash it. Even if it’s synthetic insulation, it’s best practice to wash your sleeping bag or quilt as little as possible. Washing causes the insulation to clump, reducing the overall warmth of the bag. If your bag looks and smells OK, just air dry for a few hours and you're good to go. But if you’ve spent the summer thru-hiking and your bag smells like it, wash it in a front-loading washer with cold water and Nikwax Down Soap. Avoid normal detergent, as it damages the waterproofing. Dry in an unheated dryer with a few tennis balls thrown in to restore the loft. Do not wash a sleeping bag or quilt in a top loading washer. The centralized spin mechanism is a perfect way to rip the seams and ruin your bag. You can also hand wash your bag in a tub. Dry the bag completely, and store loosely in a plastic bin, a pillowcase, or in the closet on a cheap plastic hanger. Do not store in compression or stuff sacks. Keep your insulation fluffy and it will keep you warm for decades.
Bins are Your New Best Friend
As someone with more gear than “makes sense” for one person to own (four sleeping pads is excessive, I’m told) I’ve found the best way to store gear is in clear plastic bins. It keeps things organized, clean, and dry. If you don’t have clear bins, just label what’s inside. You can also toss in a few silica gel packets to help with excess moisture.
Bleach your Bottles
Clean hydration bladders, soft flask water bottles, and other hose-based drinking apparatuses with soap and hot water. Dry thoroughly before storing to prevent mildew. If they have grown mold, sterilize with a teaspoon of bleach in a gallon of water. Best practice? Keep in the freezer to “freeze” bacteria growth.
Your Bear Can Needs a Winter Job
Bear cans are not only perfect for keeping bears out of your food, but they also work great as mouse-proof storage during the winter. Keep extra freeze-dried meals, bars, etc. away from unwelcomed eaters by storing them in your bear can. It likes feeling useful.
Alkaline batteries leak and cause corrosion, ruining your gear. So if you're storing a headlamp, a lantern, or other outdoor electronics, remove the batteries. Half-used batteries are crummy adventure partners anyways, so use them in your holiday lights instead.
What other tips do you have for storing and caring for your hiking gear during the off-season?
Celia is a thru hiker, writer and illustrator. Find her on Instagram @celiafromwork
Our family of four has had between four and eight sleeping bags for years, and we also occasionally supply bags for Scouts in two troops we hike with. I’ve found that the most satisfactory way to store sleeping bags is in those tall, square-bottom mesh pop-up laundry hampers, lined up on a high closet shelf. The hampers aren’t expensive and often come in packs of two or three. They breathe well and are just the right size to hold one loosely fluffed bag (or one tent). They’re a bit flexible but also hold a rigid shape, they’re easy to shove up on those hard-to-reach top closet shelves and to pull back down, and they stay where you put them, unlike the large amorphous storage sacks that come with many sleeping bags. They’re see-through, so it’s easy to tell which bag is which (or at least what the color is). And they collapse flat when not in use. I’ve found them very easy to use all the way around – just toss stuff sack, storage sack, etc. in the hamper, loosely add an aired-out sleeping bag, and shove up onto a closet shelf until the next trip.
I agree with just about everything. I clean and repair everything after every trip even before I take a shower or anything else (yes I’m pretty OCD). I pretty much store everything after every trip the way you recommend. I’d store sleeping bags and tents in large mesh bags (laundry bags are good for this). I also partially inflate sleeping pads and store them either flat under a bed or standing upright. I hang all of my backpacks and use bins only for stuff sacks, cooking gear and other backpacking items. I’m also fortunate to have a large walk-in closet that is dedicated for gear storage (camping, biking, music stuff).