Garage Grown Gear is all about quality gear from amazing small businesses. But even quality gear from amazing small businesses doesn’t last forever. And as fun as it is to stock your gear closet with a brand new ultralight tent or stuff sack or quilt, the most environmentally responsible thing to do when gear pops a seam, starts delaminating, or springs a leak is to repair it instead of replace it.
Repairing well-loved gear reduces the amount of new gear made from virgin materials, and it also keeps older materials that don't readily biodegrade out of landfills. So instead of trashing your gear, fix it!
I’m Alisha McDarris and I run a sustainable travel and adventure blog Terradrift. Here are my best tips and tricks for making gear last, and giving gear new life when its days seem numbered.
Start with a Wash
Dirt and grime can damage finishes, jam zippers, and gunk up fabric. Washing your gear on a regular basis prolongs its life.
How often you wash your gear depends on how much use it sees (and how often you’re camping in muddy, dusty, or salty conditions), but every four or five times you take it out isn’t a bad place to start. At the very least, give gear like tents, sleeping bags, and outerwear a good washing once a year.
Be sure to use a cleaner intended for the type of outdoor gear you’re washing and follow instructions for both the gear and cleaner. Down gear needs special detergent, as do tents and items with waterproof coatings, like rain jackets and shells. Some items have to be hand-washed and can’t be placed in the dryer, so always read those care labels before laundering.
Most rain jackets, snow pants, tents and more lose water-repellency over time. It just happens. But just because water doesn’t bead up on your outerwear like it used to doesn’t mean it’s time to toss it! Sometimes a good cleaning is all that’s needed to revive water repellency. But if that doesn’t turn out to be enough, follow it up with a wash-in or spray-on water repellent treatment, which will make waterproof items and outerwear like new again!
Pro tip: choose a product that’s PFC-free, like Nikwax, for the least impact on the planet.
Wash-in repellents work best when you can heat-dry items. If you have a few pieces that can’t go in the dryer or that could use a little UV protection (like tents and rain flys), use a spray-on treatment instead. These products work on all manner of water-resistant gear, so you can keep beloved gear in use for years to come.
Seal Tent Floors and Seams
Once you've washed and re-waterproofed your gear, older items may still need a bit more attention. Just because the coating on your tent floor or at the seams are peeling or sticky, doesn’t mean it’s time to toss it!
Those issues are usually an easy fix: remove peeling coatings and seam tape and use a sealant designed for outdoor gear (like from Gear Aid) on any areas that need to be re-sealed. You’ll once again be protected from the elements in no time.
Replacing zippers can be technical, time-consuming, and pricey, if you hire someone to do it for you (there are plenty of gear repair shops that can replace faulty zippers). But sometimes all a zipper needs is a bit of lubrication to function like new.
If you have a zipper or two that's sticking or catching, skip the candle wax and crayons (they don’t work that well, anyway) and get yourself a zipper lubricant like one from Gear Aid. It should restore zippers to their pre-sand-dune-camping, sea-side-wandering zippiness.
Holes happen. Ultralight gear is especially susceptible as it’s often not as durable as gear made with denser, heavier fabrics. But just because your tent floor suffered a puncture, or your sleeping bag or puffy jacket is shedding insulation, doesn't mean it's time to retire it.
Patch it, instead of tossing it, to prolong its life. Patch kits come in rolls (so you can cut pieces to size) or as pre-cut kits. You can also get patches for mesh, and even patches in fun shapes and colors.
Use them on tent floors, flys, jackets, sleeping pads and more. Just remember to round the patch’s corners, if cutting yourself, to reduce the likelihood of it peeling off, and to clean the surface of your gear before applying a patch.
Your gear will practically be as good as new. Plus, each patch tells a story!
Clean and Waterproof Shoes and Boots
Cleaning shoes and boots is a more hands-on process than cleaning other gear since footwear can’t usually go in the washer and dryer, but cleaning them isn’t difficult. After a dirty, dusty or muddy trip, use a shoe cleaning kit designed for the type of textile your shoes are made of (leather or synthetics) and follow the instructions on the bottle. Usually it involves water and a soft scrubber or sponge.
After your boots are clean, spray on a water repellent designed for footwear to add a fresh layer of waterproof protection (if you desire). As soon as the shoes are dry they should be good to go (and more water-resistant than when they were caked with mud).
Pro tip: remove your insole and put newspaper in your shoes to speed drying time — you may need to replace the newspaper a few times during the process.
The Bottom Line
A bit of outdoor gear maintenance and repair can make your beloved gear last much longer. And that means less trash in landfills, fewer new materials that need to be manufactured, and a whole lot of money saved. It’s more sustainable than buying new gear, so wear every patch with pride and make regular cleaning and maintenance a part of your outdoor routine.
Alisha McDarris is the co-founder and writer at terradrift.com, a sustainable travel and outdoor adventure blog and YouTube channel, where she encourages folks to get outside to play safely, responsibly, and sustainably.