Backpacking season is coming to an end. While Mike and I do a bit of camping over winter for L.A.R.P (we sleep in cabins) most of our gear gets packed away for the winter season. Here are sone tips and bits of advice on making sure that your gear is stored appropriately, keeping it in great shape for years to come!
1. Clean your tent thoroughly. Set it up in the yard (or house, depending) before the snow flies and thoroughly clean it, particularly the bottom (inside and out) and the footprint. Storing a tent that’s damp, full of sand, or other debris can shorten the life of it. This is also the perfect opportunity to re-waterproof any seams or fix any damage that it suffered during the year. Clean poles and tent pegs, and make sure they are free of dirt. Once it’s cleaned and ready to be put away, stuff it loosely into a fabric bag, or into a plastic bin. Leaving it all compressed all winter can be hard on the material.
2. Wash your sleeping bags! If you’re anything like us, you don’t usually wash them during the year, but pre-storage is a great time to take care of this chore. Solvents used in dry cleaning can strip the natural oils from down that help it retain loft. Solvents are also very difficult to remove from synthetic insulation. Hand-washing in the bathtub is your best bet. There are products available (check your local gear store, or order online) that are specifically designed for washing sleeping bags. Usually they are specifically formulated for either down or synthetic. If you have a hybrid bag, like ours, I would recommend just using the down-friendly detergent, as synthetic is more forgiving, and products NOT designed for down can be damaging.
Fill the tub with warm water and add one of the above-mentioned cleaners. Put the bag in and gently work in the soap, paying attention to areas where the most oils collect (like where your head rests) or particularly soiled areas. Then allow it to soak for 15 minutes. Drain the tub and press out any remaining water. In a cold-water rinse, work the soap out gently, let the bag sit for 15 minutes and drain. Press out any remaining water. Repeat the rinse until all the soap is out. It’s important to rinse the bag really well, so that no soap residue remains.
Air drying is the safest way to dry your bag, but obviously the longest. If you tumble dry your bag, use very low heat or a no-heat setting and keep an eye on it. Dryers have varying heat outputs, so you need to check periodically to make sure the shell and insulation aren’t overheating, which can actually lead to damage to your bag. Add a couple of clean tennis balls when the bag is nearly dry. This will help break up any clumps of insulation and help restore the loft. If you choose to air-dry the bag, you can also use the tennis ball trick to “fluff” it after it is almost dry.
Once your bag is completely dry, it’s best to store it loose, either hanging or spread out on a flat surface. You can keep it under a bed (wrap it in an old sheet if you are concerned about dust) on top of your sleeping pad. Do not keep your bag in a compression sack for off-season storage. Long-term compression can really compromise your loft and reduce the life of your bag.
3. Clean and properly store your camp pad. Self-inflating mats (like Thermarest) need to be stored flat, with the valve fully opened. This keeps the foam core at maximum loft and allows any moisture build-up to evaporate slowly. We keep ours under the beds. Foam camp pads and air-mattresses without filling can be stored wrapped up tight in their own storage bag.
4. Clean your hydration bags thoroughly, using regular hot water or hot water with a tiny bit of bleach. Once you’ve washed the bag, tubing, and any other pieces, allow to totally air dry before storage.
5. Clean and dry water filters and filtration accessories. Water filters in particular should be well-cleaned and properly maintained between seasons.
6. Repair any gear that was damaged or broken over the season. Make sure that your gear with moving parts is in functioning order.
7. Evaluate all of your gear, and decide what needs to be replaced over the off-season. Make a list for yourself of things that you NEED to replace, and then another list of things you would LIKE to upgrade (maybe you have been eyeing that new thing-a-majig). That way, when sales occur over the winter months, you can refer to your list, and you won’t forget that you really needed a new bag, but missed a great deal.
8. Remove batteries from headlamps or any other devices that require them. Batteries can corrode, and leaving them in the device will only cause them to slowly drain anyway. Toss a package of fresh batteries into the bin with your battery-powered items to remind you to put the batteries back IN when the next season rolls around.
9. Dispose of any empty fuel canisters appropriately. How you go about this depends largely on the disposal regulations in your area, as well as what kind of fuel canisters you use. The commonly use propane/butane blends, in the small canisters, can be punctured with a special tool, or a nail, to make sure they are totally empty before disposal. Contact your local recycling/waste management center for how to dispose of your empty canisters.
10. Store your gear somewhere dry, where it can’t accidentally get damaged (shoving it in the back of a closet is probably a bad idea). We store ours in large plastic bins, with lids, in our basement. It’s cool and dry, the containers keep it free from dust, cat hair, and moisture.
Take care of your gear, and it will take care of you for years to come!