The essentials of gear storage & maintenance

Gear is an investment, and especially because with outdoors gear you may not use it very often, you need to take even greater care in proper storage & maintenance. Otherwise you may use it two times, and then find that by the third time (potentially some several years down the line) it's already noticeably under-performing. And that, certainly would not be getting your money's worth!

Clean, Dry, Loose, Dark

Those 4 words represent an essential gear storage & maintenance philosophy. Gear not in use should be cleaned & dried and then stored loose & in a dark environment.

Clean

This is a no-brainer. Gear that is stored dirty may attract pests, or result in permanent stains that are harder to remove in the future. However, what's less obvious is that machine cleanings damage gear either mechanically (e.g., gear has parts that get snagged and lead to rips or tears) or chemically (e.g., traditional detergents break down the water repellancy of the fabrics used in gear). Specific gear tips:

  • Tents: Shake out tents before you pack it up to go home. If the tent is dirty and wet, wait for it to dry and then shake out particles. For any stains, spot clean with very mild detergent, light scrubbing (sponge or toothbrush).
  • Sleeping bag: Every time a sleeping bag is washed (even professionally dry cleaned by specialists), it looses some of its insulative properties. That's why at Last Minute Gear, we use liners (that are machine-washable). Spot cleaning (as with a tent) is best. If you must wash the entire bag, you can use a machine on delicate setting with mild detergent. For drying tips, see below.
  • Water filters & hydration bags: It's generally a good idea to rinse the filters (for our filters, this means running through and then backflushing with the provided syringe) and bags with a home-made water-based cleaning solution, and then with regular water. I prefer vinegar as it is the most mild and non-toxic, find a recipe that works for you or use mine: 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to 1 liter of warm water.
  • Water proof or resistant apparel: Again minimize washing, which will remove the water resistance. If you find yourself frequently washing the apparel or notice a reduction in water resistance (e.g., the fabric is soaking in water), treat it with some NikWax.

Dry

Outdoors gear is very liable to get wet. But it should not be stored even the slightest bit damp. Moisture leads to mold and mildew growth, which not only smells terrible but can lead to health hazards. Gear should always be dried very thoroughly (not to mention this airing out will remove odors, particularly for sleeping bags), and stored in a dry spot (i.e., not somewhere humid like the bathroom). The trick here is that sunlight also damages gear, so line drying in a non-directly-lit location is key. Specific gear tips:

  • Sleeping bags: Probably the hardest thing to line dry, so you can use a mechanical dryer, but try to set it on the lowest heat (or no heat) setting. Best idea would be to partially dry in the machine, and then line dry the rest of the way

Loose

Gear functionally does a lot of work. When it's not working, it needs rest. This means you generally want to store things loosely, rather than compact (which unfortunately means a greater space requirement than you may otherwise believe). Specific gear tips:

  • Tents: Once you've returned home, loosen the storage bag a bit and don't keep the tent super compressed. If I were a sommelier I may say let the fabric breathe! Another note, don't keep creasing the tent along the same lines or those lines may wear out (this is probably the easiest to do because most people do not fold a tent up exactly the same way each time).
  • Sleeping bags: If you ever wonder why sleeping bags are sold with 2 types of cases: one really small and tight to actually carry to camp site, and another really loose one, it's because the loose one is how you're meant to store it! Constantly keeping a bag compressed reduces its insulative properties. If keeping it in the loose stuff sack takes up too much space, you can also think about hanging it up.
  • Sleeping pads: If your sleeping pad is inflatable and foamed-based (e.g., Therma-rest models), it's made with a type of foam whose cells hold air. Keeping it compressed strains these cells and reduces the inflatability of the pad. Therefore, you should keep these unrolled with the air valve open.
  • Headlamps: A unique definition of loose, but something that electronics gearheads have known forever--take batteries out in storage; they will drain when still connected to the device.

Dark

Yup that's right, sunlight (or more important, UV-radiation) damages gear by breaking down the water-resistant coatings (which are almost ubiquitous now in outdoors gear). Did you know, you should even set up tents in the shade! Furthermore, extreme heat may also damage some materials (i.e., melt them); and while this is less likely to happen outside, it does say don't store gear on the dashboard of a car in the desert. That's why we say to line dry out of direct sunlight. While there are no specific gear tips here, with all the tips so far, I think basically the easiest thing to do is this: have a separate gear closet!


If you follow our advice, your gear will last for much longer, giving you the chance to actually get your money's worth! Of course if the maintenance & storage looks too troublesome, well that's why we rent everything mentioned above (and care for it well, so you don't have to)!

Happy trails!

Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, and we'll do our best to get you ouside!


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