From washing tips to weather protectors, these six tricks keep your outdoor equipment in working condition.
Buying outdoor equipment can be expensive. Once you’ve spent the time and money getting the gear you need, why not do what you can to make it last as long as possible? We’ll share our tips to help you get the maximum life out of your gear.
The basic principles of this article apply to a lot of outdoor gear. That said, since there are so many kinds of outdoor equipment, we’ll narrow it down to a few basic camping items, including:
- Down items like sleeping bags and puffy jackets
- Sleeping pads
- Rain gear
So, let’s dive in! Here are six ways to make your gear last longer:
- Consider What You’re Buying
- Prepare Your Gear for Adventures
- Be Kind to It
- Check for Damage & Repair It
- Clean & Dry It
- Store Outdoor Equipment Properly
Step 1: Consider What Outdoor Equipment You’re Buying
For many of us, this step can start even before we go to the store or shop online. A few things to think about:
- What outdoor company are you buying from?
- Can you find product reviews to make sure you’re getting something that is well-made?
- Does the company or store offer a return policy? Do they offer a warranty for the product?
If you can afford it, it may be worth spending more on quality gear that comes with a good warranty. Outdoor companies like Darn Tough, Patagonia, Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering, among others, cost more upfront but may end up being less expensive in the long run. That’s because these companies guarantee the product for its lifetime. Repairs are often free, and even when there’s a repair fee, it should be significantly less than buying the product new.
Keep in mind that warranties are different. While some companies will repair the item, others like Darn Tough will simply send you a new item. Not all companies are transparent about what they do with your used gear after you return it, so it can be hard to know whether it’s getting repurposed/reused or just ending up in the landfill.
This step might seem like extra work, but if you want to make your gear last, some research upfront can save you a lot of trouble in the long run!
Step 2: Prepare Your Gear for Adventures
Ok, you’ve found what you want and brought it home. Now it’s time to prepare it for future trips. When you’re camping in harsh conditions like wind, rain and snow, you need to have equipment that will do its job to keep you warm and dry. You can extend the life of your gear by protecting it from the elements.
Consider a newly purchased camping tent. Check to see – does it come with a footprint? A footprint is a separate piece of material that goes under the bottom of your tent. It’s one of the best ways to protect your tent from muddy or wet ground, abrasive rock and more. If your tent doesn’t come with a footprint, purchase one separately. Fan of DYI? You can also improvise a footprint with a store-bought tarp or Tyvek HomeWrap, a favorite of Outward Bound Instructors, which can be found at many hardware stores and costs a fraction of what you would pay for the manufacturer’s tent footprint. Simply cut the Tyvek down to match the size of your tent’s floor.
Tents can also benefit from “seam sealing,” which is the application of a sealant to help prevent leaks along the tent’s seams. My partner, one of my gear care role models, does this any time he buys a new tent, and it has helped keep us dry through countless storms. Gear Aid has a great article on how to do this.
Step 3: Be Kind to It
Let’s continue with our tent example. Think before you set it up: What are you placing your tent on? Look around to see if there’s anything that might damage the bottom of your tent, like bits of broken glass, abrasive rock such as granite or sharp pinecones. The same goes for that nice new inflatable sleeping pad. You can protect your sleeping pad by placing a foam pad and/or plastic groundsheet/tarp underneath it.
Don’t forget to be kind to your warm clothing layers too. Protect down items like sleeping bags and jackets by keeping them dry. You can also protect more fragile clothing items like down or thin jackets by being mindful of the terrain you’re traveling through. Lots of spiky cacti spines or tree branches dangling onto the trail? Protect your gear by layering something more durable over it or just taking it off until the trail is clear.
Remember: You’re counting on all this gear to keep you safe, warm and dry. As I have often said to Outward Bound students, “Take care of IT so that it will take care of YOU.”
Step 4: Check for Damage & Repair It
When you return home from your outdoor adventures, be sure to inspect your equipment. Check for rips, holes, broken zippers and the like. Be thorough. If you notice something’s damaged, take care of it right away or attach a note to it so you can remember to fix it before your next trip.
Whole articles are devoted to the repair of specific items. There are lots of fantastic resources online. Here are some to get you started:
- Gear Repair Tutorials from Patagonia, Gear Aid, and REI
- Still can’t find what you’re looking for? Search for tutorials online. YouTube is a great place to start.
- Not super handy or just want a little support? Ask a friend or family member to help.
Repairing includes re-waterproofing. With use and age, rain gear and hiking boots can begin to lose their waterproof qualities. Consider products like Nikwax for raingear (spray-on and wash-in options available) and SNO-SEAL for hiking boots.
Speaking of boots, if those boot soles are starting to peel off, try a quick fix with Shoe Goo or Gear Aid’s Shoe Repair Glue.
More in-depth repair of items like boots, sports sandals or climbing shoes may be beyond the ability of most people. Don’t despair! Professional cobblers can often repair soles. Some companies like Chaco even offer in-house shoe repair. Climbing shoe repair shops are popping up all over the U.S. If you don’t live near one, then ask about shipping your shoes in for repair or resoling. This is one of my favorite ways to extend the life of my outdoor equipment. Why spend $200 on a new pair of shoes if I can get them resoled for $50?
Step 5: Clean & Dry It
Perfectly good outdoor gear can be damaged due to negligence. Rain on your trip? Hang your tent up to dry before you put it back in storage. The same goes for sleeping bags.
Knowing how to clean your outdoor gear is an important first step. If your tent or sleeping pad got dirty while you were out adventuring, you may be able to address it with simple spot cleaning using a damp cloth, or you may need to dunk it in clean water to deal with larger dirty areas.
Certain outdoor items like rain gear and down items shouldn’t be just tossed in the washer. Down sleeping bags and jackets need special care, including laundering in front-loading machines, washing with special detergent and drying with very low to no heat. My advice? Err on the side of washing them less rather than more, as repeated washings can damage the loft. I try washing my down items only when they have stains or are beyond smelly. Depending on how often you use your down equipment, this could be every couple of months or every couple of years. You can minimize your need to wash your down sleeping bag by using a sleeping bag liner. A bag liner is to a sleeping bag what a sock is to a shoe. The socks get stinky and need washing, but the shoes don’t need nearly as much cleaning.
Have an item that you’re not sure how to wash? Companies like Patagonia offer tips for how to launder various outdoor fabrics.
Step 6: Store Your Outdoor Equipment Properly
Once your gear is clean and dry, consider where you’re storing it. Whenever possible, store your equipment in a dry spot, away from direct sunlight or heat sources. For example, if you bring a sleeping bag home and shove it into a damp, humid basement or backyard shed, then you may pull it out next summer to find it riddled with mildew or mold. Not fun.
Be aware that even though your equipment is inside, that doesn’t mean it will be dry. Humidity and mold can be issues indoors too. I lost at least one pair of shoes to an overly humid studio before realizing we needed to ask our landlord for a dehumidifier.
Some Final Thoughts
Lastly, we can be better environmental allies by thinking both about who we will buy our equipment from and what will happen to it at the end of its life. Can it be repurposed or reused? Is it easy or difficult to repair? How likely is it to end up in a landfill one, five or 15 years from now?
When it comes time to “retire” your equipment, ask yourself whether there’s anything that you can salvage from it (the stuff sack perhaps, or tent stakes or boot laces). Then decide whether to donate it, sell it on eBay to someone who might still want it, or turn it into something else. Maybe your dog could really rock that old ripped-up puffy jacket during the winter months.
We hope these tips will help your outdoor equipment last for years to come, keeping you warm, dry and protected wherever you go.
For more ways to be a responsible recreationalist in your gear buying check out our blog post: New or Used? Your Guide to Buying Outdoor Gear.
About the Author
Caitlin loves spending time with people in the outdoors. She aspires to help others cultivate the connections that can happen when we are away from distractions and able to be authentic. Caitlin has been involved with Outward Bound since 2007. She’s worked at Outward Bound California and Colorado Outward Bound School as a Logistics Coordinator/Intern, Instructor, Course Director and Student Services Manager. She also works for Inward Bound Mindfulness Education and Stanford University’s Adventure Program. Caitlin calls the West home and has lived, backpacked and climbed throughout the Western US including Joshua Tree, the Sierra Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Western Washington, Colorado, Utah and Nevada.
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