Failing to properly take care of your tent, backpack, sleeping bag, and other essentials will dramatically shorten their lifespan. It also tends to make things a lot smellier.
Once, after a kayaking trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, I left my tent in its stuffsack for a few weeks. I hastily packed it before we left and forgot to dry it out once I got home. I only made that mistake once—the tent smelled of mildew and campfire smoke for years afterward.
Here are seven ways to keep your backpacking gear working like new for a long, long time.
Deep Clean Your Hydration Bladder
Hydration bladders are a pain in the butt to clean. It’s hard to scrub the nooks and crannies, and it’s even harder to get them dry. But that doesn’t mean you should resign yourself to moldy plastic and funky smells. CamelBak has a cleaning kit that makes things easier, or you can use household cleaners like bleach or white vinegar. Once you’ve cleaned the bladder, store it in the freezer to prevent bacteria growth.
Store and Clean Your Sleeping Bag Correctly
Sleeping bags (especially down bags) should never be stored in their compression sacks. Most bags come with a larger sack that you should use instead. (You can also buy one separately or use a pillowcase.) It’s also worth washing your bag every once in a while (no more than once a year). Nikwax makes a product called Down Wash Direct specifically for washing sleeping bags. There are a lot of how-to articles out there that’ll show you how to do it correctly.
Dry Out Your Tent
The first thing you should do when you get home from a camping trip is unpack your tent and lay it out somewhere to fully dry. Chances are you packed it away in the morning while there was still some condensation on it; leaving it packed means it’ll mildew. If your tent does mildew, Nikwax makes a spray-on tent wash that won’t damage the fabric and will help it stand up to UV damage. When it comes time to store your tent, some folks are tent rollers, some are folders, and some are stuffers. I’m a fan of folding the tent over once and loosely rolling it up—that way it’ll breathe, and the fabric won’t become as creased.
Seam Seal Your Tent
Speaking of tents, a leaky tent is a pretty common occurrence after it’s seen some use. That spray-on tent wash helps to waterproof the fly and tent body fabric, but to fix a leak, you’ll want to use some Seam Grip seam sealer. Just apply it to the inside of the rain fly at the seams, and be sure to give it enough time to cure. Seam sealer is also great for other gear, like sleeping pads and backpacks.
Wash Your Pots and Pans at Home
If you invest in a quality set of camp cookware, you’ll want to take care of it. Some camp soap and a pine bough work well enough in the field, but be sure to hand wash and dry your pots and pans once you get home before storing them. Never use steel wool or other harsh scrubbing tools on nonstick cookware, and don’t use metal utensils like spatulas.
Repair Your Jackets
Duct-tape patches on a puffy jacket are basically a mountain-town fashion statement. When you’re backpacking, your jackets will likely get some tears or fire ember–induced holes. Instead of duct tape, use Tenacious Tape, which is purposely designed and, in my experience, holds up a little better than duct tape. Bonus: It’ll stick to just about anything, from jackets to rafts.
Patch a Sleeping Pad
Air pads are the kings of comfort when it comes to backpacking sleeping pads, but they aren’t as durable as closed-cell foam pads. Thankfully, they usually aren’t too hard to repair—you can even buy a sleeping pad repair kit. If you have a leaky pad, inflate it and throw it in the bathtub to locate the hole, then patch according to the kit’s instructions.