As much as it hurts to admit, summer is over. The aspens are nearly bare, frost has ravaged the tomato plants, and it’s time to put away your fair-weather gear. But if you don’t do it right, you might find things covered in mold or damaged by creasing when you take them out in a few months. Here’s what you need to know to prevent surprises before next spring’s first camping trip.
Vent Your Tent
It may seem counterintuitive, but you need to set up your tent before putting it away. Check for rips or broken zippers, and hand-wash any caked-on dirt with diluted soap (not detergent). Then let it air out somewhere shady. Unfold tent poles as much as possible to preserve the shock cords’ elasticity. Once it’s clean and dry, store it flat and away from animals in a temperature-controlled area, like the back of a closet. You can also loosely roll the tent, just don’t store it in a stuffsack. Justin Bradshaw, a rental-gear associate at Atlanta-based High Country Outfitters, says that packing a tent tightly can cause creasing and weak spots.
Unpack Your Pad
As you did with the tent, wipe down your sleeping pad with a soapy cloth, then rinse it with water. You’re aiming to get dirt and your own stink off it, as well as any bug repellent, because deet can break down the exterior. If it’s inflatable, use a hair dryer or a pump to inflate and deflate your pad a few times, which will flush moisture from the interior. Let the pad dry in a shady spot. Once dry, store it unfolded or loosely rolled and partially inflated with the valve open, if applicable.
Stash (Not Stuff) Your Sleeping Bag
If your sleeping bag is smelly, you can wash it in cold water in a front-loading washer (top loaders may rip the fabric) with gear-friendly soap. Use Nikwax Down Wash Direct ($11) for down and a gentle, unscented detergent for synthetics. Then run it in an unheated dryer with a tennis ball to restore loft. If it smells OK, just unzip your sleeping bag all the way and put it in a shady spot to make sure it’s entirely dry: hang it over a rack or chairs to make sure that both sides get air. Like the tent, store it loose—in a mesh storage bag like REI’s Sleeping Bag Storage Sack ($18) or a king-size pillowcase—in a cool, dry place.
Hang Your Hydration Bladder
Even if you empty your hydration bladder, there’s often moisture left inside, which is why Bradshaw uses a modified coat hanger to store his. Cut a plastic hanger in half to get a hanging storage device that will encourage airflow (be careful of sharp points), or purchase the CamelBak’s Reservoir Dryer ($12). If the bladder does mildew, he recommends cleaning it with a gallon of hot water mixed with a teaspoon of bleach. You can also freeze it to slow the growth of mold.
Blow Up Your SUP
Like tents, inflatable watercraft, like SUPs, kayaks, and canoes, should be set up completely and left to dry. Their PVC walls can break down in sunlight, however, so find a spot that’s shady or indoors. Then let its air out until it’s about a quarter inflated, and store it out of the elements. Bradshaw says that people like to fully deflate and roll their boats up during the winter to save space, but this puts pressure on the seams, leading to tears. Inflatable watercraft stored in a roll might only last a season or two, he says, while one that’s stored partially inflated can last decades.