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We all sort of know that gear works better if we take care of it - use it for what it was intended for, not other uses; check it before the trip; clean it after the trip (don't store it dirty and make any repairs immediately after returning rather than discovering the broken zipper as you pack 2 hours before the next trip); if it is something needing lubrication (zippers, some items of climbing gear, etc) or recoating (seam seal, leather goods, etc), do it well in advance of the trip; and so on. We all sort of know, but sometimes forget, that gear ages and wears out.
I got a reminder of this in a letter I received yesterday from Garcia Machine (www.backpackerscache.com). Garcia made the first truly bear-resistant container for backpackers, and still one of the few that works really well for all types of bears (including the highly educated and infamous Yosemite bears). I have had one since about 1990. The story is this - Garcia's cylinders are made of a carbon fiber-reinforced plastic. We all know (sort of) that plastics and synthetic fibers age, and that ultraviolet radiation speeds the aging (just as those of us who spent too many years getting "healthy tans" have found it does for our skins - more for us blue-eyed, fair skinned folk, but true for all ethnic backgrounds, as a friend and canoing/backpacking partner of African ancestry found). In teaching climbing instructors, we emphasize the limited lifetime of ropes, harnesses, helmets and other synthetic materials (4 to 7 years depending on the particular material, per manufacturers' recommendations, and less when you find an old sling someone left on a bolt). All of us who have used a tent for more than a couple hundred days have experienced fading and tearing of the material under light loads.
But somehow, I had not really thought about my bear cylinders. Garcia's maintenance bulletin gives good information on cleaning, ensuring the latches work properly, and checking for gouges, scrapes, and cracks (bears can play hard with the cylinders sometimes). But they also note that UV can and does deteriorate the plastic resins, just as it does for any synthetic material (and many natural materials as well. Containers manufactured between 1997 and 2001 (more than 7 years old - surprise! same as the maximum recommended life for climbing ropes and climbing and bicycling helmets) are recommended for replacement, especially if they have been used in rental programs or youth groups that do frequent outings. These can be identified by looking inside the container. On the bottom are 2 small molding marks, 90 degrees from which are a series of raised dots on the newer containers (number of dots translates to date of manufacture). The 1997-2001 containers have no dots. Earlier containers (like mine) are a different shape from the current Garcia containers and "should be removed from service".
Well, good thing I have a couple of Bear Vaults that are more recent (and in fact are the newest models, which have passed the "Rae Lakes test" - for those who haven't heard, bears in the Rae Lakes area learned how to get into the earlier versions of the Bear Vaults - contact the Bear Vault people about replacements).
The BearIKade, being aluminum, is not subject to the same UV deterioration, but will be damaged over time by rough usage (e.g., bear curiosity) and wear on the lid.