Despite the snowpack you may see on the ground, spring is officially here. Whether you've been using your gear hard all winter or it's been sitting in a muddy pile since last fall, now is a good time to take stock and clean and repair your outdoor clothing and equipment.
Here are a few brief and general suggestions to get you started. Tell us your gear cleaning and organizational checklists, tips, and stories below, both for the gear you're putting away and the gear you're taking back out of storage.
Number one rule: always follow the manufacturer's directions. There is a lot of variability between outdoor gear materials and their proper maintenance and repair. You don't want to void any warranties either. If you didn't hang on to the care instructions that came with your gear, check the manufacturer's website; many brands list care instructions online. Then, have the right supplies and know what you're doing before you start messing with your $500 sleeping bag.
Wash, clean, and treat clothing, outerwear, and footwear. There are numerous products made to clean and treat specific materials: soft shells, down, wool, hard shells, full-grain leather boots. Clean anything you're putting into storage too. (Grangers, McNett, and Nikwax, among others all sell cleaning, repair, and treatments products and kits for outdoor gear, with detailed instructions.)
Clean your outerwear and gear with the right products for the job.
- If you need to clean your sleeping bag, again, read the manufacturer's directions. Use only mild soap, not detergent. Wash in a front-loading or commercial machine or by hand (NOT in an top-loading agitator machine or by dry cleaning). Rinse very well. Be very careful lifting up a wet sleeping bag; support all of its weight. Tumble dry on low heat (throw in some tennis balls with a down bag). Find and fix any leaks in your sleeping pad.
- Set up your tent or shelter outside. Clean off any dirt and debris. Hand wash, if necessary. Make sure you have all the parts. Repair any rips. Now is a good time to seam seal your tent for the new season. Make sure your tent is fully dry before storing.
- Make sure your stove is clean and ready to go. This is another case where you want to read the manufacturer's instructions closely. Many stove manufacturers sell repair and maintenance kits for specific stove models. Stoves with pumps may need the pump oiled. Don't leave old fuel in a stove you're not using regularly.
- Store all gear clean, dry, and in its proper place, with all of its parts. Sleeping bags should be loose, not stuffed. Same for any insulated garments.
- Review your supplies. Check first aid kids for outdated medicine and prescriptions, then restock. Restock or replace any gear repair and maintenance kits and survival gear you carry. Check batteries and replace spares. Buy items like stove fuel, trail maps and guidebooks, favorite meals and snacks now, so you won't waste time looking for them on your way to the trailhead.
- Get organized. Once your gear and supplies are ready for the trail, organize and label the bins in your gear closet/room/storage space, so you can find exactly the gear you need by activity when you need it: day hiking gear, check; paddling gear, check (I highly recommend a label maker for bins). That way, you can get out the door quickly, without leaving something essential behind. Update and print out your gear checklists (if you've got a laminator, put it to use).
Taking the time to clean and organize your gear now can mean better backcountry trips this spring and summer.
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