Backpacking Essentials: Equipment Care

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As frugally as you may buy your equipment, altogether it will cost quite a bit. If your funds are not unlimited, take good care of your gear. First, use it correctly and gently. Second, keep it in good repair. Carry duct tape for making emergency repairs on the trail.

Check over all your equipment soon after bringing it back from a trip. Don’t wait until you are planning the next trip, because then there may not be time to fix problems you discover. The shoe-repair shop sometimes takes three weeks to fix boots.

Sleeping Bag

Air your bag and then store it in a dry place, either on a hanger or piled loosely. Once a year or so, clean it. If you know a reputable commercial cleaner of down bags and clothing, you can take your bag to them. Be sure they don’t use solvents that can harm down. To clean a down sleeping bag (or a down garment) yourself, wash it in lukewarm water in the bathtub or a large basin with soap specially formulated for down—not detergent. Gently squeeze suds through the bag, scrub stains with a soft brush, and then rinse thoroughly. Press out as much water as you can, then carefully lift the bag out to drip dry. Be sure to support the bag when you lift it, as the weight of the wet down could otherwise tear the inside baffles of the bag. Starting with a clean sheet under the bag and using it to lift the bag works well. Put the bag somewhere outside, preferably in the shade, where it can be generously supported. Allow the bag to air-dry until it is almost dry. This can take one to four days. Then put it in the dryer on the “no heat” setting with a couple of tennis balls or clean sneakers. Spin until it is completely dry and lofted back up.

Synthetic bags are easier to clean. They can be either hand- or machine-washed using a commercial, front-loading machine. Use cool water and mild soap. Synthetic bags dry quickly, and can be air-dried or machine-dried on the “no heat” setting. Never dryclean your down or synthetic sleeping bag.

Gore-Tex Rainwear

Gore-Tex works best when it’s clean and new. Cleaning Gore Tex garments is simple. Just machine-wash, with two rounds through the rinse cycle. You can revive your aging Gore-Tex jacket by spraying it with ScotchGuard. This will increase its water repellency the same way the factory repellency treatment did when it was new, and not harm its breathability.


Check your boots for scratches, cuts, and dents in the rein forced toe and heel areas. If they’re wet, stuff them with newspaper to help them dry. Glue down any loose flaps of leather. Fill any deep gouges with epoxy. Place a thick, damp cloth over any dent and apply a hot iron over it. Clean the boots well and apply a wax-base leather conditioner (for example, Sno-Seal). Once a year, or oftener, clean them very thoroughly and apply three coats, one a day, of silicone-base conditioner (for example, Shoe Saver). Your boots will hold their shape and not curl up at the toe if you store them with boot trees inside.

Cooking Utensils

The cooking utensils came home dirty, remember. Wash them well—though you don’t really need to scour the black off the outsides of pots. Renew the pint-mark scratches inside if necessary. Put the utensils away in clean plastic sacks.


Clean, sharpen and coat lightly with oil. If you fish, sharpen your hooks at the same time.


Check your packframe for breaks in the metal fittings and the main metal tubes. Check your packbag for rips in the fabric and breaks in the zippers. Fix any questionable places.


To clean and thoroughly dry your tent after each trip, first shake out the accumulated leaves and pine needles. Then clean small stains with mild soap (not detergent) and a sponge. If the tent is very dirty, hand-wash it in the bathtub with mild soap and rinse it thoroughly. Air-dry your tent in a shady place. Avoid pro longed exposure to sunlight, because ultraviolet light damages the nylon. Never dry-clean or machine-dry your tent.

Check the tent fabric and its mosquito netting for holes, and patch as necessary. Seal the floor seams and rain fly seams if you had problems with leaking. Never wear shoes in your tent. The hard soles will weaken or tear the floor’s fabric.

Check the tent poles for weakened or broken spots. Being sure to fully engage the pole sections during assembly will prevent most joint failure. When disassembling shock-corded poles, start by folding them in the middle. The shock cord will last longer if it doesn’t get stretched to its limit each time. Replace weakened or broken poles.

A common tent failure is due to a worn-out zipper slider. If, no matter which direction you slide the zipper slider, your zipper stays open, chances are that is your problem. With a little patience and a pair of pliers, you can revive your zipper for a few more trips. First, see whether all the zipper teeth are in good condition. If not, the whole zipper will need replacement. Now, assuming the zipper teeth are O.K., slide the zipper slider all the way to the end, where you would normally move it to open the zipper. It may take a little force to open the zipper all the way, but don’t overdo it and tear your tent. Now gently squeeze together each pair of wings of the slider, but not too close together. If you squeeze too hard, it won’t slide and may crack. Now, test your revived slider. Good luck.

Emergency Items

Replace any emergency items you used on the last trip, such as penicillin pills or fire starter.

Personal Items

After the personal things you always take are washed, checked out, cleaned or replaced, put them all in a box ready to go into your pack the next time. Once you develop the habit of putting things where they are sure to get packed, you can dispense with a checklist for them.


Carefully check your hiking clothes for holes, rips, missing buttons, and incipient failure. Replace any item that you’re not sure will last for another trip.

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