9 Ways to Care For Hiking Gear Before Packing It Away For Winter

As winter arrives in the northern hemisphere, some of us will be putting away our hiking and biking gear and bringing out the skis and snowshoes.

Not me! 🙂 I’m fortunate to live in sunny California where year-round fair weather adventuring is the norm. But I still use the chilly days of late fall as a reminder to give my well-loved outdoor gear some TLC.

We all know outdoor gear can be expensive! It’s also critical to our safety and comfort in wild places. Fortunately we can keep it in good condition for many years by cleaning, repairing, and storing it properly.

Here are nine things I do after my last big trip of the summer or fall to make sure my gear is waiting for me in great shape when my next adventure rolls around, whether that’s next spring or next weekend.

Patch Tears and Holes

It’s always a bummer when a favorite rain jacket (or tent, backpack, sleeping bag…) gets torn. But don’t worry, it probably still has many years of life left in it. In most cases a simple patch job will last for years.

My favorite tool for this job is GearAid Tenacious Tape. I like the clear because it goes with everything. A small square is always in my first aid kit for field repairs and I keep a whole roll at home.

Patching a torn sleeping quilt
An old rain jacket patch, starting to peel but still going strong

I’ve used Tenacious Tape on rain gear, a down sleeping quilt, bikepacking bags, and even my inflatable sleeping pad. Gear Aid makes different types of patches for Gore-Tex, Silnylon, and fabric, but I just keep it simple and use the regular Gear Repair Tape on everything.

Tips:

  • Cut a shape with rounded corners for less chance of peeling.
  • When applying the tape, push firmly from the middle out.
  • Pressing a flat-bottomed metal container of hot water onto the new patch seems to help it set more securely.

Re-Waterproof Rain Gear

Have you noticed your waterproof gear becoming a little less waterproof? Hold up, there’s no need to buy a brand new rain jacket! It’s normal for waterproof clothes, particularly those treated with DRW finish, to lose some of their outer waterproofing over time.

You’ll know it’s time to refresh your waterproofing when your rain jacket or pants start wetting out sooner in heavy rain (or you can test it in the shower). You’ll see water soak into the outer fabric and saturate it instead of beading up on the surface as it should. When this happens, it’s time to refresh the waterproofing.

Before the Nikwax treatment, water soaks into the outer fabric and saturates it.
After the treatment, water beads up and runs off the surface as it should.

I do this about once per year, usually after a summer and fall of heavy use, so my rain gear is ready to go for the next season. I use a combo of TechWash and TX.Direct from Nikwax. The Tech Wash detergent works in place of regular laundry soap to safely clean your rain gear. Then a second cycle with TX.Direct washes in the waterproofing treatment, and a cycle in the dryer finishes the process.

It’s an easy job to do in any washer or drier. I’ve had good results with many different types of shell jackets, including my lightweight Helium II rain jacket and Gore-Tex Arc’teryx Beta AR. It’s satisfying to run water over the fabric and compare before and after! It really does make a difference.

Clean Water Filters and Bottles

Hydration bladders and water filter bags can get funky at the best of times. Just imagine what happens if you pack them away damp and leave them to fester all winter! (Actually don’t imagine it, it’s disgusting.)

After every long trip, and especially before my gear will sit unused for awhile, I clean out my entire water system:

  • Backflush my Sawyer filter thoroughly, filter a bit of diluted bleach water through it to sanitize, and turn it upside-down to drip dry.
  • Fill my hydration bladder with water, add a capful of bleach, let some water run through the hose and bite valve, and let sit for an hour or so.
  • Empty out the bleach water, scrub inside the bladder or rub the sides together, rinse, and leave propped open to dry.
  • If there’s any hint of black stuff growing in my bite valve, I pull apart the pieces (details depend on the design) and clean that gunk out with a Q-tip. If it’s gotten too out of control I replace the bite valve.
  • Scrub out any bottles with soap and a bottle brush, turn upside down to dry thoroughly before putting the cap on for storage.

I know some people have elaborate tools and tricks for this process, but the simple version above has always worked for me.

Care For Your Tent

One thing you do NOT want to do: roll up your tent while it’s damp and leave it that way all winter! The resulting mold and mildew can damage your tent beyond repair.

If there was any chance of moisture inside your tent when you last rolled it up at camp, make sure to unroll and air dry it thoroughly before packing it up for long-term storage.

Tents last longer when stored properly. If you have space, it’s a good idea to store tent poles unfolded to avoid stretching the shock cord inside. Some people even recommend hanging the entire tent over a pole or storing it loosely folded so as not to put stress on the fabric (full disclosure, I’ve never gone that far).

Some tents need to be seam-sealed periodically to keep water from sneaking in. All you need is a seam sealant, a tiny brush (sometimes integrated into the bottle), and some patience. No need to go crazy with seam sealing — it may only be needed every few years, or on some tents not at all.

Lastly, if you share the same tent stakes between different tents or tarps, make it very obvious which ones have stakes and which ones don’t. It’s all too easy to forget and grab a tent without stakes when your next adventure rolls around. Don’t ask me how I know.

Care For Your Sleeping Bag

First thing first: make sure your sleeping bag is thoroughly dry and aired out. Turn it inside out and let some fresh air into all the nooks and crannies that don’t usually see daylight. Maybe even set it outside in the sun for a bit.

Some people wash their down sleeping bags (and jackets) after each season, but I prefer to wash mine as rarely as possible. I sleep cold and almost always wear long sleeves and pants at night, so my sleeping bag stays relatively clean.

Though you can wash a down sleeping bag carefully in a front-loading washer or a bathtub, I believe a bag only has so many washes in it before the down starts to degrade. There’s also the chance of a drawstring getting caught or something getting snagged if you use a washing machine.

If you do wash a down sleeping bag, do it properly. These are the instructions I’ve followed successfully in the past. I would add: be extra careful to cinch and knot drawstrings so they don’t get caught around a clump of wet sleeping bag, which can wreak all kinds of havoc in a washer or dryer.

Finally, store your sleeping bag loosely in a large bag, not crammed into its stuff sack. Let it breathe and relax! Many come with a large cotton or mesh bag for this purpose, or you can make your own from a pillowcase. You can even use a plastic kitchen trash bag, but rip some holes in it and leave an opening at the top for ventilation.

Care For Your Backpack

After a few weeks of being in close contact with my unshowered body, my backpack tends to get a little… smelly. I like to give it a good clean once a season so I can start my next hike smelling fresh, even if it’s only for five minutes.

First, remove all the crumbs and gross food bits. Check all the pockets. ALL of them.

Then, wash your backpack. Check for instructions based on your specific model. My ULA Circuit can go in the washing machine with its aluminum stay removed and straps carefully snugged. If the washing machine doesn’t seem like a good idea, give it a soapy soak in the bathtub. Rinse thoroughly to get all the soap out, and dry completely before packing it away.

Lastly, store your backpack thoughtfully. Some packs have foam, metal, or other structures that can be warped or compressed if stored in the same position for a long time. I like to hang mine by the top loop or lay it flat without anything heavy on top.

Wash Dishes (And Anything Else)

No matter how well you think you washed your bowl, pot, and utensils at camp, pull them out at home and wash them again before packing them away.

What else could use a good deep cleaning? I sanitize my travel toothbrush with boiling water at the end of the season, for example, and run my food bag through the washing machine if needed.

Related: What’s in My Lightweight Toiletries Kit

Repair If Possible

It happens to the best of us: sometimes gear wears out in ways that are no match for a simple patch job. Before tossing it out, consider repairing it. First, contact the manufacturer. They might have suggestions, offer repair services, or even be willing to replace it under warranty.

Often some creative sewing is all that’s needed. If a repair is beyond your own skills, perhaps a local tailor or craftsperson can help. Some outdoorsy towns even have businesses that specialize in outdoor gear repair. Ask around or look online.

Zippers are often the first part of a jacket or tent to wear out, but sometimes this can be fixed by replacing the zipper pull. I’ve heard of people replacing stretched shock cord inside their tent poles. Climbing shoes can be resoled, and some down jackets and sleeping bags can be restuffed. It may not always be worth the cost, but it’s certainly worth looking into for the opportunity to save money and reduce waste.

Take Stock and Organize

Finally, it’s time to pack up your gear so it’s quick and easy to prep for your next trip.

If there’s anything that needs replacing, make a list and watch for sales. You’ll have better luck finding a good price if you don’t wait until the last minute, right before your next adventure, to make essential purchases. Don’t forget little things too — did you use all the blister pads from your first aid kit? Better replace them now or at least write them down on a list before you forget.

When packing up your gear, try to choose an intuitive system that suits your use patterns. Most of my smaller items live in clear plastic bins grouped by categories like water, kitchen, safety / survival, and sleep / shelter. I tend to pick and choose from my gear collection for many different types of trips (backpacking, bikepacking, car camping), so this works for me. If you typically use the same set of gear for the same activity, you might store the whole collection together so it’s easy to grab and go.

However you organize your gear, store it all in a reasonably cool and dry place, out of direct sunlight, and safe from gnawing rodents or other pests.

It could be a little neater, but my gear shelves are organized enough that packing for my next trip is fast and easy.

I know these tasks aren’t as fun as getting out there and actually using our gear (except maybe the organizing part… just me?), but caring for our gear is part of being an outdoor enthusiast. If we spend a little time taking care of it now, our gear will last for years and we’ll save money in the long run.

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About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking the Arizona Trail, Colorado Trail, John Muir Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and countless shorter amazing trails throughout the US and abroad. I love solitude, big views, and a good lightweight gear setup. Learn more or say hi.

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