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A Guide to Hibernating Your Backpacking Gear

Storing Backpacking and Camping Gear in the Off-Season

If you’re like us, you spend lots of time researching the perfect piece of gear to fit your style of backpacking. That research takes time, and that product costs money, then over time, the gear developed a sentimental value that outweighs both of the former combined. We want you to hold on to that valuable piece of gear for as long as you can, so in the article, we will give you tips on how to repair, clean, and store each part of your backpacking kit. From your pack to the food leftover in your food bag, we hope our advice helps to improve the life of your equipment and make you feel confident that you are doing all you can to prolong your relationship with it.

Repairing

The off-season is an excellent opportunity to inspect your gear for wear and repair any problem while you have time and resources, rather than on the trail in a panic. Most of the dilemmas faced here are holes and rips, which can either be fixed by sewing or taping. Your previous experience and the project at hand will determine if you need to use a sewing machine, hand sew, or tape. If a zipper is at issue, using a lubricating/cleaning kit or a zipper repair kit may help. Here are some recommendations for each piece of gear:

Sleeping Bags & Insulated Jackets

Sleeping bags and puffies often use slick nylon or polyester fabric, which can be hard to sew. Gear Aid Repair Tape sticks incredibly well to most glossy sleeping bags and coats, giving you a fix that is durable and washable. 

When cutting gear tape, be sure to round the corners of the tape so that there are no jagged edges. This will reduce the chance of a corner of the patch peeling off prematurely. If the hole is too big for gear tape and you feel comfortable sewing, you can sew on a patch or close a rip. If you have a large hole, consider contacting a professional to sew it up–many consignment shops can help with gear repair locally.

If you have a down bag or jacket with feathers poking through the outer material, do not pull them out! Doing so will continue to pull more feathers out much like a tissue box. Instead, try pulling the feather back into the jacket from opposite the side of the garment. 

Tents & Rain Jackets

These two pieces of gear need to keep you protected from the elements, whether while you’re hiking or in camp. Their Durable Water Repellant (DWR) coating need reviving every so often so that you can stay dry. 

Small Leaks

If you noticed a leak the last time you used the item, make sure you check for small holes, so you don’t get wet the next time you take your gear out. To check for small holes, set up your tent and have a partner shine a light outside the tent in the leak area. While doing this, be inside the tent looking for where the light enters the tent. Once the hole is found for a quick and easy fix, patch the holes with waterproof gear tape. Sewing a tent or rain jacket is not recommended because each time the needle goes through the material, it creates a spot that water can come through. 

Leaking at Seams

If the rain jacket or tent is leaking at the seams, apply Seam Grip to the seams in question. This coating helps keep moisture from getting through the fabric, keeping you dry.

Leaking Throughout

If it feels like it is raining inside your tent or jacket during a storm and there are no holes, using a re-waterproofing spray or wash-in is the next step. Spray-on is easiest for tent flies or other large items, while wash-in like Nikwax, makes it easy to revive a rain jacket or rain pants. 

Inflatable Sleeping Pads

If your sleeping pad is leaking air, the first step is to locate the hole. The best way to do this is to inflate the pad and submerge it in a bathtub. Bubbles exiting from the hole will show you where the air is escaping. When you find the leak, mark it with a sharpie or a piece of tape, dry the pad completely, and patch it up! Follow the instructions on the patch kit that came with the pad, or you purchased for this project, and your sleeping pad will be ready to go for more nights outside. 

Backpacks

For your backpack, sewing or patching will repair most issues. If you use gear tape to patch a hole, make sure to put it on both the outer and inside of the fabric and to round the corners. If it’s a waterproof backpack, treat it more like a tent and use gear tape to patch worn areas. 

Cleaning

Before putting gear away for the season, cleaning off dirt and grit helps ensure the longevity of your equipment. All that dust from a week in the desert can wear away at the finish of materials if left to sit. 

Water Bladders, Water Filters, Cookware

After returning home from a trip, be sure to thoroughly clean your cookware before storing- there are few things worse than finding your cookpot months later with a thriving fungal society growing inside. Trust us; we’ve been there. Give your bladder a good rinse, and be sure to dry completely! Pro tip: on some water bladders, the hose detaches from the bladder so you can get every last drop of water out. 

Clothing

For your technical backpacking pieces, follow the care label on the garment. For the best results, try the Nikwax product specific for your items, whether synthetic, down or water-resistant. The daily wear items from your trip like socks and shirt will likely require a more potent washing or added rinse cycle. 

Sleeping Bags, Down Jackets

Since these items come in contact with the least amount of dirt and lose their loft after washing, it’s best to spot clean with a soft rag, water, and a down-specific soap. This way, the entire bag doesn’t get wet, and the down inside doesn’t get soaked. If you have had a long trip or your bag is starting to give off a ripe odor, and you need to wash the entire bag, here are the best options:

Hand Wash

Hand wash in bathtub using Nikwax Down Wash. Rub the fabric against itself to clean darkly soiled areas. Then you will rinse and repeat until the water is clean. It is essential here to make sure you rinse all the soap out of the bag, or it can cause the down inside to lose loft.

Machine Wash

You must use a front loading washing machine to machine wash. If your machine has an agitator (top loading) it can damage your gear. If you do not have access to one at home, a laundromat is a great solution, as they’ll often have larger capacity machines too. Using down specific detergent is a must here as well to get the maximum protection for your down.

Drying

The best way to dry a down item is in a tumble dryer, which helps redistribute and fluff the down.  Be careful the heat isn’t too high because the material on the bag’s outer shell can melt if it gets too hot. If this is the first time using a machine to dry your sleeping bag check it a few times to make sure it isn’t too hot. After the first few minutes of the drying cycle, throw 2-3 clean tennis balls into the dryer to break up any clumped down and resume drying. This will help your bag return to its original fluffy size and distribute the down, so there are no cold spots next time you use it. Be sure to dry your bag completely.

Tents & Bivys

After enough backpacking trips, that smell changes from “ahh camping” to “eww , camping.” Cleaning a tent is pretty much like washing a car. You’ll need a hose, bucket, rag, and mild soap. Set your tent up on a sunny day and go about spot cleaning the dirty areas. Rinse it out and then leave it standing to dry. Make sure it is completely dry before putting it away because the fabric can mold if left damp in storage. 

If your shelter is only a bit dirty, brush out with a stiff-bristled brush before storing between trips.

Sleeping Pad

Since your skin does not come in contact with this item most of the time, it shouldn’t need cleaning often. If it does get dark around where your head lays, use a rag to spot clean the area. Afterward, fully inflate and let dry, but not in direct sunlight.

Backpack

Your backpack is perhaps your closest companion for all those miles, exposed to the elements as well as close to your body while on the move. To clean your backpack, remove all wrappers, bars, and chapsticks. Next, take the pack outside and shake it out upsidedown to remove any sand or crumbs. If it has a removable frame, you should take that out as well. Then it’s just like cleaning a sleeping bag in the bathtub. Fill the bathtub with hot water and soak the pack. After several minutes, using a mild soap and a toothbrush, scrub your pack. Rinse and repeat until the water coming off is clear. To dry, set out in the sun. Do not machine dry.

Storing

The way you store gear for the off-season can help protect it for many years to come as well as set up next summer’s adventures for success.

Food

It’s easy to overlook your stash of backpacking-specific food in the rush to get things put away for the winter. In the offseason, it is hidden away and forgotten about, and then when the time comes, you find out that a bunch of the food has expired. As it gets to the end of the season, check the expiration dates and make sure to enjoy those one-pot wonders before they are past their prime. A bear canister or other pest-proof container is a great spot to store food that’ll last until the next summer. 

Tent & Backpack

Store these items in a climate-controlled area of your house, make sure they aren’t in a spot that receives direct sunlight. Before storing, make sure they are completely dry, so they don’t grow mold and ruin the fabric. For your tent,  count the stakes before storing, so you don’t get on trail and realize you’re missing a stake.

Sleeping Bags & Puffy Coats

It is best if you have the space to hang or lay out your insulated pieces. This way, they can stay fully expanded, improving loft. If you don’t have the space for that, store it in a large laundry bag–sleeping bags often come with these. Do not store in the compression bag, which compacts the insulation and, over time, will cause the bag to lose loft, which makes the bag feel colder.

Sleeping Pad

For self-inflating foam mattresses, it is best to store them flat with the valve open so that they continue to self-inflate. For full air pads, you can roll them up and keep them like you usually would in your pack. Just make sure they are completely dry after washing them.

First Aid Kit

After a season full of adventures and mishaps, now is a good time to restock your first aid kid before tucking it away for the season. Like food, check through and properly dispose of any medications that will expire before next season.

Electronics

Removing the batteries out of your headlamp and other electronics will protect them from corrosion, but be sure to pack them away with batteries in the same spot. We recommend putting all of your electronics and batteries in a plastic or dry bag so that it is all together next season.

Cook System

Before tucking those last items away, be sure to dispose of empty fuel canisters. You don’t want to get out on the trail with no fuel. Store any full fuel canister following the recommendations on the label. Also, it’s a good idea to keep your pot, stove, and utensils in the same area to avoid forgetting one and having to eat a hot dinner with a stick for a spoon or a cold meal altogether.

Always defer to your gear’s own product label for cleaning and storing recommendations. We hope this article helps you to feel more confident when packing away your gear for the season and makes you excited for all of the seasons to come! 

Bennett Fisher enjoys challenging himself, which is probably why he has hiked over 6,000 miles on America’s long trails since 2015. He wants to share his love of the outdoors by helping others feel more confident to get out and enjoy it for themselves. If you would like to follow along on the next big hike, follow him on Instagram: @Bennettfisher