How to Maintain Your Backpacking Gear

With proper maintenance you can reduce the amount of gear you need to purchase.

In January of this year I did a couple of trips using mostly 30-40 year old gear that has lasted.

There was a time when the average American maintained things. People did the required maintenance on vehicles, and instead of replacing simple things like household appliances they fixed them, often doing the work themselves. Today we are a throw-away society. If something breaks we simply put it in the trash and buy a new one. Our society has become insane. Plus all this trash isn’t good for our environment.

First Things First

Whenever you purchase a new piece of gear read and save the user manual, care labels, and other documentation. Learn how to operate/set up gear, understand the cleaning and maintenance requirements. Then follow the instructions!

I have the manuals and/or care instructions for every piece of gear I have bought since 1971.

My backpacking paperwork is stored in a cabinet along with anything I have bought and everything is stored by category in plastic file holders.

Purchase any Maintenance or Repair Materials When You Buy the Gear

Top Row (Left to Right) Snow Peak GigaPower Maintenance Kit (yes canister stoves need maintenance); MSR Annual Maintenance Kit for liquid stove; O-rings for liquid stove fuel bottle. Bottom Row (Left to Right): Wick for Svea 123 stove and cap gaskets for the same stove.
Special tape for repairing Cuben Fiber material.

Take an Inventory

In this post, How to Excel at BackpackingI explained that I create a gear list for every single trip. It isn’t that much work because I often just copy a list from a previous similar trip and make changes as needed. The main purpose of the gear list is to ensure I don’t leave anything critical at home.

This is a screen shot of my Excel spreadsheet for gear. Might be hard to see, but there are tabs for each trip. I create a new list for every single trip because I don’t want to forget anything.

When I get home from a trip I can double check that I didn’t lose or misplace anything using the pre-trip list I prepared. Plus I can check for items that need replenishment, such as first aid items or other consumables.

Yep, took 8 stakes and came home with 8. Next I’ll clean the stakes with a damp cloth.
Checking in all the small items.

Clean, Inspect, and Repair as Needed

I always set up my shelter after a trip (if I used it) and inspect it for damage or needed maintenance. When I am done inspecting (and making repairs if needed), I wash it with water and let it air dry.

Check all stitching and seams.
After my last trip I noticed fabric separation above the zipper. Not sure if it was a manufacturing defect or caused by wear — either way it needed to be repaired.
Cube Fiber tape on both sides of the material not only fixed it, but made it stronger.
5 years ago I noticed this small tear in my Cuben quilt during my post hike inspection. A piece of Cuben tape fixed it quickly.
Inspecting quilt and air mattress (yes the repair from 5 years ago is still good on the quilt). If there is any dirt on the air mattress I will clean it with a damp cloth. Air mattress will be stored unrolled with the valve open.

 

All my gear (backpacking, camping, boating, and all outdoor activities is stored in this section of the garage. At the upper right you can see my sleeping bags and quilts are loosely stored in breathable cotton bags.

Footwear

There are so many kinds of footwear it would be too lengthy to go over the care of each. Follow the manufacturer’s care instructions. Today many hikers are wearing nylon running shoes of a plethora of iterations.

For the past 5 years my primary hiking shoe are Mizuno Wave Universe 4 cross country racing flats. My size 12 shoes only weigh 4.9 ounces each. Because a shoe manufacturer will discontinue a great shoe, I stocked up by buying many pairs for my inventory anticipating they would be made obsolete by Mizuno, which of course did happen.

For most hikers trail running shoes usually suffer seam failure on the uppers or sole separation from the upper before the sole wears out. I suspect some of the seam failures may be due to wearing shoes that are too tight. For me, I usually have to replace shoes because the bottoms wear out first, not the uppers.

However, my Mizuno shoes do get upper wear from abrasion and minor tears from sharp objects like rocks and cacti as the pictures below document.

The good news about seam separation, small rips and tears is they can easily be repaired using McNett Seam GripMany experienced backpackers will seam seal new shoes where they know the seams will separate on them.

Here’s a picture of my current shoe and my last new pair in inventory. As you can guess, I left the fire engine red color for last — but I bought them at a great price on sale, so color was immaterial 🙂

I usually wash my shoes after each trip in a pail of plain water and a soft brush. No detergent or other cleaner is used because they will stink no matter what one tries to do. Also stains don’t bother me — they’re hiking shoes not urban wear.

Dirt and Body Oils are Your Clothes Enemy

Most of the rest of the gear you want to take special care of, after every trip, is your clothing. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions especially with down, “waterproof breathable” items, and wool. Pay particular attention to the drying instructions. For wool I just use WooliteFor everything else I use the appropriate NikWax product.


Backpacks

I usually wash my packs once a year, on a day my wife isn’t at home to object, in the bath tub with warm water (not hot) and use a small amount of Dawn dishwashing soap. With my non-Cuben packs I scrub the outside with a soft nylon brush. On the inside I gently use a soft cotton cloth because you do not want to damage any water proof coatings. More important than removing the dirt is to remove any salts from perspiration. Animals are attracted to the salt and can end up chewing and eating your pack while you sleep 🙁

With Cuben I gently wash with a cotton cloth because the material is not very abrasion proof.

If you pack has an internal frame, leave it in the pack. Some packs will shrink a little making very, very difficult to put the frame stays back in. 

Always air dry your pack, AVOID dryers!!

Battery Powered Devices

Remove the batteries when storing electronics. Also check terminals for corrosion and clean right away. Better yet, leave the electronics at home 😉

Everything Else

Wash or clean every piece of gear. Optics have special requirements. You especially want to throughly wash cooking utensils and water containers.

I have an outdoor sink with running cold and hot water, so Joyce doesn’t care what I wash in it, which is not true about the indoor sinks!

Conclusion

With a little time and care you can make your gear last a long time, eliminating the need to constantly replace stuff due to a premature death. Of course if you like buying gear, lust over new gear and reviews, and have to have the latest and greatest new product offerings, you don’t need to follow anything I wrote; a mental health care practitioner might be a better option for you. 🙂

 

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