How to care for your camping gear

By Thomas Ray

How to care for your camping gear

Your camping gear, especially the fundamental pieces, constitute a sizeable investment—certainly enough to warrant taking good care of them. The life of sleeping bags, tents and other equipment can be extended dramatically through simple maintenance. Most importantly, keeping your gear in shape goes a long way to ensure your safety and enjoyment while in the outdoors. 

1. Sleeping bags

A good night’s rest can make all the difference in how your day goes, and this is doubly true while camping. Take care of your bag. 

Store it inside your home, preferably in a mesh bag.

Never use it directly on the ground. 

Use a sleeping pad. 

Spot clean stains promptly. 

Air it out daily while camping and thoroughly before storage. 

Your sleeping bag will spend most of its time in storage. Instead of leaving it packed tightly in a stuff sack, store it in a larger container, like a mesh bag, so that it maintains its loft. The air trapped by the loft is what keeps you warm. If this is lost, your bag will no longer work as it should. 

Use a lightweight liner in your bag to keep it clean. This could be made from a material you like to sleep on at home, such as a flannel sheet, or it can be purchased. After each trip, remove the liner, and wash and store it separately. A liner will greatly minimize the need for cleaning.

Washing and drying any sleeping bag, especially a down bag, can be tricky. Be sure to read and follow all manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning. A special detergent must be used for down, so that its natural oils and any waterproofing won’t be stripped away. It is available at outdoor stores like REI. You can wash it in a bathtub in cool water or in a commercial-style front loading machine. If you don’t have a front loader, you can use the laundromat. Don’t use a machine with an agitator. Pretreat any spots and use the gentle cycle. If you wash it in a tub, let it soak for an hour or two and rinse twice in cool water. Mash all the water you can out of it before picking it up. This will prevent damage to the baffles. Put it in the dryer on the lowest heat setting possible along with a couple of dry towels. Check it often to make sure it’s not getting too hot. When it is almost dry, put in two or three tennis balls. This will help break up clumping and restore loft. It may take up to three hours to dry the bag.

Afterwards, air it out on a sunny day or lay it out on the bed for a day or two to make sure it is completely dry before storing. If you don’t feel you are up to this challenge, Rainy Pass Repairs offers a high-quality laundering service for sleeping bags. For more information, visit 

2. Tents and flies

Much like your sleeping bag, your tent and rain fly is a sizeable investment. Most likely it is made from nylon. Unless the seams of your tent and rain fly were pre-sealed, you had to seal them before their first use. This may have to be done several times over the life of the tent and its rain fly to prevent leaks. Try to allow your tent to dry each day before packing up if on an extended trip. Set it up when you return home, sweep out any debris, and let it dry thoroughly before storage. Also remember these simple tips:

Keep your tent clean.

Stake to prevent wind damage.

Always use a ground sheet, such as a piece of plastic sheeting.

Keep food, hot liquids, and solvents well away from your tent.

Avoid holes from sparks.

Never cook inside a tent.

Store tents away from direct sunlight. 

Never wash your tent or fly with soap. It could destroy water resistance.

3. Packs

Compared to tents and sleeping bags, packs are easy to care for. When carrying liquids in containers, placing them inside plastic bags can be cheap insurance to make sure you don’t end up with a mess. Try to keep your pack as clean as possible. Take care when choosing where you set it down. 

Use a pack cover to protect the pack and keep its contents dry.

Regularly inspect straps and buckles for wear and spot clean as necessary. 

Be careful when transporting liquids, especially fuel, in a pack. 

When in bear country, always hang your pack and food bags.

4. Water filters and containers

Clean and dry all water containers before storage. Backwash, disinfect, and dry your filter after each trip according to manufacturer’s instructions. Replace cartridges as necessary. Test all filters before each trip to make sure they are in proper working order.

5. Knives

Always follow applicable laws regarding knives in the areas in which you camp. Keep your knives sharp. This will prevent accidents from slips. If you have a fixed blade knife, make sure its sheath is in proper order. Keep a thin coat of oil on carbon steel knives when not in use to prevent rust. Never walk about with an open or unsheathed knife. 

Taking proper care of your most expensive pieces of gear will increase your outdoor enjoyment. Happy trails!

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