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Backpacking Gear Maintenance Tips

Extend the life of your pack, sleeping bag, and tent with these tips.
sewing pack mesh 445x260Illustration by Supercorn

Protect Your Tent

Prevent mildew » After every trip, pitch your tent in your yard and let it air-dry. If it’s wet outside, drape it inside (over chairs or doors) and rotate or fluff it every hour or so until it is completely dry. » Scrub down the tent body, rainfly, stuffsacks, poles, and stakes at least once a season. Use a sponge and a bucket of warm water with a few drops of mild detergent to wash the canopy and rainfly inside and out. Also scrub each pole section and the stakes. Rinse everything with clean water, and store (loosely rolled or stuffed) when it’s thoroughly dry.

Remove musty odors » You can’t get rid of splotchy, black mildew stains, but you can kill mold and banish its smell. First, fully submerge and soak your tent in a tub filled with water and a cup of Lysol. Rinse it (with a hose or by soaking it in clean water), pitch it, and let it dry. Then, scrub the tent with a plastic-bristled brush and a mix of a cup of salt, a cup of concentrated lemon juice, and a gallon of hot water. Let it air dry, rinse, and dry again completely before storing.

Preserve Your Pack

» Straps Reduce stress on weight-bearing stitches by picking up your pack by the center loop, not the shoulder or compression straps. If your bag’s too heavy to slide into on your own, get a pal’s help or prop it on a log so you can shoulder it without stressing the straps and stitching.
» Buckles During transport, close plastic fasteners, which could break if caught in a baggage conveyor belt, closed in a car door, or whacked during a rope haul.
» Packbag Remove grit and crumbs, and scrub salty sweat stains with a plastic-bristled brush, warm water, and mild dish soap (rinse thoroughly) at least once a season to prevent critters from gnawing into the materials. To tame odor, spray or rinse with MiraZyme Odor Eliminator ($9; 8 oz; gear-aid.com). Wearing through a high-abrasion area like the base? Extend its life by painting it with a thin coat of Gear Aid Seam Grip ($7; 1 oz.); use Sil Net ($7; 1.5 oz.) for silnylon fabrics.
» Pockets Don’t overstuff, which stresses seams, mesh, and zippers. When you’re away from your pack, store food elsewhere and hang your empty bag from a branch by the center loop. Leave the pockets unzipped so curious rodents won’t chew through fabric to inspect odors (they’ll just climb in unimpeded). Use a whip stitch (see illustration above) to sew holes in mesh before outside pockets become useless.

Extend Bag Life

» Unpack Lay out and loft your bag when you arrive at camp, and sleep in your cleanest baselayers to prevent body oils from infiltrating the lining and insulation. In the morning, air out your sleeping sack by slinging it over your tent or a dry branch—be careful not to rip it—until you’re ready to pack.
» Unzip and airdry Hang your bag for 24 hours after each trip. If necessary, spot-clean with a water and detergent paste and an old toothbrush. Maintain loft by stashing it unstuffed in a closet or under the bed. » Clean. Wash in a front-loading machine with a purpose-built detergent when its interior stinks, its outside is dirty, or the insulation has noticeably lost loft (about once a year or after 20 to 30 nights of use; overwashing will damage it). See a step-by-step video demo for washing how-tos at backpacker.com/sleepwash. To maintain a waterproof/breathable finish, spray the outer shell with ReviveX Instant Waterproofing Spray ($11; 5 oz.; gear-aid.com) after your bag’s washed and completely dried.

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