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December 2007

Make Your Gear Last Forever

Backpacker's Ultimate Fix-It Guide
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Fix it

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Clean it

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Make it


We should all hope to have camping equipment that requires regular TLC. It means we’re hiking a lot, because even the very best gear gets worn–even broken–with hard use. To make your stuff go the extra mile, tear out our illustrated guide to the 55 most common repairs and maintenance musts. You’ll get expert advice for preventive care, proper storage, and lots of inexpensive fixes. We guarantee you’ll save money and upgrade well-loved gear–and you’ll never have to abort a trip due to a balky stove or leaky tent.


fix iconStuck zipper
stuck zipperAccumulated dirt and grime causes zippers to snag. In the field, brush them off before pulling the slider. At home, clean the teeth with water and a toothbrush, or a vacuum cleaner. Don’t apply any lubricant to zippers–it will only attract more grit. Occasionally the looped wires form the zipper tracks will bend or separate under duress. Bob Upton, owner of Rainy Pass Repair, says you can simply straighten the damaged coils with a knife or needle.

fix icon No More Mold
"Have you ever pulled a tent out of the stuff sack and it smells like vomit?" asks MSR product manager Terry Breaux. "That’s the smell of moisture breaking down the waterproof coating." Even a few drops of condensation can cause mildew to grow, so never store a wet tent. After a rainy or humid night, drape the fly over a tree and turn the tent on its side to let the sun dry the bottom. At home, hang the tent on a clothesline or shower rod. Once it’s dry, store it loosely in a cotton pillowcase or mesh storage sack.

fix iconEliminate mildew (Online Bonus)
Kill black-spotted mildew with this cleaning regimen, which will remove the mold, though not the stain.

  • Mix one cup of Lysol household cleaner into one gallon of hot water (1:16 solution). Pitch the tent and clean it inside and out. Do not rinse–let it dry.
  • Cleanse the fabric by mixing one-cup table salt and one-cup lemon juice (concentrate is okay) into one gallon of hot water. Scrub the tent inside and out with this solution, then rinse the entire tent with a garden hose.

fix iconRemove pine sap
Scrub off sticky stuff with a sponge soaked in mineral oil, then rinse the spot thoroughly with hot water to remove the residue.

fix icon Restoring the floor (Online Bonus)
Just as seam tape will eventually crack and peel, so will the waterproof coating on your tent floor. You can restore the floor and get a few more seasons’ use out of it by using a pot scrubber to rub off as many loose flakes as possible. Then sponge off the floor so it is completely clean and allow it to dry. Using a foam brush apply McNett Tent Sure or some other DWR product that is designed specifically for restoring tent floor waterproof coatings (available at most outdoor stores).

fix icon Maintain a waterproof barrier
Invest in a footprint designed for your tent, or build your own using Tyvek or painter’s plastic. Even a thin barrier will extend the life of the tent floor and prevent ground soaking during heavy rain, says NOLS gear manager Kevin McGowan, who has been in charge of issuing and repairing NOLS trip equipment for more than two decades. In addition, keep DEET-based bug dope away from the tent fabric. Exposure to that solvent will eat away at the nylon’s waterproof coating.

Fact or Myth?
Q: Rolling is better than stuffing.
A: Fact! "Stuffing is bad practice," insists Mountain Hardwear product manager Chris Hilliard "Repeatedly cramming a tent into a stuffsack creates a lot of small radius bends in the fabric. These small edges end up being subjected to far more abrasion and moisture than the coating would be if the tent were folded." The traditional argument against folding has been that permanent creases weakened the fabric, but Hilliard says this is preposterous. "It would be impossible to fold the tent in the exact same place every single time," he claims. MSR’s Terry Breaux, a 20-year veteran of tent design and repair, agrees with Hilliard that rolling is the best option, because it eliminates micro-creases and segregates the dirty floor from the rest of the tent. Now make like the entire BACKPACKER staff and scurry to your gear closet to re-pack your tent.

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