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December 2007

Make Your Gear Last Forever

Backpacker's Ultimate Fix-It Guide

BAGS/PADS

fix icon Protect the inside insulation (Online Bonus)
In addition to adding up to 10°F of warmth and about four ounces, a silk or polypro sleeping bag liner will help preserve the loft of a down bag according to Mountain Hardwear Product Manager Chris Hilliard. The liner absorbs moisture and body oils, protecting the feathers and inner lining. The result is a bag that’s drier for stuffing in the morning–and one that needs less washing.

fix iconProlong a bag’s life
Preserve the bag’s insulation by stuffing it as evenly as possible. First, pull the zipper down to six inches from the bottom to allow the bag to vent. Then grab the bottom of the bag, and push it into the stuff sack, rotating the sack as you cram the rest of the bag in. Leverage your strength by sitting cross-legged and holding the sack against your thigh (this is also a good way to warm up on a cold morning).

fix icon Suspend a sleeping bag
bagHang sacks loosely in a dry location. Use a ceiling hook in your gear closet, or string a wire cable to hang multiple bags from separate carabiners. Make sure the bag doesn’t touch the floor. If you lack space to hang your bag, store it in a large, breathable cotton or mesh storage sack. Never leave a down or synthetic bag in its stuff sack for extended periods.

fix icon Store pads flat (Online Bonus)
Doug Jacot, product manager for Therm-a-Rest advises putting away inflatable pads unrolled with the valve open–under a bed is perfect. This prevents mildew from any residual moisture and keeps the foam resilient. Air mattresses insulated with down or other batting (like Exped models) should also be stored unrolled so that the insulation is not compressed. Use a toothbrush to clean grit from the valve.

fix icon Stop the melt
Never leave sleeping bags or pads in your car on a hot summer day, when temperatures can exceed 160°F. That’s hot enough flatten a closed-cell foam pad. Self-inflating pads are slightly more heat-tolerant, but extreme temps can delaminate glue around the seams and valve.

fix iconClean your pad (Online Bonus)
If you sleep directly on your self-inflating pad on a hot summer night, Jacot says you should clean it when you get home. Body oils and sweat penetrate the pad over time and destroy the exterior polyurethane coating. They can also cause the outer fabric to delaminate from the foam. Give your pad an occasional scrub in the tub using mild soap and a vegetable brush.

fix icon Wash synthetics sparingly (Online Bonus)
Putting a down bag in a side-load washing machine can restore its loft, but synthetic fills can lose insulating ability after repeated launderings. The agitation can create small–particular in continuous filament insulations such as Polarguard 3D and Climashield–that cannot be repaired.

fix iconShell with holes (Online Bonus)
Ripstop patches or repair tape work for small tears according to Rainy Pass’ Julie Parker. Pinprick holes can also be plugged with a dab of Seam Grip–just make sure the bag dries for at least eight hours before you cram it in the stuffsack.

fix icon Stop feather flight
If you see a quill poking through the sleeping bag shell, Mountain Hardwear’s Chris Hilliard says to push it back inside. Pulling it out will create a bigger hole in the delicate material.

fix icon Hole in a sleeping pad
If your self-inflating pad goes flat, fix it with the repair kit provided by the manufacturer (always carry in the bottom of the pad stuff sack). The patch material and glue are designed to match the fabric in the pad. Effective substitutes include bicycle tire patch kits or Seam Grip, which can also seal a leaky valve joint.

fix icon Make your own sleeping bag liner with pillow pocket (Online Bonus)
There are many excellent mummy bag liners on the market made from silk, wicking Coolmax or cotton that cost anywhere from $20 to $80. While the fabric may seem fancy, the design of a liner is simple–basically a sheet folded in half and stitched together. If you have the time and desire to save money, follow these steps to make your own liner:

  • Supplies Go to a fabric store and pick out the liner fabric that best suits your needs. Weight and comfort should be your two main variables. While you’re there, pick up 8-10 tab snaps (inch-long pieces of fabric with snaps on the end) that will be used to attach the liner to the bag. Or you could opt for a yard or two of ribbon. You’ll also need a roll of packing paper or newsprint for tracing a pattern.
  • Lay your bag on the floor and roughly estimate the square yard surface area it occupies when zipped closed. Double this amount to come up with the estimate of how much fabric you will need to purchase. (1)
  • After you have your supplies, roll out the paper on the floor and place your bag on top. With the bag fully zipped, trace its shape onto the paper using a magic marker. Trace around the hood but also draw a line on the paper to mark for future reference where the top side of the bag ends (just below the chin when you’re zipped up in it). Cut out shape to create your paper pattern. (2)
  • Lay your fabric on the floor and carefully double it over, like a folded sheet. Place the paper pattern on top of the fabric with the pattern edge flush against the folded edge of the fabric.
  • Cut the fabric around the pattern at the bottom and open side. Do not cut along the folded side. You will also need to make adjustments in cutting the top to accommodate a pillow pocket. (3)
  • When preparing to cut the top of the fabric, use a yardstick to draw a rectangle onto one side of the doubled material that is the same width as the top of your sleeping bag but extends approximately 20 inches above the hood (allowing enough fabric to double over to create a pillow). (4)
  • On the other side of the fabric, use your pattern to determine where the liner should be marked and cut to create the head opening. The top side of the liner should be cut in a straight across to be flush with the top of your sleeping bag.
  • Once your fabric is cut out, fold it in half so that the exterior fabric (the side you don’t want against your skin) is exposed. Stitch together the bottom and open side about one inch in from the edge of the fabric. (5)
  • With the liner exterior fabric still facing out, sew the snap tabs or short pieces of ribbon to the bottom and both sides. The liner can be secured to the sleeping bag with two attachments equally spaced at the bottom and three equally spaced along each side. Snaps or ribbons will allow you to easily remove the liner for washing. (6)
  • Turn your sleeping bag inside out, place your liner on top of it and mark on the bag fabric where the matching snaps or ribbons need to go. Using a tack stitch, sew the attachments to the inside of your bag. (7)
  • Hem the top side your liner so it does not extend above your chin when you are inside the bag.
  • On the opposite side, hem around the liner where the pillow pocket will go. Double over this hemmed extension into a rectangle so that it fits inside the sleeping bag hood. Sew along the bottom and one vertical side of the rectangle so the pocket is closed on three sides and attached to the fabric underneath. This will leave the other vertical side open for stuffing a fleece or puffy jacket to create a removable pillow. (8)

    fix icon Patch a leaky pad

  • Locate the hole by inflating the mat and submerging it water. Look for the telltale stream of bubbles. If no standing water is available, spill water onto the pad and both watch and listen for the sound of escaping air. (1)
    Put your finger on the hole and pull the pad out of the water. (2)
  • Mark the hole with a piece of tape.
  • Deflate the pad and let it dry.
  • Fix pinprick holes by painting on a dime-sized dab of Seam Grip. (3)
  • For larger holes, follow the instructions on your pad’s patch kit or apply an adhesive patch fixed with Seam Grip.

fix icon Wash and dry a sleeping bag
A simple wash can de-skunk a well-used bag and revitalize down insulation. Follow these steps to clean down or synthetic bags.

  • Never wash a sleeping bag in a top-loading machine; the agitator will destroy the baffles. Use a front-loader and a large dryer. (1)
  • Zip the bag completely, attach all Velcro tabs and turn it inside out. (2)
  • Never use regular detergent or liquid soap. Use only mild powder soap (like Ivory Flakes) or a soap designed specifically for washing down or synthetic bags (see "Products"). Use cold water and put the washing machine on the delicate setting. (3)
  • Do at least two rinse cycles to remove soap residue. (4)
  • Gently move the wet bag from the washing machine to the dryer. Carry it draped over both arms to keep sodden insulation from ripping through baffles. (5)
  • Set the dryer on low and curl up with a good book–most bags take several hours to dry completely. (6)
  • Periodically check the bag to make sure it is not overheating and to smooth out clumps of insulation.
    wash

Fact or Myth
Q: Tennis balls help a down bag dry more efficiently.
A: Fact! Throwing several tennis balls into the dryer helps separate the clumps of down that accumulate during washing. This speeds drying and distributes feathers throughout the bag.

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