Maintenance to Make Your Gear Last a Lifetime

Who likes to change their oil? Clean out the gutters? Certainly, somebody has to enjoy taking out the trash; I mean, who can resist such a thrill? The fact of the matter is that simple maintenance is never a fun task and most people would rather pay someone else to do it; I can count the number of people I know who change their own oil on one hand. Even so, today I’m going to tackle the subject of gear maintenance to make sure your expensive gear isn’t disposed of prematurely in this “Kleenex” age.

We’ll start with the big three as I like to call them: backpacks, sleeping bags, and tents. Backpacks are pretty simple, in that if you get a pack made by a reputable manufacturer, it will last you many years. The only maintenance you can perform on a back other than making sure mud doesn’t stay caked on it after a trip and ensuring it’s dry before you put it in storage. However, while using it, don’t treat it like a lazy kindergartener walking home from school, leaving it fully loaded and dragging it behind you. While obvious, you’d be surprised how much gear I’ve seen ruined by being dragged down rocky trails (the tally is 3 backpacks and 1 tent). Tents need a little more maintenance than backpacks. The rules of backpacks apply to tents (don’t drag, don’t store wet or muddy), but there’s a few extra things to do as well. First, when setting up the poles, don’t just pull them out of the bag and throw them in the air hoping they will be assembled by the time they land; if the elastic is tight in the poles (which, if it isn’t, is easily replaced) it will snap the ends of the poles together, possibly fracturing or chipping the poles. While packing up, as strange as it sounds, try not to roll up the rain fly in the same place time after time. Constant creasing will actually wear through the waterproof coating causing the tent to leak over time. Finally, sleeping bags share all the maintenance tips of backpacks and tents (except the pole part) including the packing tips. Rolling a sleeping bag in the same pattern over and over will cause the insulation to break down in the creases, leaving you with many cold spots to freeze you during the night; it’s also much harder to fit in the storage bag. This is why I use the “stovepipe stuff” method, where you start with the tail end of your sleeping bag and just stuff it in its storage sack bit by bit. Additionally, when storing your sleeping bag for a long period of time, never leave it in a compression sack or smaller stuff sack. Insulation is a fickle beast and doesn’t hold up well to constantly being stored compressed so put it in a large laundry bag or something similar to give it breathing room while sitting in the closet.

Rain jackets and waterproof shoes are miraculous inventions in that they keep you dry but after a while, the magic sort of wears away. The duration of the magic is determined by the material used and is why Gore-Tex Ran jackets start at $200; eventually, even the most expensive rain jacket will let water start to soak into the fabric. When this happens, don’t throw away the jacket. Get a bottle of Revivex from your local outdoor store and follow the directions to restore your rain jacket to almost-new levels of rain repellency. $14 is a lot better than the $100+ for a new jacket or a pair of boots.

Kayaks are relatively maintenance free other than making sure they don’t bake in the sun. UV damage weakens the plastic, making it more brittle so that it’s more easily damaged by rocks. You can prevent this by either putting a spray such as 303, or by putting it somewhere out of direct sunlight. Another concern is when storing the kayak, is to store it on its side. This helps prevent the “oil-canning” where the plastic dents.  Another simple thing is making sure that no creepy crawlies, the technical term for spiders and other insects, get inside of your kayak. This is easily fixed with a cockpit cover which makes sure nothing can crawl, fly, or slither inside.

Phew, ok, still with me? Good! The most important aspect of gear maintenance is to test it out every chance that you get. In fact, this weekend, I’ll be pulling out my winter gear for a family Thanksgiving trip. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving…and I hope you read my next article before Christmas, but if not, Merry Christmas.

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