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How to Clean and Store Your Gear

By properly cleaning and storing your gear this fall, you'll spare yourself the hassle of removing mildew, repairing equipment and finding those pesky tent poles next spring.
Fall is a great time to take stock of your hiking and camping gear, especially if you don't plan on hiking quite as much in the winter season. Before you pack up the tents, put away the sleeping bags and hang up the hiking boots, it's a good idea to give your gear a little TLC to make sure it will last through the winter and beyond.

Below are basic tips for cleaning and storing your gear, so it will last.

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Boots

Good boots should last forever, or at least as near to it as possible, and the off-season is the perfect time to make sure they do. Clean your boots and treat them with leather or fabric treatment. Be sure to dry them completely before storing (you may need to take out the footbeds). If your boots are older, consider going to the cobbler to get them re-soled.

Tents

As with all equipment, the most important part of storing your tent is making sure it's dry. Before packing it away, set it up and let it dry out completely, then either pack it loosely in a large bag or hang it up. Make sure to clean the dirt off all poles and stakes and store them with the tent to avoid a frantic search come spring. Check closely around zippers and seams for any small rips to be repaired.

Backpacks

After a summer of use, backpacks can get pretty smelly. Luckily, cleaning them is fairly simple. You can  wash your backpack in front-loading washing machines with cold water and gentle cleaners like Woolite, NikWax Tech Wash or Gear Aid MiraZyme. Or, if it's too large for a machine, hand-wash it with the same detergents. Hang upside down to dry (never machine dry) then store hanging up or lying flat.

Sleeping bags

Like your backpack, your sleeping bag can get fairly pungent after a long summer. You won't want to wash your bag to frequently, but to wash your bag before storing it, use a gentle soap (not a detergent) or technical cleaner, like those from from NikWax or GearAid in a large, front-loading washing machine. Never dry clean your bag or use a top-loading machine with a center spindle.

Once it's clean, dry your bag on low heat. If you have a down bag, toss a couple tennis balls in with it to avoid clumping. Then pack it loosely in a cotton or mesh bag, or hang it up for the winter.

Sleeping pads

Use the post-season to check for and repair and leaks you might have in your inflatable sleeping pads. Once they're in working condition, store your inflatable pads fully inflated with the valve open. Though bulky, they can be stored upright in a closet or under a bed to save space.

Water purifiers, water bottles hydration systems

Make sure to completely dry both purifiers and the hydration systems (including the tubing). Remove and dry the purifier's filter, as well. Wash water bottles with warm, soapy water and dry out completely. If necessary, follow the manufacturer's instructions to clean the hydration system before storing it.

Hard- and soft-shell jackets and pants

Before storing your well-worn jackets and pants, it's a good idea to clean and treat them. Follow the instructions in Allison Woods' article from March 2006 and avoid normal detergents, as these can damage durable weather resistant (DWR) fabrics, and instead use a technical cleaner like NixWax Tech Wash.