Ever have the experience of getting ready for a trip, pulling something out of the back of the closet, and catching a whiff of that distinct... moldy-mildewy smell? It's a very common experience! And it would be especially heartbreaking for quality gear! If you follow our advice, your gear will last for much longer, giving you the chance to actually get your money's worth! Of course if the maintenance & storage looks too troublesome, well that's why we rent camping gear (and care for it well, so you don't have to)!
Gear not in use should be cleaned & dried and then stored loose & in a dark environment. The below information is the most widely applicable, for specific gear items, check our individual gear guides to learn more.
It's important to store gear after it's clean, to avoid attracting pests, or letting stains set & become permanent. However, even if washed in the most delicate way possible, wih each washing, technical fabrics machine washing can lose some performance (e.g., waterproofing or insulation). Furthermore, machine washing or drying can also damage gear, e.g., if loose straps get snagged & pull to rip the fabric. That's why we recommend spot cleaning as much as possible, see some tips below! Note: if wet gear has picked up lots of dirt, twigs, etc., wait for it to dry then shake it clean, nothing else needed.
- Use just water & scrub a little
- Use a mild, diluted Castille soap
- Use diluted vinegar
- Let soak with alcohol for sticky sap
- Always check manufacturer's instructions
Every once in awhile we understand you just need to wash the entire thing. We recommend:
- Ideally use gear appropriate detergents
- Pre-treat heavy stains
- Use cold water
- Hand-wash. If you must use a machine, tie off loose straps or put the entire item into a pillowcase or other bag that you can wash, to minimize risk of straps getting snagged & damaging gear. Use the gentlest setting
- Air-dry most gear, out of direct sun (ultraviolet, UV, rays can damage gear). Gear with insulation filler (e.g., sleeping bags) that need lofting should be tumble-dried on lowest heat setting (excessive heat can melt synthetic parts) with tennis balls to help 're-fluff'
If you have super nice gear that you'd rather not risk washing yourself (e.g., a high end down sleeping bag or jacket) we can wash it for you, and while you wait you can rent outdoor gear at a discount.
Of course outdoor gear is designed to stand up to rain, but before you store it, it needs to be completely dry (have you heard the term 'bone dry'? yup!). Any bit of moisture can promote mold or mildew growth, which not only smells terrible but can lead to health hazards. In storage, gear should also be kept in a dry environment (not something humid like a bathroom).
Technical fabrics (e.g., used in tent-like structures) are difficult to dry because:
- Fabric should be fully spread out (folds may just hold water), which can require a lot of space
- Air-drying is best (the sun's UV rays damage waterproofing & UV-repellant treatments)
- Towels may just spread water around
For tent-like structures, the best approach is to keep it pitched until it air-dries, which can take several hours, because you may have to first dry the rainfly, then remove it, dry the body. And then sometimes you may need to dry the bottom by flipping the structure on its side. In these efforts, it's best to find dry ground, otherwise one side may be perpetually wet!
This is also why for our customers who rent tents or rent shade structures, we offer the convenience of Water Guard, where you pay a small amount upfront, and we will dry it for you.
When it's not working for you, your gear needs to 'rest' and recuperate its performance. This means you generally want to store things loosely, rather than compact (which unfortunately means a greater space requirement). It's hard to apply this generally to gear, so we'd like to review what this means for the 3 main camping essentials
Specifically for tent-like structures: For at-home storage, loosen the stuff sack a bit & don't keep the tent super compressed. Another note, don't keep creasing the tent along the same lines or the waterproof coating may wear out faster at the crease (this is probably the easiest to do because most people do not fold a tent up exactly the same way each time).
Specifically for sleeping bags: Sleeping bags are generally sold with 2 stuff sacks: 1) small & compact, 2) larger mesh one (like a big laundry bag). Since keeping the insulation material continually compressed damages its ability to keep you warm, you should store it loosely in the larger mesh bag at home.
Specifically for sleeping pads: If your sleeping pad is partially self-inflating or made with open-cell foam which holds air, keeping it compressed strains these cells and reduces the inflatability of the pad. Therefore, at home, you should ideally keep these unrolled with the air valve open.
Or... out of direct sunlight. UV-rays break down the the water-repellant treatments that most gear undergoes. Did you know, you should even set up tents in the shade?? This is why in the section on drying above, we specifically mention air-drying not sun-drying. And, while this rarely happens outside, extreme heat, which can be caused by direct sunlight, can damage gear as well, so you may want to avoid long term storage in a car!