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Gear is an investment, and especially because with outdoors gear you may not use it very often, you need to take even greater care in proper storage & maintenance. Otherwise you may use it two times, and then find that by the third time (potentially some several years down the line) it's already noticeably under-performing or completely unusable! And that, certainly would not be getting your money's worth!
Those 4 words represent an essential gear storage & maintenance philosophy. 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.
Every once in awhile we understand you just need to wash the entire thing. We recommend:
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.
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:
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 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 waterproof 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!
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 everything (and care for it well, so you don't have to)!
Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear!