What to do with your gear when the time has come to accept the changing of the seasons?
Whether you like it or not, the seasons change. With the fading daylight and dropping temperatures, the seasonal gear quiver is transformed. Some gear will get stashed in the corner of the garage (farewell 30 degree sleeping bag) while other pieces get dusted off and ready for action.
Perhaps you fled to Mexico for a beach vacation after a long summer filled with glaciated madness. Maybe you don’t want the party to end so you scurried to a faraway land where you can continue to indulge in various ascents. Viva la Mexico! Whatever your fall trajectory, your summer gear is yearning for your attention and eventually you’ll need to address it.
We all love procrastinating. However, nobody likes to uncover a rank sleeping bag filled with festering unwashed socks when spring rolls around. To avoid that most horrible of unwelcome surprises, we threw together a list of best practices for cleaning and storing your gear. May you channel your inner Marie Kondo and set yourself up for springtime success.
Keeping your bag clean and well maintained will extend its lifespan. Sleeping bags are a big part of the gear quiver and are a critical tool in keeping us warm on cold nights on the mountain. Preserving the down and the loftiness of the bag is essential when it comes to off-season storage and washing the bag is recommended as well. You can also use this time to seal up any small rips or tears where you may be losing down.
Washing bags multiple times a season is excessive. However, one wash a season can make a world of difference in helping to keep your bag smelling fresh and free of the griminess that can accumulate over time. You can wash your bag at home with a front loading washer or you can take it to a professional (a commercial front loading washer and dryer will yield best results), whatever you do just make sure you read the wash instructions on the tag before jumping into anything. It is important to use a gentle, non-detergent soap. Brands like Nikwax have a specific down wash. If you have the time, allow the sleeping bag to air dry as it will help to preserve the down. If you air dry make sure to avoid direct sunlight. If you choose to use the drier, make sure to choose a low tumble dry setting on low heat and use either tennis balls or dryer balls to help to avoid clumping. Before storing the bag, make sure it is completely dry. When storing the sleeping bag, allow the bag to splay out whether that be hanging in a closet or in a loose mesh bag. This will allow for loftiness during storage which in turn will help to preserve the down.
Your tent will inevitably become exposed to some wear and tear. If you have the time, the end of the season is the perfect time to brush out the inside and give it a full wash. During cleaning, examine the tent for any small tears in the fabric and check to make sure all the poles are in working order and not bent.
Handwashing the tent with cool water in a tub is the most effective and useful way to get a gentle clean that isn’t too hard on the fabric. Using a gentle soap like Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soap or Dawn will help efficiently clean the tent without causing too much abrasion. Allow the tent to soak for up to twenty minutes. When washing, don’t rub too vigorously or use anything with hard bristles to prevent removing the waterproof sealant. Finally, give the tent a good rinse and allow it to dry completely out of direct contact with the sun. Soap will help to remove any mold buildup but the best prevention is to not allow mold to build up in the first place by drying your tent out completely throughout the season and never storing it went wet. After drying the tent, you can decide if the tent needs the seams to be resealed. If you want even better waterproofing you can apply a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) to the outside of the tent.
Backpacks can take a beating throughout a long season. Buckles can break, knicks and scratches from crampons and ice axes tear up the fabric, and they just get dirty. For mountain guides there is usually a lot of dirtiness! A hand wash cycle similar to tents is recommended for cleaning backpacks. Like tents, you can decide whether you need or want to apply a waterproof spray, like a Nikwax spray directly on the pack. Depending on how the zippers are holding up, you can clean them out using a toothbrush or another type of soft bristle device. If you are having zipper problems certain lubricants (beeswax, petroleum jelly, lip balm, WD40) can be used to help with glide, however be cautious as some of these oils can spread onto the fabric.
Jackets are quite resilient, but through constant use that resiliency will wear down. It is important to keep jackets clean from dirt, grime, and body oils that will break down the fabric over time. Check cleaning instructions and wash your jacket in a conventional washer. If you decide a wash is necessary, use a high performance wash product like Grangers, Nikwax, or Gear Aid. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing wrong with washing your jacket even multiple times in a season. In the end, it will help with longevity. After washing your jacket, you may see some beading on the fabric (typical with Gore-Tex). This is a good sign that the waterproofing is still working. If you are not seeing beading, it’s probably a good time to reapply a DWR (Durable Water Repellent). Spray the entirety of the jacket, focusing on the areas that see rubbing and abrasion from things such as backpacks, harnesses, and gear slings. A sparkly clean waterproof jacket will add a pinch of relief as well as style points when spring comes around.
Upkeep of boots is essential. Boots are expensive and when cared for properly, they will last you for years. At the end of the season it’s a great idea to wash them using a 80:20 ratio of water to vinegar. Scrub away the dirt and other crud that has gathered since the last wash. It is also recommended to condition the boots (the type of conditioner will be dependent on the material of the boot). Check the laces and soles to see if either needs replacement. Resoling boots can usually be done through the brand of the boots website where they will often offer a list of authorized resolers.
Crampons, Ice Axe, and Hard Gear
Depending on how hard you have used your gear throughout the season, it may be time to consider sharpening your ice axe, ice screws, and/or crampons. Over time ice and rocks will dull the edges of your sharps. There are plenty of tutorials on how to do this online but the AMGA/Outdoor Research Video is a relatively thorough video that shows you how to sharpen your whole kit.
Another beneficial inspection is to make sure the bails and straps on your crampons are clean and functioning well. Also, this is a good time to ensure that carabiners and your crevasse rescue devices are still in good working shape without any corrosion, cracks, or grooves. Understanding when to retire your gear is critical to performance and ensuring that gear does not fail.
Take the time to inspect and clean your summer season gear now. Your future self will thank you once spring rolls around.