Post-Trip Cleanup: Caring for Your Gear
The return from a trip is usually just as chaotic as the frenzied packing. Inevitably, we get home late at night with commitments the following morning. Post-trip cleanup simply doesn’t happen the way we intend. But take a step back from the bedlam, slow down, and think about how you care for your gear when the trails have been trekked and the rivers run. After all, properly cleaning and storing our equipment will keep it in prime condition for our next adventure. If you’ve thrown out the care guide for your latest investment, here’s what I recommend for post-trip cleanup and long-term care.
Tents are often packed up still holding the morning dew and promptly forgotten about in our rush for hot showers at home. It’s important to set your tent up or hang it to dry completely once you return, which will prevent mildew. Shake it out well, or turn it inside out to remove the sand and dirt that you tracked in. Those particles can result in punctured or worn fabric if they’re not removed. Take care not to leave your tent in direct sunlight while it dries; those UV rays are as harsh on nylon as they are on our skin. After most trips, this routine will be enough.
Once a year, it doesn’t hurt to dive into some deeper maintenance. You can wash your tent with a mild soap or use Nikwax Tech Wash, and I find it best to wash by hand. Use a soft sponge to scrub any mud or stains off. This may also be a good time to seam seal your rain fly if it’s been a while, and while you’re at it treat the rain fly with TX Direct to re-waterproof it. Take a minute to check the poles— is the shock cord still intact, or is it time to revitalize the old? If your tent is more than a few years old, it may be due for solar proofing, as well. Finally, inspect your tent body and fly for pin-sized holes that need patched, and cover those with a combination of seam sealant and repair tape.
Backpacks and Stuff Sacks
Backpacks don’t need much care, but on the rare occasion they become salt-stained and hold onto a foul odor at trip’s end. Dunk your pack in a tub with a mild soap such as Dr. Bronner’s and agitate it. A brush may be needed to remove pesky stains. Make sure you let the pack dry completely before storing it, since hip belts and harnesses can harbor water well after the rest has dried.
Stuff sacks, compression sacks, and dry sacks can also be dunked in a mild soap solution. Again, air dry is best. These don’t need washed often but should be hung up to dry after every trip.
When you have to hold your breath before you crawl into your sleeping bag, it’s time for laundry. Sleeping bags don’t need washed often, but a yearly cycle will extend the life and comfort of your bag. Sleeping bags are delicate, however, and improperly washing a bag can damage it. Care options differ for synthetic- and down- filled bags. Synthetic bags are easy to care for—toss it in the washer with a mild detergent and let it run.
For all the benefits of down, it requires a little extra care when laundry day comes. I recommend washing your down bag with a special detergent like Nikwax Down Wash to keep your bag in the best condition. Down bags will need washed in cool water on a gentle cycle, and you’ll need a front-loading machine without an agitator. The agitator on your machine can tear the lining between the baffles, meaning all the bag’s down will end up clumped in one spot. Take care when transferring a wet bag from the washer to dryer, and never hang a soaked down bag to dry. The weight of wet down can tear the lining between baffles as the bag hangs. Bags can be dried on low heat, which may take several cycles. Adding a few tennis balls to the dryer will break up the clumps of down and return your bag to maximum loft.
When you get back from a trip, lay your sleeping pad out to dry. If it’s inflatable or self-inflating, leave the valve open so any moisture inside the pad can dry. With self-inflating pads, it’s best not to store the pad compressed. When the foam core is consistently compressed, it doesn’t inflate on its own next time it’s used. Rather than rolling it up, self-inflating pads can be left open and tucked in a closet.
Like most gear, sleeping pads should be washed with a mild soap every few months. Inflatable pads are especially important to clean, since packing them away with sediment can result in punctures. Strong detergents and cleaning products can wear down the airtight seal on inflatable pads, so take caution when cleaning.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but yes, you should do laundry after a trip. That’s not where most people run into problems. Rather, improperly washing garments is more likely to result in damaged fabrics. Most outdoor clothing has care instructions that differ slightly from what you may be used to. Whether your clothes are synthetic, bamboo, wool, or hemp, they’ll do best washed in cool water on a gentle cycle. As for drying, most apparel will last longer and perform best if you let it air dry. Wool takes special care, since heat will quickly transform your base layer or sweater into a child’s size. Bamboo, hemp, wool, and all mid-layers and jackets should be hung to dry.
Over time, the fill in your down jacket will begin to clump together due to dirt, grime, and oil. When this happens, your jacket loses much of its insulating power and it’s time for a restorative wash. Like down sleeping bags, your garment should be washed with a specialized down treatment. Wash in a front-loading machine, or hand wash in a bathtub. Once again, adding tennis balls to the dryer will break up those clumps and return the fluff to your winter jacket.
If your rain jacket starts to leak, it can often be given a second life just by cleaning it. As oils and particles clog the rain jacket’s pores, it becomes less breathable and prone to leaking. A simple clean can work wonders, but be sure to use a mild detergent such as Tech Wash that won’t degrade the waterproof membrane. Household detergents can sometimes ruin an expensive jacket. Rain jackets usually only need washed every few months, depending on their use. Once a year, it’s a good idea to treat your jacket with TX Direct wash-in waterproofing to restore the Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating.
Boots, Shoes, and Sandals
Inevitably, the smelliest piece of gear is our shoes. While that smell can never be fully extinguished, cleaning your footwear can provide some temporary relief. The same lesson as before rings true for footwear: use a mild soap. A scrub brush is essential for really cleaning the soles. Wash your shoes in a sink until the water runs clear. Remove the insoles before you let them air dry to prevent mildew from forming. Once clean, your shoes may need re-waterproofed, depending on the material. Leather boots and shoes can be treated with mink oil or a Nikwax product, which not only restores the water-repellency, but also extends the life of the leather. If the sole is separating from your shoe, a quick dose of Shoe Goo will keep you on your feet.
When sandal sweat becomes unbearable, a thorough washing is in order. Use Nikwax sandal wash—equipped with a scrub brush—to remove the foul-smelling bacteria in your sandals. Don’t forget to wash and scrub the straps, too! And if your sandal of choice happens to be Bedrocks or Chacos, you can send them back to the maker for a new sole or straps when the time comes. Keep your favorite sandals on your feet and out of the landfill!
If you have questions on how to care for your favorite piece or aren’t sure what cleaning product is best, stop by RRT or give us a call (513-248-7787) to chat with an expert. Likewise, our repair services are available for any tasks you’re not up to, from seam-sealing a tent to patching a leaky sleeping pad.
by: Will Babb