For most hikers, winter spells the end of the hiking season until the spring thaw brings us back out from our caves.
But wait, before you hunker down by the fireplace with a good book, take just a little time out to make sure you put away your gear properly so that it’ll be there for you for many seasons to come.
Here are five quick steps you can take to prolong the lifespan of your valuable outdoor gear. Don’t wait until spring to tackle these changes — grab this list and go to your gear closet now.
1. Rewaterproof your rain gear at the start of every hiking season. This maintenace will keep the outside environment from penetrating under the surface at inconvenient times.
The standard waterproof coating will degrade over time, allowing more condensation buildup, and eventually just soaking right through even after a light rain. Look for something like NikWax.
2. Store your sleeping bag uncompressed. You can keep it in breathable cotton, mesh, or canvas stuff sacks placed on shelves, hung in the closet or just spread out in the spare room across the bed.
Storing your bag compressed, although a space saver, will eventually ruin the insulating capacity of your sleeping bag. The pressure crushes down feathers and breaks synthetic fibers, reducing their ability to trap air and thus keep you warm.
3. Dry it out. Hang your expensive sleeping bags and tents to dry inside-out after every trip. Cutting down on any moisture will decrease the growth of mildew during storage.
4. Combat mold. Uncap water bottles and open up hydration bladders when not in use. Free air flow will prevent moisture from being trapped inside and developing a nasty case of mold.
Take it from me, forgetting your water bladder for several weeks after a trip in the depths of your backpack in generally not a great idea.
If you really want to combat mold, try storing your hydration bladders and tubes in your refrigerator. The cold air will slow down the mold that infiltrates hard-to-clean nooks of the bladders and tubes.
5. Preserve your power. Keep your battery-powered goodies and any extra batteries in a cool, dry spot. Extreme heat (much more than cold) will drain batteries quicker than a vampire convention at a blood bank.
There’s nothing like fumbling in the dark for “fresh” batteries to replace your headlamp, only to discover that they aren’t so fresh after all.