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Guide to Cleaning Your Outdoor Gear

By Jack Shaw

Proper outdoor gear care can effortlessly save you thousands of dollars. Tents, backpacks, sleeping bags and other hiking accessories cost you hundreds — some even come with a hefty price tag that others can only afford once. Maintenance is essential to minimize frequent replacements and reduce waste.

So, how should you clean your tools to make them last? Follow this guide for expert preservation tips.

Starting With the Right Cleaning Agents

Each piece of outdoor equipment is made from a different material. Boots are traditionally made of leather, while trail runners have a fabric or mesh construction for breathability. The makeup of your tools is an important consideration when choosing the right cleaning product.

Which is your safest bet? It depends. Some cleaners are specially formulated for specific applications. Sometimes, they’re pre-diluted to reduce harshness, while others are concentrated. Thankfully, typical household supplies often work with outdoor gear. 

How Long Does a Warmlite Tent Last

Tips for Cleaning Your Outdoor Gear

Regular outdoor gear cleaning can impact the life span of your camping accessories. Here are techniques to do it right.

Clothes

How do you wash outdoor clothes? Jackets, overalls, trousers and base layers made of nylon or polyester can generally withstand regular laundering on a washer. However, check for specific care labels, like water temperature, wash cycle and type of detergent.

Washing a synthetic material like polyester in high heat instead of warm or cold water can break down the fibers and damage the garment. If there’s no guidance on which detergent to use, the safest option is a mild type.

Footwear

Leather-made hiking boots require special care and frequent cleaning to prevent dirt buildup on the surface. Unfortunately, you can’t soak them in water, as the leather can dry out, shrink or crack. 

For the cleaning process, de-lace the boots before starting. Use a leather cleaner and a soft-bristled brush to scrub the surface, dislodging stubborn dirt until clean. For grease stains, sprinkle a talcum or baby powder and let it sit for a couple of hours, allowing it to absorb the oil. Brush again to powder off. Use a conditioner to polish dry or cracked areas.

Trail runners are water-safe, so use a sponge and mild detergent to scrub the outer areas. After rinsing, dry naturally.

Tents

Tents are a pricey purchase for many outdoor fanatics. Therefore, cleaning and storing methods are crucial for this gear’s longevity.

Since a washing machine can tear or stretch the fabric, you can only wash it manually to retain quality. Hand clean with water and mild detergent without brushing. Use a technical cleaner if it’s available. You can buy this online or at any outdoor equipment shop. Brush off the fine sand in between zippers.

You’ll also want to keep an eye on the metal fixtures, especially any that are directly exposed to the environment, as it’s easy for rust to build up over time. Acidic cleaners with a pH below seven are going to be ideal for cutting through rust and mineral stains, while alkaline cleaners are ideal for the general dirt and grime on the tent fabric. 

If you notice some tears or cuts, fix them with a patch before they get bigger. Cut a matching fabric in a circle, but give a 1/2 to 3/4 inches allowance to overlap on each side of the opening. Use silicone to glue the patch to the tent.

The Campsite “Warmlite” tents “Warm & Light”

Photo Credit: Bernie Friel

Backpacks

Most carrying gear is washable by hand or washing machine. Still, check the label for any special instructions. Some bags aren’t safe to submerge in water.

Before tossing the backpack in the washer, remove all the contents, crumbs and dust with a makeup brush or a vacuum. Unzip all pockets. Use a gentle, scented- and dye-free detergent. Rinse and let it air dry.

If you prefer to do it by hand, use a soft brush and dish soap to scrub the dirt, stains and grime. Don’t forget the hard-to-reach crevices. Rinse and hang it upside down to dry. 

Here’s an additional tip — washing should deodorize your camping gear. However, if odors persist, add a pine disinfectant to the rinse cycle or mix some vinegar and dish soap to remove the bad smell on the backpack.

Sleeping Bags

Like tents, high-quality sleeping bags can be expensive. Proper care can make them last for years. Sleeping bags are either filled with synthetic fiberfill or down — both are washable on a machine. However, they use different cleaning agents. Between the two, fiberfill is easier to clean because of its non-sensitive material.

Use a regular laundry detergent and cold or warm water on a delicate machine cycle for fiberfill. Once done, dry on a low heat setting. Set it out overnight, ensuring it’s moist-free before you store it.

Meanwhile, the second material requires more delicate care to maintain its loft and insulation. What detergent should you use on down sleeping bags? There are specialty cleaners formulated with substances that protect their insulating properties, so only use these products. They help extend the life of your camping tools. 

Vapor Barrier Liners

You can lose up to 4 pounds of body fluids when you’re asleep and overheated. This liquid transfer affects the quality of your gear. Items with vapor barrier liners (VBL) prevent sweat from soaking your sleeping bag or bedroll, leading them to require less washing. Plus, they protect you from dehydration and mineral loss.

Refrain from washing your VBL socks, gloves, shirts, jackets and pants frequently since detergent and water can reduce their vapor barrier properties. Hand wash all your VBL items using a gentle detergent, then dry naturally. Clean only when necessary to keep their special features.

Marie Soleil Blais

Photo Credit: Marie Soleil-Blais

Make Your Outdoor Gear Last

If you wonder why your sleeping bags no longer keep you warm as they once did or why your tent has lost its waterproof feature, ask yourself if you’re cleaning and storing them properly.

Some outdoor equipment can withstand years of use, but only if you properly care for them. Maintain the performance and quality of your camping and hiking tools by including gear cleaning as part of your outdoor routine

Author Bio

Jack Shaw is the senior writer for Modded, a men’s lifestyle publication. An avid outdoorsman, he’ll often find himself taking retreats out into nature to explore his environment and encourages others to do the same. His writings have been published by Duluth Pack, Trekaroo, Lehman’s and more.