Tips for Caring for Your Camping Gear So It Lasts a Lifetime
We love our gear, don’t we?
The satisfaction of a beautiful zipper entry, the silkiness of a soft down sleeping bag, the delight when an entire tent that protects you from the elements can pack down and fit in your hand. And our gear takes us places—beautiful, scary, exhilarating places, far from the comforts of home. But somehow our gear makes us feel even more at home, happy and satisfied and comfortable in our most adventuresome moments.
But then we abuse our gear.
Sometimes we’re in a hurry, we’re in a pinch, or we just don’t know. We think it’s impenetrable, indestructible and impervious. We mistake smart design for superhero powers, and commit unspeakable crimes against our beloved gear.
We consulted our in-house gear care aficionados for the down low on what NOT to do with our gear, and here’s what they had to say.
1. Storing Gear Wet
This ranks up there at number one because it happens so often, and it is the grossest and the worst crime, resulting in moldy, mildewy, stinky and all-around nasty tents and sleeping bags. This breaks down seam tape and waterproof coatings, and can take good gear to bad in a short time. Even if your tent or bag is not soaking wet when you pack it up, there’s a good chance it’s slightly moist due to condensation or dew. A good rule of thumb is to unpack it and air it out after every trip. This is also a good time to check for holes and damage before packing it away for the next adventure.
Here’s what you need to know:
- While camping, air your sleeping bag out for 15-20 minutes each morning before packing it up. Your body generates heat and moisture each night, so the inner fabric holds a little moisture. A good tip is to turn it inside out or unzip it fully while making breakfast at camp.
- When you get back from your trip, set up your tent in an airy place and allow it to fully dry.
- Hang your sleeping bag in indirect sunlight and let it air out for 24 hours. It may help to turn it inside out.
- Roll out your sleeping pad and make sure the valve is open so any moisture inside can dry.
- Sometimes it’s a day or two before you can unpack wet gear, and while this isn’t ideal, it’s not the end of the world. Just do it as soon as you can.
- While you’re at it, get the dirt out of your tent—open the door, shake it out, and clean the zipper with soap and water and a wet towel. Periodically it’s a good idea to use a silicone zipper lubricant.
- When your gear is clean and dry, store it loosely in a cool, dry place.
2. Storing it Compressed
Listen, we get the delight of how small some of this gear packs up. But storing it that way for long stretches of time will permanently damage it. This goes for tents, pads and bags. We can’t solve the problem of small studio apartments and tiny gear closets, but we can tell you how much your gear hates being tightly packed:
- Sleeping bags will gradually lose their loft and insulating abilities as the down or synthetic insulation breaks down.
- Tents can get permanent creases and kinks over time.
- Synthetic insulation in sleeping pads can break down and lose effectiveness.
- Integrated foot pumps in sleeping bags are made of foam and can become damaged by being compressed and lose its ability to rebound.
All that to say, store your gear loosely rolled or stuffed in mesh or cotton bags that offer breathability.
3. Overwashing or Underwashing
This may go down in history as one of the most debated questions, alongside who is the best Batman, and was it the chicken or the egg. The thousands of adults who still have their childhood sleeping bags and never once washed them are balanced out by the serial sleeping bag washers who pop their bags in the washer after every trip out. Thankfully, we’ll add a common sense take on this.
If you notice that your bag smells like you (sometimes you need a friend to confirm), is losing loft, is oily, or is dirty, it’s time to wash it. Dirt and oil can compromise the insulation abilities of your bag.
But there is no need to wash it at the first smudge of dirt or if it has a faint odor. Overwashing your bag wears out the fabric and the seams. Not only does this make your nice, lofty bag a little sad looking by stripping the down if its natural oils, but it can also eventually open up the seams and allow down to escape.
Pro-Tip: it’s just as important to fully dry your bag after washing it. After fully saturating your bag, this can take more than an hour in the dryer at low heat. You can use tennis balls to help break up the down clumps.
If your bag needs a bit of a refresh, hanging it briefly in the sun, and allowing it to air out for 24 hours should do the trick.
4. Dogs Freakin’ Out
Dogs: we love ‘em. Our office is full of them, and they are our best buds and adventure companions. But don’t leave them in your tent. Some of the most tragic, yet hilarious, customer gear stories are from dogs trying tooth and nail to get out of their owners’ tents. We’ve had tents returned with gaping holes in the side, busted zippers and clawmarks through the walls. And all because a normally well-behaved dog really. really. wanted. out.
Rule of thumb: know your dog, and don’t believe a strong tent will get in the way of their escape. A squirrel, tasty human snack food, loneliness or crack of thunder can be a powerful motivator for our four-legged friends to look for a quick exit strategy.
If your dog has the temperament to be in the tent with you, protecting your floor with a Pawprint™ is not a bad idea.
6. Using It for the Wrong Activity.
We’re not just talking about body surfing on your sleeping pad, because we’ve all been guilty of that from time to time. We’re talking about taking ultralight gear and using it in conditions it’s not intended for.
An ultralight backpacking tent like the Hornet isn’t intended for use above the tree line and an ultralight pad like the Tensor isn’t intended for direct use on a rocky cliff—despite how amazing that picture can look on Instagram. Tents that need stakes should be staked—or they can blow away. Bags that aren’t waterproof shouldn’t be used directly on the ground. And so on.
Love your gear, and it will love you back. NEMO gear is made to last a lifetime, and our lifetime warranty is in place so you can build memories upon memories with the same gear. Nothing makes us happier than seeing good gear go a long way.
If you need to brush up on your gear care, here are a few of our most helpful gear care tips to keep it in tip top shape. Happy adventuring!