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10 Backpacking Gear Maintenance Tasks for November

10 Backpacking Gear Maintenance Tasks for November

Here are 10 hiking and backpacking gear maintenance tasks to put on your to-do list this November. With the three-season hiking and backpacking season winding down, it’s worthwhile to maintain your hiking and camping gear before packing it away for next spring and to prepare for hiking in colder weather, when it could snow any day.

1. Store your quilts and/or sleeping bags unstuffed.

Store your sleeping bags and quilts unstuffed.
Store your sleeping bags and quilts unstuffed.

If your quilts and sleeping bags are still stashed in their stuff sacks, unstuff and store them in their manufacturer-supplied storage sacks to preserve their loft over the winter. Make sure to store them away from daylight to prevent any discoloring or degradation of the exterior shell fabric.

2. Restock your first aid supplies.

Restock your over-the-counter medications. Note large bag of Vitamin I.

This is a good time to restock your first aid supplies if you don’t do it on a regular basis. I like to toss out and replace older medications like Benadryl, Immodium, and anything else that’s crumbling inside my first aid stuff sack. I’ll replace my earplugs, cut up more strips of leukotape, replace any missing bandaids, alcohol wipes, and so on. If you prefer to buy the pill packages sold by the first aid manufacturers, this is also a good time to catch up on the stuff you’ve used.

3. Wash your Ursack, bear canister, or bear bag

Older model Ursack bear bags were colored White or light green while the latest models are black
Older model Ursack bear bags were colored white or light green while the latest models are black.

Ursacks can get pretty gross if your liner leaks or if the outside has gotten filthy from use. Dirt shows more on the white Ursacks than the black ones, but you might want to consider freshening yours up anyway. You can wash some Ursack models in a washing machine although others should be hand-washed.  Just make sure you knot the rope closure so it doesn’t pull out. See Ursack’s website for washing instructions and advice. Washing out bear canisters and bear bags is a much simpler process. Wash them with a mild unscented soap, rinse thoroughly, and air dry.

4. Backflush, sanitize, and dry your water filter.

It's important to clean, sanitize, dry, and store your filter during the winter when it's too cold to use it in winter.
It’s important to clean, sanitize, dry, and store your filter during the winter when it’s too cold to use it in winter.

If you use a squeeze, pump-style, or gravity water filter, this is a good time to clean it, sanitize it to kill the guppies growing inside, and store it over the winter. Most manufacturers provide a method for backflushing or cleaning a water filter so that it flows faster. Go to the manufacturer’s website, which will usually have directions for how to clean your filter if you’ve never done it before. If you use a Steri-Pen instead of a filter, take the batteries out in the off-season so they don’t drain.

5. Disassemble your trekking poles and clean the parts

Take your poles apart and wipe down the insides
Take your poles apart and wipe down the insides

If you have twist or flick-lock style trekking poles, take them apart and wipe down the segments with a damp cloth,  paying particular attention to the fittings, on the interior of the poles for twist locks, and the exterior if you have flick-locks. Once clean, set the segments aside to dry. Many pole jams can be avoided if you disassemble your trekking poles occasionally, let them dry after use, and wipe them down.

6. Clean and lubricate the zippers on your tent, backpack, and rain gear.

Tent zippers should be cleaned and lubricated to make them last longer.
Tent zippers should be cleaned and lubricated to make them last longer.

Tent, backpack, and rain jacket zippers last longer and function more smoothly if you clean and lubricate them. Zippers have a tendency to trap sand and other tiny debris between the teeth so it is a good idea to clean zippers regularly, especially when backpacking in sandy areas. Sand can jam zippers to the point that the slider won’t move back and forth. It’s easy to clean a zipper using Gear Aid Zipper Cleaner and Lubricant which adds a protective finish to the zipper that resists debris.

7. Consolidate your canister stove fuel and recycle the empties.

Consolidate remaining fuel from partially used canisters to create full ones.
Consolidate remaining fuel from partially used canisters to create full ones.

You can transfer any isobutane from partially used isobutane canisters and consolidate it to create a full canister for use next year using a special two-way Lindal valve like the G-Works Gas Saver. Simply screw it on both canisters and stack the emptier one on top of the full one so the fuel can collect in the bottom canister. You can spread up the process by freezing the bottom canister in the refrigerator so that the remaining fuel in the warmer top canister flows down into the bottom canister faster. Once a canister is empty, puncture using a tool like the Jetboil Crunchit and drop it into the recycling bin.

8. Patch the holes in your backpack and outerwear.

Tenacious Tape is available by the roll and perfect for many fabric repair tasks.
Tenacious Tape is available by the roll and perfect for many fabric repair tasks.

I routinely tear holes in my backpack and clothing on hikes, both on-trail and off. But you can keep your backpack, rain jacket, wind shirt, puffy and other clothing going with a few well-placed patches. My favorite patch material is Tenacious Tape, a sticky fabric patch material, available in precut patches or more economical rolls, that doesn’t require any sewing to use.

9. Wash your rain gear

Waterproof/breathable rain gear works much better when it's clean.
Waterproof/breathable rain gear works much better when it’s clean.

If you have waterproof/breathable rain gear, it works much better when it’s clean. Wash it with a gentle soap like Woolite or Nikwax Tech Wash to remove the sweat and body oils that can accumulate when you wear it. If the DWR coating has stopped beading rain, retreat it. Wash-in DWR Treatments are more effective than the spray-on versions in my experience. Washing rain gear that is not waterproof/breathable is also important to remove built-up sweat and stink.

10. Pack cold-weather survival gear in your car.

Car stuck in snow.

Someday, your car or truck isn’t going to start after a cold weather hike or you’ll get stuck if it snows. Rather than freeze to death at the trailhead waiting for a tow to arrive, if you can even contact one, it’s best to pack a sleeping bag and sleeping pad so you can sleep in your vehicle if you have to. Here is a laundry list of items that can come in handy in winter if you get stuck.

  • a shovel to dig out your car if it’s buried in the snow
  • a tire iron and a small hydraulic jack to change a tire
  • sand for traction on ice and as a weight over your wheels, and/or traction boards
  • a battery-powered lantern
  • an emergency blanket
  • sleeping bag and a sleeping pad
  • a small propane stove and fuel
  • an axe to clear trees or branches blocking the road
  • battery pack to jumpstart your car or truck if the battery is dead

If you hike in the backcountry, all of this stuff becomes handy sooner or later. I’ve used every single one of these on past winter hikes in New Hampshire and Maine, for example.

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  1. Regarding your list of car stuff, any recommendations on the battery pack for jump-starting? Reviews on places like Amazon are all over the map and it’s hard to tell who’s really USED one of these and knows what they’re talking about.

    • Amazon reader reviews are just plain awful. I own this. Haven’t had to use it yet, but being from REI, I can at least retur it if it doesn’t work. I like the fact that I can charge other devices with it.

    • Drew, a relatively small (and yes, somewhat expensive) lithium-ion jump start battery is very useful to do a solo jump start.
      Also I heartily recommend Michelin CROSS CLIMATE 2 All Season tires that are excellent in rain and slush and good enough in snow that these tires wear the mountain/snowflake logo for winter use.

      • BTW, check out the YouTube vids on the Cross Climate 2 tires in snow.
        DISCLAIMER: I received no compensation from Michelin for this endorsement (but hey, ya never know, they might send me a Bibend bobble head for my car).

        I have these tires on my MAZDA CX-5 and they are also quiet despite the aggressive V-pattern tread.

  2. helpful reminders, thanks. i hadn’t thought about cleaning trekking poles. no need to buy a tool to puncture empty canisters, a stout screw driver does the trick. also, for anyone not using their headlamp in the winter maybe remove the batteries to avoid corrosion.

    • the battery removal for winter storage is KEY. My GF and now wife and kids have ruined so much stuff leaving batteries in items (this includes maintaining your car battery once in a while) thank you very good point ??

  3. when parking at the trail head… or anywhere else for that matter… park facing OUT. Then jumper cables will reach your battery and you’ll have access to the hood to check on everything else.

    When cleaning trekking poles, resist the urge to lubricate them with anything. The lubricant can make it difficult to keep them locked in position.

    Instead of transferring fuel between canisters, I just weigh them on a postal scale and write the amount left on then with a sharpie. Then I can take the can with least fuel on a day hike, half full on an overnight and full ones on a multi-day trip. MSR cans give you a check-box to tick as you partially use up the fuel, but I find the postal scale more accurate.

    About water filters, It’s difficult to get them completely dry. Don’t store them in an un-heated attic or garage. If water turns to ice and expands, it can destroy the filter material making them ineffective.

  4. Another good tip is to pack your tent away in a big sleeping bag sac like the ones you use for off season sleeping bag storage. It keeps them from being jammed in and sticking when you pull them out in the spring. Also if there is any little bit of moisture the increased air flow will inhibit mould.

  5. I hang my down sleeping bag on a hanger and keep it in a closet after each use. I think I would keep a real blanket in my vehicle. It might be a good idea to keep a few freeze dried meals in your car.

    The small battery powered chain saws might be a good idea. A couple outdoor YouTube channels that I follow carry one of these saws in their vehicle with an extra battery.

    Thanks for the tips, Philip!!

  6. Practical advice!
    If you gotta take that filter out in the winter, store it in a dry bag and nest it in your outer sleeping bag ( i use 2 bags in winter).

  7. Good list Phil. These are items many wish next April that they had done this November.
    -> Also it’s the time to make those MODS to your gear that you thought up on your previous backpacking trips. You know, little sewing projects on your tent like adding stake loops to the edge of your tent fly for those very windy days, adding this or deleting that from your backpack, dehydrating food for next season (and refrigerating it!) or putting better shoelaces (like TASLAN) on your hiking shoes/boots. Maybe even a more ambitious project like making netting pockets for inside your tent that came without them or having a local tailor sew in waterproof pit zips on your favorite WPB parka.

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