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 or before using it this winter. Outdoor gear is expensive. But you can extend its life with a little tender loving care.

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 (accidentally) 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. Apply Permethrin to your hiking clothes to repel/kill ticks

Permethrin is EPA approved for use as an insect repellent when applied to clothing and other textiles.
Permethrin is EPA approved for use as an insect repellent when applied to clothing and other textiles.

Soak or spray permethrin onto your clothes to kill ticks and mosquitos, so they’re ready to wear next spring when it’s time to go hiking and backpacking again. If you’d prefer a longer-lasting treatment, this is a good time to send your clothes to Insect Shield for a professional treatment that lasts substantially longer (70 washings) than the one you can do at home.

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13 comments

  1. I thought Permethrin only lasted 6 weeks OR 6 washings. I wouldn’t apply it until I needed it.

    • Only if you wear it. If you fold up your clothes and stick them in a drawer, they’ll still be potent. Same goes with the Insect shield treatment. It’s only abrasion and sunlight that wears it out.

      • I put my Permethrin treated garments in gallon zip lock bags right after they are treated and dried. Don’t know if helps keep the treatment intact longer but it lets me know at a glance what I’ve treated and what I haven’t. :)

      • I use a sharpie to put a colored dot on a hem of the garment to let me know it’s been treated. By the time the dot washes out, it’s probably time to give them another permethrin dunk.

  2. Good advice. For my personal list I’ll add: wash my quilt.

    • I’d thought about adding this to the list, but you can overwash down quilts and sleeping bags and strip out the oils in the feathers that provide water/moisture resistance. You also have to be very careful with UL bags and quilts because the fabric is so thin and wet down is so heavy. I think an annual wash is probably too much unless you use it a whole lot and it’s gross. All the more reason to wear sleeping clothes in them to keep the exterior fabric cleaner.

  3. Great list!…It’s a great time to prep for winter hiking too. Order spare snowshoe straps, file sharpen crampons or inspect and soak spikes in anti corrosive agent.

  4. Thanks for the reminder! I would add “tent” to #1 and be mindful of where it is stored. We learned the hard way – our REI Quarter Dome was stored in a warm garage and degraded – some of the tabs (glued on, not stitched) fell off and floor seam waterproofing degraded too quickly. REI also suggested that we store our tent loosely, not rolled up in the bag. Our closets are filled with bags/boxes of fluffed up, loose gear!

  5. I have a totally different method to clean/store my filter for Winter, I throw it out and buy a new one.
    I carry either a Sawyer Mini or Sawyer Squeeze, and for $20 – $30 I’m not taking the chance that it didn’t get back flush enough or it didn’t get completely dried and mold develops over the Winter, not to save $30. It also saves me from doing an intregrity check come Spring. If I owned an expensive water filter/purifier, that would be different.

  6. Some of my sleeping bags say to hang them rather than store them in the big cotton stuff sack. I don’t really have the space to hang them but I would like to hear opinions on whether it’s really necessary

    • I’ve never hung mine. I don’t have room. Unstuffed is fine.

    • I also do not have space to hang mine and the only place I have room to store them is in my basement where it is not particularly dry. The solution that I came up with is to use a Rubbermaid tote large enough so that my quilt can fit fully lofted while its folded in half the long way. I think its 50 the gallon size? I put an evadry333 humidity absorber in to keep the inside nice and dry. The absorber needs to be taken out and plugged in every month or two but my quilt stays dry and well lofted despite the less than ideal humidity level in my basement.

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