If the next time you take your outdoor gear on a hike and it jams/splits/falls apart, the problem could be with how you store and maintain it.
LOOKING AFTER YOUR HEAD TORCH
PROBLEM: "My head torch won't switch on, and the battery case is stained with a weird blue-white powder."
DIAGNOSIS: Batteries, especially cheap ones, can leak in situ and corrode the contacts, rendering the lamp useless - a criminal waste of good gear.
SOLUTION: In this case the problem is easily avoided by removing the batteries after every trip. And springing for some lithium batteries will give your electronics a greater chance of survival if you forget.
STORING YOUR TENT DAMP
PROBLEM: “My tent flysheet has gone all flaky and the seam tape has come off.”
DIAGNOSIS: Due to the materials used in their construction, modern lightweight flysheets can suffer delamination, a deterioration of the silicone inner coating and/or seam sealing tape, if stored in a moist or mouldy environment. The fly will become super sticky and adhere to itself and white flakes will snow down on you next time you try to use it.
SOLUTION: Stop what you’re doing right now and get that wet tent OUT of its plastic bag in the corner or wherever you’ve shoved it. Let that thing breathe!
Firstly, give it a good old-fashioned wipe down. I like to set mine up in the kitchen and, with water and a sponge only, I’ll wipe off all the dirt, mud, grass, leaves and, oh, hello there stowaway spider! Once the inner of your tent is dry and free from guests you can pack it away.
The fly can be a little trickier, particularly if you live in a humid area. Again, the trick here is make sure it’s clean and DRY (and by dry I mean thoroughly dried once you’re back home. Don’t assume that it was dry the morning you packed up, because unless you were in the desert it almost certainly wasn't. Once dry, I like to lay my tent fly down, place an unused sheet over the top and fold it up loosely (with the sheet) into a 50 litre plastic storage tub. Throw in a few of those sachets of anti-moisture silica gel while you're there.
LEAVING YOUR BOOTS IN THE CUPBOARD FOR YEARS, UNUSED
PROBLEM: "I got my boots out of storage the other day and went for a hike, and the soles fell off. I've only worn them a couple of times!"
DIAGNOSIS: The adhesive that is used to attach the rubber sole to the boot's upper will start to disintegrate without frequent use. You may have only hiked twice in the last five years but that is precisely the problem – lack of use is what has destroyed your boots.
SOLE-UTION: Use your boots! Take them out for a spin every few months. I love wearing my boots on those crazy rainy days we get sometimes on my morning/evening commute. It allows the boots to have regular use and, the glue stays strong and I can keep an eye on their weatherproof-ness. It's always better to find out your boots are no longer waterproof on the way to the office rather than five days deep in the Tassie rainforest. Also before you put them in the cupboard, give them a good clean and reproof with either a Nikwax Proofer or Sno-Seal Beeswax treatment for full grain leather.
NEVER WASHING YOUR WATERPROOF JACKET
PROBLEM: “My jacket isn't waterproof anymore” or “My jacket is falling apart! Look at these seams!”
DIAGNOSIS: Just like other clothing, waterproofs need to be washed from time to time to keep them clean. Oils from the wearer's skin can build up on the sensitive breathable membrane on the inside of the jacket, particularly around the neck area, and degrade it. Also, dirt on both the inside and outside, visible or not, will diminish the breathability of the membrane. This means that the wearer will sweat inside more readily, and feel wet from it. It is common for the wearer to then assume the jacket is letting in rain, whereas that is not usually the case.
SOLUTION: Wash your waterproofs! But not with regular detergent as that will strip the DWR coating from the outside. Use Nikwax Tech Wash or something similar after a particularly traumatic hike, or at least once at the end of each season. Follow up with a fresh DWR treatment to give it back that gorgeous beading effect. Nixwax TX Direct is a good choice.
KEEPING YOUR SLEEPING BAG IN ITS COMPRESSION SACK
PROBLEM: "My sleeping bag is clumpy in some places, thin in others and doesn’t keep me warm like it used to."
DIAGNOSIS: The fill has spent too long compressed and is now struggling to loft back to its original quality. Down and especially synthetic fill sleeping bags don't like to be compressed for long periods. In theory, down will always eventually re-loft completely, but this may take quite a long time depending on how long it has been compressed. Man-made fills, designed to mimic down, are worse. Their plastic heritage struggles to unbend after compression trauma and they may never completely re-loft. This means they won't trap as much air and won't be as warm as before.
SOLUTION: Never store your bag in its compression sack, even though this takes up the least space in your closet. If the bag comes with a storage sack or cell - use it! If not, use another of those 50 litre tubs, or hang it over the rail in a spare wardrobe. I use the XL Exped Mesh Organiser UL - a large mesh cube, great for storing my nine-year-old down sleeping bag.
MUDDY WALKING POLES THROWN IN THE CUPBOARD
PROBLEM: "My trekking poles won't extend/collapse! They are jammed closed/open."
DIAGNOSIS: Telescopic walking poles can get a lot of grit and grime caught between the sections of the shaft. If left in storage they will inevitably jam and become much harder to extend.
SOLUTION: Extend all sections and, where possible, take them apart. Wipe them down with a damp cloth and allow them to dry completely before storing.
ICKY GUNK IN THE HYDRATION RESERVOIR
PROBLEM: "There's a bunch of grotty mould in my Camelbak Tube. I'm not drinking out of that!"
DIAGNOSIS: Even though Camelbak and most other reputable reservoirs have some sort of anti-microbial coating on the inside, Slimeguard or Hydroguard or some-such to inhibit the growth of bacteria, they aren't a magical elixir to scrub the internal surfaces of any old gunk you leave in there over winter. Electrolytes, Tang, banana smoothie - whatever you use to hike, even water, surprisingly, will leave some residue. And you don't want to be drinking that stuff six months down the line.
SOLUTION: Soap and water is a good start, certainly if you're not planning to use your tube for a while, but probably after every use as well. If that doesn't do the trick, try Camelbak's Cleaning Tablets or similar, and most brands also have a cleaning kit with special brushes for tackling stubborn stains. A bit of elbow grease should get it clean. Make sure you dry it thoroughly as well, although that's easier said than done. Again, Camelbak sells the Reservoir Dryer to help with this; slide-top bladders are easier to wedge over something to dry.
Words_Jemima Headlam & Dan Slater