For a few hardy souls, the camping gear will stay out year round. For the rest of us, the time has come to think of other things -- moving the fire from the campsite to the wood stove, for example -- and a little bit of effort now will pay dividends when we grab our gear for the first trip next spring.
Tents, just like all the rest of your camping gear, need to be clean, and more importantly, dry, before putting them away for the winter.
"That's really important with any coated material," said Walter Ward, owner of Wilderness Way Outfitters in Soldotna. "It depends on how dirty it is as to whether you actually have to wash it -- there are special products for that -- but you should set it up so it can dry out."
Ward recommends that gear be stored indoors in a spare closet or under the bed. If equipment is kept in a garage or shed, be sure to find a shelf for it up off the floor.
"Get it up off the ground, so it's not someplace mice are going to make a home in when it's not in use," Ward said.
Sleeping bags should be dry, but should not be tightly packed in their stuff sacks for the winter -- the compression over a long period of time will reduce the loft of the insulation, thereby reducing the bag's warmth.
"Water filters need to be flushed with clean water and taken apart," Ward said. "Let them dry. You don't want old water sitting in there all winter."
Similarly, fuel should be drained from camp stoves if they won't be used for a long period of time.
"I recommend leaving them empty so you don't have the old fuel clogging them up," Ward said.
Dirt acts like a wedge when it comes to hiking boots, driving the uppers away from the sole as it builds up in the cracks in between. An old toothbrush is a great tool for gently removing dirt from the nooks and crannies around the stitching.
"You should clean and waterproof your boots, but let them dry naturally. That's a mistake that a lot of people make, putting them right next to a heater to dry," Ward said.
The offseason is a good time to take care of repairs.
"You want to send things in for repair when you're not going to need them for a while," Ward said.
Manufacturers can take anywhere from two to four weeks to repair and return an item, and Ward said to expect an even longer turnaround once the holiday season gets into full swing.
On the other hand, taking care of that rip in your rain fly now makes a whole lot more sense than waiting until next spring, when you are reminded of that leak by the gentle rain falling on your first trip of the season.
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