Spring Cleaning your Tent, Pack and Sleeping Bag

Across much of the United States, it still feels like winter, but things have to change soon. As Tom Waits once sang, “You can never hold back spring.” Pretty soon, it’ll be time to pull the gear out of storage to prep for spring and summer outdoor trips.

For some people, this can be a foul experience. If they didn’t store their stuff properly, and simply tossed their grimy, wet gear into the garage or storage building, they might discover a tent or backpack that’s become a Petri dish of nasty stuff. Here are a few tips on cleaning and caring for backpacks, tents and sleeping bags….

Taking care of your backpack

Cleaning: So, your backpack smells like the trash can in a men’s locker room. It’s likely due to sweat, dirt and that food bag you forgot to empty. These things can shorten the life of your pack, especially salt from sweat, which can corrode metal and break down nylon fabrics.


When you clean your backpack, don’t put it in a washing machine. The agitation from a machine can break down fabrics as well as foams in hip belts, shoulder straps and back panels. Also, straps can get twisted in the components of a top-loading washer. Instead, first vacuum out dirt and debris. Then, add Woolite to warm water and use a sponge or cloth to wipe the pack down. Some pack manufacturers say you shouldn’t use hot water or spot removers, as these can damage the fabric.

As you clean your pack, examine your zippers, which can fail if they’re jammed with dirt and debris. You can vacuum out the dirt, or scrub zippers with a soft nylon brush (like a toothbrush) and cold water.

After you wash the pack, don’t put it in the clothes dryer. The heat levels are too intense and can break down fabrics and foams. A good way to dry your pack is to stuff it with newspapers and hang it in the shade.

Storage: Once you’ve cleaned your pack, store it in a cool, dry place, and hang it if possible. Don’t leave your pack on the garage floor, because standing water or other liquids like engine oil could invade the pack. Also, if your pack is on the floor, mice can chew through the fabric while searching for crumbs.

Tent Care Tips:

Cleaning: When you return from camping in the rain, it’s critical to dry your tent to prevent mildew and fungus from forming. The primary problem is that these things will damage coatings on tent fabrics. Plus, they’ll make the tent stink. I usually clean my tent after each trip using a sponge and water with dishwashing soap. Then I just leave the tent up outside to dry. If you do get mildew, it’s very difficult to remove it completely, but you can treat it. Mix non-detergent soap, 1 cup of salt, 1 cup of lemon juice, and 1 gallon of hot water. Then, use this mix and a soft nylon brush to scrub the interior and exterior of the tent as well as the fly. Next, dry the tent in the sun. As with packs, you shouldn’t put your tent in a dryer because excessive heat will damage the fabric and coatings.

Storage: It’s fine to store your tent in its stuff sack. The primary concern is to prevent the tent fabric from being exposed to sunlight over a long period of time. As with your pack, it’s best to keep it in a cool, dry place off the floor

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Sleeping Bag Basics

Cleaning: Over the course of a camping season, a sleeping bag can get pretty ripe. When your bag gets stinky, it’s best to wash it in a front-loading machine at the Laundromat. Kristin Hostetter, gear editor for Backpacker magazine, points out in her book, Complete Guide to Outdoor Gear Maintenance and Repair, that Laundromat machines won’t agitate the bag as much as your home front-loader. And never dry clean your bag or wash it in a top-loading machine, because these methods will cause damage. When you wash the bag, use cold water, a gentle cycle and mild soap. For a down bag, you can also use Nikwax Down Wash, and for a bag with synthetic insulation, Revivex Synthetic Fabric Cleaner is a good option. While cleaning the bag, you can also take time to restore its DWR (durable water repellent) coating. A good method is to spray it with Revivex Spray-On Water Repellent, and then put it in the dryer on low heat to make the solution set in.

Storage: You shouldn’t store your bag in its small stuff sack, because over time compressed insulation will lose its loft and its ability to keep you warm. Many bag manufacturers supply a larger net bag for long-term storage, or you can hang the bag in a large cotton sack, or even a large pillowcase.

-Written by Marcus Woolf




Stacie Murray
Stacie Murray

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