While a lot of blog posts out there are helpful for how to learn to pack your bag or train for a hike, there's not a lot of information out there about how to properly store your gear. With the right cleaning and proper storage techniques, you'll be guaranteed to get a full lifetime of adventure out of your backpacking gear. What most hikers don't know is that gear storage doesn't have to be expensive and, as it turns out, the cheapest store in town is also one of the best places to get items to store your gear!
Whenever we get home from a backpacking trip, the very first thing we will do is begin to unpack our bags. We usually do this in area that is easy to clean or outside if the weather is nice. We will unfurl our sleeping bags, pads, and our tent in the sunshine to air out (or on our porch if it's raining). All laundry from the trip is piled together. All trash is thrown away. All cooking gear (pots, sporks, rehydration containers, water filters and bottles) are thrown together into the kitchen sink. Miscellaneous items, such as our first aid kits, toiletries, and headlamps, are added back to our day packs - something I advocate always keeping packed for a spur-of-the-moment trip! Finally, our packs will be flipped upside down to air out.
After the gear is sorted into the appropriate piles, cleaning will begin. All cooking gear is washed by hand and left to air dry. If dirty water was used in bottles we won't be recycling, a bleach/dishsoap wash will be used to clean them. Water filters are backflushed and also left to air dry. We shower with the dirty hiking clothes as sort of a "pre rinse cycle" in order to get out any excess dirt. After we are showered I'll start the laundry - extra soap and rinse cycle to get things extra clean. At this point, I'll go to the gear outside in the sun and flip it all inside out/to the opposite side to get the sun on other parts to dry. By the time laundry is finished our gear is usually dried/aired out as well.
Now comes the storage part. Gear storage is just as important as keeping it clean. If you have a down sleeping bag, the storage part is especially important as you want to keep your down feathers as lofty as possible for maximum comfort and temperature regulation. If you keep your sleeping bag, synthetic or down, compressed in a stuff sack to store it, you're going to damage the integrity of the filling - making it not as thermal regulated as you'd thought! Most commercial-bought sleeping bags will come with a larger mesh or cotton bag for storage; however, if you like to do what we do and shop around online for a bargain, this is where The Dollar Store comes in handy! They sell large mesh laundry sacks at their stores and these $1.00 bags are the perfect storage option for your bags. Throw them in, fluff them up, and store them in your gear area.
When it comes to storing our backpacking food and cookware, I keep all of those things together in a plastic storage tub. I keep the water filters and fire starters in this tub as well, so everything is all together. I keep our fuel canisters separate in a reusable shopping bag. Depending on the type of fuel you use for your stove, you will need to keep it in a temperature controlled environment (I highly recommend a closet indoors - not an attic!) Backpacks are stored in a separate large storage tub, laid out flat with all straps and buckles undone. Our tent is rolled up and put in our tent pile, right next to the sleeping bags. My Thermarest NeoAir pad is also kept rolled up in this pile. If you have a self-inflating sleeping pad, the manufacturer will recommend you store your pad flat (unrolled) with the valve left in the open position.
** As always, if you have questions on how to store or clean your gear, the first place you should check is the manufacturer's website or customer service page. They made and tested this stuff and will know exactly how to keep it like new! **
When I take the extra time to clean and properly store backpacking gear, it not only gives us a good extended life of our products, but it also helps keep everything organized so we can grab our stuff and throw it in our packs quickly. Nothing is worse for a backpacking trip than realizing you can't find a piece of your favorite gear or that you left it at home on a forgotten shelf. By taking the time to organize and clean everything, you'll always be ready for your next adventure!