Hiking in Wyoming’s backcountry requires properly maintained equipment, and that means knowing how to store it during the off-season. (Courtesy NOLS/Brad Christensen — click to enlarge)
Hiking in Wyoming’s backcountry requires properly maintained equipment, and that means knowing how to store it during the off-season. (Courtesy NOLS/Brad Christensen — click to enlarge)

Play hard, but don’t put your gear away wet

— October 29, 2013

The only other thing that squashes the excitement of the first adventure of a new season as quickly as realizing I can’t find a necessary piece of gear, is realizing a piece of equipment I need is broken or in an unusable state.

Kelsey Dayton

My new season’s resolution is to get my gear organized. For ideas and tips I went to Kevin McGowan the outfitting manager for the National Outdoor Leadership School’s Rocky Mountain branch in Lander, which provides gear for more than 1,200 students a year in every sport, from climbing, backpacking, fishing and skiing.

McGowan offers tips on ways to store your gear to maximize its lifespan, as well as a few hints on how to store things in a way that makes them easy-to-find. Storing equipment is also a good time to take inventory of its condition. Now is the perfect time to check for signs of wear-and-tear and make any needed repairs so next season you can grab your gear and go.

The most important rule: Make sure your gear is dry before you store it. This goes for everything. Moisture left in nylon tents stored for a few months can breed mildew that will deteriorate the fabric. Wet boots can shrink. Water on skis can rust metal edges. Make sure everything is dried before you store it, and store it somewhere dry. If it’s going into an outdoor shed or damp basement, keep the gear in a sealed container.


Backpacks: Spray your backpack with a hose, or clean it in the sink and let it air dry before storing.

Battery operated equipment: Don’t worry about removing the battery if you are using the equipment regularly, such as your avalanche beacon during ski season. But when it’s time to store it, take out the batteries, which can corrode inside the machines. It also will force you to begin each season with fresh batteries, meaning you are less likely to be camping and suddenly find your head lamp no longer working. (For life-saving equipment like your avalanche transceiver you should be checking battery life before every outing).

Bear spray: Be very careful about where you store your bear spray. Make sure it’s not in a place that gets below freezing, but that also is away from any intense heat and direct sunlight. Make sure the safety button is properly set and place it in a secure area where children or pets won’t accidentally grab it, and where it won’t be able to fall.

Boots: Boots are one of the most important and most often improperly stored backcountry items. Leather hiking boots can shrink. Air-dry your boots, add a leather conditioner on the outside and stuff newspapers inside to keep the shoe’s shape, before storing. Don’t dry boots by a fire, you can burn the leather. And don’t store them near a heat source. One of the most common gear problems McGowan sees is people bringing in warped boots they accidentally left in the trunk of their car.

The National Outdoor Leadership School has way more gear than most individuals, but you can still copy some of their tips for keeping equipment organized. Most importantly, keep things labeled and near similar gear. (Kelsey Dayton/Wyofile — click to enlarge)

Climbing gear: Handle each piece of equipment. Open and close the gates on every carabineer. Feel each piece of webbing. If it’s dry or stiff, retire it. Feel the entire lengths of your ropes looking for any abnormalities. If there is a section that feels flat, or just not right, cut it out or retire the whole rope. Examine each piece of protection and also your harness. If any parts look warn out, retire the gear. Keep the gear together and stored in a dry location away from chemicals which can corrode materials.

Clothing: Repair any rips or tears — no matter how small. Check zippers. Create a system that makes finding clothing easy for you. One way is to hang or store items organized from base layer to top layer.

First Aid kit: Now is the time to remove any wrappers and blood stained items. Go through your kit and see what you are missing or low on and restock it before storing.

Pocket knife: Clean the knife in warm water with soap and make sure all the gunk is out of the grooves before thoroughly drying it. Consider a light lubrication on the pivot and make sure the blade is sharp.

Skis: You are likely pulling your skis out of storage about now. But once the season ends remember to add a light coating of storage wax and check and adjust your bindings before storing so that next season they are ready to go.

Sleeping bags: If you have room, hang your bag to store it. If you don’t, keep it in a big bag. Avoid storing in a compression bag. You can wash your down sleeping bag in the sink and place it in a dryer on low heat. Add tennis balls in the dryer to fluff up the down. Synthetic bags can be washed in a front loading washing machine and dried on low heat.

Stoves: After cleaning your stove make sure you are storing fuel in a safe place. Use the time to really inspect your stove. If you don’t already know how to repair it, now is a good time to learn in case you ever need to fix it in the backcountry. “If you can’t fix a piece of gear in the field, you can’t fix it,” McGowan said. Check fuel levels and replenish if needed so you are set before your next trip.

Tents: Tents should be cleared of debris and also washed and fully-dry before going into storage. Before storing, you should also check for any rips that need repairing and check the condition of the poles.

Water reservoirs: Take the water bladders out of your backpacks, rinse them and hang them to fully air dry before storing.

Get organized

Buy duffle bags and sort equipment by sport in different bags. Label with tags so when you are looking you can easily spot and grab the needed bag. Use labeled bins and hooks, too. But keep like items near each other. Your stove should be stored near the rest of your camping cooking equipment, your harness near your climbing shoes. If you have a backpack specifically for one activity, like skiing, you can keep the bag packed with items that you always use for the sport. That way the bag is already partially packed and all your equipment is in one spot.

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com. Follower her on twitter @Kelsey_Dayton

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Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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