The formula is simple when it comes to taking care of your outdoor gear this time of year: fall forgetfulness = spring surprise.

And we don’t mean a good kind of surprise.

We mean like the time it rained on your last camping trip of the year, you packed up your tent wet, and when you got home, tossed it quickly in the basement so you could catch the end of the Minnesota Vikings game. You never thought about that tent again until the next spring, when you discovered your expensive shelter had spent the winter turning into a useless lump of nylon covered with mold and mildew.


We asked experts in backpacking, biking and boating for tips on what you can do now so your gear can avoid a similar fate next spring. Here is their advice:

Shane Robinson, camping specialist at REI, Bloomington

People invest a lot of money in backpacking and camping gear, and they rely on it to keep them dry, warm and happy. If you show that gear a little TLC, especially in the fall, it will take care of you, keep you safe and save money in the long run.

Tents: You should clean your tent after every use, but especially when you return from that last trip of the year. Set your tent up outside and hose it down, and let it dry out completely before you put it away — moisture will cause mildew and mold problems. Don’t jam it into a stuff sack for the winter, either. That can put extra stress on the seams and hurt its waterproofing. I store my tents in duffel bags, but you can use big cotton or mesh storage bags, or anything else as long as the tent is stored loosely.

Keep your tent where it won’t get sunlight, because the ultraviolet rays can degrade the material.

Sleeping bags: You don’t need to wash sleeping bags as often as tents. Washing reduces the loft of both down and synthetic insulation, and when you lose loft, the bag isn’t as warm. A lot of newer bags come with down that has been treated for water repellency, and you’ll lose some of that, too, when you wash the bag.

I wash my bags only once every couple of years, but there are a lot of variables — people who sleep in clean clothes or use a bag liner can get by a long time without washing their bag. The general rule is, if a sleeping bag smells bad, wash it, especially at the end of camping season so it doesn’t stay dirty over the winter.

Use a front-load washing machine because the agitation from top loaders is harmful to sleeping bags, especially to down bags. Wash the bag in a cotton storage sack if you have a top-loader. Don’t use regular laundry detergent because it leaves residual chemicals that reduce a bag’s breathability. Instead, get special cleaner for outdoor gear that removes the grime but also restores water repellency and won’t leave a fragrance. It’s OK to dry on low heat in a dryer, but throw in a couple of tennis balls to break up the wet clumps of insulation.

When your bag is good and dry, the best thing to do for the winter is to fold it over a hanger in your closet, if you have the room. Laying it out under a bed works, too. If you can’t do that, storing it in a clean cotton or mesh storage bag is fine. Just don’t keep it stuffed in a compression sack — you’ll lose loft.

Sleeping pads: At the end of camping season, all you need to do with a sleeping pad is a little spot cleaning with a bit of light detergent and a gentle scrub brush.

But how you store sleeping pads over the winter, or any time, really does matter. Self-inflating pads should be stored inflated with the valve open, because the foam inside won’t inflate as well over time if it has been constantly compressed. You can store pads that you inflate by mouth in a stuff sack, although those that have insulation in them can benefit from getting laid flat when not in use.

Water filters: When you’re done using your water filter for the year, follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions, but it’s also helpful to run a solution of bleach through it. Use a capful of bleach per quart of water, pump it through, and allow the filter to dry well before putting it away.

Larry Sayler, co-owner of Trailhead Cycling in Champlin

Especially if your last ride of the season was a muddy one, clean your bike thoroughly before you put it away or you could end up with corrosion problems. A dishwashing detergent works fine for cleaning, and you should follow that with a wax — anything that works on your car’s paint will work on your bike too. It’s also a good idea to clean and lube your chain.

Garages can get a little chaotic in the winter. It seems simple, but putting your bike out of the way so you don’t run it over with the car is the best thing you can do. We see a lot of bikes in the spring that have had “garage issues.”

Locking your bike up even in the garage is a good idea, too. Bikes are too easily stolen if you leave the garage door open or forget to lock the service door.

It may not be practical for a lot of people, but the best way to store your bike for the winter is indoors, in a basement or a bedroom. The freeze/thaw cycle in an unheated garage can cause corrosion issues and is hard on components. Plus, bikes stored indoors are safer from theft.

Wyatt Behrends, paddle­sports department coordinator at Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis

Getting your canoe or kayak ready for winter storage is pretty simple. Clean off any lake gunk or dirt that’s on your boat, and make sure it’s completely dry before you put it away.

For a canoe, any wood components should be oiled or replaced if they are getting worn out or are rotten. For a kayak with a rubberized hatch cover, use 303 Aerospace Protectant on the cover to prolong the life of the rubber. Make sure skegs and rudders are operating well and don’t have any sand in them.

Both canoes and kayaks can be stored in your garage, but not outside where they are exposed to UV rays. If the boat is dry, and you store it in your garage, temperature fluctuations shouldn’t matter. You can hang your boat in the garage, but do it upside down so no debris can collect in it.


Jeff Moravec is a writer and photographer from Minneapolis. Reach him at