When you get off the trail, several glorious topics are likely top of mind: shower, food, a real bed. What’s probably lurking in your subconscious, however, is more along the lines of: ugh, I have to deal with all of my gear.

I’ve been there myself. Between being physically exhausted, hungry, and filthy, I convince myself that my backpack can just sit there and I’ll deal with it later. But the longer you let your used gear sit compacted and dirty in your pack, the stinkier it gets—and, in some cases, it can even get damaged.

If you’ve found your way to this article, I applaud you in taking the first steps toward caring for your gear better post-trip. In it, we’ll cover:

  • Key Steps to Take Care of Your Gear
  • How to Find Motivation to Take Care of Your Gear

How to Take Care of Your Gear: 4 Steps

Different gear requires different upkeep, but there are some general steps to follow to keep all gear in lasting condition.

1. Let everything dry out.

Even if you didn’t have a rainy hike, it’s likely your gear has picked up some moisture during your trip through condensation, sweat, or dew. Avoid mold and mildew that can ruin your gear by making sure everything is thoroughly dried out before you store it.

Hang up your tent and footprint, making sure to shift them every so often to give different parts greater airflow and an opportunity to dry. Open all of the valves on your water filters, bottles, sleeping pads, and other items. Leave them in a good spot to dry out fully, which might take a day or two. 

You’ll also want to completely empty your pack and hang it somewhere with good airflow to dry out. Examine each item you unpack to determine if it should be left somewhere to dry out more or if it’s ready for storage. Wet clothes can head straight to the wash.

2. Clean your gear each trip.

All the sweat, grime, dirt, and other muck you pick up while on trail can impact your gear over time. As mud dries, it can dry fabrics out too, causing them to become more prone to cracks, tears, and other needed repairs. Sand stuck in tent zippers can wear them down and make them break. Prolonged sweat and muck on waterproof fabrics can impact their water repellant. And stinkiness tends to get stinkier.

Take a look at all of your gear as you unpack. Brush off what dirt you can and wipe tougher cases down with a damp cloth. When it comes to clothing, sleeping bags, rain gear, and other items, follow the care instructions that came with your gear for best cleaning results.

3. Store your gear properly.

Keep your gear stored in a cool, dry place that is out of direct sunlight. You want to make sure you’re not storing gear in a spot prone to moisture, as this can negate all of your work drying out your gear and still lead to mold and mildew. You also want to keep it away from harsh UV exposure, which can damage it.

Most gear is also best stored loosely. Take your sleeping bag or quilt out of its stuff sack and place it into a breathable larger bag for it to fluff in. If you have an inflatable sleeping pad, check its care instructions, but many recommend storing them inflated with the valve open.

4. Examine your gear for needed repairs.

As you unpack from a trip, take note of anything that is in need of repair. Don’t wait until your next trip, when you might be short on time and resources, to know what needs fixed. 

Missing a few tent stakes? Order them now to have them ready. Have a tear in something? Make your plan to patch it or replace it now. Need to revamp the durable water repellent (DWR) coating on your rain gear or other items? Take care of that now. Need to backflush your water filter and test its integrity? Yep, do that, too.

Also take note of how much fuel you have left, if you have any dead batteries, how your backpacking meal cache is looking, and the status of any other consumables. Taking a moment to note these things now will help you have a more enjoyable trip in the future.

5 Ways to Find Motivation for Taking Care of Your Gear Post-Hike

Ok, so, you know what you need to do, but how do you get yourself to do it when you just want to lie on the couch post-hike with a pizza and a lime La Croix? Here are a few ideas on how to trick or otherwise coax yourself to take care of your gear in a timely manner.

1. Use the “shower rule”.

Kristina Ciari shared her “shower rule” with Adventure Journal in May 2018. It’s a great option if your top priority once home is a luxurious hot rinse. Her rule states: “I am not allowed to shower until all of my wet, gross, manky, stinky, funky gear is hanging up to dry or otherwise dealt with sanitarily.” It’s simple and motivating and just might work for those of us unwilling to hop into bed without getting clean first.

2. Try a gear-based affirmation.

Reading Atomic Habits by James Clear taught me that true habit changes are identity changes. So, for example, instead of believing you’re a person who just can’t get their gear cleaned and put away in a timely manner post-trip, you shift that belief to what you want your habit to be (i.e., dealing with your gear when you get home).

This might sound a little woo-woo, but on my last big trip I decided to give it a try. As I lugged my backpack into my apartment, I said out loud: “I aspire to be a person who takes care of her gear. I am a person who takes care of her gear.”

I repeated it as I needed to get myself to the finish line, and it actually felt really good. It reminded me of why I was taking the time to do this task and helped me challenge old beliefs that I was otherwise lazy or careless with my gear.

3. Have a gear unpacking party.

Did you go backpacking with a buddy? Turn your unpacking and gear caring tasks into a party! Bump some of your favorite tunes, reminisce on the trip, and keep each other motivated as you get everything sorted. Having an accountability buddy adds a fun component to getting your chores completed.

4. Leverage food and other treats.

Similar to the shower rule, you can use other post-hike treats as leverage for getting your gear care work done. Remind yourself of the pizza you will order once you’re finished. Let yourself have some ice cream to mark a milestone in your unpacking journey. Find whatever motivates you, and put it to work!

5. Prepare for gear care before your trip.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, they say. Prep for your return as much as possible to remove any friction to your unpacking process. For example, make sure you know where you’ll have space to hang things out to dry. 

Have a broom handy for sweeping up the dirt, leaves, and other debris you’ll shake out of your gear. Check that you have laundry detergent, some rags for wiping gear down, DWR coating to reapply if needed, and any other necessary supplies. Think through your pain points in advance and fix them ahead of time.

Take Care of Your Gear Post-Hike for Longevity and Peace of Mind

Taking care of your gear in a timely manner after your trips will ensure your investments last as long as they should. It’ll also help you prepare for more adventures to come! We hope some of these tips for gear care and motivation help keep your gear in tip-top shape.

If this was helpful, you might enjoy some of our other resources on the Light Feet blog:

Have your own tips for gear care or ways to stay motivated to do it? Spread the love with us by tagging Gossamer Gear on social media (@gossamergear) and using the hashtag #takelessdomore.
May 26, 2022 — Korrin Bishop