Wait, I'm Supposed to Wash My Puffy? And Other Gear Maintenance Tips

It’s not the most exciting way to spend your time, we get it, but you can (and should) find a rainy day or two to devote to taking care of your gear. Why is caring for your boots, helmets and outerwear so important? Just like your car, regular maintenance can extend the comfort, technical features, and life of the gear you rely on and invest in. Read on for maintenance advice. Along the way, we’ll call out products that we’ve featured in past collections and have been well tested by the Cairn Crew.


1) Repairs

Items needed:

  • Patches / Tape
  • Seam glue
  • Zipper repair kit
  • An expert (maybe)

Inspect your packs, jackets, sleeping bags, and tents for any minor repairs that need to be made. Patching up a tiny hole in your sleeping bag will preserve its ability to keep you warm and prevent you from waking up covered in feathers!

Gear Aid PatchSmall holes in fabric are a snap to repair with patches and tape developed for the rigors of outdoor activity. They adhere and stay put on outdoor fabrics to keep the elements out and insulation materials (and your warmth) in. Tenacious Tape Max Flex Patches have an ultra-aggressive adhesive that doesn’t wear off (or get gummy, like duct tape) with wash and use.

Small pulled apart seams on tents and packs can be taken care of quickly with something like Seam Grip. Other varieties exist for specific repairs like minor boot sole issues.

If you’ve got a damaged or missing zipper slider or zippers that keep separating or coming undone, a repair item called the FixnZip is a lifesaver. It requires no tools or sewing and works on just about any type of zipper.

FixNZipThe benefit of all of the items mentioned above is that you can put together a small repair kit to keep in your pack without adding much weight or taking up much space. Throw in one of those tiny hotel sewing kits, and you’ll be able to take care of most minor repairs while you’re out in the wild.

If you’ve got more dramatic repairs that need to be made - major tears, large sections of seams or zippers that need to be sewn, or specialized boot / shoe repairs and resoling – visit a local repair shop. Mail-in services are also available at many shops if you can’t find one in your area. In Bend, we’re fortunate to have a full-service gear repair and consignment shop called The Gear Fix that can handle just about anything we throw at them. See how we’ve teamed up with them for our Gear Up, Give Back program.


2) Cleaning / Freshening

Items needed:

  • Material-specific wash
  • Freshening spray for non-washable gear
  • Soft sponge or brush

Washing and freshening up your outdoor apparel and gear isn’t just a matter of smelling better. Regular cleaning will help maintain the performance of these pieces, as well. Yes, you actually need to wash that down puffy and waterproof shell! Dirt and body oils reduce the performance of down, as well as durable water repellent (DWR) coated items. Body oils and sweat does a number on active performance wear – notice that lingering stank that builds up on your favorite wicking t-shirt?

Don’t just throw these items in with your regular laundry. Pay attention to the care instructions on each item (Google care instructions for all those pieces that you’ve worn off the print or cut the labels out of). As technical fabric technology gets better, so does the technology behind material-specific washes. Using the right one will not only clean, but also refresh the performance aspects of your outdoor apparel.

DefunkifyFor activewear, we’re big fans of Defunkify. Their environmentally friendly Active Wash incorporates superior science to remove existing odor AND prevent future odor in performance apparel. The Active Spray does a similar job for items that you can’t launder – think helmets and boots.

Gear Aid’s ReviveX series of products is a go-to for cleaning, conditioning, and waterproofing everything from down jackets to leather boots to waterproof shells. Specific washes for down remove the grime from your down item without stripping the natural oils in the feathers needed for loft. Typically you can dry down items on a low or no heat dryer setting and throw in a couple of tennis balls to help fluff it back up…and create a nice loud rhythm to dance to.

For waterproof gear, you want a gentle wash that won’t leave a residue behind or affect water repellency. For some materials, such as Gore-Tex, the recommendation is to follow that up with 15 minutes on low heat in the dryer to help reactivate the DWR coating. Again, make sure to check the care instructions on your garment first!

Some gear you just can’t throw in the washing machine, but boy do they get nasty. Your backpack and tent incorporate all sorts of technical fabrics, coatings, and seals that are extremely durable, and a little care goes a long way. The first step is shaking them out to get rid of loose dirt, leaves, sticks, Oreo crumbs, whatever. Use warm water and a soft sponge to wash your tent. You typically want to avoid using soap or detergent on the technical fabric of a tent. Give that backpack gentle scrubbing with a soft sponge or soft-bristled brush and mild soap without detergent in it (like castile soap). Hang these items to dry either inside or in the shade somewhere. UV rays can degrade the technical qualities of the fabric. And PLEASE make sure they're totally dry before you store them away! Nobody wants to sleep in a moldy tent.


3) Waterproofing

Items needed:

  • Waterproofing spray / treatment

Gear Aid Revive XAfter cleaning and allowing waterproof apparel and footwear to dry, check to see if water easily beads up on them. If not, it’s time to refresh the DWR coating or re-treat those boots. Again, GearAid’s ReviveX line hits the mark for apparel and footwear in this category. Read the instructions, please. Yes, all the way. BEFORE you start treating your garment. Little things like knowing whether to treat the item when it’s wet or dry can make a major difference in the performance of the product.


4) Plan your next adventure

Plan your adventureWhen you're gear nerds like the Cairn Crew, you can go down a real rabbit hole when it comes to gear maintenance and organization. Don’t get too obsessive here, the idea is to maintain your gear so that it supports lots of fun excursions OUTSIDE…not to spend every weekend scrubbing, patching, and organizing!

While you're taking care of your outdoor kit, if you come across some high-quality items that you’re just not putting to use anymore, even if they need minor repairs, give them a second life and help raise funds to conserve wild places by sending them into our Gear Up, Give Back program.