As an experiment, I once left an old tent rainfly out in my yard for several months, exposed to all manner of weather, temps above and below freezing — and, most important, thousands of hours of ultraviolet (UV) rays. I decided the experiment was over when lifting the rainfly from the ground caused it to shred like brittle, dried leaves.
UV rays slowly weaken everything from tents and climbing ropes to kayaks and wetsuits. Don’t leave your gear sitting out in the sun unnecessarily. Heat and mildew also degrade many materials, so most gear is best stored in a dry, dark, cool place. Certain materials — like boot leather and wooden paddles — need regular treatment to prevent drying out. Get manufacturer recommendations on caring for and storing your gear.
In short, treat your gear like what it is: expensive equipment that’s often vital to safety. Don’t use gear in any way other than its intended purpose. Don’t step on or otherwise abuse safety gear like climbing ropes and paddling throw ropes. Don’t toss a helmet around like a soccer ball, or expose safety gear to harmful chemicals like bug repellents or rags stained with oil or radiator fluid in a car trunk. Protect your gear and it will protect you.
—Michael Lanza is author of The Ultimate Guide to Backcountry Travel, from AMC Books.