As a general rule, most outdoor equipment is built to survive significant use and abuse over many years and adventures. By using these five simple tips, however, you can quickly and easily damage your equipment to the point of near uselessness. With a little additional effort, you can then resuscitate it for more abuse in the future.
Tip #1: Put your gear away wet
Would you like your equipment to be stained, stinky beyond use, and covered with extensive mold and mildew? After returning home from a soggy trip, simply pack away your damp tent and other gear without drying it. Storing it in a warm, moist place helps accelerate the molding process.
How to deal with it: Always dry your gear immediately after a trip—just a few days’ delay can risk a mold invasion—and store it in a cool, dry place if possible. If your gear does become a smelly terrarium, wash it with an enzyme-based cleaner like MiraZyme ($5 to $10) to kill off the mold, mildew, and stink. Scrubbing affected areas with a stiff toothbrush will help remove stains.
Tip #2: Store your sleeping bag compressed in its stuff sack
Sleeping bag too warm? No problem. You can crush the insulation (both synthetic and down) by keeping your sleeping bag crammed tightly in its stuff sack for extended periods of time. Once you release the perma-squashed bag, it will no longer puff up to its original loft or warmth. (Note that it takes a while to create long-lasting damage—no need to worry about compressing it on long backpacking trips.)
How to deal with it: You can restore a modicum of loft by hand-washing your sleeping bag and then spinning it in a dryer with tennis balls or other similar objects, which help kick up the insulation. Prevention is preferred, of course—store your sleeping bag in a large cotton or mesh bag, or hang it loosely in your closet.
Tip #3: Leave your gear sitting in the sun for prolonged periods
To turn supple nylon and polyester fabric into crispy onion skin, don’t store it in a dark place. Leave it sitting in the sun so that the UV rays can steadily degrade the synthetic materials until they are stiff, brittle, and all but unusable. Desert locales and snow-covered, high-elevation environments help maximize UV exposure and damage, though your backyard can do in a pinch.
How to deal with it: Little can be done once UV damage has occurred, but you can take steps to prevent damage in the first place by treating your gear in advance with a UV protection product like Nikwax Tent and Gear SolarProof ($18).
Tip #4: Wear your expensive rain gear around a campfire
Have a snazzy Gore-Tex jacket? Want to degrade its performance as quickly as possible? Just wear it around a smoky, ember-spitting campfire. Smoke contains ultra-fine, water-absorbing (hydrophilic) particulates that permeate your jacket, compromise its breathability, and quickly overpower its water-resistant outer coating, or durable water repellency (DWR). If you’re lucky, the fire will also spit a red-hot ember and melt a hole in the fabric.
How to deal with it: Wash your smoky jacket with a small amount of liquid detergent or a specialized product such as Nikwax Tech Wash ($10) or Nathan Sport Wash ($10), rinse it at least twice, and hang-dry it or spin it on a low, gentle dryer cycle. (Once it’s dry, tumble drying it for an additional 20 minutes helps reactivate the DWR.) For small holes, use nylon repair tape or invest in a Gore-Tex repair patch.
Tip #5: Dry your footwear next to a wood stove or campfire
The amount of heat emanating at close range from a campfire or wood stove is difficult to gauge and thus provides an effective means to melt rubber, burn leather, or soften the glue that keeps the sole attached. Simply place your wet boots or other footwear near the heat source and neglect them for a little while.
How to deal with it: If you discover that the sole has become unglued while your boot is still warm, immediately put it on and place pressure over the affected area; the glue will often reseal as it cools. If it’s too late, invest in a heavy-duty adhesive such as Shoe Goo ($5 to $10). When it comes to charred leather and melted rubber…enjoy the character it provides, resole your boots, or replace your footwear.