Camping season is almost over in Idaho. Here’s how to store your gear properly for winter


The first snow-capped mountains are already beginning to show over the Boise foothills, and it’s only a matter of time before a layer of thick snow makes itself a winter home in Idaho. Boise averages its first snowfall on Nov. 22, and the mountains to the north are typically even earlier.

That also means, outside of the battle-hardened few who enjoy hiking and camping through the winter, it’s time to pack away that camping gear until next year. The average low temperature in Boise in December and January is a chilly 25 degrees, meaning the upper elevations north of the city get even colder at night and dissuade potential campers.

But storing camping gear is not just a simple case of haphazardly throwing everything into a corner box in the garage. Many pieces of camping equipment need to be cleaned and stored appropriately to avoid water damage or ruining high-tech fibers.

The Idaho Statesman talked with camping expert John Green, a sales associate at REI Co-op Boise, a retail and rental outdoor activity store, to learn more about properly storing camping equipment for the winter.

How should camping equipment be washed before storing?

Pitching up your tent and rolling out your sleeping back to find them covered in mud and other stains isn’t just unappealing, but it’s potentially dangerous. Lingering stains and crumbs can kick up a stink that can be picked up by animals with sensitive noses and perhaps lead to campers having unwanted guests in the middle of the night.

Along with hygiene, keeping wild animals away is a better reason than any to clean your equipment before any camping trip and when you’re storing everything away for the winter.

“One of the biggest things I would say is to make sure everything’s dried out before you start packing it away for the winter, tents especially,” Green said. “It’s easy to have a little bit of condensation or a little bit of rain still on the rain fly. And if you pack that away all nice and tight with the water in there, that can do some damage over the winter.”

Plan to wash your equipment at least a week before storing it for the winter, giving your gear a chance to dry completely.

Do you need to use any specific products for cleaning camping equipment?

“Sleeping bags and down products have their own product; it’s called Nikwax,” Green said. “Usually, you can get away with using Dr. Bronner’s or any lightweight nonabrasive non-chemically dish soap. Usually, just water and a brush or something is pretty good for normal wear.”

Both Nikwax and Dr. Bronner’s can be purchased at REI Co-op.

What kind of damage will water cause to camping gear?

“If you do it for one winter, it’s probably not going to be the end of the world. Usually, with moisture, the real problems are a buildup of mold and mildew,” Green said. “And while that’s not going to eat through your material over time, it can spread to less waterproof materials, and that can do some damage.”

Not only does mold smell terrible, but it’ll damage the waterproof coating, leading to potential leaks. A damaged tent will also aesthetically look flaky and tacky.

“This stuff isn’t going to destroy your tent over one or two seasons,” Green said, “but it’s good care for the long-term longevity of the gear.”

How should camping equipment be organized for the winter?

Green recommends the most important tip for winter storage is to store items at the proper temperature. Water filters and electronics are two items that should be kept indoors, while fabrics and metal gear can be stored in a garage.

“In the case of the water filters, they have a very small porous glass filter. If there’s any amount of water in there, it’ll expand with the freezing temperatures and render the filter unusable,” Green said. And the same with batteries; batteries generally don’t like cold weather. So for long-term care of the product, it’s good to keep those in a more temperature-regulated area of the home.”

Should fiber-based camping equipment be packed in a certain way?

Although it may be tempting to squeeze everything into one corner and take up as little space as possible, some items made of fabric should be stored loosely, Green notes.

“Any sort of fabric, whether we’re talking tents, rain flies, sleeping bags, tarps, sleeping pads, all that stuff is a technical fabric,” Green said. “And so if you have it packed up into its smallest position over the winter, those tight creases and the pressure is going to degrade the longevity of your gear.”

Modern tents are primarily made of polyester, a fabric that is durable and does not absorb water when pitched. Most polyester tents are also covered in a polyurethane coating, which helps repel water but can become damaged if packed too tightly for an extended period of time.

Doing that for one or two seasons isn’t going to completely destroy your gear, but if you want it to last for as long as it can, definitely keeping things loosely folded and not tightly packed or heavily weighted is a really good thing to do.”


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