Gear can help us explore the outdoors; but even the sturdiest pieces begin to show signs of wear and tear after lots of love and use. Frequent use, improper cleaning, postponing patching minor rips and tears, or stretching pieces in ways they weren’t designed for can shorten the lifecycle of your favorite pieces of gear. And frequently purchasing replacements can quickly add up in both monetary and environmental impact.
When you properly care for your gear, it will last longer and minimize the environmental toll that comes with the production of new products. Using what you already own is just one way to help make the outdoors more sustainable. Here’s a few tips to help extend the life of your gear:
Many pieces of clothing are made from waterproof materials, such as coated nylon, Gore-Tex, or Tyvek, and reproofing them can make them last longer. Depending on how frequently you use an item, you should reproof every six-12 months.
A variety of waterproofing sprays or washes can be found at most major outdoor retailers. Some of the most popular brands include Kiwi, Nikwak, and Gear Aid, all costing $10-$20. Different types of gear may require different types of spray. Bulky items like tents will likely need a spray that creates a non-porous barrier, helping keep moisture out. Clothing often needs some breathability, so it’s best to opt for a spray or wash-in product.
Many products on the market come in an easy-to-use spray bottle or directions for how to wash in the product. Rubbing, wearing, oil, and dirt can all break down the waterproof coating and begin wearing through the fabric itself, but reproofing can help keep your gear functioning properly far past its presumed lifetime.
Patch and Sew
Spending time outdoors means your gear will probably pick up a rip or tear from time to time, and the sooner you address them, the better. Learning to sew up or patch a hole is a skill that will pay for itself over and over again. Often, a tear can be repaired with a few simple stitches, helping prevent it from becoming a much bigger rip. This video helps show simple stitches for patching a rip or tear.
For holes that can’t be repaired with a few stitches or synthetic materials that may be hard to sew, it might be time to turn to a patch. The same rule applies: the sooner you address the problem, the less likely it is to progress past the point of repair. Patching kits are also easy to find, like these $4 patches from REI, and this video helps show how to properly patch outdoor gear.
Simply reading and following the washing instructions on your gear will help it last. Clothing items often contain a label on the inside with proper cleaning instructions. If the label only has symbols and no instructions, be sure to reference Tide’s guide to better understand what each symbol means.
For items that can withstand a standard washing machine, it’s important to note which items need to be washed with cold water or hung dry. Washing gear in cold water is often less abrasive than hot water, further helping extend the life of your gear.
While proper washing is important, washing gear too often can actually make it wear down faster. Refer back to your gear’s care instructions to determine how often it should be cleaned. More delicate items may require a simple wipe down with a wet rag or even dry cleaning. The care instructions for your gear are there for a reason, and the more you pay attention to what your gear needs, the more likely it is to withstand the elements.
Untie, Unbuckle, Unzip, and Unclip
After a long run, sometimes the last thing you want to do (or feel physically capable of doing) is bend down and untie your shoes, but it’ll be worth it. Untying, unzipping, unclipping, and unbuckling the various stays on your gear helps prevent things from being stretched out or weak sections from being pulled on for extended periods of time.
Zippers, clips, and buckles can help you put on your gear, but they are also there to help you easily take off the item. Preventing unnecessary stretching and pulling will help your gear move efficiently in the ways it was designed to. These actions only take a couple of seconds, and they may just be the secret to prolonging the life of your gear.
Send It Off
Sometimes, you take all the proper precautions and find that you can’t repair an item on your own. If this is the case, don’t immediately donate or throw away your gear. Check the warranty and consider sending it off to the brand that made it, bringing it in to a local gear shop or finding a gear-specific repair shop online. Leave it to the experts, and see if they can restore some life into your gear. Some companies, like Patagonia and REI, have repair services and will fix your products for you so you don’t have to buy new ones.
The most sustainable option when it comes to your gear is using what you already own. Often, the only reason gear becomes unusable is because minor damage builds up over time or the pieces are used improperly. Giving your gear a little extra care can provide you with more time on the trail and less time shopping around for your next replacement item.