April 14, 2006
Filed under Camping News

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A few weeks ago, I pulled a pair of boots out of storage and was ready to slide my feet into them when I noticed something that jerked me to a stop. There, deep in the well of one boot, was a distinctive web — the random pattern of a black widow spider. I shook the boot and she crawled into view from her hiding place in the toe. But that was only half of it — she was tending a freshly hatched brood of babies. I clearly had my work cut out for me.
Every year, before the camping season really gets rolling, we all go through the ritual of pulling out of storage those items of equipment that have been laid aside during the winter months. But before we put that equipment to use, we need to make sure it is serviceable. If repairs, cleaning or extermination are necessary, it’s much better to do it in the comfort of your garage rather than out on the trail.
Tents sometimes get put away damp and dirty, and that creates an ideal breeding ground for mold, mildew and rot. Let it go long enough, and one day you’ll tug on the tent fabric and it will fall apart in your hands. The best policy is to clean and dry the tent before you put it in storage. But if by chance that wasn’t done, it’s better to know about it early — before you travel all the way to the campground and discover the bad news. So pull the tent out of storage, set it up in the backyard and inspect everything — poles, pegs, fabric, fly, floor, seams, window screens and guy lines. Repair or replace anything that isn’t in good shape.
If you do your camping in an RV instead of a tent, the preseason equipment exam is a bit more complex. If any part of your RV involves fabric (i.e. a tent trailer, a pop-top camper or a hard-wall trailer with an awning or expandable beds, etc.) give the material and all moving parts the once-over. If you find evidence of mold or mildew, you’ll want to clean the material before you go camping. There are mildew stain removers on the market, and these may be used if they fall within the cleaning guidelines of the fabric manufacturer. Check your owner’s manual.
Inspect every system in the RV — the freshwater storage and delivery system, waste-water tanks, the 12-volt DC (make sure the batteries hold a charge) and 120-volt AC systems, the propane system, furnace, refrigerator, stove/oven, roof air conditioner, etc. Take a vacuum nozzle to all the tight spaces to clean out cobwebs, leaves, dust and other debris that may have collected during the storage period. Make sure all interior lights and switches work, the fans operate, windows open and close easily and that everything functions as it should. Check the tires, brakes, exterior lights (tail-/stop-/turn lights, as well as clearance and side-marker lights). Switch on the outside patio light and all exterior storage compartment lights to make sure they work. Test the tongue jack and corner levelers. Inspect the towing equipment, if applicable.
If your RV is self-propelled, perform routine maintenance such as oil/filter change, cooling system service, and check/replace the belts and hoses. Prove to yourself that, in every possible way, the RV is roadworthy and ready for camping. The most disappointing thing is to get part way to the campground… but not quite all the way there.
Take sleeping bags out of storage, open them up and fluff them out. It is a fact that sleeping bags are happiest when they’re left open and fluffed all the time, because it allows the insulation material to breath and remain resilient. Turn the bags inside out to air them out and do an inspection. If necessary, launder them according to manufacturer recommendations.
While you’re at it, scrutinize the sleeping pads. If yours are of the self-inflating variety and they’ve been stored rolled up tight, now is the time to open the valve, shake them out and watch them inflate. These pads are best stored inflated — that keeps the foam expanded and not crushed — with the valve closed to keep moisture out. It’s a good idea to slightly overinflate the pad and then inspect for escaping air. Use the manufacturer’s recommended method for repairing any leaks.
What about your camp lanterns? Is the fuel old? Are the mantles falling apart? It doesn’t take much work to restore a lantern to like-new condition, and now is the time to do it. Replace cracked globes with new glass. Replace old mantles with fresh ones, but don’t burn the silk into ash until you’re in camp, so the fragile ash mantles won’t crumble during transport. Always have fresh mantles on hand in camp.
Open your stove up, take it apart and clean out all the old encrusted scraps of food that escaped the frying pan and fell into the abyss. A good washing with a grease-cutting detergent will help clean up past splatters. If your stove is equipped with a piezo-electric igniter, check to make sure it delivers a healthy spark. With a new LPG canister attached or the fuel tank full and pumped up, start all the burners and make sure they are giving you equal fire all the way around. If not, you might need to clean the burner orifices with a nonflammable cleanser and an old toothbrush.
Shake out the spiders, scorpions, snakes or pellets left by mice. Hey, I’m not kidding — this stuff happens. Look the boots over and determine if they have another season left in their career. It’s always a treat to have new laces, so go ahead and splurge. Clean your boots inside and out, then dress the outside with the appropriate products — saddle soap to soften hard leather and something akin to Sno-Seal for restoring the waterproofing of the uppers. If you really feel like pampering yourself, pop for a new set of footbeds. Whoa, now that’s luxury!
As you gain momentum on your preseason equipment check, go ahead and keep examining everything in your personal inventory of camping gear. Take special care to review critical survival equipment such as first-aid kits, fire starters and the like to make sure they have been fully restocked and are in good condition. Not only will a check of every item of equipment help you discover areas of concern before they turn into real problems, but the process will refamiliarize you with your beloved camping apparatus. And that’s almost as much fun as being there!

1. Practice setting up a new tent before leaving home.
2. Seal the seams of your tent. You’ll have a drier night. Some tents come with a tube of sealer. It’s also available at outdoor-equipment retailers.
3. I prefer aluminum over fiberglass tent poles, and flush- over collar-joint poles. Aluminum is more durable, and flush-joint poles tend to slide through tent-pole sleeves easier, making set up and take down quicker.
4. Slightly polish the connecting joints of your tent poles with super-fine-grit wet sandpaper for an easier fit.
5. If an aluminum pole joint jams, gently heat one side so it will expand.
6. If you’re on a budget, don’t cheap out on tents or sleeping bags. Trim money elsewhere, mistakes with these two most critical items can be disastrous.
7. Some tents are over-rated in sleeping capacity. Two feet of width is nice for a comfortable sleep, not the 18 inches or less many tent makers allow.
8. Clean, dry and air your tent after each trip. It will last longer and not mildew.
9. Check your tent for contents and condition prior to each trip. Give yourself enough time to replace or repair parts if needed.
10. Shop for a tent with a vestibule. The vestibule offers protected space for boots or wet gear just outside the tent.
11. Shop for a tent with a gear loft. It’s a great place to dry socks and other wet clothing if the weather is stormy.
12. Bugs are attracted to bright colors (especially red and yellow), so keep your clothing-color choices toned down for camping.
13. Stick to high-quality wool-blend socks for hiking. Cotton traps sweat next to your skin.
14. Leave those left over rock concert T-shirts at home. Invest in high-quality “wicking” or “hydrophobic” (pulls moisture away from your skin) base layer wear.
15. Layering is the key to proper camping attire. Have a base layer, a mid-layer (insulator such as fleece) and a shell (rain jacket).
16. Break in those new boots long (weeks) before you walk a mile in them. This is best done by wearing them for a couple hours a day around the house.
17. Always carry a spare pair of boot laces.
18. If you’re not backpacking or going on extensive day hikes, you probably don’t need boots. But don’t cheap out – at least buy good outdoor-trail shoes – your feet are an important asset.
19. Hats are a must. They keep the sun off your head and face during warm weather, and keep heat from escaping from your head (a prime source of body heat loss) during cold weather.
20. Never, ever leave home without high-quality sunglasses. Throw those cheap dime-store shades away. Your retinas can be damaged by the sun’s radiation without proper protection.
21. Have at least two flashlights, and spare batteries for each.
22. Consider binoculars a basic camping tool. Your trips will be more rewarding.
23. Unless weight is an issue, bring a small hatchet and saw for cutting firewood. It’s easier and safer than trying to break it up with your hands.
24. Get a collapsible shovel. Uses range from latrine duty to campfire tending.
25. Those little headlamps may look silly, but they’re worth their weight in gold when you need two hands free in the dark.
26. Use stacking storage tubs to organize your camping gear. They also make it easier to transport the gear from the house to vehicle to camp.
27. Down sleeping bags are best for insulation, but when wet, can lose loft and heat-retention qualities. Three-season, synthetic-fill bags are generally less expensive and a good choice for family campers.

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