How to look after outdoor kit: cleaning, maintenance and repair

How to look after outdoor kit: cleaning, maintenance and repair for tents

How to look after outdoor kit

Your outdoor gear is there to be used, abused and covered in mud – that’s the sign of a good adventure! But if you keep your key pieces of kit clean and good repair, they’ll do you proud for years. It’s easier than you think to fix a lot of the things that go wrong with outdoor gear, and it’s also far more eco-friendly to care for your kit rather than replacing items when they break or get dirty. My guide to how to look after outdoor kit, including your boots, tent, sleeping bag and waterproofs, is the perfect place to start if you’re on a mission to get your outdoor clothing and camping kit ship-shape and ready for your next adventure.

How to look after your rucksack

How to look after outdoor kit: cleaning, maintenance and repair for rucksacks

How to clean your rucksack: Backpacks get grubby easily, especially if you’re carting them around the world on your travels or you’re off hiking every weekend. Wash them regularly in the bath with a sponge and washing up liquid (some can also go in the washing machine, but this can shorten their lifespan). An old toothbrush is useful for scrubbing if your pack is really caked in mud. Leave your rucksack to dry outside on a hot day but away from direct sunshine.

How to fix your rucksack: If an old, unloved backpack has gone mouldy or mildewed in storage, don’t chuck it away – scrub it with white vinegar and then wash it. Stuck zipper? Try a zipper lubricant. Broken zipper? Try these 11 ways to fix a broken zipper or see if a local shop can fix or replace the zipper for you. Any small tears can usually easily be sewn up by hand or patched with a nylon repair patch. Replacement buckles are also cheap to buy online.

How to look after your tent

How to clean your tent: Tents go mouldy or end up smelling musty easily in storage, especially if you put them away when they aren’t bone-dry, but the good news is that it’s easy to clean them. Scrub off any mud and dirt with a sponge and washing up liquid, then hand wash your tent’s outer and inner flies in a bath filled with warm water, using technical wash such as Nikwax’s Tech Wash. Rinse well, then erect your tent outdoors on a warm day but out of direct sunlight and leave until fully dry.

How to fix your tent: A broken tent is seriously frustrating – and one of the things people seem to just dump in the bin and replace, or worse, leave behind at a festival or campsite. But there’s plenty you can do to revive a tent – and you may even be able to snap up a bargainous tent that just needs a bit of TLC if you learn how to fix them. Broken poles? First up, see if the manufacturer or shop where you bought the tent can replace the broken pole (this is more likely if your tent is still under warranty) or sell you a new part. If not, look online to see if replacement poles are available, or try fixing the broken pole using a tent repair kit. Rip in the fabric? You can buy fabric and mesh repair panels and tape for tents such as this Tear-Aid patch, which are all easy to apply. If a seam has come loose, try Seam Grip. If your tent has stopped repelling water properly, try treating it with a tent re-proofer. Bent tent pegs? Straighten them with a mallet – holding them over a camping stove for a few seconds first can make them more malleable.

How to look after your sleeping bag

How to look after outdoor kit: cleaning, maintenance and repair for sleeping bags

How to clean a sleeping bag: Check the label first – most sleeping bags come with washing instructions. If not, it’s best to hand wash them in warm water in the bath and air dry on a warm day out of full sun. You can also pop them in the washing machine – if your sleeping bag is stuffed with down, use a down-specific wash, and add a couple of tennis balls in the drum – these will stop the filling from clumping. Don’t twist or wring your sleeping bag out – this can also cause the stuffing to go lumpy. Lay the bag out flat on towels outside on a warm day or hang open on a washing line and air dry.

How to fix a sleeping bag: I find small rips in cotton sleeping bags are easy to sew. If your bag is filled with down, follow my instructions below for patching up down jackets. If your down sleeping bag has lost its puff, washing it using a down-specific cleaner and drying it properly will help to restore the loft. Broken zip? Try this youtube video for help repairing it.

How to look after your surfboard

How to clean your surfboard: Give your board a regular rewaxing. Start by leaving it outside on a sunny day to help the wax melt, then scrape off as much wax as you can with a wax comb (an old credit card also works well). Remove any remaining wax with white spirit or a surfboard-specific cleaner such as Dewax It, then wipe clean with water and let dry before reapplying a new layer of base wax.

How to care for your surfboard: Boards easily get dinged and damaged, especially if you’re as clumsy as me. If your board is an expensive pride and joy, you’re best paying a professional to fix it, especially if there’s a lot of damage. If it’s a beginner board you like to play about on and it doesn’t need to look perfect, you can patch it up at home using epoxy, which is waterproof and easy to apply.

How to look after your waterproof jacket

How to look after outdoor kit: cleaning, maintenance and repair for waterproof jackets Sian Lewis The Girl Outdoors

How to clean and fix your waterproof jacket: In my experience, even the best waterproof jacket won’t repel water properly forever – water repellent (also written as DWR or durable water repellency) treatments applied to waterproof jackets, which work together with a waterproof membrane to repel water, fade with time. Dirt and oil can also stop your jacket’s waterproofing technology from working. When water stops beading off the surface of your jacket and begins to sink into the material, it’s time to re-waterproof it. Wash your jacket and then spray it all over with a re-waterproofing spray. If you have a burst seam, try patching it up with Seam Grip. Broken zip? Try one of these fixes or get the zip replaced.

How to look after your running trainers

How to clean your trainers: My running trainers need regular washing – frequent trail runs make them muddy and smelly pretty much every time I wear them. I wash my inner soles and my trainers seperately in the sink by hand (you can put them in the washing machine, but this shortens their lifespan). Bang or scrape off big bits of mud, then give the shoes a scrub with an old toothbrush and washing up liquid. A protective spray like Scotchguard will help to keep them cleaner and in need of less frequent washes, especially if you tend to stick to road running rather than muddy trails. Fresh laces will also revive a tired pair of running shoes. When you aren’t wearing your trainers, stick Boot Bananas inside – these work surprisingly well at stopping smells, and are also good for pongy climbing shoes and hiking boots.

How to look after your down jacket

Sian Lewis The Girl Outdoors

How to clean your down jacket: Wash down in the washing machine on a cool or wool setting using a cleaning liquid designed specifically for down such as Nikwax (here’s my review of their Down Wash Direct) or Grangers Down Wash Kit. Add tennis balls or dryer balls to the wash stop the down from clumping. It’s best to tumble dry animal down if possible, but synthetic down can be air dried.

How to fix your down jacket: Is your down jacket still clumpy after washing, or has it gone flat after getting caught in the rain? Wash your jacket as above, then tumble dry and remove the jacket every half an hour to knead any clumps with your fingers to loosen up the stuffing. It can be hard to sew a down jacket as a needle may end up ripping the outer material of the jacket even more. The good news its that it’s easy to patch a ripped down jacket (or down sleeping bag) with McNett Tenacious Repair Tape, which goes on clear, can be cut to size and lasts ages. At a pinch, gaffer tape will also work.

How to look after your hiking boots

How to clean fabric walking boots: Clean fabric hiking boots by brushing off dirt and mud, then wash with a footwear cleaning gel or washing up liquid in a sink of warm water. Rinse and leave to dry stuffed with newspaper. While still damp, spray with a re-waterproofing agent such as Nikwax.

How to clean leather walking boots: Brush off mud, then use water and a leather cleaner such as saddle soap all over the boots. If your boots are made with suede or nubuck leather, buy a cleaner designed specifically for those materials. Boots gone mouldy? Clean with a mix of water and white vinegar. This Grangers kit is a good buy, including a cleaner, re-waterproofing spray and a leather conditioner. Let your boots air dry, stuffed with newspaper.

How to fix hiking boots: If your boots get soaked on a rainy walk, stuff them with newspaper and leave to dry (as tempting as it is to dry them by a fire or stove, this can damage the leather – I do this all the time but I know it’s bad!). Got a hole or a burst seam in hiking boot? In my experience it’s best to get them professionally fixed by a cobbler – it’ll still cost a fraction of the price of a new pair of boots. When leather boots get dry or cracked, treat them with a leather conditioner.

How to care for other bits and bobs

How to clean base layers: You can wash synthetic base layers with the rest of your load in a washing machine, but if they start to get smelly after lots of running or hiking sessions, use a base layer-specific wash such as Nikwax Base Wash to get rid of any smells. Wool or merino base layers require a specific wool wash.

How to rewax a wax jacket: Rewax an old waxed jacket or waxed canvas backpack to render them water resistant again. Barbour have a good guide to waxing their jackets. Buy the wax recommended by the maker and follow their instructions (Fjallraven, for example, sell their own Greenland Wax, which you heat, sponge on and let dry). Rewaxing your kit regularly will keep it water resistant, and you can apply extra wax to places that get lots of wear and tear, such as the shoulders of jackets and the knees of trousers.

How to wash a fleece jacket: Wash fleeces on a low setting in the washing machine and never iron them. Air drying is best for prolonging their life. You can reduce piling by using a razor to lightly cut off bobbles when they appear, and you can also render fleece water repellent with a tech wash.

How to look after outdoor kit: cleaning, maintenance and repair Sian Lewis

If you do decide to replace a bit of outdoor gear that’s still in usable condition, don’t chuck it away – give it a wash and a spruce up and then donate it to Gift Your Gear, who give used outdoor kit to youth groups and charities.

Ready to replace an item? Check out my gear reviews.


  1. Amy
    April 22, 2020 / 4:57 pm

    If you search out replacement rucksack buckles made by “Sea to Summit” they do a model that doesn’t need you to cut and sew the webbing (others might be available – I don’t work for them). I keep one in my pack just in case. I can also vouch for the Tear Aid repair patches.

    I always carry a small spool of Kevlar thread a couple of needles in my pack. It’s immensely strong and just a few stitches can be strong enough to repair a rucksack or tent until you get chance to do it properly.

    My top tip is to find your local clothes repair shop. There’s one near me that’s run by a lovely lady who can perform miracles in terms of repairing, shortening, lengthening and, most importantly, can replace zips in almost anything.

    The weather has been particularly cruel recently, with the Ben Nevis and Ben More webcams showing great conditions and the lack of contrails making the sky look even bluer. I’m packed ready for the off as soon as they let us out and the camp sites open. The only worry is that after a few months of lock down the midges will be ravenous!

  2. sian
    April 24, 2020 / 1:41 pm

    Great tips Amy! Thank you