Winterizing Camping Gear

How to clean and store your camping gear for the winter.

Fast-forward to next springtime, when you’re excited to get back into the great outdoors. You roll or hike into your favorite camping spot, only to find your tent, sleeping bag, or mess kit has rotted over the winter or gathered mold and now has a bad smell - yuck!

Camping gear is expensive enough, so you need to take good care of your equipment to prolong its useful life - and clean equipment works better, smells better, and lasts much longer.

In this post, we’ll take you through the basics for cleaning your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp kitchen equipment, and packs.

1-man tent


Tents are typically made from treated nylon, which doesn’t need to be cleaned after every trip. But before storing it for an extended period, you should erect the tent and give the inside a good vacuum, to remove any sand, grit, or dried dirt from the floor. Check for any tears or loose stitching and repair/patch as needed.

Then, using a bucket of water with a gentle, non-detergent soap, wipe the inside of the tent down with a sponge.

If you see any mold spots, use a spray bottle with some diluted white vinegar to give it a gentle scrub. Once the inside is thoroughly clean, open the flaps and move to the outside of the tent.

Repeat the process to thoroughly clean the outside surfaces - then flip the tent on its side so you can wipe the underside of the floor clean - take care not to remove the waterproof finish. 

Once everything is wiped clean, ensure you give every surface enough time to dry completely. Of all the things you could do to extend the life of your tent, drying the tent before storing could be the most important.

Now that your tent is completely dry (like really dry), it’s time to pack it away. Try to use a bigger bag than what you would pack the tent in for a trip to allow the fabric to breathe. Store in a dry place with an even temperature and low humidity - like a bedroom closet. Best to not store in direct sunlight, and not in a damp basement. For the poles, store those fully extended so the elastics can relax.

woman in sleeping bag

Sleeping Bags

Compared to tents, sleeping bags are much easier to clean. While camping, keep the sleeping bag as dry as possible. Give them a good shake every morning, and lay them out in the sun to dry before packing up for the day. Sleeping bag liners can be used, and are easier to wash than your sleeping bag, so consider getting one of these. 

Before storing it for the winter, throw your sleeping bag into a washing machine, and wash it in cold water on a gentle cycle. Use a mild detergent and avoid washers with agitators, as these can harm your bag.

Once washed, throw your bag into a dryer and set it to low. It may take multiple cycles to completely dry - synthetics will dry faster than down. Be patient with it, and never turn up the heat, because you’ll damage the filling. 

If your lower-temperature bag has thick pockets of down, you should throw in a couple of dryer balls to help break up any clumps of down.

To store, just like tents, a cool dry place is best. To keep the insulation fluffy store the bag in a loose, breathable bag - like a pillowcase

Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad

Sleeping Pads

To clean your pad, just sponge it with warm water (like you would a tent). Hang your pad to dry making sure the valve(s) are open and hanging down to remove any built-up moisture inside the pad.

If you have any holes in your pad, now is the time to repair those.

Sleeping pads are best stored completely unrolled under a bed or hanging in a closet, with the valve(s) open. If you do need to roll it up, roll it loosely and store it in a dry place.

hiking boots

Hiking Boots

Your boots take a lot of abuse and are likely to be extra dirty at the end of the hiking season. Since they take good care of you, you should return the favor by giving them a good cleaning and reproof before storage.

Start by removing the laces, and insoles and pulling out the tongue to expose the creases. Take a stiff brush and knock off any loose dirt. Then introduce some warm water with a gentle detergent and thoroughly clean all surfaces.

Wash the insoles separately and sprinkle a little baking soda inside each boot to knock down any remaining odor. Stuff them with newspaper and set them aside to dry. 

Once you’ve cleaned and dried your boots, it’s time to give them a fresh waterproofing treatment. The product you use will depend on your boots - synthetic fabric vs. leather vs. suede - make sure you use the correct treatment and follow the instructions on the can.

Store in a cool dry place, and out of direct sunlight.

Water filtration

Camp Kitchen Gear

Things like mess kits, coolers, cooking pans, and kettles all need extra attention before long-term storage. Make sure everything is clean, and completely dry before storage. 

Pay attention to airflow, and never store equipment with an airtight seal, sealed, or tightly rolled. For coolers or portable fridges, store with the lid/door propped slightly open.

Any kind of water storage gear or water bottles needs to be stored with the lid off - use a zip tie to attach the lid to the equipment so you don’t lose track of it.

Camping stoves or lanterns should be cleaned and repacked, making sure all the pieces are present and ready for use next time. Used candles or partially full gas bottles should be replaced because you’ll never remember how much gas is left since the last time you used your gas stove.

Batteries should be removed from flashlights, lanterns, or LED lights to avoid leakage - and any rechargeable device should be packed away with its charging cable/adaptor, so you can recharge the next time you’re headed out.

Knives, axes, and shovels should be cleaned, oiled, sharpened, and repacked into their sleeves with any extra parts