Organizing, cleaning and storing your camping gear are the necessary evils you have to deal with if you want to enjoy the great outdoors. But does they have to be? We decided to make an ultimate guide to these frustrating tasks – where everything you need to know is in one place – making the process so much easier.
We compiled the highlights and tips from all the best camping and outdoor recreation sources to make this guide to organizing, cleaning and storing your equipment. From videos to step-by-step hacks, we’re pretty sure this is the only guide to taking care of your gear you’ll ever need.
With camping gear there are several things you’ll want to do pre- and post-adventure. We’ve broken this guide down accordingly. We start with the organizational steps to take before setting out, and end with the cleaning tasks to perform post-camping.
This way, you can jump to where you need or read the whole way through – whatever suits your needs. By following this guide you’re sure to be the ultimate happy camper, so let’s get started!
How to Organize Your Camping Gear Beforehand
The trick to getting the most out of both your camping adventure and your gear is being organized before you head out. This could seem counterintuitive to those that focus tidying energy post-expedition. We understand the impulse to wait until you’re back to get everything organized for storage or safekeeping.
However, in reality you’re far better off if you get your camping equipment properly organized beforehand. By visualizing, making an inventory and labeling your camping gear prior to setting off, you’ll have a better idea of what you have or need. Additionally, when you get back – probably exhausted and a bit dirty yourself – the only thing you need to do is clean! Rather than having to both clean and then organize your camping equipment, you can just clean and pop everything into its designated place.
Sounds a bit easier this way, doesn’t it? Well, let’s get started!
1. Gather your Camping Equipment
Obvious start, but true nonetheless. Before you begin your organizing process in earnest, take a moment to gather your necessary supplies. This step really helps you visualize what camping equipment you have available for your approaching expedition. Laying everything out in a garage or living room also gives you a clue as to holes to fill or or things you have too many copies of.
2. Decide on an Organization Method
Unlike so many other storable items, camping gear can be organized within itself. What we mean is that you can organize all the items you need for a specific type of camping or hiking excursion within the very backpack you would be using. This cuts down on the need for storage containers and keeps you organized the next time you decide to go camping.
While the backpack method is particularly convenient for hiking equipment, the same idea can be applied to organizing and storing camping gear too. Make piles for different types of camping scenarios, and place the necessary items required for each type.
Obviously some items will overlap. You’re going to need your kitchen utensils whether camping in the snow for 3 days or in the desert for 2 weeks. For these transferable items, create a separate “All Camping” pile. What you’ll end up with are a few clear piles with camping gear for different scenarios, and one roving pile that you need for all of them. You always know you’ll need to make room for the “All Camping” bag or container no matter where you’re planning to camp.
Another way to create these useful camping kits is by organizing according to weather or seasons. If you tend to go camping in the same area but in a range of seasons, make Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter camping kits. Similarly, if you sometimes go for alpine camping locales and desert terrain, make a pile for each scenario.
3. Make Inventories of your Outdoor Gear
Now that your camping equipment is organized into gear-specific piles, make some inventories. Inventories are a fantastic way to ensure you have the camping gear you need and to figure out what you’re missing.
You can affix these inventories to your storage containers, or place them inside. This way you’ll know what’s in each. Basically, you’ll be an organization guru. Read this for some other organization tips you’ll actually use.
Camping gear inventories can also double as equipment checklists. Before setting off on a camping trip, take stock of what you’ve packed and make sure everything is where it should be. This can help you avoid disasters on-site. This degree of organization also totally decreases stress when you’re packing up to head off.
4. Organize Storage Containers
Now that you’ve organized your camping gear, you can easily determine the best containers to fit your stuff. If you’re storing camping gear in garage, basement, or attic spaces you’ll need to mount a defense against moisture. The best way to keep your outdoor equipment from being damaged during at-home storage is to invest in plastic bins.
While a bit pricier than cardboard boxes, plastic bins are better are keeping moisture at bay and protecting your items from other damaging elements. Clear plastic storage containers are even better as they allow visibility of your stored gear.
Cooking utensils can be kept in resealable plastic bags to keep them organized. This way, you won’t end up with a bunch of lose utensils rattling around in your storage containers.
5. Label Absolutely Everything
Once you’ve organized your camping equipment, it’s time to label each storage bin. Labeling is a helpful way to stay sane when organizing and storing your gear, and it saves time down the road. Since you’ve taken steps to organize your camping gear beforehand, when you get back from camping you can simply clean your gear and pack it all into the appropriate boxes.
So much easier than figuring it all out on the spot!
Here’s a list of some helpful labels to get you started. Be sure to adjust the labels to your specific needs!
- Summer/Winter/Fall/Spring Camping/Hiking Gear
- X Person Tent
- Camping/Hiking Equipment – Snow/Sun/Rain
- Camping/Hiking with Kids
- Long Haul Camping/Hiking
- Weekend Camping/Hiking Trips
- Solo Camping/Hiking
- Beach Camping
- Car Camping
Post-Trip Camping Gear Care and Maintenance
When it comes to the best way to clean your camping equipment, timing is super important. Basically, the sooner you can get to cleaning your gear after you’ve used it, the better. Of course, when you come home after a fantastic but exhausting few hours, days, or weeks outdoors the last thing you want to do is clean everything. We get that, trust us.
At the same time, the longer you leave your gear before cleaning it, the more time that grime has to really set in and cause damage. Also the longer your camping equipment stays unclean, the harder it’ll be to deal with in the future. So let’s start with the first things you should do when you get home from camping, and we’ll end with how to store your camping gear.
1. Clean Your Cooking Utensils
The first thing to do when you return from a camping trip is clean your cooking and eating utensils. We all know that cleanliness is generally not the top priority when you’re chowing down outdoors. Half the time the lighting is soft enough that you can hardly see your spork, let alone be worried about how clean it is!
That’s why you’ve got to take care of these items first. If they can be put in the dishwasher, stick them all in there as step one. If they aren’t dishwasher safe, leave them to soak in some warm, soapy water while you take a shower yourself.
Also check out your pack or bags to make sure there aren’t any leftover food containers or packets at the bottom of bags or in pockets. Recycle what you can and toss what you can’t.
Once everything has been thoroughly cleaned, whether by hand or machine, make sure everything is bone dry. The last thing you want is for your tin utensils to get rusty in storage! You also want to avoid any nasty mold or mildew on silicone or plastic products. Really get in to all the nooks and crannies to ensure there isn’t anything left behind.
2. Clean your Camping Clothes
Again – we know no one wants to do laundry when they get back from a trip. This is especially true when that trip involved hanging out in the woods or other wilderness, but it’s important. On your way to what is probably a much needed shower, just peel off your camping clothes and anything else you wore and toss them in the washing machine. Or your laundry bag! Or get them ready for the on-demand laundry service app you use – whatever!
The important thing is to get the stains and smells out ASAP. Camp fires are notoriously pungent, so you’ll want to tackle those scents right away so your whole home doesn’t end up smelling smokey.
3. Take Care of your Sleeping Bag
Wondering how to clean a sleeping bag? We’ve got the answers. Crawling into a cozy sleeping bag at the end of a long day outdoors is one of life’s greatest simple pleasures. Resting your happily tired muscles and falling asleep breathing in clean night air – what could be better? That’s why you want to ensure your sleeping bag is clean when you slide in, otherwise this spellbinding moment could be broken.
The experts at REI have a few tips for washing a sleeping bag – including tennis balls – so check out the video below. However, these camping gear experts agree that proper sleeping bag care begins on site.
That is to say, protect your sleeping bag while you’re camping to make sure you don’t need to clean it all that often. REI recommends a sleeping bag liner that you can easily toss in the washing machine. This step allows you to avoid the tedious sleeping bag washing and drying process otherwise required.
In short, washing and drying a sleeping bag is a time-consuming part of the upkeep for camping and hiking gear. Depending on whether you have a synthetic or down sleeping bag, proper care will be slightly different. Many campers choose to have a professional undertake their sleeping bag washing and drying to ensure the bag isn’t damaged.
Top of the line sleeping bags can be pricey. Having a pro take care of proper upkeep can be a smart choice to maintain the investment in as best shape as possible for as long as you can. If you choose to clean your bag at home, use a non-detergent cleaner and make sure to read your item’s washing instructions. Pop a couple tennis balls in during the tumble dry to help keep the loft in your bag.
When storing sleeping bags, it’s actually best to keep them out of their compression bags or other small sacks. When sleeping bags are stored for long periods of time, they can lose their loft. Subsequently, they won’t be able to provide optimal comfort and protection.
Instead of storing sleeping bags in their bags, lay them flat or hang them. This takes up a lot of storage space, but in the long run you’ll be glad you did it! You can lay sleeping bags flat beneath your bed if you’re pressed for space as well.
4. Clean your Tent
Depending on your camping environment, your tent may have to withstand some pretty severe forms of exposure. Proper tent care and maintenance goes a long way in preserving your purchase and helping it perform its best outdoors. You have to take care of your tent if you want it to take care of you!
So what do you need to know about the proper way to clean a tent? Friend to every hiker and camper, the experts at REI have a video guide to cleaning a tent too! Check it out below.
To make a long-ish story short, the basics of tent cleaning are:
- Shake it out. Shake your tent out to get rid of any loose dirt, grasses or other materials.
- Spot clean. First spot clean your tent using mild dish soap and a sponge or cloth.
- Soak it. Soak your tent in a some soapy water to clean the whole thing after spot cleaning. You’ll want to use a tent or gear cleaner as the soap part of this step. Find one here.
- Dry it out. You need to make sure your tent is totally dry before packing and storing it. Hang it up to dry somewhere that is out of direct sunlight. Direct sun exposure can damage the weather-proofing elements of the tent’s design.
5. Wash your Backpack
Every camper or backpacker knows that there’s a specific pack suited for every kind of hike. Day hike? Lightweight backpack with minimal storage. Snow hike? Waterproof all the way plus lots of storage space for bulky layers. Week long backpacking trek? Something with enough space to fit all your gear and supplies.
Accordingly, a hiker’s backpack is an investment and it can make or break an adventure. Ensuring proper backpack care is the best way to maintain longevity and get the most out of your purchase. So, whenever you get back from a hike be sure to clean your backpack ASAP.
We researched the best ways to wash a backpack and found a few backpack care essentials all experts agree on:
- Remove any metal frames from your backpack.
- Use a cleaner specifically made for outdoor gear – not regular detergent. Regular laundry detergent can severely damage your backpack. So much so that experts recommend doing an empty wash cycle in your machine prior to washing your backpack. This step ensures no leftover detergent can damage your backpack.
- Never put your backpack in the dryer. Never. Instead, air-dry your backpack, preferably upside down, to make sure it is totally dry before packing and storing.
If you really want to make sure your backpack can last many years of camping and hikes, think about buying either a backpack cover and/or a backpack liner. A backpack cover can protect your pack from moisture damage while you’re hiking or camping. This will cut back on the amount of washing you’ll have to do when you get home. Similarly, a backpack liner can keep your pack clean if any of your supplies end up leaking or otherwise falling apart inside. We all know that very specific smell backpacks get when a liquid has been spilled and then allowed to dry inside them. Not nice.
6. Clean your Hiking Boots
We don’t need to tell you that your hiking boots are pretty gross at the end of an expedition. Or maybe we do? Well, they are dirty – in case you weren’t totally sure. That means you need to clean them or else risk damage to the soles or other parts of the boot or shoe.
Proper outdoor boots are a major investment for some hikers and campers. In addition to waterproofing and breaking them in, you need to maintain hiking boots by cleaning them regularly. An important part of that process is using a wire brush to dislodge and dirt or stones from the soles of the boots. This step helps keep boots in good condition, and helps resist wear and tear on the soles.
It’s also important to brush or wash the mud from your boots before storing them away until the next expedition. The mud on your boots sucks up moisture from the shoe material as it dries. This depletion of moisture can cause cracking and other damage.
7. Repair your Outdoor Boots
Sometimes despite your best efforts your hiking boots might crack or otherwise be damaged. Instead of buying a brand new pair, take your broken boots to a cobbler to have them fixed. This is often a far cheaper alternative than buying new boots.
Ask your cobbler for a few extra pairs of boot laces when you get your shoes repaired. Often the cobbler won’t charge you extra if you’re paying for another service, and it’s a great idea to have spares in your backpack.
8. Charge Your Batteries
Ah, this is one of those – why didn’t I think of that tips. The minute you get home from your most recent camping trip, get to charging those batteries. Whether batteries from flashlights, headlamps, portable phone chargers – whatever – get those babies hooked up to a power source. Alternatively, swap out used batteries for new ones or at least keep new packs on hand.
Always, always, remove batteries from any and all equipment prior to storage. Batteries left inside gear can explode while in storage. This damages not only the item they were powering, but can damage surrounding gear as well. So, in addition to re-charging your batteries and power-sources post-camp, keep them out of the items until you set off again.
Storing Camping Equipment
Before you went camping you set up a beautiful and streamlined gear organizing system which made the eventual cleaning process so much easier. Now you’re back from camping, everything is cleaned and neatly organized and you’re wondering where to store your camping gear until the next adventure. Luckily, we’ve got you covered.
Option 1: Use At-Home Storage Space
Even if you have a ton of space to store camping equipment in your garage, basement or attic you’ll be surprised how much room you’ll actually need. Check out our tips on organizing your garage for some storage inspiration.
Throughout this article we’ve shared a few helpful hints for storing your camping gear. To sum up:
- Store sleeping bags flat or hang them
- Remove all batteries from equipment prior to storage
- Use plastic storage containers to keep moisture at bay
- Store tents and other gear out of direct sunlight
Option 2: Use an On-Demand Storage Service
Make your life 10x easier by using Livible on-demand storage for your camping gear. Livible offers full service storage – that means pickup, storage and delivery – you can schedule online or on the app. Using Livible you’ll also create a free online digital inventory of all your stored items. You can simply select what you’d like picked up or delivered and we’ll be at your door. How easy is that?
It sounds expensive but using Livible is actually 15% cheaper than most traditional self-storage options. Get your Guaranteed Estimate to see how much you can save by storing your camping and hiking equipment with Livible. Because Livible only charges you for the space you actually use, it’s a great option for seasonal or short-term storage.