Winter Downtime for Hikers and Campers

For many outdoor enthusiasts, the cold winter months are a bummer. Its too cold to camp, trails are covered in snow, streams become ice. Winter doesn’t have to be wasted time though. In fact, its the perfect time to prepare for the next season.

Gear Maintenance

Most outdoor equipment requires some kind of regular maintenance whether its cleaning, sewing, patching, or waterproofing.


Open up the tent to ensure its dry. Wet tents will mildew and eventually break down.

Dirty tents don’t last as long. Spot clean and use a seam sealer if appropriate. Consider using a waterproof spray to reapply a waterproof coating. Waterproofing breaks down over time so a routine application will keep the tent from leaking. Nikwax has a waterproof spray that also provides UV protection.


Check for worn straps, broken buckles, rips and tears.

Some manufacturers have lifetime warranties.

Sleeping Bag

Hang and air out sleeping bags.


Clean out carbon build up, replace seals and gaskets. Some manufacturers like MSR sell maintenance kits complete with gaskets, seals, rings, springs, and whatever else the stove may require.


Did you forget that you duck taped that rip on your jacket? Check for rips and tears. Self adhesive patches are available that will maintain the integrity of a waterproof garment.

When it comes to washing expensive waterproof gear, skip the Tide. While there are several brands available, Nikwax is the most popular option. Nikwax makes a tech wash specifically for waterproof clothes, technical garments, and sleeping bags. It can be purchased in conjunction with a wash in waterproof treatment for hardshell or softshell. Grangers is another popular brand.

Consumable Supplies

Check your sunblock, toothpaste, and other perishable goods. Many or all will have expiration dates. Its easy to overlook these items when they’re not used daily.

Go Shopping

After doing the requisite maintenance on your gear, you may have found out it’s time to replace items. Consider upgrading when possible by looking for lighter weight cookware or ask if you need a sophisticated stove when a simple one will do.

Test New Equipment

My first time backpacking involved the MSR Whisperlite (a stove I still own and use today). I tried lighting it once in the backyard before using it in the Smokeys. I understand primer cups and preheating now but then… I’m surprised I left the woods with my eyebrows.

After purchase is a good time to practice setting or using the new gear. It’s a lot easier to learn how to set up a tent or light a stove at home than it is in the dark or in the rain.

If you have enough space, consider setting up your tent. Tear it down and get it back in the bag. Try this a few times. The practice now will be time saved in camp and more time on the trails.

Test out that stove. Try cooking a few meals with it. A nice freeze dried meal might feel slightly nostalgic in the winter months.

Learn New Skills

Look back at the previous season. Where did you struggle? What do you wish you did differently? I could be better with knots.

bunch of assorted colored woven rope
Photo by Skitterphoto on

Pick up a book, bookmark Hacking The Hike for more outdoor tips, watch YouTube (REI’s Miranda in the Wild is fantastic), or otherwise learn a new trail worthy skill.

Start a fire with flint and steel.

Do The Math

Part of owning that shiny new stove is figuring out how much fuel you need. Use the stove a few times weighing or measuring the fuel before and after. Keep track of approximately how much fuel each meal requires. Keep this data for planning fuel requirements.

Note: altitude will change fuel consumption.


What is part of your downtime ritual? Did you learn any new skills this winter? Let us know in the comments below.

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