Springtime Gear Prepping
By Luke C
Hello there, Woods Monkey readers. Let’s slow down for just a second and talk about something that’s near and dear to each of us: actually going out and using some of that new gear you’ve been collecting. Winter is on its way out, and even up here in the High Rockies, the grass is greening up and the Aspen’s are putting out their spring buds. Soon we’ll be full swing into warm days and cabin fever will be a distant memory. In this article, we’ll talk about a few things that you can do on one of the last ‘too cold and rainy to get outside’ days to make this spring the enjoyable time you’ve been thinking about all winter.
We’ll do this in a sort of list form, and bear with me if I jump around a bit. I don’t mean for this to be comprehensive, but more of a starting point to get your wheels turning. Here are a few things to check on, fiddle with, and generally get ready for the coming warm weather.
First, start with your clothes. It’s probably been all winter, if not longer, since you put on some of your light weight hiking clothes. Can you even find them? Much less, were you wearing cotton all last summer and found yourself wishing for some of the light synthetics that keep you cooler for longer? Now’s the time to start the research that will help you find what’s right for you. Believe me; the light weight fancy stuff is worth the investment. How about your feet? Maybe your worn out old hiking boots were giving you blisters on the trail. Comfortable, light weight footwear is a top priority. Get a new set of shoes and get them broken in before that first trip this summer. Also, good quality socks are inching their way up my ‘make sure you get the best’ list. Gone are the days when the cheapest paper-thin 900 for a dollar socks are tolerated. They should be high up your list as well. Lastly, find your summer time hat and stock up on some fresh sunscreen.
Give your backpack a check. I’ll bet it still has stuff sitting in it from last year, and who knows what’s been festering in there. Empty it out, and really give it a good inspection. Check the seams, especially the zippers and pack straps, to ensure they haven’t started on unravel. Nothing is more embarrassing that having a torn pack drop gear like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs on the trail. If it has blood from that critter you bagged, is caked in mud, or has the remnants of gun oil from that trail-side cleaning when you plugged your rifle’s muzzle with snow, wash it. Nearly all packs can be washed in warm soapy water and hung up to dry. I’ve washed mine in the bathtub with Dawn after it was extremely filthy with no ill effects. Rinse it well, and avoid the urge to tumble dry it. Heat may cause some damage.
We all carry, or should carry, some basic survival equipment on our person when outdoors. Volumes of articles and videos have been produced about what should be in your personal survival kit, so I won’t go into that here. But, when was the last time you opened it up and checked on it? It may have gotten wet, crushed, or even lost. Also, you may have used something and not replaced it. Take an evening and pull out your Personal Survival Kit (PSK) and make sure everything is in good working order. I was at a training exercise at the end of last summer and a team member needed to signal an approaching group. He pulled out his emergency whistle to find that it had been severely cracked since he last used it, and it wouldn’t blow a tone at all. You don’t want that happening to you. Also, ensure your signal mirror isn’t cracked, and those water purification tabs aren’t expired. If you’re still toting around that emergency blanket and 99¢ poncho from 1985, replace them. Your PSK is cheap insurance, and it’s the stuff that has to work.
Go out into the backyard and fire up your camp stove, hiking stove, or whatever you use. Even some of the simple stoves like the Trangia and Svea can succumb to cracked joints or dried seals. Start them up, get them hot, and make sure they’re in working order. Trying to stay dry under a tarp while cooking eggs for grumpy campers is not the time to find out the fuel you left in the stove has gelled up and clogged the burner. Also, if you’ve been burning the same fuel for the past decade, check on it. If there’s rust flakes in the bottom, it’s time to get a new can of Coleman fuel. Just remember to dispose of the hazmat appropriately. While you have the stove out, check your lantern. If you’re like me and truly enjoy a pressurized white gas lantern, you know it has some maintenance quirks. You’ll need fresh mantles this summer, so go ahead and find the ones you bought for back-ups. Make sure it will pressurize, and the pump seals haven’t dried out. If you haven’t replaced that cracked globe around it, now’s the time. Get it ordered, installed, and you’ll have a much safer experience when it’s time to fire it up again.
The tent is a major investment for both ultralight hikers and weekend warriors. I’ve found that one of the best things to do is set the tent up, open up all the openings, and air that sucker out. It’s been packed away and inside a bag, probably right next to your Coleman fuel and other smelly chemicals, so it’ll stink that first time you climb into it. The zippers are also prone to wear, as is the floor of the tent, so give them a once over. If you’ve been putting the tent directly on the ground, step up and get yourself a footprint to protect it. You can make a cheap footprint out of some old Visqueen, a clean tarp, or the old tent you’ve been meaning to throw away. It wouldn’t hurt to also re-treat the rain fly if you need to, and patch up any small holes before they tear wide open.
All those little odds and ends that take batteries need fresh ones. If you’re like me and use your various electronics to store dead batteries, then you probably need to keep fresh ones on hand. Things like your electric lanterns, fans, radios, TV’s (yes, some folks take them along) and even the fancy bug keep-away gadgets will need fresh batteries. If you have any items that take specialty batteries pick some up on your next outing. Pick up two, and keep a spare handy.
Anything kids use are hard to keep running, so buy cheap batteries by the metric butt load. I’ve found that while not as powerful or reliable, the cheap batteries last plenty long enough for kid use, and usually need replacement before they have the opportunity to bust open or corrode. It’s not usually a problem, but can pop up every once in a while. So keep an eye on things with the junky batteries and you’ll be fine.
Clean up and get your various tools in order. Sharpen that axe, hatchet, or machete that’s been bouncing around in your truck’s tool box. A file-sharpened edge is better that pounding on that log across the road to the point of exhaustion. Remember, sharper tools are safer tools. If it has a moving part, it needs oil. Dig out your WD-40 and use it liberally. The come-along, the tow strap shackle, and the Hi-Lift jack from your 4×4 all need oil, probably a quick cleaning too. If you bring power tools with you, like a chainsaw or generator, fire them up. Get them up to operating temperature and make sure they’re all running as they should. They can probably stand to at least have the spark plug cleaned, re-gapped, and the oil checked while you’re at it. Again, if it has a cutting edge, sharpen it.
Lastly, while you’re doing all this, make a list. Keep a notepad handy and write down those ideas and ‘buy more of this’ things as soon as you think about it. If you move on to the next project, you’ll forget that shopping list in a hurry. If anything has a consumable part, put more on your list. Lantern mantles, two cycle oil, and lamp wicks, all need upgrading. I’ve found a two column list to work best. One column has things to work on or check, the other has a shopping list. As you move through them, scratch them off. I’ve found even looking back at my old notes gave me new ideas sometimes.
I hope this give you some ideas of things to work on and otherwise fiddle with during the waning days of old man winter. Take an evening and go through your gear while you have the time, and I guarantee, this spring will be much more successful for you. I’ll see you out there!