When should I retire my gear?

Everyone has a story about an indestructible pair of boots or jacket whose age is counted in decades rather than years, but the truth is that everything wears out eventually. Even the mountains can’t avoid it—the Appalachians are presumed to have been taller than the Rockies at one point, before wind and erosion wore them down to their present height. While age may simply take a toll on the aesthetics of some items, it can hurt the performance of others. If you’re looking for an excuse to start the new year with new gear, consider the expiration date on some of these everyday outdoor items.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Biking

If you bike, you should own a helmet. And if you really love biking, you probably own multiple helmets, as everything from mountain to road to cruising around town all have brain buckets designed especially for them. But is your helmet as safe as you think it is?

As a general guideline, you should replace your helmet every five years, as everyday wear and tear, cosmetics like shampoo, and even sweat can degrade the materials in your helmet. Additionally, today’s helmets are much more sophisticated than those of five years ago. Give your head a happy New Year with a new helmet.

Oh, and the five year rule doesn’t just apply to bike helmets…make sure to check your ski/snowboard helmet and climbing helmet as well and replace if necessary.

Paddling

PFDs have a hard life. They are constantly cycling between wet and dry, regularly exposed to too much sun, and forever battling against salt, whether from the ocean or sweat. Not to mention, PFDs are not always the most well-cared-for piece of gear. So let’s start with the basics: you’ve cleaned your PFD recently, right? While you’re doing that, check if the color is fading, the fabric is ripping, or the webbing looks tattered. If so, it’s probably time for a new vest. Also critically important is the quality of your PFD’s foam. If it’s starting to feel hard or doesn’t quickly regain its original shape after being squeezed, replace it.

While you’re checking your PFD, look over other high-wear items like your kayak’s rigging, bulkheads, and seals. Then check out the gaskets on your drysuit, the buckles on your dry bags, and the rope in your throw bag. When you’re done, give your boat a coat of 303 Aerospace Protectant, it’s basically sunscreen for your boat.

Climbing

If you’re using your climbing harness regularly, it is recommended that you replace it every three years. But many factors—including regularly taking big falls—can shorten an individual harness’ lifespan. Before you rope up this year, give your harness a good visual inspection. First check the tie-in points, making sure they are free from any tears, cuts, or abrasions and that the fabric is uniform and no one section is thinner than others. Moving along, make sure the rest of your harness isn’t showing any suspect wear, abrasion, or fading. Furthermore, make sure that the buckles are intact, don’t have any burrs or rough edges, and are free from corrosion.

After checking you harness, spend a few minutes inspecting your other climbing gear. Ropes that have flat spots, are frayed, worn, beat up, or feel stiff—a sign its losing its elasticity—should be retired. Ropes older than 10 years should also be replaced, even if they haven’t been used regularly. Additionally, check your slings, as their strength can be affected by both abrasion and UV exposure. Finally, examine your carabiners for wear and grooving.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Hiking

Finding boots that are comfortable, supportive, and fit right is a tricky task, so it’s no wonder so many people wear theirs into the ground. There is no set mileage or magic number of days a hiking boot has in its life, so the easiest way to tell if a pair needs replacing is to give each boot a quick inspection. Examine the soles to see if they still have tread and all the lugs. Scrambling down wet rock can be dangerous when the rubber has been worn down. Then check the stitching and liner—both inside and out—for fraying or signs of giving out, to avoid them from bursting open when you’re in the middle of your next hike. Another good indicator that it’s time for new boots is how they feel on your feet. If you’ve recently started getting hot spots, blisters, or unusual aches, you might want to kick off the New Year in…well, new kicks.

Pro Tip: Give your boots the “press test.” To do this, press the outsole of the boot upward with your thumb—simulating their movement when being walked in—while watching the midsole. If the midsole folds into a line with small wrinkles, it’s okay, but if you see strong compression lines or cracks, tell your boots to take a hike.

Backpacking

Do you remember the nights being a bit colder than usual during your last backpacking trip? If so, it might be time to upgrade your synthetic-filled sleeping bag. In general (it’s hard to be specific with so many different synthetic fills available these days), the more you compress your bag, the faster its fibers break down. A sure sign that your bag’s life is coming to end is if the fill is clumping or if some spots have more fabric than fill. If you come across either of these, consider downgrading your bag’s degree rating or upgrading to a new one.

Check your puffy jacket, too! Synthetic-filled puffies break down as well, often faster than sleeping bags, thanks to their year-round usefulness and being shoved in and out of backpacks. Before heading out this year, make sure your synthetically insulated stuff is up to the task.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

First Aid

Carrying at least a small first aid kit on all your outdoor adventures is a good idea. Of course, a first aid kit is only as useful as its contents. Before heading outside in the new year, take a look at the expiration date on your first aid kit’s medication and replace anything past its prime. While you’re at it, spend a moment reviewing the first aid cliff notes found in most kits. If anything feels rusty, it’s probably time to refresh those expired first aid skills as well.

Give your gear some love

Of course, not everything needs to be replaced when it starts to show some age. Giving your gear a little first aid by patching that hole on your pack or reviving the waterproofing on your favorite shell is a great way to keep your gear going strong into the new year.

Replacing expired gear is not only a great way to make sure that you’re safely participating in your favorite outdoor sports, it also ensures that you continue to enjoy them. More so, there’s no better way to get stoked to hit that big jump, send a route, or take a trip into the woods than new gear.


DIY: Pegboard Gear Storage

When your early-morning alarm doesn’t go off in time and you’re forced to frantically rush around, trying to get ready and out the door for your adventure, having your gear organized instantly becomes more important. Of course, right before a trip is when you realize you don’t know where half your gear is. If only you had taken the time to set up some kind of organizational system, you’d know right where everything was, and you’d be on your way already.

Just like the power tools in your shed, your adventure gear deserves a home worthy of its beauty. And, there’s nothing quite as nice looking (or as organized) as hanging everything up on a pegboard. It’s easy to sort and customize, simple to look at, and totally Instagram-worthy. And, thankfully, it’s easier to get organized this way than you might realize.

Materials & Tools

  • (2) 2 ft. x 4 ft. pieces of pegboard
  • (2) 1 in. x 2 in. x 8 ft. furring strips
  • 1 lb. box of Grip-Rite 2 in. construction screws
  • Everbilt 47-piece Locking Peg Hook Assortment
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Power drill
  • Circular saw

Directions

1. Find a room or space where you want to organize your gear.

For me, this space turned out to be my garage. Adding a pegboard here allowed for quick, easy access to all of my gear in a central location whenever I packed my car up for an adventure.

2. Find the wall studs to get an idea of exactly where your pegboard will go.

You can use the tried-and-true method of light pounding with your first and then measuring with a tape measure, or you can use an electronic studfinder. However, most studs in residential construction are 24 or 16 inches apart. So, you can use these measurements to figure out exactly where you will be attaching the furring strip to the wall.

In my garage, the studs were 24 inches apart. So, I used this figure to frame the backing furring strip, as shown below. If yours fall 16 inches apart or even 12, you may want to play around with how you center the pegboard over the furring strip.

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The pegboard accessory kit I used does come with spacers, which you screw through the pegboard and into the wall behind. But, I chose to use the furring strip instead, because of the weight I would be placing on the pegboard. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and this method provides a much sturdier and solid support system that connects your pegboard to the studs and utilizes the strength of the wall itself. Since the pegboard is 2 ft. x 4 ft., and the furring strip comes in eight-foot lengths, you’ll need to cut it in half (at 48 inches). This is where you’ll need the tape measure and saw.

3. After cutting the two pieces of furring strip, it’s time to mount them to the wall.

Make sure you use the level to line everything up nice and straight. As an alternative, your iPhone may have a built-in level based on the accelerometer’s functions. To attach the strips to the wall, I used three screws in each piece: one in the center and one near each end. But, don’t place them too close. Furring strip tends to be a dryer wood and is therefore more susceptible to cracking if you try to add screws right at the edge.

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4. After the furring strip is up, it’s time to hang and attach the pegboard!

You’ll want to make sure you center the pegboard’s side edge on your furring strip’s center piece and make the top edge flush with the upper piece of furring strip. Placement is fairly straightforward if your studs are 24 inches apart. If they are 16 inches apart, however, you may have to play around with this.

I used two screws on the longer sides of each edge, between the locations of the furring strip’s existing screws. Once the first piece is up, the second follows quickly. Keep in mind that it’s often easier to do this step with the help of a second person to hold and guide.

5. Now, it’s time to use the hook accessory kit to start arranging and hanging your gear.

I like the accessory variety kit, because it comes with quite a few different shapes and sizes, which can be used for specific items of gear. So, play around to see which pieces work best for your supplies.

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Organization Tips

When it comes to organizing your gear, you want to try to distribute weight as evenly as possible. Take the heavier items and spread them out, and fill in the spaces in between with smaller, lighter items. For my pegboard, I try to keep all items in the same category grouped together—headlamps, water bottles, jackets, etc.—in order to save time looking for them. Since backpacks and jackets tend to take up a lot of volume, a good tip is to hang them on the pegboard’s bottom hooks. Doing so creates more space for other items.

For larger items, camping gear especially, I’ve found that they were just too big and bulky to organize on the pegboard. Instead, I keep them stored and organized on a five-tier plastic storage shelving system. When it comes to grouping smaller gear, you can use stuff sacks, small plastic totes, or similar bags to keep like items together.


Pads Fly Free: The Sea to Summit UltraLight Sleeping Pad

Two summers ago, we were preparing for a trip to California’s Mount Shasta. Our group of four had plans to climb up multiple routes—Avalanche Gulch as a “warm up” and then either Casaval Ridge or a glaciated route on the mountain’s north side.

But, as we began to pile the gear into duffels for our cross-country flight, we realized we had a problem: We needed to bring a lot of gear. As the duffels quickly filled with ropes, crampons, ice axes, tents, stoves, and sleeping pads, our concerns grew. How were we going to get everything across the country and then up the mountain?

Packing “Creatively”

Not wanting to pay through the nose for extra or overweight bags, we each began to look closely at the gear we truly “needed” to bring. A first pass allowed us to cull some stuff. Out went the mountaineering tent in favor of a tarp shelter, and we did the same for a second stove. Climbing gear was pared to only essentials. But, this only got us so far. Our duffels were still too many and too heavy.

One thing we recognized was that, while airline staff measure your carry-on, they don’t weigh it. So, we filled our carry-ons with all the heavy stuff. But, since most mountaineering gear is sharp, and thus can’t be in the passenger cabin, this too only got us so far. Furthermore, some permissible items, like our closed-cell sleeping pads, didn’t fit, no matter how creatively we tried to stuff them.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Burrito-Sized Comfort

Enter the lightweight and super-small Sea to Summit UltraLight Sleeping Pad.

It was around the time that Sea to Summit entered the sleeping pad market, and their first salvo looked like it already hit its mark. The pad packed to the size of a small burrito, and the regular size weighed just 12.5 ounces. When we saw it, a light bulb went on. It looked exceptionally comfortable and, more importantly, would fit in our carry-ons.

But, we were all initially dubious: Would the lightweight material stand up to several nights of rocky bivvies on Shasta, especially now that we had skimped on a tent with a floor? And, the thought of the pad popping, and a sleepless night at altitude before that all-too-early wake-up call left us wondering whether the expenditure was worth the risk.

Still Climbing

Turns out, the pad was way better than expected. It packed up as small as advertised. Due to its 181 Air Sprung Cells creating little pockets of air to lift you two inches off the ground, it also proved to be even more comfortable than we anticipated. Specifically, the cells help prevent the air from shifting under your body weight and provide even support across the entire mattress while never producing the bouncy-castle feel of other inflatable pads. Finally, durability wise, it survived several days on Shasta with ease, and has since become a fixture of our overnight kits. And, for those taking the pad to cooler climates, the insulated versions are sure to keep you toasty.

On our trip to Mount Shasta, the Sea to Summit UltraLight Pad more than paid for itself by helping us avoid extra baggage fees. And, over the years, it has continued to pay its way by keeping our luggage under the airline’s restrictions. Furthermore, having the pad in our carry-ons benefitted one trip in particular, as we had a near-miss with an airport bivvy.

These days, whether we’re doing a trip out West, a long hike like the Pemi Loop, or a stealth car bivy in a random parking lot, it’s a sure bet that the Sea to Summit UltraLight Pad is there to let us sleep in comfort.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck