Outdoor Clothing (and how to look after it)

An item of outdoor equipment is normally designed to do a job and, as with any good tool, the user should be aware of how to use it within its limitations and how to look after it. Incorrectly pitched tents will fall down; stoves with blocked jets could flare with disastrous results. It should be obvious that knowledge in the use and care of such outdoor hardware is crucial but how about clothes?

When working in retail I used to see base garments returned having stopped wicking. My first question would be regarding how it was washed. The normal reply would be that it was put in with the domestic wash and that a fabric conditioner had been used. Conditioners "waterproof" a wicking garment and prevent it from performing. Washing again in powder only would normally restore the fabric's characteristics and the owner's temper.

Such a wasted journey to the retailer can be prevented if the customer understands garment care. Yet it is s sad fact that outdoor clothing tends to be neglected. After all, is it not designed to be abused in inclement conditions? Unfortunately, this attitude will not get the most out of an expensive piece of wardrobe and could drastically reduce its life in the process.

Nowhere is this more obvious than with waterproofs. Most people tend to wear their jackets for more than just on the hill so it pays to look after them, not only to protect an investment, but to look smart when walking to the office or down the high street. Breathable fabrics require extra care to ensure that they perform to the optimum.

Modern fabrics are very tolerant, however, this is no excuse to ignore care and cure. Even a non-breathable budget waterproof will benefit from a quick brush and sponge after a walk. Removing abrasive dirt will improve the look of the garment and prolong the life of the outer material which, in turn, protects the waterproofing. Further, if the waterproof has been in contact with brine, a quick swill in fresh water will remove abrasive salt crystals and restore the garment's feel.

Once clean, dry your garment in an airy place AWAY FROM DIRECT HEAT. I have known people to dry nylon jackets on storage heaters only to return to a melted mess. Clean, dry garments should then be stored free-hanging in a cool, dry environment to prevent possible mildew attack.

Periodically check component items such as poppers. No matter how good a manufacturer's component items can fail and it is better to get them replaced when at home rather than suffer the consequences of them breaking in the field. Easy D.I.Y. maintenance includes zip lubrication (rub zip teeth with a candle or soft pencil) and replacing drawcords (attach a safety pin to the end of the drawcord to give you something to grip through the cloth and aid threading). Although certain remedial action can be taken at home on the whole it is better to consult the retailer who is sometimes in the position to offer on-site repairs, such as popper replacement, or advise on the proper course of action. This is especially important in circumstances where a guarantee could be effected and the garment has to be returned to either a manufacturer or specialist repair company. There are going to be times when your waterproofs are damaged in the field. Tears and punctures can be caused by any number of things from crampon points to barbed wire. In the days of neoprene jackets I used to carry a puncture repair kit and waterproof tape to cover holes to stop them from growing and to keep out the rain. Upon returning home I would then sew on a doped patch ensuring that the subsequent stitching was also doped to prevent water entry through the needle holes.

The advent of "breathable" fabrics have brought their own problems. Although you can still repair a tear in the above manner, top manufacturer guarantees could be affected. A surer way of repair is to send the waterproof back to the manufacturer for a proper patch with taped stitching. To aid manufacturers remove "field dressings" W.L.Gore have developed an emergency patch for "breathable" fabrics that can be cleanly removed by the application of heat. This ensures the best possible surface on which to carry out a repair. From the above comments it has probably been deduced that it is highly inadvisable to pin things to your jacket and, if you have to wear badges, then glue them on; don't sew. Guarantees can be effected adversely through misuse.

Eventually a jacket will require washing and may even start to - or appear to - leak. While technical fabrics, such as Gore-Tex and TriplePoint, are easy to clean, washing instructions found on the garment's sew-in care label are normally dependent on the other components - READ THEM! Most clothes can be machine washed at 40C (cheaper garments may need hand washing in warm, soapy water) or dry cleaned but beware of dry cleaners who attach pins to garments and remind them that puncturing the fabric will cause leakage! Dry cleaners can certainly help remove stubborn stains that have not been shifted by a pre-wash or commercial stain remover - if the treatment is suitable for the garment. If unsure then contact the retailer or manufacturer for advise.

Most commercial soap products are suitable for cleaning waterproofs, however, strong detergents and dreaded fabric conditioners will effect water repellent treatments. Avoid if possible and, if still unsure, go to your local outdoor shop and purchase a specialised cleaning product designed for waterproofs. Once clean, cheap waterproofs can be re-proofed using spray-on treatments. Breathable garments require a bit more care. While the waterproof properties of breathable garments come from either a laminate or coating, they usually also have a water repellent treatment to their outer surface which assists water bead and roll off. Without this treatment the outer surface would quickly soak up water (wetting out) which would not only feel uncomfortable but affect the breathable properties of the material. The resulting build up of condensation and the material wetting out is often mistaken for the jacket leaking.

Wear and washing will reduce this water repellency which can temporarily be restored by running over the garment with a warm steam iron, or tumble dry at a warm setting. Again, check the care labels that the garment can take this treatment. The manufacturers of Sympatex advise against tumble drying.

When heat fails to restore the water repellent it is time to re-treat the garment. Once the garment is clean, treat with a commercially available non-silicone based water repellent spray. Avoid silicone based repellents that cause fabrics to attract dirt and odours. Graingers and Nikwax both have a range of specialised cleaning and re-proofing products that are readily available through outdoor shops.

The ultimate garment protection is to take out insurance. Outdoor gear is now at a premium and subject to theft. Check your policy for protection against theft, damage and loss. If possible get new for old cover.

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