Just because your camping and/or recreational equipment doesn't have motors or gear boxes it doesn't mean you're off the hook for routine maintenance. Mechanical equipment, like RVs, camping trailers, boats, and OHVs usually have rigorous maintenance schedules. Tent camping avoids many of those time consuming and expensive processes, but there are still some routine maintenance tasks that should be performed fairly regularly on basic camping equipment to enure proper function and longevity.
Tent campers may not have to deal with the mechanical maintenance tasks that those who choose mechanized or motorized modes of travel and recreation do, but there are still some things we need to do routinely to keep our gear and equipment in top shape. Failure to maintain gear and equipment is a sure recipe for premature failure. A couple of good times to do routine maintenance are when you are preparing for an outing and when you return and put you stuff back in storage. Major inspection and repairs are often done when you put your stuff into storage at the end of a season and when you get it out again for the next round of fun.
Tent maintenance. Maintaining tents mostly consists of cleaning them and inspecting them for leaks or tears and making necessary repairs. Keeping your tent clean is a simple but essential task. Spilled foods, bird droppings, sap, and stains may attract insects or varmints that will damage the fabric. Dirt left on the floor can grind away and weaken the fibers. A tent that is rolled up and stored wet can mildew and rot. That not only makes it unpleasant, but can destroy the fabric. Always take time to sweep out your tent before rolling it up. You may have to roll it up wet sometimes, but if you do, unroll it and let it dry out at home before you put it back into storage. Small tears can usually be sewed up by hand and sealed with seam sealer. If caught in time making repairs will avoid catastrophic failure that would force you to send it out for repairs or buy a new tent. Temporary repairs for small cuts and tears can be made in the field using duct tape or some kind of waterproof sealing tape. These should be properly sewed and sealed when you get home and before your next outing. Nylon repair tape is convenient way to make both temporary and permanent repairs. It is often self-adhesive but stitching is always more secure. Another important part of tent maintenance is cleaning. You should always sweep out your tent before taking it down and brush away debris from the fabric as you roll or fold it up for transport and storage. Clean the screens and windows and the zippers. You can lubricate zippers with a number of ordinary household products but I like to use a commercial produce like Zip-Ease. Household products you can try include a graphite pencil, crayons, candle wax, Chapstick, Vaseline, WD-40 and silicone lubricants. Aways test any lubricant on a small, hidden place if possible to make sure it won't stain the tent fabric. When using sprays, such as WD-40 or silicone, use the tube style nozzle and apply it sparingly. When using a Crayon, match the color to the color of the zipper. If your tent is wet or even damp from rain or dew, be sure to unpack it and let it dry out before you put it in storage. When using liquid or spray lubricants, use dry lube instead of oily products if possible. Inspect the roof and sides for soiling from birds or tree sap and remove such deposits as soon as practical. Avoid putting your tent into storage with soiled spots. Reactions between the contamination and the fabric may stain, rot, or weaken the fabric. Bird crap can usually be removed satisfactorily with soap and water. Sap may require a stronger solvent such as Goo Gone. Some folks use turpentine to remove tree sap but it may damage tent fabrics so it would be wise to test it on something non-essential (like the tent peg bag) before using it on your tent. I've even heard of using mayonnaise to remove sap, but then you have to remove the mayonnaise!
Sleeping bag maintenance. Unless your sleeping bag is badly soiled or smells bad all you normally need to do is hang it out for a few hours to let it air out and dry before putting it away. Mild odors might be controlled with a fabric freshener like Fabreze. It would be a good thing if you have room to store your sleeping bags hanging. It avoids compressing the fill. Tightly rolling your sleeping bag may let you store it in a smaller space, but it will destroy the loft and it will no longer keep you warm. If you can't or don't want to hang your sleeping bag, fold it carefully and store it in a tub or box that lets it remain loose. If you detect a light odor you might try spraying the bag lightly with a fabric freshener such as Fabreze. Be sure to let it dry before rolling or folding it for storage. Badly stained or awful smelling sleeping bags should be taken to your local dry cleaners for cleaning. It isn't cheap, but its way less than a new sleeping bag! Some sleeping bags may indicate they can be machine washed, but I am somewhat skeptical. I had a cold weather parka, with construction similar to a sleeping bag and with a label claiming it could be machine washed. Just one washing virtually ruined the jacket. The fill was so badly bunched up there were many places where there was no fill at all, just the inner and outer layers of nylon.
Gas stove maintenance. Gas stoves, whether white gas or propane, are usually quite reliable, even without a lot of preventive maintenance. But that doesn't mean you can or should ignore them. Be sure to clean up any cooking spills after each use. Clean the burners and the bottom of the stove. Be sure to clean the openings in the burners. If there are places where a spill has clogged some of the openings, there won't be any flame there, creating a cold spot in your cooking surface. Gas stoves that use liquid fuel have a pump built into the fuel tank to create the pressure needed to feed gas to the burners. These pumps usually use a leather washer which can dry out and become ineffective. A drop or two of oil (just about any oil, even motor oil will do) will usually restore flexibility. If that doesn't work you may have to rebuild the pump. Rebuild kits are available at most sporting goods stores where the stoves are sold and cost from about $3.00 to $20.00. The cheaper kits usually just replace the washer; more expensive versions often replace the many of the hard parts as well. You might need the higher priced kit if you have lost the knob on the pump. If the pump is working fine and there is fuel in the tank but the stove still doesn't work, it probably has a bad generator. This is a little brass tube through which the liquid gasoline travels and is converted to a gas before entering the burners. Generators are fairly easy to replace and only cost around $10.
Gas lanterns. Gas lanterns may use gasoline or propane. Propane cylinders are pressurized. You have to pressurize the fuel tank on gasoline lanterns using the pump built into the tank. If the pump stops working, a drop or two of oil may soften the leather gasket and restore enough flexibility to get it working again. If it is too badly worn it may have to be replaced. Liquid fuel lanterns also have generators that an sometime go bad. Just as with gas stoves, there are rebuild kits. The kits for any given brand can usually be used on both stoves and lanterns so you shouldn't have to carry multiple rebuild kits. The most frequent maintenance chore for gas lanterns is replacing the mantles. The mantles are little sock-like mesh bags. You have to remove or lift the globe of the lantern to replace the mantles. There may be one or more mantles in each lantern depending on its size. The mantles have a string threaded through the open end. Slip the open end over the end of the flared tube inside the globe and tie it tightly in place with the string. Then take a match or lighter and burn the silk mesh sock. The ash that remains is heated white-hot when the lantern is lit. Because the mantles are made of ash, they are quite fragile. Bumping the lantern may cause them to crack or break and then they will no longer confine the gas and burn properly. Always carry several replacement mantles with you when you're using a gas lantern. Another routine task is cleaning the globe. Always do this when the globe is cool. Cleaning a hot globe may result in burning your fingers or breaking the globe. If the hot globe comes in contact with cold water or a cold cloth, it may crack or even shatter. Carefully clean both the inside and outside of the glass globe before each trip and as often as needed when using the lantern -- when the globe is cool. Cracked or broken globes should be replaced. Most gas lanterns are held together by a knurled nut at the top. Make sure this nut is always snug but don't over tighten it. Regularly check to see if the bail or handle is properly attached. If it is loose and you try to pick it up, the lantern my slip off and fall.
Battery lanterns. Battery lanterns are far easier to care and less fragile than gas lanterns. They usually have plastic rather than glass globes. But that doesn't mean they don't need some attention. The same thing applies to flashlights. You will want to check the condition of the batteries before each trip and either recharge the lantern or replace the batteries if the voltage is low. You might want to put one of the batteries in backwards when you will be putting the lights into storage for a while to prevent battery drain. Low batteries are likely to fail during extended storage, often leaking and damaging the light, so check the batteries before storing your lanterns or flashlights too. Check the battery compartment for signs of leakages or contamination. Carefully clean any yucky stuff out of the battery compartment paying special attention to the contacts the battery connects to. They should always be clean and shiny. You may need to clean the globe periodically too. Since there is no soot or smoke inside, normally all you have to do is clean the outside. Window cleaner, like Windex, usually works well but just to safe, check your owners' manual. Some plastics may have special cleaning instructions. Ordinary soap and water is usually safe for all surfaces. Be sure not to rub too hard or too long in one place as it may scratch or burnish the surface and never rub them without some kind of liquid cleaner or the dust will scratch and dull the surface. Badly scratched or cloudy globes might benefit from a multi-step plastic cleaner like those used for motorcycle windshields. If that doesn't work you may have to replace the globe if you can find one or the entire lantern if you can't. You might check garage sales for options for replacement parts.
Camp chairs. Camp chairs mostly just need to be cleaned once in awhile. Some of the old style aluminum folding chairs used screws to hold the mesh to the frame. If you have one of these you'll want to make sure all the screws are tight before each trip. Cloth chairs like the popular "quad" chairs can be cleaned with soap and water, rinsed with water, and let dry. Don't fold them up until they are dry. The mesh on folding aluminum chairs can also be cleaned with soap and water if badly soiled but if they're only dusty you might just blow them off with compressed air. If the webbing is badly worn you can buy replacement kits to re-web aluminum chairs. If you find your folding chairs are getting hard to open and close or they make squeaking sounds when you open and close them, you might want to put a little bit of lubricant on the pivot points. Don't use a lot of oil because it will just collect dust and get on the fabric when the chair is closed up for storage. A dry Teflon lubricant would be a good choice. If you use a wet lubricant like WD-40, be sure to avoid spraying on too much. You might even want to spray some in the cap and apply it with a little water color brush or Q-tip so you don't get too much in one place. The legs on some chairs have caps or feet on the end. These often get lost or damaged. You may be able to purchase rubber cane tips to replace missing feet on round legs. Missing caps may allow the legs to dig into the ground, letting the chair tip while you are sitting in it and damp soil trapped inside the feet may accelerate corrosion.
Knives and axes. Inspect your knives and axes. Test the blades and makes sure they are clean and sharp. Gently sand away any rust. Coat the metal surfaces with a light oil. Make sure handles are secure in axe heads and that the handles are smooth and in good condition. You may sand rough wooden handles. Rub wooden handles with linseed oil to protect them against moisture, make the comfortable to handled, and give the handle a nice "glow". Dull tools are more dangerous and more difficult to use than sharp ones. Sharpen blades as needed and use some kind of blade protector while the tools are in storage. Shovels aren't as sensitive to needing sharp blades, but keeping them clean and appropriately sharp is a good idea. A bit of WD-40 on the steel to prevent rust and some linseed oil on wooden handles will help keep them in top shape for the next outing.
Hiking sticks usually just need to be cleaned regularly, but collapsible models might need a bit of lubrication. Inspect the grips and repair or replace any that are loose or damaged. Metal models should be checked to see if they have gotten bent and, if so, try to gently straighten them. Wooden walking sticks might benefit from a light rubbing with linseed oil or a good furniture oil.
Other equipment. Depending on what kind of recreational activities you normally participate in you may have other pieces of equipment that need your attention. If you have an owners manual or instruction sheet, be sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Lacking specific guidelines, be sure to regularly clean and inspect each item and make repairs as needed. Check the functionality of each item to make sure it is working right. If it doesn't work right, examine it for damage. A frequent cause of problems in anything with moving parts is contamination or lack of lubrication. A little dry Teflon or even a modest application of WD-40 may work wonders. Metal components of equipment may have gotten bent and you might be able to restore proper movement by straightening the bent part. Slight bends can usually be successfully straightened but anything that has been kinked or cracked will probably have to be replaced before it fails catastrophically. Anything that gets bent more than once will be weakened and should be replaced. Check for and tighten any loose fasteners but take care not to over tighten them. Over tightening can damage parts and interfere with proper movement.
Camp clothing should be washed and carefully stored until the next season. You should also inspect your camp clothing and replace any missing buttons, repair loose seams or tears, or, if it is too badly damage to be salvage, discard and replace it. Often fixing some loose buttons or stiching up a small tear will keep things in working condition for another season or two.
Keep it working!