Your Pre-Season Backpacking Gear Checklist

You’ve been training all winter in preparation for the warm season. You’re ready to hit the trail, but is your gear? Damaged or dirty gear can be the difference between a great trip and one that takes you off-trail early. We’ve created a backpacking gear checklist to go through before packing up and heading out into the back of beyond—so you don’t find yourself in the middle of nowhere with a flat mattress or missing tent stakes!

Backpacking Gear Checklist – Caring for Your Gear

backpacking stove maintenance

#1. Stove 

Check your stove for any grime, particularly in the threads. Canister stoves are fairly bomber and don’t generally need much maintenance. If you own a liquid fuel stove, it’s good practice to complete yearly maintenance to ensure it’ll run smoothly for you in the field. We offer two kits, the Annual Maintenance Kit and the Expedition Service Kit, that come complete with everything you need to service your particular stove model. Our Stove Maintenance Videos have step-by-step instructions for all basic repairs, and our repair shop technicians are available in the event you don’t have the time or just need help. Once your stove is cleaned, lubed and reassembled, always test it in a safe outdoor area to make sure it’s functioning correctly before you head out into the backcountry.

#2. Sleeping Pad

There’s nothing worse than waking up at 2 a.m. on a deflated mattress. Luckily, pre-season maintenance for this piece of gear is straightforward. To spot-clean, simply scrub with mild soap and warm water. To clean the whole mattress, close the valve on your pad to avoid getting water inside, then use a hose to wet the exterior. Next, clean with soap and water (inflate your pad and this is a great time to spot any air leaks too) and make sure to rinse well. If you think the fabric part of the mattress may have a leak, check out this Therm-a-Rest video. For valve issues, check out this video and corresponding repair kit.

#3. Sleeping Bag

Ensure your next outdoor sleep is great by giving your bag a little love. First, check both inside and out for any build-up of oils or dirt. Spot-clean with warm water, then lay it inside out and flat in the sun because direct sunlight will help kill any lingering bacteria. If your sleeping bag needs a serious deep clean, head to the Therm-a-Rest blog for detailed instructions.

#4. Tent

Pre-season is a great time to fully set up your tent, including both the footprint and the guylines. Nothing is worse than arriving at your campsite only to find your shelter is missing a few necessary pieces. If it’s a little dirty, sweep out the interior and take a garden hose to the outside. For a deeper clean, while it’s still set up hand wash it with warm water, a sponge and mild non-detergent soap or Revivex® Odor Eliminator. After it’s dry, check for abrasions.

Tent mesh repair and maintenance

Sometimes, what look like tears in mesh are just misaligned fibers and can be easy to make disappear:

For acutual tears, check out our Tent Mesh Repair Kit. For tears in the body or floor fabrics, check out our Tent Fabric Repair Kit. Forgot to replace a broken tent pole? Broken MSR poles are replaced for free thanks to their limited lifetime warranty. Call our Seattle repair shop and we can replace it. Lastly, check the quantity and condition of your tent stakes. It never hurts to pack a few extra.

#5. First Aid Kit

While your SAM splint and gauze pads will hopefully remain forever untouched, it’s definitely worth it to open up your first aid kit and take a brief inventory. Refill key items like bug spray, ibuprofen and bandages, and note any other items you need to replace. Check expiration dates on EpiPens and other prescriptions, and restock emergency backup water purification tablets like Aquatabs.

#6. Pack

Since it is the keeper of all trip belongings, your pack is arguably one of the most important pieces of gear you own. Take a moment and make sure it is in good shape. First, empty your pack all the way out. Unzip every pocket and turn the whole pack upside down to get rid of accumulated debris. Spot-clean if necessary with a wet rag. If the pack is chock-full of grime, detach any removable pieces like hip-belts or brains and immerse the pack in water. Scrub lightly with soap and water until it’s clean and hang it out to dry. don’t over do it as the waterproof coatings on many fabrics can be damaged by extended wetness and agitation. Lastly, check all stitching, webbing and bungee cords. Lube zippers with a bit of wax or chapstick to make sure they run smoothly.

MSR Repair shop working on water filter maintenance

#7. Water Filter

Make sure your water is virus- and bacteria-free on your next trip by doing some basic maintenance on your water filter. Most maintenance will include replacing and re-lubing O-rings, checking the overall system for wear and tear, replacing impacted filters and backflushing. If in doubt, you can also perform an integrity test on your filter to be sure it’s still filtering as intended. Grab the corresponding maintenance kit for your water filter and brush up on maintenance with our step-by-step maintenance videos for every water filtration system that we offer:

Backpacker tying shoe laces
Photo by Scott Rinckenberger

#8. Footwear

The earlier you sort out your footwear situation the better. If you got new boots for the season, make sure to take a few days (or weeks) and break them in around the house. If your current boots are dirty, knock off any loose debris before removing the laces and insoles. Next, give the boots, insoles and laces a solid scrubbing with a wet, medium bristled brush. Once you’re done, pull the tongues of the boot all the way open and stick on a boot dryer, or leave in a warm, well-ventilated area. Leave the insoles out until the boots are dry. Remember, boots take a day or two to dry fully unless you’ve got a boot dryer or a hairdryer and lots of patience, so start this process sooner rather than later. As you clean your boots, look for holes or worn stitching that might present a problem later. If the structure looks strong, replacing your insoles can be an easy way to upgrade an old pair of hikers.

#9. Field Gear Repair Kit

Whether it includes Tenacious Tape, a tent pole repair splint or baling wire, your repair kit should be tailored to your personal trip needs. For most folks, it’s impractical to pack everything you might need in your gear repair kit. Learning to improvise with the tools you do have can be the most efficient use of your time in the pre-season. Practicing common field fixes like tent pole splinting in the safety of your backyard can be a game-changer when you need to repair your tent in the middle of a windstorm.

eating dinner at night in mountaineering tent
Photo by Per-Eivend Syvertsen

#10. Headlamp

Last but most certainly not least on our list, the humble headlamp is a small yet invaluable backcountry item. Hopefully you’ve stored it sans-batteries, but either way, open it up and make sure there’s no corrosion. If you do find a bit of corrosion, all is not lost. Take some white vinegar and a Q-tip and rub the area until it’s clean. Put fresh batteries in and test to see the headlamp is in working order. Make sure to pack extra batteries just in case.

You depend on your gear for warmth, comfort and safety. Using a pre-season list to perform basic maintenance will pay dividends, not only in equipment lifespan but your enjoyment in the backcountry. When given the choice between waking up soggy and cold or waking up warm and dry on top of a plump air mattress, we think you’ll take the latter.

MSR Repair Shop sign

We’re proud that just about every MSR product can be maintained in the field without special tools, and/or serviced annually with an MSR maintenance kit. Have a trusty MSR product that needs service or repair? The MSR Warranty & Repair Shop is open for mail-in repairs.

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Claire Jencks

As a freelance writer and designer, Claire Montana Jencks works with outdoor brands, non-profits, and publications to share stories of outdoor adventure. Though she works all over the world, her roots are in the PNW. Surfing, mountain biking, and skiing are her passions.



Updated. Originally Published April 18, 2019.