Maintaining Your Outdoor Gear Inventory

 The Three Rs – Restore/Repair/Replenish


While most outdoors enthusiasts are active all year long, once summer is over and the few days of fall hunting have passed, November is often the time to pack the gear away for the winter. All too often, that means stuffing away what’s broken with a promise to yourself to “fix it before I head out next spring” or “get more of these this winter”. Jump ahead to that anxiety-filled morning next year as you eagerly grab gear so you can head outdoors only to be reminded that your tent pole is still broken, your field jacket ripped and someone ate all the Snicker bars out of your “emergency kit”!

Much of our outdoor gear – whether it’s for hunting, fishing, paddling or even bird-watching hikes – suffers from the wear and tear of back-country use. A season’s end reassessment of your gear and supplies – and using the 3 R’s: Restore, Repair, Replenish will help you keep gear in good shape and ready to be called into service quickly.

Restoring gear in this context may be as simple as bringing back the edge to a dulled knife – or fish hooks – to cleaning gear such as sleeping bags and camp stoves. If you can, it’s always good to try to repair damaged gear ASAP – sometimes not to the level we’d like if it’s an emergency fix in the woods, but clearly more damage can occur the longer a proper repair is put off. 

How many times have you sneaked a candy bar out of your survival/emergency kit?  How many bandaids have you used or handed out over the past summer? What about those all-weather matches you grabbed when your lighter ran out trying to start your campfire?  It’s a mindless pilfer of small units of gear that are often forgotten – until you need them most and realize they’re gone.

There is one advantage to “borrowing” an item from your emergency/survival kits – you may notice that something’s gone bad, prompting you to check other goodies that haven’t been inspected in a long while. It’s often the wake-up call we need to initiate our own 3R’s process.

Here are some key maintenance protocols (in the field and at home) to follow for different pieces of gear:


  • Always keeping tent clean is preventative maintenance; check tent fly for separation of waterproof coating; check for breaks, kinks in poles (use splices or splints to repair); rips in fabric (small: tape or glue; large: consider sewing on a patch);
  • Stuff tents into sacks instead of folding – or if you do fold, change the pattern to reduce wearing out material along repeated fold lines;
  • Make sure tent, tarps are clean and completely dry before storing, especially for long periods;
  • Check lines for fraying, clips for cracks, inspect the small components.


  • Soiled insulation reduces its efficiency,  build loft back up with a good cleaning at season’s end;
  • Wear sleeping clothing or use a bag liner to minimize body oils and dirt in bag;
  • Don’t pull out little fluffs of down, instead pinch feather shaft through material, from behind, pull back in, repair and holes or seam separations as needed;
  • Check for leaks in inflatable pads (inflate, submerge and look for bubbles, mark),  patch to fix;


  • Always check fuel lines for clogs, burners for soot build-up; use white gas on rag to wipe/scrub sooty areas;
  • Carefully remove pin insert in fuel jet and clean; check all, seals, valves and other components;
  • Empty liquid fuels completely before storing.


  • Check inventory of high-energy “emergency” food you may have taken from your kit to satisfy a craving between planned meals;
  • Check for packaged bars that have deteriorated due to age, moisture, etc.;
  • Replenish any spices, herbs that are spent or past their prime;
  • Replace those “kitchen” matches you used when your lighter died on you.


  • Refresh/replace inventory of small bandages as needed;
  • Check seals and condition of ointments, lotions, liquids (iodine, etc.);
  • Check quality of tablets and capsules (crumbly, deformed, signs of moisture);
  • Packets of sterilized bandages, pads, etc. with broken seals should be replaced; 
  • Check kit itself for worn, weak seals or loss of waterproofing;


  • Thoroughly clean firearms, double check they are unloaded before storing;
  • Clean and lube fishing reels; clean ferrules on two-piece rods;
  • Clean lures, sharpen or replace hooks; dry out tackle box before storage;
  • Replace spent or worn line on reel;
  • Rinse and clean all paddling gear and boat assemblies (critical for salt-water use);
  • Smooth out abrasions on rotomold hulls, check for breaches in hull; (check with manufacturer before using adhesives, cleaners on hull material);


  • Now is the time to fix the rips, lost buttons, stuck zippers and all those little  annoyances that come back to haunt you as get ready to head out the door next season;
  • Check waterproofing on footwear; rain gear, etc.

These are pretty straight forward and obvious maintenance routines, but so often overlooked – or more precisely, ignored at season’s end. Sure it’s OK to take a break for a week or two, but find time in those off months of winter to deal with the 3Rs.

Like most situations we encounter outdoors or anywhere, prevention is so much better than trying find the proper cure. When we do have to deal with the “cure”, a self reliant outdoorsman/woman knows it’s better to deal with it sooner than later, especially if it’s time to restore, repair or replenish your outdoor gear.

Be safe, be smart, have fun out there!


Ice Fishing – Native Style

Native ice fishing rig was simply line and sticks!


Harvesting fish from beneath the frozen lakes and rivers of the Arctic/sub-arctic regions was a critical part of the subsistence lifestyle for most north-country native Americans. There were typically three methods for harvesting fish: traps/nets, spearing from “dark house”- like tents or simply kneeling down beside a hole and dropping a hand line down through the ice. Let’s look at the last method as it has applications today in an emergency situation due to its effectiveness and simplicity. 


The native ice fishing “rod and reel” set up consisted of either two sticks or a deeply-arched handle (wood, antler) called a niksik. Both utilized a line attached to the end of one of the sticks or end point on the niksik to which a lure or barbless hook was attached. Both methods let the angler wind string up/down by simply rocking his/her wrist back and forth which allowed the line to feed to/from its windings as the sticks/handle tip moved from side to side.

With the two-stick method, the line is attached to the end of the first stick, and wound around both sticks until all the line was coiled onto the ends of the two sticks. Once baited, the hook is lowered down into the water by simply unwinding the line from one stick to the other until the desired depth was attained.

Upon hooking a fish, the angler used the free stick to catch the line in the water and pull it sideways, parallel to  the other stick. The process was reversed and the hook line stick was used to gather the line now hanging from the other stick and pull it back, raising the line that much further again. The back-and-forth process was repeated until the angler could haul the line and fish up and beyond the hole and then shake off the catch onto the frozen lake/river surface.

Another great advantage of this simple tool is that you can operate it with your gloved or mittened hand.  With the added advantage of not having a barb on the hook, a deft ice angler could raise or lower the bait, hook a fish, bring it up the hole, out onto the ice and shake off the catch – all without removing a glove or switching hands for any reason.

While re-baiting the hook would probably require a bare handed effort, once the bait was in place, the hands could be covered again and fishing could commence – right along through to the “catching” part of the process.


Drowning for Real!

Drowning for Real!

ILLUST-DROWNING NOAs we approach the season where we can start enjoying a comfortable day out on the water, it’s a good time to refresh ones self on the hazard of drowning.  What to look for might be quite different from what you expect to see, especially as depicted in so many Hollywood movies. 

The process of drowning is typically quiet and subdued. No arms waving frantically overhead or body thrashing wildly, no screaming or yelling. A drowning victim typically cannot scream or yell as their body is in survival mode. They will be gasping for air, their mouths right at the surface and their heads possibly tilted way back. Their arms will be pushing down onto the water for support.

Don’t let loud, boisterous splashing detract you from the lone, passive, immobile swimmer – she/he might be your drowning  victim.

Like most dangers, the best safeguards against drowning is prevention – with barriers to control access to water (fences around pools, restricted swimming areas, etc.) and to have rescue devices (life ring buoys and rope) handy. Always make wearing a life jacket/PFD an on-water requirement, too.

If you need to personally rescue someone, try to get some form of floatation (seatPRAIRIE NOTEBOOK19-DROWNING FLOTATION
cushions, even a small, empty ice cooler) to them. Keep it between you  and the victim as they will attempt to crawl up anything that’s near.  Professionals are trained to deal with clinging victims, but as a novice rescuer, you could be pulled under as they try to climb up on top of you.

Another good way to help create a safe swimming environment, especially with kids, is to have a buddy system. Have kids pair up, count off in two’s and assign them that number. Use a whistle to  announce a “Buddy Check” drill and have each kid yell out their numbers. It helps them watch out for each other.

I highly recommend the life jackets and PFDs designed and made by the safety conscious pros at MTI Life Jackets. Quality material designed for utility and style. Check them out at

Camping Quick Tips…


Whether you skewer your catch on a stick, or use a makeshift grill, or bake/steam in a pouch of aluminum foil, it’s hard to beat the experience of preparing and eating fish cooked in a pool of hot oil sizzling in a huge camp skillet…and don’t forget your shaker of seasonings, too.