It’s supported you loyally throughout the years, but bringing worn out gear into the backcountry can do you far more harm than good. Here’s a quick guide of when to replace key gear.
Your boots should be allowed to go hike the great trail in the sky when:
-Your soles wear thin and smooth. It’s critical that your boots have excellent traction. From creek crossings to that granite slab traverse, when you’re on slippery or wet surfaces you need a strong grip if you don’t want to risk life and limb with every step.
-Your boot develops an uncomfortable fold or kink that hurts your foot and shortens your hike. Pain is no fun and can distract you into making bad decisions that could affect the safety of your hike, or at the very least make it miserable.
-Your boot’s upper delaminates or the threading starts sticking out of the seams. Either of these can compromise the weatherproofing of your old friend. This can turn from annoying to downright dangerous in the winter. Nothing will lead to frostbite faster than a set of poor sealing shoes in cold wet conditions.
Packs can be the longest lived of your gear. Kind of like Frankenstein’s monster, most worn out components like ripped seams, torn up shoulder straps, and hip-belts can be repaired or replaced. Unfortunately, sturdy old models tend to weigh in on the heavier side and lack many useful newer options. Upgrading your pack to a lighter, more convenient version can help better distribute your load and make your hikes a heck of a lot more enjoyable.
Your trusty old tent has weathered blown seams, broken zippers and shattered poles with simple repairs and replacements, but use caution when deciding to milk that last bit of life out of your shelter. Eventually even the walls will degrade, and a torrential downpour in the backcountry is a dangerous place to discover that your old tent leaks like a sieve. Test your tent every season with a simulated extended downpour to make sure it can truly weather the storm.
Even with proper care, your sleeping bag fill will eventually lose its ability to keep your toes toasty warm. Synthetic fills can last you five (or more) years with good care, and down may survive up to ten. Note: improper laundering, or storing your bag compressed can significantly shorten this number. It’s time for a new bag when the old one looks deflated, has flat spots, or just no longer keeps you warm.
Cheaper headlamps will need to be replaced more often, as buttons fail, controls get twitchy and the connections to the batteries wear out. Upgrade to a good quality headlamp (with extra batteries). You can keep an older model around to avoid black widows on trips into the storage space, but don’t make the mistake of heading miles into the backcountry with an unreliable light strapped to your noggin.
It’s often hard to give up something that has done a good job for you over the years. Nostalgia has its place – so reward your old gear’s loyalty by giving it a place of honor on a display shelf, but don’t bring it out onto the trail.