It’s always a relief to get in out of the field, especially if it’s been cold and wet out there. All you want to do is have a hot shower, collapse on your bed for an hour or two, and then meet up with your buddies for pizzas and beer. It’s easy to forget that pile of wet, muddy gear you dumped on the floor. The trouble is, the longer you forget about it, the more forgotten it will be. That’s bad for your equipment, which means it’s bad for you too. If you’re going to do your job properly, your kit needs to be in top condition, and it won’t stay that way without some maintenance. The good news is that if you do it early and often, the amount of work is minimal. It’s only when you neglect things that it becomes difficult or expensive.
Enemy No. 1: Dirt
The worst enemy of any gear is dirt. Sand and dust aren’t just uncomfortable; they’re abrasive, and as they get ground into clothing and equipment they start wearing away at the fabric. If you don’t keep your gear clean, it will wear out faster and need to be replaced sooner. Clothing needs to be clean, too. Wash your clothes regularly to remove dirt from the fabric. It won’t just last longer – it will work better too. Clean fabric is a better insulator and won’t soak up water as easily. (Empty out your pockets first!)
Maybe the worst kind of dirt is mud. Like sand it’s made up of abrasive particles, and its water content will carry them deeper into the fabric and cause damage even faster. Caked-on mud also helps trap water in your gear, preventing boots from drying out. In the field scrape it away as soon as you can; when you get back in wash it off thoroughly.
Enemy No. 2: Water
If your kit’s wet, whether from rain or perspiration, you need to get it dry. Leaving it damp can cause mildew or bacterial growth, both of which are going to leave you smelling far from sweet. Natural fabrics can even start to rot, or produce fungal spores that can be a serious health hazard. If the weather’s good, open up all your stuff and hang it outside to dry, or take advantage of barracks drying rooms.
Enemy No. 3: Boot Killers
If you wear leather boots they’ll really benefit from some TLC. Clean them thoroughly, slacken the laces and leave them to dry naturally. Don’t apply heat, because that will cause cracking. Pay attention to seams and welts, too, because any dirt trapped in there can weaken the stitching. Having a seam in your boot open up during a long march is something you can do without! And be sure to periodically apply appropriate conditioner to help keep the leather supple.
Your equipment represents an investment of several thousand dollars, whether the money is yours or the Pentagon’s, and that investment needs to be protected. It’s also what your life depends on, and that needs protecting, too. So next time you shrug off that soaked rucksack, don’t walk away. Get it unpacked and look after your stuff. It won’t take long if you do it right away, and once it’s done you can enjoy that beer with a clear conscience.