When the paddling season gets under way, take part of a sunny morning and do a quick maintenance check of your paddling clothes. At least for those of us in the cooler climates, the paddling clothing we wear to protect us from the sun, wind, and water is probably a larger investment over time than the cost of our kayaks. And to last, they need more care as well.
The fundamental rule of clothing maintenance is to keep things dry when not in use and to keep them clean. Moisture and grime, of course, encourage all sorts of microcritters that are best dealt with by not letting them get a foothold in the first place. As soon as possible, hang up your wet stuff to allow for maximum air circulation, using an array of lines, hangers, hooks, and yardsticks, if necessary. Don’t be afraid to wash things frequently, even footwear, jackets, and PFDs, especially if they have been exposed to saltwater or dirt from the campsite. Look at the manufacturer’s instructions first, but hand washing with extra rinsing is usually the safest way to go.
Take a few minutes to look your duds over for any signs of wear or damage that need attention. Delaminating shoes, sandals, or boots can often be repaired easily with products like Barges Cement or Freesole. Neoprene wear–booties, wet suits, spray skirts, and the like–can be reinforced or patched with Aquaseal, but use it carefully because extensive patches can reduce the stretchability of the fabric in critical areas.
Nylon outerwear that needs repair can be sewn and then patched with SeamGrip to restore waterproofness. If you are reluctant to tackle these types of repairs yourself, many manufacturers and some retailers offer repair services for reasonable fees. Delaminations may be a warranty issue to pursue. These procedures, however, will mean that you will be without your garment for a time.
Nylon outer garments will also benefit from treatments that restore the water-repellent characteristics of the fabric, which are reduced over time. Waterproof/breathable fabrics, of which Gore-Tex is the most common, will have enhanced breathability after these treatments, while retaining their waterproofness. Gore’s Revivex, Tech Wash from Nikwax, and Tectron’s DWR Wash-In are some of the products that do this important maintenance procedure.
Specialized components such as latex gaskets and dry-suit zippers may need extra care. The fragile life of latex can be extended by regular applications of 303 Protectant to reduce UV and chemical deterioration. Follow dry-suit zipper instructions closely and avoid lubricants that may cause the zipper to split open at inopportune times.
Finally, to reduce UV degradation to exposed items such as spray skirts, PFDs, and hats, try a McNett product called UV Tech, which adds a UV-resistant coating and can be used on many fabrics.