Tips on Cleaning Wet Gear

We just finished a weekend of winter rescue training and now it’s time to clean up the gear.  Too many times I’ve seen gear just get thrown back into the bag with the intention of “taking care of it later.” The weather during our training featured lots of snow with above freezing temperatures.  This truly gets everything wet—even the gear that was left in the sled and never was taken out of the bag. So…

First, lay out everything to dry.

Ropes.   Often times they are flaked out on the floor. This works, but it’s better to get them up off of the ground if you have the space.  I use an unfinished part of the North 40 Rescue facility and just screwed a couple of pieces of scrap wood to the exposed studs.  This drying rack cost all of about $4.37 when you crunch the numbers.  Just watch for splinters or cover the scrap wood with some canvas padding or the rope bag if needed.

This is a great time to inspect your ropes end to end.  Most of the time, only the portion of the rope that came out of the bag gets looked at.

I leave a loose overhand knot in the last end to come out of the bag.  Check your rope log to see when the ends were last switched and swap out the ends if needed.  In case you’re not sure what I’m talking about, too often the same end of the rope is always used for operations.  I’ve seen ropes that were showing a lot of wear on the first half and looked practically new on the end that never came out of the bag.  Switching the ends helps me to get a longer service life out of my most critical piece of equipment.

Also, don’t forget to check the ends where the knots are always tied.  Look for soft spots and signs of abrasion.  I’ll settle for cutting the ends of the rope with the hot knife.  There’s nothing wrong with using a 190’ rope as long as you mark it in the log book.

Hard wear.  Remember all those pieces of webbing that were taken out of service because of tree sap and frays?  They’re still useful; I use them as a drying line screwed to the studs in the gear loft.

I open up everything and hang it up individually.  Once again, this is a good time to inspect your gear.  I also look at all of my marking tape or paint pen marks.

Check all of your webbing, prusik, and cordage for frays and burn marks.

Lay out your litter. Remove the litter harness and hang it on the drying line.  Undo all the restraint straps and lay them to the side.

Open up all the pockets on your gear bags and give them a good shakeout.  I always end up with a nice pile of organic tossed salad when I do this.  Don’t be surprised to find rocks, pine stray, dirt, and the occasional candy bar wrapper hidden in your bags.

In the winter, I’ll used a forced air propane heater to dry everything.  In the summer, I just need a couple of fans to keep the air circulating.

Last step is to pack everything up.  I keep an inventory sheet in all of my gear bags that lists everything, not just the major components.

Now we’re ready for the next operation.

Some lessons learned from our training:

  • Running a dirty rope through soft snow makes it look new again.  Probably not a preferred technique, but it really did work.
  • Brief your crew and especially new personnel about the inventory sheet in the gear bag.  This tells them the type of rope, intended use, and what gear can be found in each bag.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, your questions and comments are always welcome!

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