By Louise Lintilhac
The days are getting longer and across the Northern Hemisphere, precipitation is starting to come down in its liquid form more often than not. But before you make the full transition to summer mode, take the time to properly prep and store your winter backcountry gear for the next season so you don’t have to deal with a beacon full of battery acid and an airbag that won’t deploy when you need it most. Here’s how to take care of your avalanche safety gear to keep everything running smoothly for seasons to come.
We’ve all had it happen to a favorite headlamp—the dreaded battery acid explosion. But while a destroyed headlamp is inconvenient and frustrating, trying to turn on your transceiver in eight months only to find the battery compartment corroded shut is an expensive mistake and a nonstarter for any day in the backcountry. So, if you’re reading this right now and you haven’t already done it, get up and go take the batteries out of your transceiver before you get a snack and forget again.
While you’re at it, inspect your transceiver for any physical damage it may have incurred over your travels this winter. If you do notice corrosion around the batteries, wipe the compartment down with a Q-tip and rubbing alcohol and then test it with working batteries (that you also have to remove before storage) so that you know if there is any malfunction. Transceiver manufacturers do not warranty corroded battery connections—that’s just user error, so be proactive about your beacon care protocol.
Also, take this time to check the manufacturer’s website to review whether you need to update your transceiver software and get an electronics diagnostic test.
Congrats! You made it to the end of the season with a full air canister. That’s a good sign. But before you shelve your pack for the summer, follow these steps to make sure it’s prepped for the coming season.
1. Treat your avalanche airbag like the high-end safety tool it is. Before you hang it up for the season, check it over and make sure there aren’t any rips or tears in the material. Did you leave a half-eaten taco rotting in one of the compartments? That’s gross, take that out. Take all of your old snacks out for that matter.
2. Look at the cylinder gauge and make sure it is functioning correctly. This is also a great time to check and see if the cylinder has maintained the proper pressure since you last refilled it. Cylinders can develop slow leaks over time. To maintain the longevity of a cylinder, use the Consumer Refill Kit each Float cylinder comes with. This allows you to replace the valve stem O-ring in the cylinder head so you can start fresh in the fall.
3. Deploy your airbag. It’s good practice anyway and a fun, harmless way to scare your roommates. Once deployed, make sure your airbag stays inflated for at least two minutes. This helps you detect slow leaks that may develop in the airbag material over time.
4. Go get your cylinder refilled at a local refill center near you. This way you can monitor the pressure over the following months to make sure everything is working properly.
5. Store your bag in a cool, dry place until next season. Don’t just leave it in the trunk of your car. This airbag deserves to be treated like it’s the best pack you own—because it is.
You’re feeling good about your probing skills because you practiced so darn much this past winter. But using your probe means wear and tear on the cable and junctions between each split in the probe shaft. Probes save lives, so replace yours if need be.
Shovels are extremely durable, but that doesn’t mean they deserve your summer storage disdain. Wipe them off before storing them to avoid trouble next winter when you go to connect the shaft and blade in a hurry. If things are warped, sticky, or covered in grime because you used your shovel as an impromptu backcountry cheese plate, now’s the time to get everything clean.
There’s no need to shelve your backcountry radio during warmer seasons. BC Link two-way radios can be incredibly helpful on many summer outings, whether they entail boats, bikes, or just your own two feet. Group communication is just as important in the summer as it is in the winter. (read “How to Use Your Backcountry Radios in Summer“). Keep your radio units charged and continue to test channels so as to keep them synced so you can communicate with ease, no matter the time of year.
Bottom Line: Before the dog days of summer roll around—or even the 4th of July—spend a little extra time to get your gear in order for the offseason. Your slightly older self will thank you on the first backcountry mission next season.
5280 Magazine recently tapped BCA’s Bruce Edgerly as Colorado’s outdoor expert to share his wisdom on backcountry gear care and storage. Edge’s advice, as published in 5280’s article “How to Stow and Fix Your Winter Adventure Gear:”
Avalanche Beacon Pro Tip: Clean corroded battery connections, remove batteries, and check diagnostics. First, review if your beacon (also called a transceiver) needs a software update or an electronics diagnostic test, says Bruce Edgerly, vice president and co-founder of Backcountry Access. Then, “Inspect your transceiver for any physical damage it may have incurred over your travels this winter. The most common failures include on/off and search/transmit switches. Electronically, it’s possible that your antennas can become detuned over time, which can affect your receive range,” says Edgerly. “To check your range, stand 50 meters away from a transmitting beacon (with the long axis pointing at your beacon), and walk toward it. If you don’t pick up a signal within 20 meters of the transmit unit, then your transceiver probably needs an inspection or upgrade,” Edgerly says. Also, “Check for corrosion around the batteries. If you find any, wipe the compartment with a Q-tip and rubbing alcohol. Then, test the beacon with working batteries, so that you know if there is any malfunction.” Make sure to take the batteries out of your transceiver at the end of each season before storing it.
Backpack Pro Tip: Remove all interior items and clean exterior with mild soap. “At the end of each season, make sure there aren’t any rips or tears in the material of your pack. Take all food items and other extraneous material out of the bag, as rotting items can impair the material over time,” says Edgerly. “If your pack needs to be cleaned, wash with mild soap and water and hang dry. Store your bag in a cool, dry place until next season.”
Avalanche Airbag Pro Tip: Monitor cylinder pressure and inflated airbags for any leaks. “To start, check the pressure gauge on the cylinder to make sure it’s functioning and that the cylinder has maintained pressure since you last refilled it,” says Edgerly. “To maintain the longevity of a cylinder, use the Consumer Refill Kit each Float cylinder comes with. This allows you to replace the valve stem O-ring in the cylinder head so you can start fresh in the fall.” Then, deploy the airbag and make sure it stays inflated for two minutes to detect any slow leaks. If everything is functioning well, store the bag in a cool, dry place. “At the start of next season, refill cylinders at a local refill center, and monitor the pressure over the following months to make sure everything is working properly,” says Edgerly.
Collapsible Poles Pro Tip: Dry out poles before folding them up for storage. If poles are wet, store them disassembled at room temperature until they dry out. Then store your poles in a cool, dry place, such as a garage, says Edgerly. If parts are worn out—grips, straps, baskets, tips—check with the manufacturer to see if you can order replacements before stashing the poles.