Tech fabrics, with all of their rare and useful qualities—wicking! waterproofing! breathability! temperature regulation!—are a beautiful thing. Until it's time to deep-clean them (you do have to, after a while), and all of the super-specific fine print about mild detergents, delicate cycles and drying temperatures turns into a major headache.
So you cram your grimy sleeping bag back into its stuff sack, hang your weather-worn ski jacket back in the closet until the next time you need it. Over time, though, abrasion, campfire smoke and accumulated dirt, body oil and sweat can degrade these wonder fabrics, preventing them from performing as they're intended.
Cleaning and revitalizing gear is part of its natural life cycle, but treating the finicky high-tech stuff can be intimidating. So, In order to pull people aboard the bandwagon, Seattle-based Nikwax (maker of safe, high-performance waterproofing, cleaning and conditioning products for outdoor gear) has launched its Gear Rehab Program. It's a marketing ploy, sure—it aims to "educate outdoor participants on the benefits of gear aftercare, and provides information on which Nikwax products are needed to clean, waterproof, condition, and protect outdoor gear and clothing," according to one press release—but a clever and useful one, at that.
The gist is this: You can ship any one piece of your grubby, muck-stained gear—be it a jacket, tent, sleeping bag, pack or pair of hiking boots—to their Seattle office, and they'll clean and waterpoof it for you—for FREE! It sounds crazy, but it's the real deal. They even did battle with this cigarette smoke-stained Arc'teryx shell and restored it to almost-new condition.
There's fine print, of course. You have to pay to ship it to Seattle (Nikwax pays return shipping, though), and you can only have one piece of gear rehabbed per calendar year. Just imagine, though, what they could do for your 1970s-era canvas pup tent or those super comfy Asolo hiking boots you've been rocking on every mud-choked trail this side of the Rockies (and the 1990s). There's only one way to find out. Admit your gear has a problem. Then ship it off to Nikwax, the one-stop Betty Ford Clinic for hard-loved gear.