FAQ: How do I care for the travel gear I purchased from Oak Roads?
High-quality canvas and leather travel goods can be a big investment but they have a long lifespan and will accompany you on countless journeys. If you have dogs, think of these as man's other best friend - trustworthy and reliable but also requiring a modicum of care.
The items we sell are already pretty durable and don't require a lot of special coddling. But, with a little bit of additional care, you can protect your investment by keeping your travel bags clean, preserving the desirable qualities of the material and ensuring they remain rugged and ready for whatever adventures you may throw at them.
The three main things you need to consider are Cautions, Cleaning and Conditioning:
Cautions - There are many things you probably shouldn't do with your favorite travel gear. You know, the usual - don't blow it up, don't light it on fire, don't use it as a tow rope for your 4x4 (although credit to the team over at U.S.E.D. - their gear would probably handle that last bit just fine). But there are some lesser evils that you'll still want to be conscious of in your adventures:
- Water - You don't need to be paranoid about getting caught in every little rainstorm but, unless your item is specifically made out of a water-resistant material like waxed or rubberized canvas, oiled leather, or naturally water-resistant skins like goatskin or pigskin, you'll want to avoid letting it get soaked through. The water will weaken the fibers, making the item less supple and prone to tearing. Salt water is corrosive and can be particularly damaging. If your travel gear does soak through, the solution is to take action, cleaning and conditioning it before it completely dries. Also don't try to rush the drying process - just spread it out and let it air-dry at its own pace.
- Sunlight - The sun's rays contain damaging ultraviolet (UV) light that can be hard on fabrics and leathers but don't worry, there's no need to become a vampire (although have you noticed how good they look in leather? Just sayin'...). Canvas will typically fade with exposure to UV light while leather will typically darken (just like our own skin). To a certain extent, that's just part of the delightful patina of well-aged adventure gear and the key is simply not to let it get excessive to the point where the actual fibers begin to degrade. So don't store your bags in direct sunlight and, if you're planning a trek through the desert, you'll probably want to leave a little room in your pack for some extra conditioner.
Cleaning - Most of the time when you clean leather or canvas, you simply need to avoid drying it out or changing its appearance. You can certainly buy fancy cleaners but, to be honest, it really isn't necessary and some of them can even be damaging. Here's a better alternative:
- First go over the bag with a firm, dry brush to remove any accumulated dirt and grime (not a wire brush - something more like a firm toothbrush but ideally bigger... unless you've got a lot of time on your hands).
- If your item is suede or some other type of very soft, exposed-fiber leather, you'll want to leave it at that. Otherwise, you can continue but you want to experiment first. Get three different rags and some gentle hand soap, then try the remaining steps, start to finish, on a hidden place until you're satisfied the soap won't lighten, darken, or dry out this particular piece of gear. Once you've confirmed that, go ahead and apply it to the whole item.
- Damp the first rag, wring it out, and work in a little bit of gentle hand soap. The soap will help remove any grime still trapped in the oils and fibers. Gently rub a light lather onto your item until it appears clean.
- Damp the second rag, wring it out, and wipe down the item to remove the soap.
- Keep the third rag dry and use it to remove any water and excess dampness left behind by the second rag. After you're done, let your item air dry for a bit before proceeding with conditioning.
Conditioning - This step is all about restoring the desirable properties of the material that might have been stripped out along the way by UV rays, wear, water or cleaning. Leather, for example, has natural oils that need to be restored to keep it from drying out and cracking. You may need to reapply some wax to help your waxed canvas maintain its water resistance. And you may want to apply a general protective coating to help maintain the benefits of this cleaning and conditioning cycle for longer. As with the cleaning stage, it's probably best to test this on a hidden place first before applying it to the entire item.
- Leather Conditioner - Like our own skin, leather relies on natural oils to stay soft and supple. In fact you'll find that the portions of your gear that are frequently in contact with your skin (even through a thin shirt), will benefit from your own oils. To achieve this more evenly across the entire item, you can apply a commercial leather conditioner or even a bit of household olive or vegetable oil. Using too much will make the leather greasy or sticky and attract dirt, however, so it's important to rub in only a tiny amount. If the leather is noticeably darker or shinier after conditioning, you've probably used too much. Also, be careful not to apply oils or leather conditioner to any fabric portions of your gear - you won't be happy with the results.
- Canvas Wax - The primary reason for waxing your canvas goods is to render them wind- and water-proof. But it also gives them a wonderful look and patina. So whether you're restoring the properties of an existing waxed item or even applying wax to something for the first time, the process is fairly similar. You can use traditional paraffin or beeswax but in this case, we recommend purchasing a commercial product. The wax will come in solid form and you'll want to warm both it and the canvas up a little, either by doing this out in the sun or using a hair dryer. Rub the solid wax firmly against the fabric in broad strokes, going over it as many times as you feel you need to get coverage. After you’ve applied the wax, use your hands to rub it evenly into the fabric and a clean rag to wipe up any excess that gathers on the rivets, buckles and other metal surfaces. From there, apply more heat to really let the wax soak in, work it in some more by hand, and then let them cure for at least 24 hours in a dry, warm place. Note that this sort of waxing process shouldn't be used on leather as it will clog up the pores and lead to rot.
- General Protection - These are commercially available as aerosol sprays. You simply apply a light mist over your item, be it leather or canvas, to provide a bit of additional weather and stain protection. It's hardly a requirement but it does have a noticeable effect and will allow you to go a little longer between cleaning and conditioning cycles than you otherwise might.