Have you ever been so frustrated with a stuck tent or sleeping bag zipper that you were just tempted to take out your utility knife and slice it open? I have – multiple times.
After a number of frustrating camping trips and even more angry attempts at getting my zippers to open, I’ve finally found something that can help – penetrating oil.
Penetrating oil is a nifty little tool to have that helps loosen nasty zippers, tightly bound nuts and bolts, clean out rust and dirt, and so much more. It is a cheap product that you can find just about anywhere.
Having the best penetrating oil in your box of camping, hiking, or mountaineering gear can save you from a lot of frustration and ruined gear in the future.
As usual, I’ve narrowed the wide list of products into my top five picks. I’ll also be going over the basics of what penetrating oil is as well as some of the many uses for it.
What Is Penetrating Oil?
Penetrating oil is a type of oil that’s mainly used for loosening, cleaning, and preventing corrosion, although, there are a few other helpful uses of penetrating oil, which we will talk about in the next section.
Penetrating oil got its name because it is able to penetrate through narrow spaces like the threads of screws or between two tightly bound metal parts. It has a low viscosity so it flows easily when applied.
Penetrating oil works by leaving a film of the oil in the surface pores of the object while displacing other materials such as rust or dirt.
Generally, penetrating oils are made of a blend of lower alkanols, lower alkyl benzenes, methyl silicone, polymethacrylate, among a few other chemicals.
Types Of Penetrating Oil
There are three main types of penetrating oil, which I will go over very quickly in this section.
Straight oils are mainly used to help machines operate more smoothly. These are non-emulsifiable products that contain petroleum oils or base minerals that have other polar lubricants such as esters, vegetable oil, or fat.Sometimes, they may even have extreme pressure additives like phosphorous, sulfur, and chlorine.
Emulsion And Water-Soluble Oils
Emulsion and water-soluble fluids are highly diluted and contain high water content fluids (HWCFs). If you combine these water-soluble fluids with water, they create an emulsion.
These types of penetrating oils have a lower concentration than straight oils, which may slightly affect their performance.
There is a short document from Vickers Oils about Emulsifiable vs. Non-Emulsifiable Lubricants that you can read. It breaks down the differences between these two types of lubricants and how they work.
Synthetic and Semi-Synthetic
Lastly, there are synthetic or semi-synthetic penetrating oils. These types of oils have a synthetic base like polyglycol, silicone, diesters, esters, and chlorofluorocarbons, more known as CFCs.
Synthetic and semi-synthetic penetrating oils are non-flammable and much cheaper as compared to straight oils or water-soluble oils.
banned in some parts of the world due to its effect on the environment. You can read some information on it from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Uses Of Penetrating Oil
So, now that you have a very basic understanding of penetrating oil, the question is, what can you use it for and how can you apply it to your camping and hiking gear – let’s go through that right now.
Penetrating oil is a great loosening agent. People most often use it to loosen nuts, and bolts that have rusted together. Most penetrating oils can even loosen corroded, seized, or frozen fasteners.
- For Loosening Frozen Mountaineering Gear/Multi-Purpose Knives:
This is useful for mountaineers and their carabineers that may have frozen or rusted shut. I find that it also helps loosen the hinges of your utility or multi-purpose knife.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If a carabineer is already rusted, it is highly recommended that you replace it for safety measures.
- For Loosening Hinges of Camping Cookers:
You can also use penetrating oil on the hinges of rusted or very dirty camping cookers. Just remember that penetrating oil is not food-grade, so be careful not to apply it on places that will come in direct contact with food.
Penetrating oil is also a pretty great cleaning agent. They work at removing adhesives, rust, grease, and tar. It works because the solvent helps melt and loosen the contaminants and residue.
- For Cleaning Hiking Gear:
I find this is useful for things like hiking poles, tent pegs, or even tent poles that have a lot of dirt and grime that can’t easily be removed. If you enjoy biking on hiking trails, penetrating oil can help clean the gears of your bike.
Penetrating oil is also popular for its corrosion inhibiting properties. After you’ve cleaned your gear or your tools from rust, leaving a thin layer of penetrating oil can help prevent corrosion.
This works because penetrating oils have water-dispersing features, which prevents the oxidation of metals. Basically, it keeps water away from metal parts.
Although, it is important to note that penetrating oil may not necessarily be able to completely stop corrosion, but rather slow down the rate of it occurring.
Other Uses for Camping or Hiking
There are a few other uses for penetrating oil that I think can be pretty handy, especially when it comes to camping and hiking.
- For Your RV/Trailer:
If you have a car camper or an RV, penetrating oil can be used as an insect exterminator. All you need to do is to spray the insect directly for an instant kill. Just be careful not to inhale the fumes when you spray!
o this if you have babies or children inside. Have them go outside first and do not let them enter for at least 30 minutes for safety.
Penetrating oil can also help prevent snow buildup on the windows of your RV or trailer if you spray over the outside of the window before the snow starts to fall.
- For Your Hiking Boots/Shoes:
There is another use for penetrating oil that not many people know. You can use it to waterproof your winter boots. Simply spray on a coat of penetrating oil such as WD-40 on your boots so that water cannot penetrate the material.
You can also use it to remove really tough dirt and stains from your hiking boots and shoes by spraying a layer and then wiping it with a clean rag.
- For Stubborn Zippers:
As I’ve mentioned, my favorite use for penetrating oil is to loosen those incredibly stubborn zippers in tents or sleeping bags.
Try coating your zippers with a thin film of penetrating oil before you pack it away so it’s ready for your next use.
Things To Consider
When it comes to buying penetrating oil, there are only a few things that you need to consider before making your final selection.
Normally, you can find penetrating oil with a wide range of prices. They can range anywhere between $4 all the way to around $17 for 8 to 10 ounce bottles, so you’ll be able to find one that’s within your price range.
Just note that when it comes to penetrating oil, just because it is more expensive doesn’t mean that it works better. There are a lot of price friendly oils that work better than expensive ones – just do your research beforehand.
Something that’s very important to me, are the contents of the products I buy. If you can, try to search for penetrating oils that don’t make use of harmful or toxic chemicals.
As much as possible, try to avoid products that don’t make use of CFCs. Aside from the fact that they are actually banned in most states in the US, they can cause a lot of damage to the environment.
A nice bonus feature you can look for when making your selection is how the penetrating oil can be applied.
For example, if it’s a spray bottle, will it have some form of straw or way to direct the oil into one specific spot? Or if it is in liquid form, does the bottle have an applicator so you can use small amounts in small spots?
This can be really helpful, because many times, I’ve had half the can spill over as the penetrating oil I was using didn’t have an applicator.
Top Five Picks
Now that you have a general idea of what you can use penetrating oil for, let’s move on to my top five picks.
1. WD-40 Multi-Purpose Lubricant
When you say “penetrating oil,” usually the first thing people will think of is WD-40. The formula has been around for 60 years and it is probably the most popular and most well-known multi-purpose lubricant out there.
WD-40 has five main functions; it lubricates, penetrates, protects, removes, and displaces moisture. What’s great about this product is that it doesn’t use silicone, kerosene, water, graphite, or CFCs.
It is known for it’s over 2,000 different uses. It is safe for use on rubber, metal, wood, and most plastics. It is a great tool to prevent rust from forming in your camping or hiking gear, as well as to prevent mud from sticking to it.
Reader’s Digest online even has an article on 13+ Amazing Uses For WD-40, so you know that it’s a nifty little tool that people use often.
If 13 ways to use WD-40 isn’t enough for you, Huffington Post has 40 Uses for WD-40. And if you’re really trying to squeeze out all the potential from this little can, Wise Bread lists Almost 200 uses for a can of WD-40.
The can is available in 8 ounces, 11 ounces, and 12 ounces.
- Does not use harmful materials
- Easy to find
- Simple to use
- Comes with a smart straw for ease of use
- Might have some problems with the nozzle
2. Kano Kroil
Kano Kroil is another type of penetrating oil that can creep and loosen frozen metal parts within a matter of a few minutes – something that’s handy to have if you enjoy camping and hiking during the wintertime.
The product works to reduce the surface tension of whatever you need it for so that the solvent can penetrate openings as small as one millionth of an inch.
It also works to dissolve gum, dried grease, and oil without attacking or destroying the metal. And like all good penetrating oils, it displaces water, provides lubrication, and prevents rust.
There’s a video on YouTube that you can watch that shows how Kano Kroil was able to revive an old wrench that was no longer working.
- Easy to use
- Great at loosening pistons, nuts, and bolts
- Works well
- A bit pricey
- Not safe to transport by air
3. Kano Aerokroil
The Kano Aerokroil is the aerosol or “spray bottle” version of the Kano Kroil. It works to dissolve rust and grease, as well as provide lubrication for your gear.
Like it’s liquid brother, it helps loosen any frozen or rusted parts in a matter of a few minutes. This aerosol version of the Kano Kroil makes it a bit easier to use since all you need to do is point and spray, unlike the Kroil in liquid form.
It is available in 10 ounces, 13 ounces, and 16.5 ounces.
- Aerosol version is easier to use
- Industry confirmed
- Works well
- Not safe for air transport
4. Liquid Wrench L212
The Liquid Wrench L212 is another type of penetrating oil that you can purchase per can or in a case of 4 or 12. Like the WD-40, it comes with a precision spray straw to help you direct the solvent into an exact spot you need it.
It is made with Cerflon and it works to lubricate and protect your gear, stop squeaks, eases sticking parts, displaces moisture, and prevent rust and corrosion from building up.
The Liquid Wrench leaves a thin wet film while soaking into gaps to displace moisture. It is meant to help extend the life of all your metal tools and gear.
You can use it on hardware, tools, equipment, exterior locks, small hinges, electric appliances, ignition, and electrical wires.
The New York Times has an article about Liquid Wench and how it stands up to the very popular and most well-known lubricant, WD-40. It’s a pretty interesting read.
- Price friendly
- Buy in bulk to save more money
- Great at reducing rust
- Messy and difficult to control even with the straw
5. 3-in-1 Multi-Purpose Oil
Last on our list is the 3-in-1 Multi-Purpose Oil. It is an 8-ounce squeeze bottle with a drip applicator/nozzle attached so you have a bit more control over the amount of lubrication is dispensed.
Like the previous products, it lubricates, prevents rust, removes squeaks and friction, and displaces moisture. You can also use it as a cleaning tool to help remove dirt and grime.
- Extremely price friendly
- Has a drip applicator/nozzle
- Easy to use and control
- Cap does not seal very tightly
- Oil may leak out if you don’t store it properly
With so many options for penetrating oils available in the market, and even with my reduced top five list, it is very difficult to choose the best one. If you want to go for the most popular choice, go for WD-40.
WD-40 is the easiest one you can find, is mid-priced, and works effectively. It also comes in spray form with a smart straw to make it easy to use in those tight spaces like on zippers.
Having a can of penetrating oil is a very versatile and vital tool to have along with the rest of your camping, hiking, and mountaineering equipment.
The best penetrating oil will not only loosen stuck joints, clean old rusted parts but with regular application, it will prevent further damage from happening. It’s really cheap so I suggest you grab a can and add it to your toolbox!