How to Clean Your Hiking Backpack so it Lasts Longer

Last Updated: October 2020

There is a right and wrong way to clean your hiking backpack.  In this article, we will break down the dos and don’ts of hiking pack maintenance. 

Why You Should Properly Clean Your Hiking Backpack

Hiking and backpacking are enriching activities to enjoy. As you become more invested in outdoor recreation, your gear starts to hold a higher value.

You may be spending more money on quality gear so you can spend more time outside. No matter the dollar value of your backpacking and hiking gear, though, one thing overlaps across the board: maintenance is vital. 

It is tempting to toss your backpack down after a long day on a trail, but this can be a fast track to wearing out a pack.

Cleaning and storing a hiking backpack is something that can become second nature to you, especially as you become more experienced as a hiker.

Plus, the more often you keep up with cleaning, the less time it will take each time! 

Because you want your gear to last you years to come, we should treat them delicately. That means that you shouldn’t be tossing a backpacking pack into the washing machine and just hoping for the best.

If you are looking for a new pack, check out our guide to the Best Hiking Backpacks and in-depth backpack reviews.  

clean your hiking backpack  mountain

How to Clean Your Hiking Backpack

Whether you are backpacking or day hiking, the time will come when you need to wash your pack. After all, you’re outside in the rain, dirt, wind, snow and are more than likely sweating at least a little.

These factors are bound to cause a bit of buildup and maybe even a few varying smells. 

Most backpack companies and manufacturers will have explicit instructions online (see Osprey's instructions) and in their buyer’s guide about how to clean your pack properly. 

If you’ve misplaced this information or it isn’t very clear, then you can use these tips below: 

  • Most backpacks can be submerged in a bathtub, but some packs will recommend not doing this. Be sure to read cleaning instructions for all packs before cleaning them. 
  • Use lukewarm water, not hot or cold water. 
  • If you have spots or stains, use a brush very lightly and only in that area. You can also scrub the pieces of the fabric against each other for a bit of friction. 
  • NEVER put your hiking backpack in the washing machine or dryer. This will damage multiple aspects of the pack, and in some cases, make it unusable. 
  • Hang dry your pack in the shade or indoors. Keep it out of sunlight to avoid unnecessary damage from the UV rays. 

How to Spot Clean Your Hiking Backpack

Sometimes your backpack doesn’t need a deep clean, and you just need to get some mud or drive off one part of the backpack.

If you set your pack on the ground when you take breaks if it rained and you didn’t have a rain cover, or maybe some food or a drink spilled and left a bit of a mess in your backpack.

Whatever the reason may be, spot cleaning your backpack and checking for dirty areas after your hike is a good habit to have. 

You can also easily spot clean your backpack when you’re on the trail. All you need is some water, soap, and a sponge. 

All you will likely need to do for less aggressive dirty areas is wet the sponge and scrub gently until the dirt comes out. You can do this both inside and outside the backpack.

Just be sure to remove all items from your backpack before you start the spot cleaning process. 

If you have a bigger area or a larger stain, then you may want to apply some soap and more water to that area of the backpack. Scrub lightly with the sponge to work the soap in and work the dirt out. Once you’re satisfied with the spot clean, then rinse the soapy area with water. 

Before you put everything back into your pack, be sure to hang dry somewhere out of the sun.

If you are on the trail, be wary of hanging your pack on or under a pine tree or other trees that produce large amounts of sap. 

The sap can drip onto your pack, and pine pitch is tough to remove from any material. 

clean backpack tree hanging

Be careful not to hang your pack on or under a pine tree or other trees that produce large amounts of sap. 

How to Deep Clean Your Hiking Backpack

If you’re back home and it has been a few months since your pack has truly been cleaned, then you may need to consider a deep clean of your hiking backpack.

This is when reading the manufacturers instructions is important because not all packs should be submerged in a bathtub.

However, bathtub cleaning your pack is by far the most common and one of the easiest methods. 

To deep clean your hiking backpack in the bathtub, follow these simple steps: 

  1. Empty your pack completely. Be sure to check all of the pockets and crannies! Remove any external items as well, this could be a safety whistle, pins, etc. 
  2. Once your pack is empty, then shake your bag out upside-down. We recommend doing this outside as plenty of dirt and sand are sure to come out in the process. You can also vacuum out your pack. Vacuuming your pack gets more dirt out in the nooks, zippers, and pockets than shaking alone. 
  3. If your pack design allows you to remove the hip belt and shoulder straps, do so. This is unnecessary, but if you can remove them, then spot clean them with a sponge, soap, and rinse them under lukewarm water. 
  4. Next, remove the metal frame if possible. Removing this will make it easier to clean and keep the frame in better condition. 
  5. Now you’re ready to deep clean your pack! Fill a bathtub with about 6 inches of lukewarm water. 
  6. Once filled, put your pack into the water and submerge it. If the water does not fully cover the pack, add enough to cover the pack completely.
  7. Add some mild soap, and then swish the backpack around in the water. You may need to let it soak for a minute or two, but not too long. Continue swishing the pack around until it is beginning to release some dirt.
  8. Get a sponge or a soft-bristled brush and use it to clean areas of the pack that come into contact with your body and interior areas that may be dirty. Do this part very gently, and do not scrub mesh sections of the pack with a bristled brush. 
  9. Drain the tub and rinse the pack under running water. 
  10. Refill the tub with 6 inches of cold water, and swish the pack around again until you know the soap has been rinsed out thoroughly. You may have to do this step twice. 

ProTip: If your zippers are full of grime and getting stuck, use a toothbrush to scrub out the zipper when deep cleaning. Then, once dry, lube the zipper with silicone grease. 

After a deep clean, to dry your backpack, find an area that is out of the sun to hang dry. We recommend simply hanging the pack in the shower because it will drip for a while after the washing process. 

How to Store a Hiking Backpack

Most people will deep clean their packs after a long summer of heavy use. That means that you’re likely storing your backpack for the winter.

If that is the case, take extra care to ensure that your pack is fully dry before storing it!

If you store wet gear of any kind, you will be breaking out smelly, moldy, and possibly unusable gear next Spring. 

The best area to store any outdoor gear is in a cool, dry closet of some kind. Indoors is ideal, not a shed or garage, because the temperature is regulated and relatively consistent. 

Keeping your pack in a closet keeps it out of the sun and usually allows you to hang it up. If you don’t have an area where you can hang your backpack when storing it, store it lying flat. 

Since you’re likely storing your pack after a deep clean, you may have already completed this step, but just in case you haven’t, double-check that all items are removed from your pack.

Do not store your backpack full of gear. Remove everything and remember the small pockets!

Checking every pocket ensures that you will not forget a half-eaten power bar from the last trip of the season. 

Leftover food in a backpack all winter is a good way to invite mice and other critters to chew up your gear. 

If your backpack has a water reservoir or bladder, also check to make sure this is empty. Then, store this outside of your backpack with the cap off.

Leaving the cap off of the reservoir prevents moisture and mold from collecting during storage. 

Final Takeaways

Let's face it, backpacking gear is not always cheap.  You don't want to need to keep replacing your gear so  knowing how to clean your hiking backpack is vital.

It is tempting to toss your backpack down after a long day on a trail, but this can be a fast track to wearing out a pack.

Cleaning and storing a hiking backpack is something that can become second nature to you, especially as you become more experienced as a hiker.

This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.

Related Posts