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How to Clean a Hiking Backpack

How to Clean a Hiking Backpack

A good backpack is an essential item for your hiking trips. It allows you to carry everything you need to stay safe and comfortable on the trail. It’s important to keep your trusty backpack clean and tidy to prevent it from wearing out and looking grubby. Not only will this increase the lifespan of your backpack, you will earn the respect of your fellow hiker who will see you as someone who is presentable and looks after their equipment. This guide explores how to clean a hiking backpack so you can enjoy it for years to come. 


Before you begin, make sure that you empty the backpack completely, including all side pockets. If you leave a pack of tissues or that old sandwich wrapper in there you will end up causing further mess which will be difficult to clean. Take the backpack outside, open all the zips and give it a good shake out to remove any bits of dirt which have collected in the corners of the pockets.  


You will need to decide whether you want to wash your backpack using a washing machine or by hand. Not all backpacks are machine washable so you will need to check the label beforehand. Let’s take a look at the pro’s and con’s of both.


Option 1 – Machine Wash


Washing your backpack in the washing machine is by far the quickest way to get it to a better standard of cleanliness. You will probably be tempted just to throw it in there and forget about it whilst the washing machine does the work, leaving you free to get on with other jobs.


However, cleaning a backpack in this way does present several downsides. You will need to make sure to remove the wire lining before putting it in the washing machine. The lining in most backpacks can be removed however this may be tricky. In some backpacks you will be unable to remove it whatsoever. If you do remove the lining and wash the backpack, you may find it difficult to reinstall, so give this some consideration beforehand.


Also, washing detergent is often found to be irritating when pressed tightly against the skin, especially when coming into contact with sweat. This could cause you a problem around the shoulder area when carrying your newly clean backpack, and you may wish you had taken that extra bit of time to wash it by hand in a more skin-friendly solution.


Option 2 – Hand Wash


If you have a little more time and want to really take care to restore your backpack to it’s former glory, hand washing either in the sink or preferably the bath may be your best option. You will be able to get deeper into each pocket and compartment to remove any stubborn dirt and you won’t have to remove the lining, which may damage or compromise the integrity of your backpack.


If your backpack cannot be fully submerged, hand washing may be your only option. You will want to protect the waterproof element of the backpack, if it is indeed waterproof in the first place. Washing it by hand will ensure that you are able to pay special attention to certain areas, or avoid others so as not to degrade the waterproofing unnecessarily. 


Once you have decided on which method you are going to use, it’s time to get down to work.


How to Clean a Hiking Backpack in a Washing Machine


  1. Empty all contents from the backpack, including all side pockets and small compartments. Leave all zips open to allow the inner pockets to become clean and for loose dirt to work its way out. You can use a vacuum to remove dust and other bits from the interior of the backpack.
  2. Remove the metal frame or lining from the backpack. Take care not to damage the frame or allow it to catch on the fabric of the backpack.
  3. Insert the backpack into a washing or laundry bag. This will offer some protection to the backpack and ensure that zips or ties do not get caught in the drum of the washing machine and damage one or both items.
  4. Place the backpack into the washing machine. Make sure that there is enough room for the backpack to move around and that it is not too large to fit comfortably within the machine.
  5. Run the machine without detergent first. This will allow any residual detergent to be removed from the machine.
  6. Make sure to use detergent that is suitable for backpacks and waterproof items so as not to degrade the fabric of the backpack. You should use this sparingly as too much detergent can stick to the backpack after washing.
  7. Run the cycle with cold water on the most gentle wash possible. 
  8. Check the backpack for detergent which hasn’t been washed out during the cycle. If so, gently wash it away in the sink.
  9. Hang the backpack upside down. Do not store away until it is completely dry.


How to Clean a Hiking Backpack by Hand


  1. Again, empty all contents from the backpack, including all side pockets and small compartments. Leave all zips open to allow the inner pockets to become clean and for loose dirt to work its way out.
  2. Fill a sink or bath with warm water. This should be warm enough to dislodge any dirt but not too hot as this could cause the colouring to run.
  3. Introduce a small to moderate amount of detergent suitable for backpacks (not regular detergent or fabric softener) to the water and allow it to mix for a few seconds. If you can’t find such detergent, shower gel or a ph-neutral soap will do the job.
  4. Use a non abrasive item like a sponge and begin to clean the backpack. Use a soft brush to dislodge stubborn dirt and an old toothbrush for hard to reach places. Take care not to press too hard.
  5. Hang the backpack upside down. Do not store away until it is completely dry.


Can You Tumble Dry a Backpack?


In short, no. Tumble drying would result in your backpack shrinking and becoming warped due to the heat, and possibly even melting. As mentioned, hang your backpack upside down in a well ventilated area, and let it dry out naturally instead. Plus, by putting a backpack in the tumble dryer, you run the risk of damaging the internal components of your dryer which may end up being a costly repair.


Final Thoughts


Hopefully you will now be confident in how to clean a hiking backpack. Whilst you won’t have to deep clean your backpack after every use, you will definitely increase the lifespan of your backpack by keeping it in top condition. Leaving a filthy backpack in the bottom of a wardrobe will mean replacing it before you know it, and a good backpack is one of the more expensive items of kit you will need on the trail. Keep it clean and you will respect yourself more, as will your fellow hiker, and you will thank yourself later down the line.