How To Clean A Hiking Backpack – A Guide To Backpack Care

Let’s be real – hiking can get dirty.

Most of your stuff will come home covered in dust, dirt and mud.

Your backpack gets a double whammy. It gets dirty on the outside, and the rest of your dirty stuff gets stuffed inside, so it gets nice and grubby inside out.

That’s why regularly maintaining and cleaning your backpack is important if you want it to last you a long time.

It might seem like a big job, but once you know how to clean a hiking backpack you’ll see that it’s a piece of cake. And, luckily for you – I’m going to show you how.

Let’s jump straight into it!

2 Ways To Thoroughly Wash Your Backpack

two hiking backpacks side by side

When it comes to giving your backpack a deep and thorough clean, you’ve basically got 2 methods to choose from:

  1. Hand washing
  2. Machine washing

Hand washing might involve just a little bit more effort than machine washing, but it’s not really difficult at all and it’s by far the safest way to wash your backpack. Below, we’ll take you through the process step by step.

While it might seem a lot easier to just throw your bag into the washing machine, it’s also pretty risky. Most backpacks aren’t meant to be washed in the machine, and they could come out looking pretty rough.

Still, some backpacks can be safely washed in the machine, so we’ll talk about the precautions you should take in doing so, too.

How To Hand Wash A Hiking Backpack

Most backpacks aren’t machine washable, so you’ll probably have to wash your pack by hand.

Even if your backpack is machine washable, washing it by hand is still a safer option, so you might want to stick with handwashing regardless.

This is how you do it:

  1. Empty your backpack, open up all the compartments and shake out any dirt or dust.
  1. If it has a metal frame, remove the frame before you get the backpack wet.
  1. Fill your bathtub (or sink if it’s a small backpack) with lukewarm water and add a little bit of mild soap or gentle detergent. You don’t need much – just a splash. If you add too much, washing it out will take forever.
  1. Submerge your backpack in the tub.
  1. Use a cloth or a soft brush to give your backpack a good scrub. Use a toothbrush for spot cleaning if you’ve got any particularly dirty spots on your pack.
  1. Drain the soapy water from the tub and run clean water over your backpack until you’ve washed all the soap out.
  1. Hang your backpack upside down to dry naturally. Never put it in the dryer, and never pack it away before it’s 100% dry. If you pack it away while it’s still moist, it’ll probably smell pretty funky next time you pull it out of storage.

And that’s all there is to it.

No matter how dirty your backpack was, it’ll be looking and smelling brand new before you know it.

How To Clean A Hiking Backpack In The Washing Machine

Let me just start off by repeating that most backpacks shouldn’t be washed in a washing machine.

The only time you should ever wash a backpack in the machine is if the washing instructions on the label explicitly state that it’s safe to do so.

If your backpack is machine washable, you still need to be extra careful to go about it the right way. You can’t just chuck it in with the rest of your laundry and hope for the best.

Here’s what you should do to make sure your backpack doesn’t get damaged in the process:

  • Use a gentle detergent
  • It’s a good idea to run an empty cycle beforehand
  • Read the label on your backpack carefully, and make sure to set your machine to the appropriate temperature. It’ll almost always be a low temperature.
  • Choose a gentle cycle with a slow spin speed.
  • Open all the compartments and pockets up, and empty your backpack completely.
  • If your backpack has a metal frame, remove it.
  • Put your backpack in a pillowcase or a laundry bag. This protects both your backpack and your washing machine at the same time.
  • Once it’s done, hang your backpack upside down and let it air dry. Make sure it’s completely dry before you pack it away, to avoid mold and bacteria growth.

Do not, I repeat – do not put your backpack in the dryer.

There you have it.

By following these pointers, you should be safe – as long as the label specifies that your backpack is machine washable. If not, stick to hand washing.

Regular Backpack Maintenance & Care Tips

a man in a yellow shirt wearing a hiking backpack

Now, you won’t necessarily have to wash your backpack thoroughly after every single hike. Obviously, if it’s covered in mud, you’re going to want to give it a proper wash. But, if your backpack isn’t particularly dirty when you get home, it might not warrant the full treatment.

Still – that doesn’t mean you should just unpack your things, chuck it to the side and forget about it until your next hike.

You should always give it a light clean after every use. That way, it’ll be nice and clean next time you want to use it. Regular maintenance and care will also extend your backpack’s lifespan in the long run, and you won’t have to wash it as often.

Light Cleaning Instructions

So, what can you do to care for your backpack properly?

Glad you asked!

It’s super straightforward, and won’t take you more than a few minutes.

Just follow these simple steps:

  • Empty your backpack and open all of the zippers and compartments.

Then, turn it upside down and give it a good shake to get any sand, dirt and small items that might still be hiding in there out.

It’s best to do this outside, but if you’re inside just do it over a garbage bin or a large plastic bag.

  • Take a damp cloth and wipe down the inside of the backpack. Make sure to get into all the corners and edges of all the compartments and pockets.

You can use a regular cloth or a microfiber cloth. If you’re worried about the material getting damaged, go with a microfiber cloth to be on the safe side.

  • Do the same with the outside of the bag. Depending on how dirty it is, you might want to put a drop of dishwashing liquid onto your cloth as well.

If you do use dish soap, wipe your bag down with a clean, wet cloth to get as much of the soap out as possible.

And that’s it!

Your backpack is now clean and fresh, ready for your next adventure.

What Now?

Now you know how to clean a hiking backpack.

We’ve talked about hand washing, machine washing and light cleaning. You’re officially equipped with the knowledge you need to keep your backpack in good shape hike after hike.

Remember – if you care for your backpack regularly, it’ll stay in good shape for longer, so you’ll get a lot more use out of it in the end.

For more tips and advice on keeping your hiking gear clean, check out some of our other articles, like this one on how to wash a sleeping bag.