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Cleaning your Backpack after a Hike

Feel like you are taking the woods home with you after a hike? Many of us who love being in the great outdoors come home tracking in some unwelcome souvenirs, especially in our backpacks. Here are some handy tips about cleaning your backpack for tidy adventuring.

Do You Need to Clean a Backpack After You Use It?

Cleaning your backpack on a regular basis will allow you to extend its lifespan so you can keep using your favorite pack for as long as possible. A number of brands, including Osprey, do suggest that your clean your backpack after every use. For more information, you may wish to search for instructions related to your specific bag, such as these helpful tips from Osprey.

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However, there are a number of different aspects to take into consideration when it comes to backpack maintenance. Before taking the time to clean your backpack, it is best to consider not only the type of bag, but also the amount of action it has seen.

The average daypack rarely comes in contact with enough dirt to warrant a thorough cleaning. But a hunter’s daypack may end up carrying a knife used to skin and clean an animal (yuck). And a backpacking pack can often go onto a trail looking pristine and emerge appearing as if it has been through boot camp.

The depth of cleaning your backpack needs will depend on not only the type of hiking you are doing, but also weather conditions and your own standards of cleanliness.

If you are only hiking for a few hours in decent weather, your pack is unlikely to get dirty enough to warrant a thorough cleaning. In this case, you may want to only do a light cleaning.

You may also have a garage or basement in which to store your pack if you are not ready to clean your pack, but still care about the state of your carpets. Refraining from cleaning your pack is unlikely to do any actual damage to the pack itself, but may result in a shorter lifespan.

Of course, you may be taking your backpack on longer journeys that are likely to leave your backpack a bit dirty. If your backpack appears fairly dirty, it has been through inclement weather, or if it simply begins to smell, it may be time for a more thorough cleaning.

While your backpack may not require a thorough cleaning after every individual use, it will likely require careful scrubbing after extended periods of time out of doors.

How to Clean a your Backpack?

Light Dirt

In most cases, your backpack will only need a light cleaning after each individual use. Depending on the level of dirt your pack has been subjected to, it is fairly simple to clean the surface of your backpack to keep it in working order.

backpack with rainflyPublic Domain

To do a quick clean-up of your backpack, first empty all of the pockets, take the bag outside, and shake it while holding it upside down. This will help clear away any debris you may have collected on your hike.

Once the debris has been shaken out, take a damp sponge or cloth and wipe out the interior. For the exterior, you should repeat this step, but you may find that you want to use a little soap to scrub off any stains or excess dirt. Once this is completed, simply wipe down the outside of your pack with a clean, damp sponge or towel and let it air dry.

Heavy Dirt

Hikers that tend to take their backpacks out for extended periods of time are more likely to find that their bag needs a more thorough cleaning. If you feel that your pack could use needs more work than a light cleaning, you can either hand-wash or machine-wash your backpack.

For both options, you should once again be sure to empty out all of the pockets and shake any loose debris out of the bag. If your bag has a metal frame and detachable straps, be sure to remove these before washing. Make sure to wash the straps separately.

If you choose to hand-wash your bag, fill a tub with lukewarm water and a small amount of detergent-free soap. Be sure not to use hot water as this may damage the material of your backpack. Using a soft brush or sponge, scrub both the interior and exterior of the bag. A bit of elbow grease may be necessary for tougher stains.

For machine-washing, be aware that some brands expressly advertise that their packs should never be machine-washed. Before trying to clean your pack in the machine, be sure to research the brand of your pack to make sure the materials will not be damaged through machine-washing. For example, Deuter warns that their packs should never be machine-washed.

If your backpack is safe for machine-washing, place your backpack into a laundry bag to ensure that none of its straps or zippers get caught in the machine. You can also turn your backpack inside out for the same effect. Be sure to let your washing machine run through a cycle without any detergent before washing your bag as the detergent may harm certain materials used in backpacks.

Once your backpack is safely in your machine, simply wash it on the gentle cycle in cold water. Whether you have washed your bag by hand or with the machine, allow your pack to air dry and make sure that your bag is thoroughly dry before storing.


For any avid hikers interested in maintaining their backpack over a long lifespan, periodic cleaning is a must. There are a number of different options available depending on just how dirty your backpack is and how thoroughly it needs to be clean. We hope you find these tips helpful for keeping your gear in great shape. Happy trekking!

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