The maintenance of your best travel companion – a hiking backpack is crucial. It’s inarguable that the material, stitching, zippers, and other features play important role in the durability of your backpack. However, how you clean and care for your backpack also greatly affects its lifespan.

That’s why you can’t just treat your backpack like one of your clothes and throw it in the washing machine. Depending on the general type, material, and structure of your backpack, a proper cleaning method should be used.

But you’ll see that the cleaning process is neither time-consuming nor difficult. Instead of seeing it as a hassle, understand that it’s a type of investment in your hiking trip over the long run.

How often should you clean your hiking backpack?

In general, backpacks don’t require frequent washing. But it depends on how much you use it. So If you go hiking at least once a week, then deep cleaning the backpack once in two to three months is enough.

However, you can lightly clean the interior and exterior with wet clothing once a week or two to prevent dust and dirt from piling up for weeks. To sum up, deep cleaning and light cleaning are both necessary.

How to properly clean your backpack

Before cleaning any backpack (not only hiking backpack), reading the care instructions label is vital. Not all backpacks are built similarly, so make time to understand the uniqueness of your backpack which includes the material, features, zippers, etc.

Below we’re providing you with instructions on two main types of cleaning (deep and light) and they have different techniques. As I mentioned before, you should lightly clean your hiking backpack every week while also deep cleaning it once in two to three months.

However, if the label says that the backpack can’t be submerged in water, then you should only spot/lightly clean it.

When you’re lightly cleaning:

  1. Empty all the compartments and brush the visible dirt. Use a vacuum to thoroughly clean the crevices and seams if needed.
  2. Remove any metal frames
  3. Use wet clothing or a sponge to gently wipe the interior and exterior
  4. Try to use detergent-free soap /don’t put the cleaning product directly on the backpack – instead, submerge the wet cloth/sponge/
  5. Scrub the stains with a soft brush
  6. Let your backpack dry in the open air

When you’re deep cleaning:

  1. Fill a large basin or bathtub with lukewarm (not hot) water
  2. Add detergent-free soap to the water and mix.
  3. Submerge and swish your bag thoroughly. Let it soak for a few minutes.
  4. Use a sponge or brush to clean the stains and the entire backpack including the interior + exterior. Be gentle with mesh pockets.
  5. Pour the dirty water, and fill the basin with clean cool water. Rinse the pack once or twice to remove all soap residue.

Lastly, don’t use a dryer. You should let your pack dry in the open air – avoiding direct sunlight. Make sure all zippers and compartments are open when it’s being dried. And when you’re washing, pay attention to the areas where your skin has the most contact like the straps and the back of your backpack.

Can you use a washing machine?

Most hiking gurus are against the washing machine method. But as I mentioned earlier, you will know if it’s okay to wash the backpack in a washing machine or not by reading the care instructions label.

Most hiking backpacks have protective coatings that can tear down in a washing machine. Therefore, hand-washing is considered to be the safest method. But that doesn’t mean machine-washing is impossible.

If the care instructions label says that machine-washing is possible, then you can carefully do so. Few things to remember when machine-washing:

  • Empty your backpack completely and leave all pockets unzipped.
  • Remove any metal frames
  • Put your backpack in a laundry bag if possible to avoid any damage\
  • Check your backpack can fit in the washing machine and has enough room to move around.
  • Use a small amount of gentle detergent
  • Run the machine on the gentle cycle in cold water
  • Airdry the backpack

Care Tips

Cleaning is an obvious way to take care of a backpack. But to make your backpack durable to use for decades, there are more things you should pay attention to. We’re providing the most useful and effective care tips below:

Waterproof

One of the most important and common methods to maintain and care for your backpack is by waterproofing it. There’s no 100% waterproof backpack, but there are several ways to make the pack water-resistant.

Pack sensibly

Your backpack’s longevity also depends on how you pack. So be mindful about packing things that might damage your backpack like strong chemical products, sharp knives, etc.

Moreover, don’t overload your backpack. Learning different ways to maximize the space like rolling your clothes instead of folding is useful for hikers.

Clean and Lubricate the zippers

Cleaning the zipper is a who;e new issue that requires minimal effort. But it greatly affects the lifespan of your backpack. For your zippers to run smoothly, lubricate the zippers with the right product after cleaning.

The Bottom Line

Regularly and properly cleaning your backpack is an important step to keeping its quality over the years. Depending on the backpack, different methods should be used – but you should lightly and deep clean the pack consistently. Machine-washing is also possible the care instructions label says so.

Merely cleaning the backpack is not enough. Caring for and maintaining your hiking backpack by packing sensibly, waterproofing it, maintaining the zippers, etc is also crucial.