How to Wash a Hiking Backpack – The Easy Way!

Not sure of the best way to clean your backpack? Whether it’s full of dirt, stinky, or out of shape, our guide will give you step-by-step instructions to get your pack looking as “good as new”!

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Written by: | Reviewed by: Kieran James Cunningham
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One of the necessary evils of having a healthy hiking or camping habit is having to take care of your gear. We know the struggle…

While washing sleeping bags, sharpening crampons, or resealing tent seams could test the patience of your average saint, regular maintenance for your pack is easy as pie!

Whether it’s stubborn dirt stuck in all the zippers, stinky shoulder straps, or a few stains, in this guide, we’ll show you the best way to get your backpack cleaned to maintain good shape and promote longevity!

What You’ll Need

  • Washing machine
  • Gentle detergent
  • Damp cloth 
  • Laundry bag
  • Tech wash (optional)
  • A little patience
Backpack in front of washing machine
Got everything together? Then let’s get started!

How to Wash a Hiking Backpack (Machine Wash): Step-by-Step Instructions

Before you jump straight to the washing machine, read the tag to ensure your pack can indeed be machine-washed. You don’t want to lose your precious backpack!

Now, if it can go in, here’s how to give it a thorough clean.

Step 1: Empty Your Pack

This might seem obvious, but during past cleans a few of us here at My Open Country have neglected to remove the odd granola bar or energy gel that threw a proverbial spanner in the works.

Make sure absolutely everything is out of your pack. Check the mesh pockets, the secret ones you forgot about, and the inside back panel. Once that’s done, unzip all the pockets, open all the compartments, and move on to step 2.

Empty pocket of backpack in front of washing machine
Make sure to empty all pockets and avoid that rogue Kleenex in the machine.

Step 2: Spot Clean Stains

Dirt, sweat, blood, tree sap, and spilled lunches are just a few of the things that might leave stubborn stains on your pack. 

Before moving on to step 3, lightly scrub these with an old toothbrush, soft brush, wet cloth, or sponge and a mild soap or gentle detergent. If the stains are on mesh, make sure you tread carefully – light cleaning is more effective than ripped pockets! 

Cleaning muddy stain on backpack with toothbrush
Gently remove all stains with an old toothbrush or sponge.

Step 3: Protect Your Bag

After a good scrub and ensuring you have the pockets unzipped, put your backpack inside a laundry bag or pillowcase. This will prevent the straps from getting caught. 

Step 4: Throw in the Machine

Again, it is crucial that you check the label on your pack to see whether or not it is machine washable. 

Assuming it’s good to go, before starting, we recommend running a rinse cycle with nothing in the washing machine. This will get rid of any excess fabric softener, regular detergent, or cleaning chemicals. Ensure the soap tray is clean, too. 

Now, put your pack-in-a-bag in the machine. Trekking or smaller backpacks alike, use a gentle cycle with lukewarm water. No spin cycle, no high heat – the gentler, the better!

Backpack inside pillowcase in front of washing machine
Once you’ve checked the washing instructions and placed it in a pillow case you are ready to wash!

Step 5: Air Dry

After your deep clean, to avoid mold, your pack has to be completely dry before you store it. Hang it out to air dry naturally – either on a line or in a well-ventilated room. 

Do not dry your pack in the sun. UV rays are not good for the material of your pack. 

To speed things up, make sure you hang your backpack upside down so water doesn’t pool at the bottom, and use a thick towel to squeeze out excess water.

How to Clean a Hiking Backpack by Hand

To hand wash a backpack, substitute steps 2, 3, and 4 above with the following:

  1. Fill your bathtub or a large sink with 6 inches of lukewarm water and add your detergent and/or tech wash. Avoid using a stain remover or any other harsh chemicals, as this can ruin your pack’s material!
  2. Give the pack a few shakes, scrub large dirty patches using a brush with soft bristles (an old toothbrush is good), and general dirty areas with a sponge and soapy water. Be gentle around mesh areas. 
  3. Let the pack soak for an hour or so, drain the dirty water from the tub, then rinse thoroughly with warm water then cool water to remove detergent residue. 
Holding a shower head
Remember to finish with a rinse in hot water, and then with cold water.


How often should I wash my pack?

As often as it needs cleaning! Once every season is a good ball-park time frame, but it really depends on a few variables, such as how much you sweat, how much abuse you put it through, and how careless you are with your lunches!

Is it safe to wash my backpack in the machine?

It depends on the pack.

As mentioned above, it is crucial that you read the care instructions label in the bag. Machine washing can strip the pack’s protective coatings, or even damage it. If it can be machine washed, put the bag inside a pillow to ensure no harm befalls the fabric.

The only case in which it isn’t safe to wash a pack in washing machines is if you have an external-frame pack. In this case, the pack’s metal frame would do serious damage to your machine (if, that is, you could even squeeze it in there!).

Can I put it in the dryer?

A hard ‘no’ – you have to air dry your pack!

Putting your pack in the dryer can damage both the pack and the machine. The heat from the dryer can both weaken the fabric and impair any water-resistant coating, not to mention chewing straps and buckles.

Final Thoughts

Caring for our gear is a vital and necessary part of being a backcountry adventurer. It might seem like tedious and boring work, but as the above demonstrates, there are two different ways to wash a backpack and both are relatively easy and not too time-consuming.

So, with your pack completely cleaned, it’s time to go on your next great adventure!

If you liked this article on how to clean a hiking backpack, let us know in the box below. And please feel free to share it with your friends!

Last update on 2023-05-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Alexandre Marceau is a French-Canadian writer, editor and keen mountaineer based in Edinburgh, UK.

During his undergrad in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, at the confluence of the Saint-François and Massawippi Rivers, he discovered that literary timelines, much like veins, carry the timeless stories that shape the regional identities of place. As a result, in 2019, he co-founded yolk, a Canadian literary journal for which he serves as Fiction Editor.

Alexandre’s work has appeared in various journals, newspapers and websites in Canada and Scotland, and he is the Creatives Editor for the Scottish Mountaineering Press. His time is divided between climbing, trail-running, snowboarding and writing.

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