Mariko has spent the last 10 years writing about travel, outdoor adventures and humanitarianism. When she's not travelling, you can find her on a local hiking trail, exploring the Canadian Rockies, or researching her next exotic destination.
A well-designed backpack is an investment that can last you through many years of travel and adventure. And while they’re tough enough to flog all over the trail, it's important to occasionally wash your backpack and spot-clean it after use to maintain its durability and lifespan.
Before you wash your backpack
Before you clean a backpack, carefully read and follow the care instructions on the tag.
Open up your bag
Open all zips, turn out the pockets, turn your backpack upside down, and give it a good shake to remove any rubble and grit.
Remove the loose debris in your backpack
If it’s been a long time between cleans or there is grit in the seams, use the brush attachment of a vacuum cleaner to remove stubborn debris and grit.
Remove the metal frame
Many backpacks now have internal aluminum or alloy frame-stays, which transfer the load to where it needs to be. Backpacks don't have multiple frames, but if it is easy to remove, this can help you easily clean your backpack.
Can you wash a backpack in a machine?
Because of the high-performance material used to create Kathmandu backpacks, we advise not machine washing any of our backpack range, as this can compromise the structural integrity of our bags. There is a lot of information online that may tell you that machine-washing a backpack is fine, but doing so can damage the fabrics, coatings and accessories of your backpack. Always check written advice either attached to your bag or that came with the bag during its purchase.
How to wash a backpack by hand
Cleaning your backpack by hand is the best way to ensure you do not damage it in the process.
Follow the above advice for preparing your backpack. Locate an appropriate washing vessel, like a large plastic tub or your laundry sink. If you’re washing a bigger bag of 55L and above, the bath tub is a good option.
Use a specific gear cleaning solution to spot-clean your bag prior to submerging it in water.
Do not use regular laundry detergent or bar soaps when you wash your backpack, as the chemicals within these regular household products can damage the fabric.
Fill your tub with cold or lukewarm water. Never use hot water to wash your backpack. Hot water can damage your backpack by leeching its colour.
If the care instructions allow, submerge your backpack and remove dirt with a soft cleaning brush or cloth. If you can’t submerge your pack, spot clean with a cloth and brush.
Pay particular attention to the areas that have the most contact with your skin, like the straps and back of your pack.
For more stubborn stains, apply a small amount of gentle, diluted gear cleaner directly to the blemish. Use a soft-bristled brush and a circular motion to gently encourage the dirt towards the surface. Avoid any bleach-based products.
Empty your tub or basin and refill with clean water. Thoroughly rinse your backpack of detergent until the water is clear. This usually takes a few rounds.
How to dry your backpack
Like most outdoor gear, your backpack should be completely dry before use or storage to avoid a build-up of mould. Besides being a pain to clean, mould imparts a bad smell, shortens the lifespan of your pack, and in some cases, damages your gear beyond repair.
To air dry your backpack properly:
Find a warm, well-ventilated area and hang your bag upside down. Avoid drying your bag in direct sunlight as this can damage the material.
Depending on the time of year, it may take up to a day or more for the bag to completely dry. To quicken the process, you can absorb some of the excess moisture with towels.
Never use a machine dryer when cleaning a backpack. You’ll risk damaging the fabrics, coatings and accessories of the bag.
Backpack Care and Repair FAQs
What's the benefit of deep cleaning my backpack?
In short, you’ll extend the life of your backpack. Dirt, sweat, and general debris all contribute to faster wear and tear. It’ll also smell much nicer.
How often should I clean my backpack?
This will depend on your individual use and activity, but as a general rule, spot clean your backpack after a long hike and do a deep clean of your backpack at the end of a long season.
If you hike all summer, clean your backpack before it goes into winter storage. This helps prevent any build-up of oil and salt from your skin reducing the durability of the pack.
During winter hikes, exposure to snow can compromise the bag's fabric, so be sure to clean your backpack after use and allow it to dry thoroughly.
How do I keep my backpack clean?
To reduce how often you have to can your backpack, invest in a rain cover. Available in multiple sizes, they’re ideal for hiking, travelling, commuting, or on any backpack that could use a little added protection.
Bag covers will minimise exposure to dirt and help keep your backpack dry. Keep it in your daypack and slip it on during unexpected downpours or wet and muddy conditions.
How can I deodorize a backpack without washing it?
Backpacks are partial to lingering smells from improper drying, smelly hiking gear, or the occasional burst tuna pouch.
The best way to treat funky odours is with a deep clean, but the next best thing is a spot clean. Apply a purpose-made spray as per the instructions and allow your backpack to air out for as long as possible.
Can I dry clean a backpack?
In one word, no. Dry cleaning involves using an aggressive chemical solvent that can damage the fabrics and coatings of your backpack.