Packs for hiking, camping and other outdoor activities are designed with laminate materials that are waterproof and able to withstand harsh weather, temperature and wear-and-tear. These materials can protect your supplies for years if properly maintained; most packs protect from water leakage, rips and tears from branches, and extreme temperatures. However, washing the pack in a washing machine greatly affects the laminate covering the fabrics; the soap and water can damage or weaken that waterproof covering and cause the materials to rip, break and tear more easily.
Using a washing machine to wash a backpack should be the absolute last resort for cleaning and maintaining your pack, though maintenance is necessary: all kinds of dirt, debris, and food and plant stains can build up on the material, reducing the life of your pack. Keep your pack clean and free of debris, and wipe it down with a damp cloth immediately if you notice any stains. Backpacks should be maintained with a monthly wipe-down (using mild detergent only) and should be thoroughly dried before use or storage.
If you've tried cleaning your pack the traditional way and still can't get rid of a stain or smell, or if your pack has been poorly maintained and has mold or mildew on it, you may need to wash it more thoroughly in the washing machine. But be warned! There's no guarantee that using the washer won't ruin your materials, clasps and attached elements, forcing you to buy a new pack anyway. If it's absolutely necessary to use the washer, follow these tips: never soak the pack in soapy water. This can cause holes and tearing in the material. Clean out all debris from corners and seams and remove the frame, all metal stays and detachable pockets. Wash on the delicate cycle in cold water only, and only use a mild or chemical-free detergent. Never, ever tumble-dry the pack--always place it upside down to drip-dry in a well-ventilated, cool area.
Article Written By Emily Elder
Emily works as a Greenway coordinator and parks project manager in her local community, and has been hiking, camping, fishing and riding all over the mountains of western North Carolina. She enjoys being outside with her family, especially her two children, Creedence and Mason, and her husband, James, and lives on a small farm surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.