Cleaning & Maintaining Your Rucksack

Maybe it’s been a few weeks out in the field, maybe it’s been months and months of deployments and travels. Regardless, your rucksack is looking a little beat up and has a bit of that funky-field smell to it after days of rain and mud. Every piece of equipment has their own needs for care and cleanliness, and your precious ruck is no different. Here’s are some key tips that help maintain your backpacks and rucksacks both on and off of military duty.

Best Tools for Cleaning a Rucksack

First, do not throw your rucksack in the washing machine and expect to be done with it. The main reason is because rucks and backpacks often have internal frames and parts that can easily break during a washing machine cycle. Unless your pack explicitly states it is machine-washable, stick to cleaning it by hand. This doubly applies for your dryer: not only will your rucksack probably get damaged, but your dryer as well!

To clean your pack the old-fashioned way you need a few tools:

  • A firm brush (such as a boot brush or even a firm toothbrush) will be crucial to getting stains and caked on dirt off the pack.
  • Detergent-free soap (such as hand soap or products specifically marketed towards cleaning the material your pack) will make the process a lot easier and help kill odor-causing bacteria in the pack. Be sure to take note of the phrase “detergent-free.” Many rucksacks are treated with waterproofing or other processes that detergent will eat through, rendering your pack useless for field work.

Cleaning Your Pack – Step by Step

  • 1. Take it apart – When you’re ready to start cleaning your pack, take the time to completely dismantle and empty it. You’ll want to remove the frame before washing the pack for two reasons. The first being it will make the process much easier, and the second being that you could accidently damage the frame or the pack during cleaning.
  • 2. Soak and scrub – After filling a tub with lukewarm water and a small amount of soap, submerge your pack. Make sure to turn out and empty all the pockets where dirt and grime could be hiding. Starting with the largest pocket, start scrubbing with your brush while paying particular attention to any stains or sticky patches. Continue this process will all the pockets, before finally ending with the outside of the pack.
  • 3. Dry – Once you’re finished, hang up the rucksack to dry upside down so that moisture will drain from the bottom of the pack. As mentioned before, do not use a dryer unless your pack specifically states that it is dryer safe, as it could potentially damage any waterproofing feature on your pack.
  • 4. Spot treat – Once the pack is almost dry (maybe a day or two later), take another look to see if any stains remain after the washing process. This would be the best time to spot treat those locations with a toothbrush and some soap. Make sure that the pack is completely dry before stowing.

Aftercare and Maintenance

After the hassle of cleaning, you may want to look into other options to help keep your ruck clean, or do some extra maintenance on broken or missing parts. Plastic buckles are generally cheap and easy to replace. To help keep your ruck clean in the future, consider investing in a rain cover and/or inner liner for the pack. An inner liner is especially useful if you’re conducting multi-day trips where you’ll be carrying empty containers and food waste to dispose of later. You may also want to touch up the waterproofing at this time, especially if the pack is old or has gotten wet multiple times.

Depending on how heavily you use your ruck, you may want to repeat the cleaning process every few months or at the least annually. Take care of your rucksack and it’ll continue taking care of you and your other gear for years to come.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Garrett Ferrara

Garrett is a writer, perpetual student, and seven-year Army veteran. Currently studying Anthropology and Writing & Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida, he's hoping to stretch the G.I. Bill all the way to a PhD. Bilbo Baggins is his favorite literary character; a character that traveled, fought battles, and finally settled into a simple life. He's looking forward to squaring away that last phase.
Garrett Ferrara

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