Do you know how to clean your backpacking gear? (8 how-to tips)

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As a seasoned camper, you know that preparation is key to success and safety in the wilderness. After all, the very first tenet of the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace is “plan ahead and prepare.”

Now, add to this, in the face of a global pandemic, we have a whole new set of rules when it comes to preparation, starting with our sanitation strategy.

To ensure that you don’t spread germs to your fellow campers, you should begin and end your outing with a complete clean.

Image of camping gear, text overlay reads is your camping gear clean

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How to keep your camping gear clean and sanitized:

1. Audit, Clean, & Pack

A crucial part of preparation before a camping trip is to inspect and audit your gear. Doing so can help you determine if any items are missing, damaged or worn to the point where they could cause problems.

A collection of backpacking gear ready to get packed

As you go through and inspect all your camping gear, be sure to clean them one by one. Pay special attention to your tent and camping chairs, but make sure to also wipe down devices, such as your headlamp, lantern, and cooking supplies.

2. Wash your gear with Soap and Water

Before you break out the hard stuff, use warm, soapy water (dish soap is a good option for many surfaces) to wipe down and clean each item.

We always recommend referencing the manufacturer’s guidelines to cleaning, as some camping gear is made of high-tech material that should be cleaned with a certain kind of solution. There are also purpose-built tent cleaning solutions available that may provide advantages over simple soap and water.

3. Use Disinfectant

We all prefer natural options, but the fact of the matter is that gentle cleaners just won’t do when we’re trying to keep our personal items clean of illness-causing germs. Unfortunately, you may have to resort to using harsher cleaners to disinfect hard-surface items.

Be sure to use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guide to cleaning and disinfection. These procedures will ensure that the products you use actually kill germs.

You may want to target germs on the following items with disinfectant:

  • Tent and tarp cover
  • Hammock
  • Bedding
  • Flashlight and headlamp
  • Dishes and cooking gear
  • Small appliances
  • Games and cards
  • Radio
  • First-aid kit
  • Emergency supply kit
  • Water purifier
  • Hiking pack
  • Sleeping pack
  • Firearms and ammo
  • Personal items, such as deodorant and toothpaste

4. Leave no Trace

The key thing to remember here is that, if you’re using harsh cleaners to properly disinfect, you should be extra careful about where and how you use them.

Unfortunately, just as bleach and other germ-killing cleaning solutions can cause discomfort and illness in humans, they can also seriously damage the natural environment.

If possible, disinfect on the driveway or picnic table and never spray or dump any cleaners directly on vegetation.

5. Launder What you Can

A regular old trip through the washing machine may be just what you need to rid your camping gear of dirt, germs and odors without resulting to harsher options.

washing a sleeping bag in a front load washer

While you should never machine-wash or dry a tent, you can and should give your camp bedding, tablecloths and clothing a deep wash. Possibly before you leave and as soon as you return, be sure to give all machine washable equipment a wash in hot water (if heat-safe) to kill any lingering germs

Here’s an article on making sure you’re washing and storing your sleeping bags properly.

6. Let it Dry Thoroughly

A crucial part of keeping your camping gear clean is preventing the growth of mold and mildew. We’ve all had the experience of setting up our tent or unrolling our sleeping bag, only to be hit with that awful smell. Mold and mildew grow in moist environments, which is why our gear often stinks after a rainy camping trip. After you give your equipment a thorough clean with soapy water and disinfectant, make sure you let it dry completely before putting it away. Lay out any sleeping bags and tents in a sunny area to ensure that they get totally dry.

7. Don’t Share Gear

When your goal is to avoid spreading germs, be sure to follow the one-per-person rule when camping. Each person should have their own tent (with the exception of people who live in the same household or cohort), their own camping chair and their own dishes.

Also, if you decide to rent gear, make sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect before use.

8. Leave it Outside

As soon as you arrive home from your trip, unpack your car and leave all your equipment outside or in the garage. As best as you can, you want to prohibit bringing any germs into your home.

Before you bring any items inside your house to store, make sure to thoroughly clean and dry each and every item. A deep-clean after you return from your trip will also ensure that you don’t have to use dirty gear the next time you head out — win-win!


We’re all figuring out new ways to deal with a life-altering global pandemic, including spending time outdoors. Camping is an excellent activity for social distancing, but you need to make sure you do it the right way. When you follow these tips and tricks, you can be sure you’ll come away from each trip a happy (and healthy) camper!


Submitted by Kyle

Adventurer & Writer


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