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How to Clean your Hunting Backpack

How to Clean your Hunting Backpack

There comes a time in every hunter’s life when he steps into the garage, walks past a storage cabinet, or climbs into his truck and notices a familiar smell - a scent that takes him back to long, sweaty, cold, brutal pack-outs. Many of us choose to keep walking, ignoring the pungent slap-in-the-face odor of blood and other bodily fluids that collect on a hunting backpack after a solid season.

I have done this for years. My O.G. Outdoorsmans Optics Hunter pack is a different color than it was when its life started. It smells like a pen that housed a group of violent pigs. It’s coated in blood and gore, top to bottom, from packing out meat in thin game bags.

I am not even in the top 50% when it comes to frequency of hunts per season (4-5, not all my own), so I can only imagine how rank a bag that gets used more often could be.

Part of my reason for writing this article is to convince myself to clean my damn pack. I’ve put it off too long, and if you feel the same, I suggest that you undertake this surprisingly easy task with me.

Cleaning Your Pack - The Easy Way

The old tried-and-true method of de-griming a hunting pack is simple and cheap.

What you’ll need:

1: Bath tub, horse trough, giant cooler, or other large water receptacle

2: Scent-free detergent (easily found at a grocery store) like Purex Free and Clear or specialty hunting-minded products like Scent-A-Way unscented detergent.

3: Fairly stiff heavy-duty grout/shower brush like this one from Amazon

The Wash

Completely empty your pack. This seems obvious, but you’ll be surprised at the amount of used Hydrate & Recover packets and Snickers wrappers you find.

Start by filling your tub with water. Contrary to popular belief, warm water actually makes blood bind to fabric and makes it difficult if not impossible to remove. You want the water as cold as possible. We’re not scientists, so don’t ask us exactly why.

If your mom ever washed blood off of your jeans or football jersey, you might already know that ice is the most effective tool for the job. If you have big bloodstains, no matter how old, rub ice on them and then use the brush to clean. This is not mandatory, but it helps. Again, I’m not a scientist, so find one to ask if you need to know.

Soaking your pack in a cooler full of ice water can also help prime the blood for removal. This works better with fresh, not-yet-dried blood, but will help either way.

Add roughly the right amount of detergent to your tub of water. This is determined by how deeply you want your bathroom to be filled with bubbles. Most laundry detergent is concentrated, so a capful is usually about enough. You want to end up with a good amount of suds.

Depending on if your pack has an external or internal frame, remove your pack from the frame, if it has one. This will vary depending on the make. For example, the Outdoorsmans system integrates the belt and harness with the frame.

If you have room, remove the bag from the frame and wash both separately, with the harness still attached to the frame. If you don’t have room for the frame, remove the harness, but remember how to put it back together!

Unzip all of the pockets and open any flaps to allow the sudsy water to reach all the crevices.

Drop those suckers in the water and give them a good spin, back and forth to get everything soaked and soapy.

If you have big stains, use the brush to scrub them out. You’ll naturally start with the meat sling and the bottom, but don’t pass up the harness straps, lumbar area, and any other surface that comes in contact with sweat, blood, or whatever other bodily fluids might be present.

Post Wash

Now, there are several ways to proceed from this point. You will either pull your pack straight out and let it dry or take it a step further and let it soak for up to 24 hours. Some would argue that the extra soak will give you a deeper clean, and I would tend to agree. If you’ve got the time, there’s no reason not to.

Even if you only soak your pack for an hour, it’s likely better than not doing it at all. You can’t hurt it (speaking for Outdoorsmans packs).

After soaking, rinse with a hose or shower head and try to get all of the detergent out. It’s unscented, so it shouldn’t cause a problem, but a little leftover soap can make for funny moments when your sweat or rain reacts with it, causing bubbles.

Hang your bag top-down somewhere with adequate ventilation (outside) to dry and drain any leftover soup.

Reassemble your backpack and go kill something so you can do it again!

This is also a good time to use Nikwax or a similar product if you want to do any waterproofing or fabric treatment. 

You did all the research and spent some good money to find the right pack for you, so make sure to take the time and effort to maintain your pack. With proper maintenance that new pack can last a long time.
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