After all of my backpacking adventures, I often am so excited to share my stories and pictures that the unpacking process gets delayed for a few days. I’ve learned my lesson that unpacking is a very important process!
It is crucial to make sure backpacking gear (and apparel) is cleaned and stored properly, and used items get refilled or replenished. Believe me, if you follow these 10 steps it will make the ensuing backpacking trip much easier!
- Take off your boots! You probably do this automatically, since most of us don’t want to be wearing hiking boots after a multi-day backpacking trip…so let your feet enjoy some fresh air, and let your boots do the same! Take out the insoles (i.e., Superfeet) and let them air out separately, and then let your boots dry out. I usually take a rough brush and scrub the dirt and mud off the outside of my boots so they aren’t filthy for my next trip. It also helps extend the life of the boots.
- Throw out your trash! This is probably the easiest thing to remember to do after spending time in the wilderness, but make sure you do it soon because I don’t think you’ll want smelly items permeating the walls of your backpack…especially your packed out TP! (You follow Leave No Trace principles, right!)
- Unpack and clean your Camelbak or Platypus hydration bladder: I always dump out any excess water and wash my Camelbak bladder with soap and water, make sure the drinking tubes are clear, wash the bite valve thoroughly, and then use a paper towel to try it off and then let it hang dry for at least a day before storing it. I have friends who’ve had algae grow in the drinking tube…I won’t name names!
- Wash your Adventure Apparel: Even if you’re hard on your hiking and backpacking clothes, they’ll last a lot longer if you launder them soon after returning home because stains and dirt won’t have as much time to permanently work their way into the threads. Plus, you probably don’t want smelly socks and sock liners sitting around for too long anyway! Try to hang dry as much as possible, namely your wicking pants and tops. You won’t have to worry about shrinkage, and they’ll last longer.
- Unpack and fluff your sleeping bag: Take your sleeping bag out of its compression sack (and trash compactor bag liner) and hang it up to air out. Down bags can be gently wiped down with a slightly damp rag, and synthetic bags can handle even more moisture in the cleaning process. Try to machine wash your bag as infrequently as possible to extend its life. And when you do wash it, only use a front loading washing machine! (A local laundromat will have one if you don’t at home). If you have the space, hang your bag for a few days before storing it in its loose bag (never store a sleeping bag in a compression sack!)
- Unpack and clean the rest of your gear: Your backpack will most likely be pretty dusty after a few days in the wilderness, and so will most of its contents! I take a damp rag and wipe down my backpack, trekking poles, Thermarest pad, tent (make sure it is fully air dried before repacking), boots, stove, etc. If my tent is really dusty or muddy I take it outside and hose it off, dry it down, and make sure it is completely dry before repackaging it in a stuff sack. Plus, I use soap and water on items like my Steripen, pots, mugs, and Spork. I store my Thermarest behind my sofa inflated, rather than tightly rolled up. When it comes time to use your Thermarest again, it self-inflates much more quickly if you store it inflated.
- Refill used items: Refill your sunscreen, insect repellents, and chapstick. My Purell always seems to run low even after just a 2 or 3 day trip, so be sure to top that off too. Replace any dead batteries from your headlamp or Steripen. Refill your toilet paper – very important! 😉 . Replenish your First Aid kit, and make sure you have enough Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), painkillers, bandaids, moleskin, etc. Finally, make sure you have enough stove fuel for your next trip, and dispose of any empty canisters properly.
- Store and eat any uneaten food: Over the years I’ve become much better at estimating how much food I need to take on backpacking trips, but inevitably I tend to still come home with extra food. Be sure to unpack it from your bag, and either use it for an upcoming trip or eat it if your next trip isn’t for awhile.
- Head to your local gear store and re-stock items you can’t refill at home: If you are like me and want to be ready to hit the trail on a moment’s notice, refill everything you need as soon as you can, so you’ll be ready for your next adventure! Pick up some more fuel if you’re running low, get a few more dehydrated meals, pick up more repellent, a new pair of socks, or maybe even splurge and get that piece of gear you “can’t live without”!