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Backpack Care Advice

Please read this page carefully. It will help you achieve the longest possible product life.

While much of the following information may be considered common sense, our 30 years experience making, using and repairing packs, as well as answering many customer questions, makes us inclined to provide you un-abreviated advice.

Identifying Fabrics and Materials

Many of the classic backpacks and daypacks in the WE series are made from canvas. This fabric, dyed and finished in Australia is the best of its type in the world. It is recognised by its fine, extremely tight weave, its 'cotton' surface appearance and absence of any obvious film-like coating on either face. We use it on some harness body faces as well as for pack bags. Take some time to identify the canvas parts of your equipment because the care instructions are quite specific.

All other fabrics, webbings and zippers are made either from nylon, polyester or polypropylene yarns. Most fabrics and some zipper tapes have a PU (polyurethane) waterproofing coating on one face, usually the back. Buckles are typically molded from nylon or Acetal® resins but we do use some metal components where strength needs to be combined with compactness.

These yarns, coatings, plastics and metals respond in different ways to various common solvents and chemicals, to the UV in sunlight, to heat, to dampness, to salt contamination, to abrasion, to wet-flexing and to puncturing and tearing. Fabrics coatings are probably the most susceptible to premature degradation if not properly cared for.

General Care and Storage

During use and storage avoid unnecessary impact, abrasion, exposure to ultraviolet light, heat, cinders and chemicals like battery acid and fuels. Take particular care in vehicles. Battery acid attacks nylons. Alkalis attack polyesters. Buckles can get wrecked when doors are closed on them. In our experience the most serious abrasion occurs in the luggage compartments under buses on long distance journeys. Take care to pad hard items inside your pack in contact with the bag fabric. Avoid dragging you pack across rough surfaces like rock or concrete.

Beware! Some animals will eat directly through a pack bag or tent wall to get to food (no matter what the fabric). Take all necessary precautions by hanging gear overnight! Also, packs stood upright on the ground have a habit of settling and then overbalancing. Put them down with care so they can't fall or tumble off the ledge while you take that photo or consult the map (or - moving right into the 2000's - check your mobile has a signal).

After each use and before storing, clean then thoroughly air dry your gear. Fabric products must never be left damp for extended periods and it is advisable not to store them compressed, rolled or enclosed. Ensure adequate fresh air circulation in storage.

Canvas Care

Canvas fabric needs to be treated a little differently to most synthetic fabrics. The main reason for this is its 'proofing', a clear brew of waxes and waxy acrylic resins, plus some fungicides, soaked into the fabric and heat set in the final production stage. This can be removed by detergents, soaps and common solvents so start the cleaning process by simply hosing off excess dirt and grime with clear, fresh water. You can use a soft brush to help dislodge dirt. Avoid using soap. It's too difficult to rinse out. If you really do need to remove spots like margarine or vehicle grease then use laundry detergent dissolved in warm water and a soft brush. Alternatively, dab white spirit or dry-cleaning fluid through the affected canvas spot, soaking it up with an absorbent pad or towel on the other side. In either case some of the fabric dye colour will be lost. After rinsing and thoroughly drying your pack you can and should restore the canvas fabric proofing. Instructions for this are given below.

Synthetic Fabric and Webbing Care

Start by following the directions for canvas, above. If you need more than water, using detergent, white spirit or dry-cleaning fluid in small doses will not damage coatings but they can reduce commonly applied water and stain repellent surface finishes, typically long chain fluoro-carbons. Do not use strong hardware store solvents like acetone or lacquer thinners, and do not use strong bleach. Any of these may damage coatings and lamination adhesives. Do not expose any fabrics to temperatures higher than 60 degrees Celcius.

Care of Zips and Zip Sliders

Without question, the most common cause of grief across all outdoor gear, not just packs and bags, involve zip sliders. Continuous-spiral coil zips are strong, impact resistant, lightweight and flexible, and not subject to the irrepairable damage teeth zips can suffer. Unfortunately no affordable plastic has the properties needed for coil zip sliders. Only die-cast alloy sliders (epoxy coated) have the necessary strength but they quickly corrode in marine environments if not rinsed clean and cared for regularly. (For dedicated marine applications moulded-tooth zips with polymer sliders are the best choice but they must be limited to straight, not curved, installations). Sometimes we use PU laminated, reversed coil zips in places where they can eliminate the need for bulky or awkward cover flaps. Whatever the case, take careful note of the following......

It is important to keep all zips clean and free of salt and grit. If you use your gear in a marine or other salt affected environment make sure you frequently rinse salt from zips, zip sliders and other metallic components, particularly before storage. If you don't, corrosion will certainly occur requiring the replacement of sliders and possibly whole the whole zip. After cleaning, rinsing and drying, lubricate the zip coils and fittings with a silicone spray. This will significantly reduce slider drag and wear and prolong zip life. Where we provide external flaps on zips it is for good reasons. Keep them folded down when you have finished operating the zip. They protect the zip coils and coil stitching from abrasion, subsequent separation and failure.

If you do have a zip problem look up our page on Backpack DIY Repairs before you do anything else like scream for help. Zips are not as mysterious or recalcitrant as you might imagine. With a little guidance and empowerment many problems can be fixed on the kitchen table.

Care of Foam Padded Harness Components

Excessive heat is the main hazard. Do not expose foam-filled parts of your pack to temperatures above 60 degrees celcius. Contact with the metal surface or window of a vehicle in extreme heat or positioning close to a fire, heater or radiator is likely to result in the permanent shrinkage of most closed-cell foams.

Re-Proofing Canvas

The waxy polymer proofing brew impregnated and cooked into the fabric at its final stage of production gives our pack canvas a high level of water repellency, as well as resistance to rot and mildew. While the extremely tight weave and cotton component of the yarn are largely responsible for the waterproof qualities it is a good idea to maintain canvas in top condition by applying a proofing agent as the need arises. We supply our DuraProof re-proofing compound ready packaged for use. You can also find proprietary brand cotton and canvas proofing compounds at your backpack retailer. Completely wetting out a sound, clean canvas pack bag with such a formulation, followed by several days drying time, will restore original fabric performance. At the same time, it will treat the seams, zip tapes and thread so that wicking leakage is minimized, if not eliminated. Consider re-proofing your pack or pannier bags if any wicking seepage becomes an issue. Follow the detailed instructions on the packaging.

Rarely, mildew may develop on poorly cared for canvas products, as it can on pure synthetic fabric ones. Bleach is deadly to mildew and on badly infected fabric may be the only solution that will kill it. For low-level mildew problems try exposing the article to strong sunlight for a week or so. UV is also deadly to mildew and will not badly affect heavy fabrics in the short-term. Try this first.

Maintaining Water Beading on Synthetic Fabric Surfaces

While particularly advantageous for rainwear and other clothing, there are advantages in maintaining the water repellency of the synthetic fabrics used in you backpack. Eventually the hydrophobic silicone or fluoro-polymer finishes applied to these fabrics deteriorate. The main advantage of maintaining them, particularly if your pack is not a canvas model, is that zips will be lubricated in the process, fabrics will be more resistant to dirt and snow adhesion, and water wicking through seams will be greatly reduced. With a backpack spray or brush application are the only practical methods. Ask your outdoor store for the latest formulation. There are variations in the amounts and types of active ingredients between brands.

Care of Metal Components

Our backpacks use aluminium frames, metal eyelets, metal zip sliders, metal fasteners and other metal components. Salt needs to be kept at bay. After a trip along the coast or on a boat, be sure to rinse the salt from your pack thoroughly. A big part of the problem is due to the fact that salt sucks water from the atmosphere and remains constantly damp. This leads quickly to corrosion, especially of metal zip sliders. The normal operation of a zip slider eventually causes protective epoxy paint and surface finishes to be abraded away on the inside of the fitting. The exposed die-cast aluminium will corrode quickly if salt is present.


The other web page you could look at before you head out back country is Backpack DIY Repairs. It's not a bad idea to be forearmed with information that can help you overcome a problem in the field no matter what has been the cause of it.

If you do need our help we will be pleased to give it. Consult your retailer first. If you must return your pack it is probably most efficient to do this also through your retailer. Just make sure your gear is clean and dry before you send it back. Humans are actually involved at every turn and occupational health and safety is the concern of everyone.

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