A drying GORUCK GR1 with the laptop compartment open

How to Clean Up After a GORUCK Event

Whether it is a GORUCK HTL, a Spartan Agoge, a Spartan HH12HR, a SISU Iron, or any other endurance event lasting overnight or longer, it’s nearly certain that you’re going to be pretty beat afterwards.  The last thing you’ll want to do is clean up yourself and your gear, but both of these things are going to need to be done eventually.  I previously posted my strategy for getting through the GORUCK HTL, and now I’ll share with you my post event clean-up routine.   Most of this you’re probably already doing, but hopefully you’ll find a few tidbits in here that can improve your own strategy for handling yourself and your gear after an event.

The biggest thing to keep in mind after an endurance event such as the GORUCK HTL (or any GORUCK event, especially a Heavy) is that you’re going to be doing A LOT of Physical Training (PT).  If that PT takes place in dirt, sand, or water, which it likely will, your gear and clothes are obviously going to be covered in that stuff.  All dirt, sand, and natural water sources are teeming with natural bacterial that lives in those environments.  If you don’t thoroughly clean out every nook and cranny of your gear, even the places you can’t see, but that water can still get to, you’re going to end up with a science experiment growing somewhere in your stuff.  Worse, it’s going to stink…badly.  In my experience, ocean water is the hardest to clean out and has the worst stink if not handled properly.

On Your Way Home

Hopefully after the event, you have all of your event clothes bagged up in a large waterproof contractor bag and you’re nice and comfy in your “clean” post event gear.  I say “clean” because you probably haven’t had a chance to shower yet, so your clothes may be clean and you may be wet-wiped down but you’re still grimy.  Despite a bit of post-event muck, I’d suggest some quick pit stops on your way home to buy some goodies to replenish your nutrients and fluids.  Get a hot meal, get some electrolyte drink, and maybe get some celebratory beer or other adult beverage if that’s your thing.  Basically, get whatever you’re craving at that point (maybe a cupcake? Looking at you Cadre Mike Rock!) – you’ve earned it! 

First: Handle Yourself

Once you get home, even if you’re famished, the first thing I suggest you do the second you walk in the door is clean yourself up in a hot shower.  You’ll feel like a new person afterwards and it will make eating and sleeping a lot more comfortable.  Plus, the post-event food and exhaustion coma will come on strong once you stop moving and your belly is full.  No one wants to sleep in event grime if it’s at all avoidable.

That said, and I know this is going to sound weird, but right before I shower, I take pictures of my whole body.  After showering, I repeat this process again.  I do this because it only takes a few seconds, and honestly when you wake up the next day and have aches and bruises you can’t identify, it helps to have these pictures handy to see if there were marks on you in that spot after the event.  This can also help you figure out how severe any injuries might be.  The other thing these pictures will show you is where you’re chafing and blistering so you can prepare better for your next event.

A post HTL picture of my legs, notice all the swelling and chaffing
After my first HTL. Notice the chafing on my shins and knees. Those were caused by the knee pads in my Crye pants. Lessons learned. Also notice how swollen my feet and ankles are and that the skin pulled back from my big toenails.

Be aware, you may need to wash your hair and wipe/blow your nose multiple times to get all the dirt and grime out.  But, be careful when cleaning your ears because you’ll likely end up pushing dirty and sand farther into your ear and this can cause long-term damage and a lot of pain.

For any chafing, Aquaphor is a great thing to have on hand and will greatly soothe any skin irritation.  Plus, Aquaphor is also really good for chapped lips. By the way, a little Aquaphor goes long, long way, so a 7 oz. tube is nearly a lifetime supply.

Second: Soak Cleaning

Unless you’re doing a shorter event, I recommend cleaning your gear no later or sooner than the day after you get some sleep.  By waiting a day, you’ll be paying better attention to what you’re doing and it won’t feel like a slog.  However, if you wait longer than a day and leave your gear all bagged up, especially if it’s in your car, it’s going to be absolutely putrid a couple of days later.  Furthermore, if you leave your gear in this manner a long time, your gear may never be the same again even after cleaning.

This step isn’t meant to be a deep-cleaning process, but is literally a thorough rinsing.  First, make sure all of your gear is emptied out and all the zippers and pockets are open.  If you’re using a GR1, make sure your laptop compartment is open.  If the Rucker is your bag of choice, may sure the hook-and-loop pocket is open.  Initially, rinse off any obviously loose muck from your gear. Then, fill a large Tupperware or other waterproof bin with some water and some antibacterial additive, I like the non-bleach based Lysol Laundry Sanitizer. Then, soak everything from your event, except your bladder, for a couple of hours.  I like to use a huge, cheap storage tub from Wal-Mart for this.  If at all possible, put this bin outside since you’ll need to dump it.

I don’t recommend doing this soaking process directly in your bath tub, even with a bin, because whatever grime and silt comes out of your gear immediately goes into your drain. Sand and other organic debris like sticks and leaves clog pipes pretty horrifically so I recommend soaking in a bin.

Third: Scrub Cleaning As Needed

Your main goal in this step is to rinse off all the bacteria from your gear and clothing.  To do this, wait until all of your stuff has soaked, then dump the water outside and very thoroughly rinse the bin and your stuff with a fresh batch of clean water or with a hose.  Make sure you get every nook and cranny. If you need to, scrub parts of your gear with a thick bristled brush (not too coarse) to remove stains, mud, or other deep-seated stuck debris.

Fourth: Dry Everything

The biggest thing to keep in mind about drying is that you don’t need to worry too much about warmth.  What really matters is air flow.  If you have a balcony, window, or backyard, these are perfect places to set your gear out to dry since the natural wind will keep evaporating water right off of your gear.

Once you’ve found an area where your stuff will be safe (and not be stolen like my stuff was after my first HTL), lay everything out to dry.  I know that this step may seem unnecessary because we’re still going to wash most of your stuff in the washing machine.  But, do not skip the drying phase as this is a critical step… not for your stuff, but for your washing machine.  The reason we’re letting everything dry here is so that we can shake off all of the sand and dirt before throwing everything in the wash.  If you don’t do this, you may screw up your washing machine.

Your ruck will need to be hung in order to dry properly.  I recommend hanging it over a railing by the compartment flap so that it really gets some air.  I also recommend taking a beer can, bent clothing hanger, or plastic bottle and jamming it way up into the laptop compartment so that it holds the compartment open to also get air.

A GORUCK GR1 hanging over balcony railing
Hang your ruck over a railing and get something ready to stick into the laptop compartment compartment. In my case, a beer can.
A drying GORUCK GR1 with the laptop compartment open
Really get that laptop compartment open.
A drying GORUCK GR1 laptop compartment with a beer can stuffed inside to hold it open
Jam that beer can way up in the back corner of the laptop compartment to keep it open and allow it to dry out.

Fifth: Shoe Care

I recommend you take the insoles out of your shoes when you rinse them with the rest of your stuff.  This will ensure that both the insoles are rinsed out and the nooks and crannies in the bottom of your shoe are free of dirt and other accumulated muck. Once rinsed, sit your shoes upright with the shoe opening down and the insoles still out.  Gravity will work the huge amount of water still in your shoes down the bottom, and since the opening is at the bottom, air will pull this water out faster.

Position shoes against a wall with the opening down to allow them to dry
Put your shoes in this position (outside) to dry them out faster and more thoroughly. These are new shoes, but you get the idea.

Sixth: Hydration Bladder Care

I don’t recommend cleaning your hydration bladder with the rest of your stuff in the antibacterial solution because you probably don’t want to risk ingesting that stuff.  Even if you don’t use antibacterial in your initial rinse, you don’t want to introduce anything into your bladder that wasn’t already in there.  Because your bladder has had and may still have water in it, this is going to be a prime spot for bacteria to start growing like crazy.

To clean this guy out, rinse the outside off first, then rinse the inside a few times and don’t forget to run each rinse through the hose line also.  Once you’re done, open everything on the bladder up completely.  If you have a Source bladder, great!  It has an extra opening compared to Camelbaks.  Take a regular coat hanger and bend it backwards as shown below. Once that’s done, shove it into the bladder and hang that upside down with the rest of your stuff. You can also use a custom hanger of course too, like what comes in the TAVGO Cleaning Kit. The 3D volume of the hanger will keep the bladder open to allow air to flow through it and dry it out.

Bending a coat hanger for use in drying a hydration bladder, first step, find a metal hanger
To use a hanger, start with a regular metal hanger.
Bending a coat hanger for use in drying a hydration bladder, halfway, partially bent back
Start bending it backwards in this direction. This is partially bent.
Bending a coat hanger for use in drying a hydration bladder, final shape
You should end up with something like this, with the “arms” going straight back.
Using a bent hanger to dry a hydration bladder, inserting the hanger partway
Then jam your hanger in there, but keep going…
Using a bent hanger to dry a hydration bladder, inserting the hanger all the way
All the way inside.
Side view of a hydration bladder hanging with a coat hanger inside, notice how it's held open
You can see how much the hanger now holds your bladder open so your bladder will get nice and dry, and stay sanitary as a result. Once your bladder starts growing stuff or becoming slimy, it’s probably time to throw it away.

Seventh: Machine Wash Your Clothes

Once all your gear is nice and dry, shake all the sand and dirt off of everything.  A dry clothing brush can help you out with this and is great for brushing off your ruck and its zippers once it’s dry.  Wash your clothes as normal at this time.  You may want to consider using a laundry mat instead of your personal washer at this stage, but it’s up to you.  Keep in mind that your ruck, some of your gear, and your shoes just need to air dry, no additional washing or drying needed.

Same brush recommendation again, make sure your brush is also dry before this step
Konex Nylon Fiber Cleaning Brush

Eighth: Ruck Care

Your ruck is probably going to take the longest to dry and the laptop compartment is a pretty good indicator as to how that’s going.  Once your ruck is dry, you’ll also want to lubricate your zippers.  I learned a pretty cool trick from an old school SF guy for this.  Don’t use wet lubricant as this is immediately going to attract dirt and sand and lock up your zippers.  Instead, use those cheap birthday cake candles we all remember from our childhoods and rub those on your zippers.  Because it’s a dry substance, it won’t attract dirt and sand, but the wax coating will still lubricate the zippers.  Bonus for this also: it’s cheap.

Other than the above information, your final and main concern after a GORUCK or Spartan event will be recovering your body, which can take a while.  A Tough or a HH12HR may take you a couple of days, but a Heavy or an HTL may take you a month or more. But, that’s a conversation for another post.  Take care of your gear and it will take care of you!

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