How to take care of your sleeping bag

July 28, 2016 How to
Alicja
Latest posts by Alicja (see all)

One of the most indispensable pieces of gear is your sleeping bag. Spending a little more on a nice sleeping bag is always worth it, but how do you best protect your investment?

The way you treat your sleeping bag will determine how it will perform, so don’t take for granted and take great care to ensure you get years of use, and the difference between a fluffy and cozy sleeping bag or, flat and lifeless one.

A super fluffy, -30 down winter sleeping bag from Mountain Hardwear in it's mesh storage sack.

A super fluffy, -30 down winter sleeping bag from Mountain Hardwear in it’s mesh storage sack.

Storage

Storage is an important first consideration.  To properly store your bag, make sure you don’t store it in the compression sack you use to pack it for trips. These sacks compress the fibres and if left long enough, can damage your bag, crushing the air pockets between fibres that trap heat and retain loft.  Always store your bag in a breathable, preferably mesh bag, that allows your bag to expand fully.  This will not only retain the loft but will allow the bag to breathe, airing out any odours.


Here are two sleeping bags in their storage sacks. Most sleeping bags will come packaged in the bag they should be stored in.

Here are two sleeping bags in their storage sacks. Most sleeping bags will come packaged in the bag they should be stored in.

Many sleeping bags already come with one of these storage sacks. If you didn’t get one with yours, simply hang it on a coat hanger in the closet or store it somewhere at your house where it won’t be disturbed.

A Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag in it's mesh storage sack giving it plenty of room to expand.

A Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag in it’s mesh storage sack giving it plenty of room to expand.

Unpack it

Whenever you’re not carrying your bag, un-stuff it and let it expand and breathe. The rule is, whenever your bag doesn’t need to be in a compression sack, or otherwise squished, take it out and let it unfurl.

When you get to your campsite, one of the first things you should do is unpack your bag and place it in the tent (or bivy) so it regains it’s loft before you head off to bed.

Unpack your sleeping bag as soon as you get to camp to allow the fibres to decompress.

Unpack your sleeping bag as soon as you get to camp to allow the fibres to decompress.

Let it breathe

In the same spirit of your bag being allowed to fluff, it should be allowed to breathe. Your bag should be aired out for about 24 hours after every trip, to reduce odour buildup and dirt and from oil from skin and clothing, and to get rid of any moisture.  Try to air your bag out for a few hours every night while you’re backpacking.  If you have a tent that allows a good breeze (lots of mesh for airflow) that will suffice. For example, many ultralight tents, such as the ones by Big Agnes, have a tent body that’s almost completely mesh except for the bottom.

Just stuff it

This may go without saying, and is obvious to owners of down sleeping bags. Always stuff your bag, and don’t fold it or roll it. Folding tends to cause creases in the same spots and heavier wear. Always try to stuff your bag instead of rolling it.

Storage sack and compression sack shows good comparison how small a down sleeping bag can pack and how big it should be when stored.

Storage sack and compression sack shows good comparison how small a down sleeping bag can pack and how big it should be when stored.

Western Mountaineering sleeping bag in it's compression sack.

Western Mountaineering sleeping bag in it’s compression sack.

Keeping clean

It’s also important to keep in mind to keep moisture and dirt away from your bag when possible. For example, jumping into your sleeping bag in wet and dirty clothes, or when you’re sweaty will only mean your bag will get wet and dirty, compounding wear and tear and decreasing loft.  So take care when you can.

Pack a set of clothes only for sleeping – I like to use merino wool long johns and a cotton t-shirt – and keep them clean and dry.  If you can’t take any of that with you, at least take a bag liner. Sleeping bag liners can be cotton, silk or merino wool and can greatly increase the life of your bag, keeping it cleaner longer. I occasionally use a silk liner which also has the added benefit of adding a few extra degrees of warmth.

Washing

Occasionally your bag will require a wash. If you see visible dirt, if your bag has an oily or greasy sheen in spots, consider throwing it in the laundry. Sleeping bags should only be laundered in front-loading machines, as agitators on top-loading ones can tear at seams and destroy zippers. If you only have a top loading machine, try to find one, maybe a friend has one? If not, take it to the laundromat.  You should never dry clean your bag.

Washing by hand

The best way to wash your bag is by hand. Washing your bag in the bathtub works best. This is time consuming, however, and if you’ve ever washed down, can be hard to get the entire bag into the water. However, it is the most gentle way to wash your bag and ensure nothing is damaged. I have tried it before, it isn’t easy, particularly when it’s time to drain some of the water out. It can take a long time to dry since you need to wring out the water before sticking it in the dryer. Always stick the bag in the dryer with a couple of tennis balls to restore the loft.

If in doubt, follow the recommendations on the label of your bag or contact the manufacturer to see what they recommend.

When you wash, be sure to use a technical wash especially for down. Many down-specific soaps are out there to clean those delicate down fibres. You can also use the wash on your down jacket, too! Nikwax down wash direct is made for modern down fibres and down blends.


You shouldn’t need to regularly wash your bag as washing can be hard on the seams. But an occasional wash will do great things and extend the life of your bag. Consider how many times a year you use it.  If you use it regularly, and heavily all summer, consider washing it at the end of the season.  If you use it occasionally and year round, wash it once a year.

More on down fibres

Find out more on the difference between down and synthetic insulation here, and find out more tips on how to properly wash down.