Many of us have a warm and cozy relationship with our sleeping bag that we hope will last for many years to come. With these care and cleaning tips, you can make sure you and your bag stay together for the long haul.
Whether your bag is down or synthetic, it’s smart to keep it clean, dry and protected as you camp. It’ll last longer and insulate more efficiently. This particularly applies to down sleeping bags, but synthetic bags can also benefit from the following tips.
Sleep in clean clothes. Even when you’re totally exhausted, avoid crawling into your bag wearing the same clothes you hiked in. Over time, body oils, sweat and dirt can rob your sleeping bag of its insulating power. Change into clean long underwear and socks for sleep. If it’s warm out, at least wear a clean tee and underwear. A knit cap or clean bandana will keep oily hair off the bag’s hood. Sunscreen from your face and neck can soak into your bag, so wash or wipe off any before going to bed.
Also, change out of the clothes you cooked in—especially if you’re in bear country. You don’t want your sleeping bag to absorb cooking odours, turning you into a tasty bear burrito.
Consider using a sleeping bag liner. Liners can be cotton, silk, wool or polyester and are fairly lightweight. They keep your sleeping bag clean because they act as a barrier between your skin and the bag. Plus, they add about 5 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit to your bag’s temperature rating. At the end of each trip, simply wash the liner and you’re good to go again.
Protect your bag from the ground. If you plan to sleep out under the stars, put a pad down on the ground first. Some bags feature durable waterproof fabric on the underside, but that needs protection, too, from sharp sticks and conifer pitch.
Treat it gently. Never jump around camp standing inside your sleeping bag. It’ll trash the bag’s toe box. If you expect to be sitting by a campfire with your bag wrapped around you for warmth, consider bringing an older synthetic bag. You don’t want sparks burning holes in your brand-new down bag.
Be picky about lending. A friend may want to borrow your favo urite sleeping bag, but will they love it like you do? Set some rules, show them how the zippers and cords work, and ask them to use a liner.
Be patient with zippers. A common frustration is using a two-way zipper; sometimes it’ll snag or come apart down by the toe. Get to know your bag’s zipper at home and practice using it, so when it’s time to zip up in a dark tent, you won’t end up yanking on it and causing a fabric tear.
Air out your sleeping bag daily. Even if you have to wait till midday to do so, turn it inside-out to dry out any moisture. Don’t leave a bag in direct sunlight for very long, as UV light slowly degrades the fabric. But if your bag gets really wet, it may be necessary to air it out for several hours. Definitely air out your bag as soon as you get home from a camping trip.
While you’re on the trail during your backpacking trip or while driving to your camping destination, you’ll likely carry your sleeping bag compactly in a stuff sack. These come in varying sizes (one may come with your sleeping bag), and compression and waterproof stuff sacks are also options.
Tips on using a stuff sack:
Storing Your Sleeping Bag
How you store your bag affects its lifespan. When you arrive home from a camping trip, unzip the bag and air it out to make sure it’s completely dry. Then store loosely in a large cotton or mesh storage sack—which is often included when you purchase a sleeping bag, but also available separately. Or you can use a large pillowcase or sew your own cotton bag.
Do not store your bag compressed in its stuff sack as this will eventually damage the fill. Watertight storage bags are also a bad idea. Condensation can build up inside and result in mildew.
Your care of your bag will vary depending on whether it’s down or synthetic. Down requires more time and careful attention, which is why many campers prefer to pay a professional to clean it. But with some thought, you can do it yourself.
Spot Cleaning Your Bag
Sometimes all your bag needs is a little TLC, not a full-blown bath. Because washing a sleeping bag subjects it to wear and tear and decreases the loft, spot cleaning is your first line of defence.
Make a paste of a little non-detergent soap and water and use a toothbrush to gently clean the shell. Focus on the hood and collar where hair and skin oils tend to accumulate. By holding the shell or liner fabric away from the insulation, you can wash and rinse the area without getting the inside fill wet.
Unless the bag has gotten unusually dirty, many years may go by before it’ll need a complete wash.
Washing Your Sleeping Bag
If your bag is losing loft and is darkened with grime, then by all means give it a full washing.
First, look to see if the manufacturer’s washing instructions are printed somewhere on the bag, either on a tag, draft tube or elsewhere. Follow those instructions.
Many people prefer to have their bag professionally laundered.
If you choose to wash and dry your bag yourself, keep in mind that drying alone will take at least two to three hours (down takes a little longer than synthetic). Washing and drying in the large commercial machines at the laundromat may be the easiest way to go. Use a gentle, non-detergent soap that is made for washing down- and synthetic-filled items. Take along a good book.
What not to do:
How to hand wash a sleeping bag:
How to machine wash a sleeping bag:
Drying Your Sleeping Bag
Check your bag periodically to make sure the seams, zippers and drawcords are in good shape. Feel the insulation to see if it’s evenly distributed. Over time, down can settle unevenly; sometimes a wash and dry will alleviate that. Here are some other care tips:
The original DWR (durable water repellent) finish on a sleeping bag’s shell eventually wears off (this may be years, depending on your usage). You can restore water repellency and help keep the bag cleaner if you reapply this finish. There are several products available to restore the DWR to your sleeping bag shell fabric.
Many, but not all, down bags feature “downproof” liners and shells made of very tightly woven fabric that prevents the down from escaping. If a few feathers make it through the shell or liner of your bag, don’t become too concerned. This is normal, especially along the seams. The sharp quills of the feathers may poke through, especially when the bag is new and the down hasn’t totally settled. Work the feathers gently back inside, pulling from the opposite side; the holes should be minimal and close back up.
Fabric Tears and Broken Zippers
For small holes or tears that occur in the sleeping bag shell while you’re in the field, you have a couple options to keep down insulation from escaping: