No one treats sleeping bags quite as terribly as I do. In my day, I have broken all the rules of proper care techniques, including every single tip listed here.
Luckily for you, I spoke to real experts to learn how to extend the lifespan of your sleeping bag — Jeff Blakely from Brooks-Range Mountaineering and Kimberly Cunningham from Warmlite. They both forgave me of my sins and set my bad habits straight.
You want that $200+ piece of equipment to really last? (You know, that really important one that prevents frostbite and hypothermia and stuff.) Follow these 8 tips.
1. Keep Your Sleeping Bag Dry
“When you are using the bag, the biggest concern is to check for any wetness and to dry it out as soon as you can,” says Cunningham. When you’re out in the field, opt for a compression sack that is both durable and waterproof.
Likewise, when you’re not in the field, you need to remove your sleeping bag from its compression dungeon and store it somewhere dry, loose and cool. “Hang it in a closet, or loosely rolled in a breathable sack.” She stores hers under a bed with a sheet wrapped around it.
2. Don’t Treat It Like a Blanket
As hard as this is for me to admit, your sleeping bag is a technical piece of backpacking equipment, not a baby blanket. Treat it as such.
“Bags are very durable,” says Blakely, “but you must treat them with care if you want them to last a long time.” Dragging your bag around camp like you’re Linus Van Pelt from the Peanuts is a surefire way to wear and tear your gear. The bag will stretch, the fabric will rub thin and you will be very unhappily cold in the early morning hours.
If you wanted a blanket, well, you should have bought a Rumpl.
3. Stop Washing It So Often
According to Blakely, you should treat your synthetic bag just like you treat a synthetic jacket, washing only when dirty.
How do you know when it’s time? Besides the smell, “synthetic bags will get body oils imbedded inside the fibers, which causes a loss of loft and warmth.” When this happens, you’ll definitely notice.
4. Try Alternative Cleaning Techniques First
All of those years of smell-testing your clothes in college have led you to this moment. If you’re suffering from stink but not ready to wash, try alternative methods first.
Cunningham recommends that, “if you feel that the interior fabric could use a little sprucing up, you can just wipe it down with a cloth and warm water. But it isn’t necessary to wash the bag very often because the interior fabric (vapor barrier) keeps any over heat from going through the fabric and contaminating the down with sweat.”
If you’re not able to give the bag a wash, bathe it in the sun instead. A few hours of airing out in the fresh air can disinfect and deodorize more sustainably and safely than any washer. If a pesky coffee stain is your only problem, tackle that beast by spot cleaning with your hands and a biodegradable soap.
5. Learn How to Properly Wash It
The easiest way to do wash a bag is to take it to the bathtub. According to Cunningham, “use a mild soap such as Woolite and warm water. Wash one layer at a time by letting it soak for a few minutes and then gently agitate it. Never squeeze the bag to get any extra water.”
Always hand wash if possible and never use a front-loader washer, as these have been known to tear or snag a baffle.
To dry, take your bag outside and hang it on a line or branch. You can gently break apart the clumps of down on the inside, but ultimately, let nature runs its course.
6. Avoid Getting Too Close to the Campfire
Why is my puffy jacket covered with gear patches? Because I like campfires and have never learned my lesson.
No matter how small or contained of a fire you think you’ve made, sparks pop all the time and a burn mark can be the beginning of the end for any sleeping bag. Avoid catching fire by leaving the bag in the tent where it belongs.
7. After Your Trip, Avoid Storing It Compressed
“Compression stuff sacks destroy sleeping bags,” says Blakely. “When you compress [a synthetic bag] the fibers in the bag, they can break or take a heat crimp. Both will affect loft.” Even worse, when you compress a down bag, “the down fibers are easier to break. [Compression] is a quick way to turn an 800 fill bag into a 500 fill bag.”
A hot, wet and compressed sleeping bag is a breeding ground for bacteria, mold and mildew. Water damage, though sometimes reparable, is generally as permanent as it gets.
Allow your sleeping bag to get as dry as possible in the morning and remove it immediately from its waterproof sack after big trips. Nothing is worse than the smell of mildew or the damaging effects of mold, not even your week-old hiking socks.
8. Use as Intended
Come on, guys. Just sleep in the thing, pack it up, roll it out and repeat. Treat it kindly and love your gear. Most of the time, it will love you right back.