Your sleeping bag is a bit like a lover. If you’re attentive to its needs, give it lots of TLC and enough space, there are years of grand adventures and cosy nights to be shared. But if you keep on taking and taking without giving back, your sleeping bag could end up leaving you out in the cold.
Here are a few tips to keep your sleeping bag love alive:
1. Give it time to breathe
No matter how much you like your sleeping bag there will be times when you both need some space. So when you get back from a long trip together, try giving each other some breathing room.
I like to unpack my sleeping bag after every trip, turn it inside out and throw it over a railing on the back verandah so it can soak some sun and dry right out. Even if it was a dry trip it’s likely that my bag has gotten a bit damp and doesn’t smell the greatest. After a few hours soaking some UV it’s doing a whole lot better. If the weather is rough at home I just leave it open on the bed for a couple of days to air out.
2. Give it some space
Down, like your lover, has a memory. If you cramp its style by storing it in a stuff sack – or worse, a compression sack – it’s going to get cranky and deflated. In down language, it loses its loft. The loft of your down is what keeps you warm. The loft determines how much air can fit in between the down filaments. Your body heats that air, and that’s what keeps you warm. If your down loses loft it can’t hold as much air and you you’re in for a chilly night’s sleep.
As any relationship develops it’s inevitable that you’ll lose a bit of that brand-new-off-the-shelf loft, but if you store your bag in a big sack (most high end bags come with these now) or even better, hang it in your wardrobe, it will remember the nice, lofted times more than those times when it’s jammed into a tiny stuff sack. If you don’t have space to let your sleeping bag expand to its full glory, try loosening off the compression straps on your storage sack. Just to show you care.
3. Keep your dirty hands to yourself
Your sleeping bag loves you, but it doesn’t necessarily want to LOVE you. When we go long camping trips things can get kind of grimy and like pet dogs, sleeping bags don’t like to be washed too often. So let a sleeping bag liner take the hit. In case you don’t know, sleeping bag liners are tubes of fabric designed to fit inside your sleeping bag (also useful for backpacking through seedy hostels). You can get rectangular, mummy-style or pillow case compatible ones. Whether you go for cotton, silk or synthetic they’ll all do the job of absorbing most of the dirt and grime, and they’re way easier to wash than your sleeping bag.
4. Keep it clean
No matter how well you care for your sleeping bag, after a while it will need a wash.
I’ve put off washing my down products for years because it’s always been drummed into me that wet down is downright bad. It clings into clumps and simply stops insulating.
There are ways to wash your sleeping bag though, and have it bounce back like new:
- Use a gentle soap designed for washing down. You can buy down wash in most good camping stores. If you can’t find any, I’ve heard wool wash works too.
- Be gentle. If you have a big tub, wash it in there. Lie the bag down as flat as possible and wash it gently by hand without twisting or turning it.
- Tumble dry on warm with a tennis ball. Seems strange, but the tennis ball will bash the clumps of wet down into nice, fluffy, lofted piles again.
I hope that these tips help you and your sleeping bag to have a more satisfying and longer relationship. I’m always on the lookout for ways to take better care of my gear so if you have a hot tip please leave a comment below.