Proper care of sleeping bags and quilts can feel overwhelming at first. Whether it's storing them at home or keeping them in good shape out on the trail, we often receive questions on how to prolong the life of our down sleeping bags and quilts. We hope this article, which covers everything from washing to patching holes, will prove to be a helpful guide. Please note that we refer to sleeping bags and quilts interchangeably, since most of the care instructions are the same for both.
Do I need to do anything special when I first get my bag?
Whenever you purchase a new sleeping bag or quilt, it is a good idea to run it in the dryer on the air fluff or lowest heat setting possible for about 10 minutes to loosen up the down that has been compressed during shipping. (Down works better at keeping you insulated after it has been lofted.) If there are any uneven pockets of down, you can either shake the quilt a bit to redistribute the down, or use your hands to shift it around.
How do you put a sleeping bag in a compression sack?
Start by flattening your bag out, running your arm from the feet towards the head to remove as much excess air as possible. “Stack” your sleeping bag as you stuff it in the compression sack, starting with the footbox at the bottom and working your way up to the hood at the top. This prevents your bag from getting tangled and getting rips when you remove it next. Finally, cinch your sack as much as possible to save space in your backpack.
Check out this excellent video from Outdoor Gear Review for a visual aid on how to stuff your sleeping bag properly.
Is it better to roll or stuff a sleeping bag?
Many backpackers agree that it's better to stuff a sleeping bag. Aside from being a lot easier to stuff, it creates less compression than rolling. Less compression helps your sleeping bag retain its loft over time. It also doesn't stress the same seams each time, which may prolong the life of your sleeping bag.
How long can you keep a sleeping bag compressed?
This really depends on how long you mind waiting for the down to fluff back up. The longer it has been compressed, the longer it is going to take to reach its full loft again. This is especially true the more times it has been compressed. In short, it's best to keep your down sleeping bag or quilt compressed for the least amount of time as possible.
While on the trail, we recommend taking the sleeping bag or quilt out as soon as you've arrived at your new campsite and set up your tent. This will allow the bag or quilt plenty of time to loft before you're ready for bed.
When you're back home, follow our long-term storage instructions below.
How do you store a sleeping bag long-term?
There are two main ways hikers like to store their bags long-term. Many manufacturers, including Paria Outdoor Products, include mesh storage sacks with their sleeping bags for at-home storage.
Some bags also include hanging loops. Although arguably not as great of an option for the same reason as choosing not to roll your bag, you can hang it over a bar in your closet or hang it from a coat hanger.
The main consideration is to leave the bag as uncompressed as possible to ensure that the down remains lofted and in its original condition. This will make the bag or quilt ready to go for your next backpacking trip.
Can I machine wash my sleeping bag?
If you have a front-loading washing machine, yes. Never use a top-loading washing machine (unless it does not have the traditional agitator in the center of the drum) as your sleeping bag can get wrapped around the agitator and cause tears. These types of machines also tend to cause your filling to bunch up. Hand-washing is always an option as well. Always follow the care instructions listed on your bag.
Here's a great video from REI that goes over all of the details.
Can I put my sleeping bag in the dryer?
Yes, you can run your sleeping bag in the dryer. Keep in mind, though, that it can take several hours to become completely dry. Many people prefer using the large industrial dryers at laundromats as they provide much more room than home models.
When using a dryer, use the lowest heat setting available. Although it may be tempting to use a higher temperature to get your bag to dry faster, this can potentially cause the outer shell of your bag to melt. To help renew the loft in your bag, throw in a few tennis balls or wool dryer balls while drying. Taking the sleeping bag or quilt out every once in a while to give it a shake can also help break up any down clumps during drying.
Can I take my sleeping bag to a dry cleaner?
Sleeping bags should never be taken to a dry cleaner. The chemicals used in dry cleaning process can both damage the shell material and strip the natural oils from the down filling, causing the bag to lose loft.
You should also never use bleach or fabric softeners.
How do I keep my sleeping bag dry?
Good technique and common sense are the best ways to keep your sleeping bag dry. Whenever possible, keep the bag packed away in a dry spot of your backpack. During rain, be sure to use a pack cover to keep the contents (and your sleeping bag) from getting wet. If you don't have a pack cover, a large trash bag inside your pack can work too.
Once inside the tent, keep your sleeping bag off the ground or any wet areas of the tent. Depending on the tent that you have and the weather conditions, you might accumulate condensation inside the tent during the night. Touching your sleeping bag to the tent walls will cause the shell material to get wet. Usually, there is not enough condensation to get your bag too wet, but some care should be taken. Typically, double-wall tents (that have a mesh inner) will help prevent this. Wiping down the condensation with a small towel or dirty shirt can also prevent any chance of contact with your sleeping bag.
What can I do if my down sleeping bag gets wet?
If you do get some wet spots and the morning weather is dry, set your sleeping bag in the sun to dry off before packing away. Packing a wet sleeping bag should be avoided as much as possible. In the event that you can't avoid it, try to stop during a dry time of the day and let your sleeping bag sit out to dry as much as possible. You can also do this near the end of the day when you arrive at your new camp.
If one section, in particular, is wet, you may try moving the filling around, mixing the wet with the dry down, to decrease the drying time. If it becomes soaked, try to squeeze as much water out as possible. Avoid wringing so as not to damage the thin shell fabric.
Can I waterproof my sleeping bag?
To avoid issues with moisture in the first place, consider coating your bag with spray-on waterproofing. This might be an especially ideal option for those backpacking in very wet areas or those who like to forego shelters. (Keep in mind that the waterproofing may also make it hard for your body heat to escape, which could cause you to sweat more during the night.)
You can apply waterproofing sprays, such as ReviveX by Gear Aid, to the outer shell of your bag. You can even just cover trouble areas of your bag, such as the foot box which is the most likely place to come in contact with wet tent walls. That's one of the benefits of the spray-on waterproofing instead of the wash-in waterproofing detergents. The long-term effects of wash-in treatments are unknown. Waterproofing the shell fabric with a spray-on treatment is the best way to keep water out of the sleeping bag and down filling.
Finally, keep in mind that you will have to occasionally re-apply these sprays and they are not 100% waterproof.
How can I repair a tear or hole in my sleeping bag?
We recommend Gear Aid Tenacious Tape for this. It's very sticky, adheres well to shell fabric, inexpensive, and comes in different lengths and colors, including clear. Another great aspect of this repair tape is that it can be cut to fit the exact shape of your hole or tear. It's sold in patches or rolls, depending on the size of the tear or hole. Finally, the patches work great on many items in your pack, such as tents, jackets, packs, etc.
We hope that you found this guide informative and that it's answered any questions that you might have had on caring for your down quilt or sleeping bag. If we missed anything, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a comment below.