How to Properly Store Your Sleeping Bag
Follow the four simple steps in Camping & Hiking expert Micah D.'s article and get great use out of your sleeping bag for years to come.
There is no single piece of gear that rounds out your day of camping, adventuring, or hitting the backcountry trail quite like a sleeping bag. It is our bed away from home, our sanctuary in the wilderness! But it is also a piece of gear that, if not properly maintained, can break even the best-laid plans. Imagine reaching the end of a long day. You’ve walked several miles or more with gear. There is a beautiful sunset on the horizon, but it’s definitely getting cold and dark in a hurry. You rush and set up camp, have a quick bite to eat, and hop in your bag for the night. As you slip into your bag, an odd smell hits you and the bag is cold to the touch. You never removed it from the stuff sack after the last camping trip you went on several months earlier, but you barely used the bag so that couldn’t have hurt. Or could it?
Sleeping bag maintenance is absolutely essential. In order to get the most out of your bag over the long haul, it is essential that you follow the subsequent four steps upon returning from your camping trip or outdoor adventure: 1. Unpack it immediately from the stuff sack upon your arrival at home 2. Thoroughly dry the bag (cleaning it first if necessary) 3. Store it in a loose-fitting fabric or mesh storage sack 4. Choose a cool and dry area to store the bags
When followed, the life of your bag will be significantly extended and you will never find yourself in a trouble spot in the wilderness simply due to lack of preparation.
Avoid Compression at All Costs
There is nothing less fun than unpacking and stowing your gear away after a nice extended trip in the wilderness. However, the very first thing you should do upon returning from your camping trip is to immediately remove the bag from its compression sack. This is critically important for backpacking-style sleeping bags that are methodically compressed to save space, but it also applies to standard rectangular camping bags typically used by the more casual camper.
Leaving the sleeping bag dirty and moist in the stuff sack for long periods of time can really eat into a sleeping bag’s useful lifespan and ultimately destroy its insulation. All sleeping bags, whether synthetic or down, require loft in the material to reach their full insulative potential. When a sleeping bag is stored under pressure, as you are doing when you use the stuff sack, the fill material can lose its loft over time, and as the loft subsides, so does the ability of the bag to hold in heat. This won’t happen if you accidentally leave it in the stuff sack overnight. But over time, periods of extended stuff sack storage can really reduce your bag’s ability to maintain heat, can cause your down fill or synthetic fibers to clump, and could ultimately leave you in a very precarious position when out in the wild.
Inspect, Clean, and Dry the Sleeping Bag
Now that we have removed the sleeping bag from its stuff sack, do a quick visual and sensory inspection. Fluff the bag as much as possible to ensure you can inspect the entire surface. If the sleeping bag is dirty, wet, or has a funny odor, take the time to properly clean it. If it isn’t heavily soiled, you can simply ensure that it is free of dirt and debris. Small spots can be cleaned with a little mild soap and an old toothbrush. However, if there is evidence of heavy soiling, take the proper steps to have the sleeping bag properly cleaned.
If you opt to wash the sleeping bag in a washing machine, carefully review the washing instructions specific to that sleeping bag. Most sleeping bags are able to be washed in a standard household washer, however, harsh chemicals and laundry detergents will irrevocably damage down sleeping bags so extreme caution should be exercised and no heat should be applied to the sleeping bag at any point during the washing process or while the sleeping bag is in the dryer. Try to avoid laundromats if possible—the agitators in industrial machines have a much higher potential of damaging your bag than a front-loading household washer.
Once you have completed the inspection and assuming you don’t need to wash the sleeping bag, find a cool, dry place where you can spread the sleeping bag out for a day or two. Be sure it is in a place where it can be relatively undisturbed for 24 hours, where the zippers can be fully opened and inspected, and where it can hang freely over some apparatus such as a drying rack or ironing board where the air can flow freely between the openings of the bag. Turn the bag once during this 24 hour period.
After the first day, reinspect the bag. If it still feels moist to the touch, repeat the process. Also, ensure you check the interior of the sleeping bag for moisture as well. If you aren’t using a sleeping bag liner (or even if you are) it is likely that your own sweat has made the inside of the bag moist. The interior of the bag is the most susceptible to moisture-born problems such as mold and mildew. Once you are entirely comfortable that the sleeping bag is dry, it’s time to stow it away.
Store in a Loose-Fitting Mesh or Cotton Fabric Sack
At this point, you probably feel tempted to just stuff the sleeping bag back into its sack and put it away until the next trip, but as we’ve talked about, compression is a fierce enemy of the sleeping bag. For long-term storage, you should choose a very loose-fitting larger sack that you can preferably hang in a closet or stack lightly on its side on some forgotten hallway closet shelf. The loose-fitting bag is essential for two reasons. First and foremost, even if you thought you had gotten your sleeping bag entirely dry, it’s possible that there was still some residual moisture. By using a mesh or light fabric sack, you are allowing the sleeping bag to continue to breathe while in storage. Additionally, by hanging or laying the bag in a closet, you don’t have to worry about compression. Many nice sleeping bags will come standard with the storage sack, however, any mesh laundry sack will do.
Ensure the Storage Room Is Cool and Dry
So at this point, we’ve unpacked, cleaned, dried, and repacked our bag in a loose-fitting cotton fabric sack. The very last thing you need to do is ensure that the location of your sleeping bag storage is both cool and dry. If you’ve gone through all of the above steps and you throw your sleeping bag into an environment of warmth and humidity at the very end, then you have done all of those steps in vain. Storage location selection is extremely important. Think of it as a piece of clothing and carve out some space in a bedroom closet or similar location where it will be mostly insulated from the elements. Try to avoid storing it in places such as the garage, attic, or basement. Use a small dehumidifier whenever possible.
Assuming all of the above steps have been followed, you will be well on your way to having a successful adventure and really getting the value out of your sleeping bag for years to come. Sleeping bags can be like fine wines – when stored properly they can get better with age. They should never be stored in direct sunlight, and in the off chance that you do store them improperly, you may come to find that when you are relying on them the most, they will fail you. If you need a replacement bag, reach out to a Camping & Hiking expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice and recommendations.