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You may think that your sleeping bag can just be thrown in a cupboard or your garage after a camping trip to sit until the time comes to get it out and hit the trails again. If this is you, you are storing your sleeping bag completely wrong and it is detrimental to your sleeping bag’s integrity and insulative values. If you want your sleeping bag to last as long as you do then you need to make sure you care for it and store it in the right way.
When you store your sleeping bag properly you ensure that your sleeping bag stays moisture-free, undamaged, fresh-smelling, and keeps you warm night after night without fail. If you simply throw your sleeping bag in your garage after camping, then do not expect it to last particularly long and expect it to lose its insulative qualities and durability quickly. Following some simple practices will make sure your sleeping bag lasts as long as you do and is just as effective after 20 years as it was on day one. In this article, we will go over exactly how to keep your sleeping bag fresh, clean, and stored correctly, so you get the most out of your kit every time you go camping. Following this simple guide will save you heaps of money in the long run and make sure that every time you unpack your sleeping bag you are not met with any nasty surprises. If you look after your kit it will look after you.
Keeping it Out of the Stuff Sack
The most important factor to consider when storing your sleeping bag is to never leave it in the stuff sack or the bag that it comes in. Leaving Your sleeping back in its stuff sack for long periods of time will compress the air-trapping fibers of its insulation. The sleeping bag’s stuff sack or carry bag is purely for travel purposes only, like carrying it in your backpack to camp.
Even when you are backpacking, you should let your sleeping bag air out inside the tent as soon as possible, so the fibers get a chance to “fluff up” before its time for bed. Making sure your sleeping bag does not go through long periods of compression will ensure the insulation stays effective and keeps its heat-trapping qualities.
Airing Your Sleeping Bag Out
When you get home from a night out camping the first thing you should do is remove your sleeping bag from its stuff sack and hang it up to air out. Doing this will make sure any trapped moisture from condensation or sweat dries out and the insulation (down or synthetic) will re-plump after sitting under compression. Hanging up your sleeping bag will allow it to recover from its use and compression during your camping trip or hike, so make sure it’s the first thing you do when getting back home.
Ideally, you will leave your sleeping bag on a coat hanger or string line in a warm dry place and leave it there until it needs repacking for your next camping trip. If this is really not possible because of a lack of space, then leaving it loosely stuffed into a draw or cupboard is fine. An even better way of storing your sleeping bag if you cannot hang it up long-term is leaving it in a storage bag – more on these later.
Keeping it Clean and Fresh
Keeping your sleeping bag clean and fresh will not only make it nicer for you to sleep in, but it will also prolong the sleeping bag’s shelf life. It is essential that you clean your sleeping bag before storage if it has gotten dirty in some way during your camping trip. Leaving a moist or dirty sleeping bag in its stuff sack will encourage mold and mildew growth that will eventually breakdown the fabric and ruin its integrity. If you want to prevent this from happening and ensure your sleeping bag stays dry, fresh, and clean then it is essential that you systematically clean and dry your sleeping bag before storing it when it is dirty.
Other than taking steps to prevent dirt and moisture getting on to your sleeping bag’s outer fabric and into its interior fibers, you can periodically clean it as long as you do it the right way. Do everything you can to keep your sleeping bag clean during use and only wash it as a last resort. When you do need to clean your sleeping bag refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines and recommendations for washing instructions.
As a general rule, never dry clean or throw your sleeping bag into a washing machine on a heavy spin or high heat. This will damage your sleeping bag and potentially ruin the zippers and seams. Usually, you will have to wash your sleeping bag by hand with a specific camping suitable detergent that is suitable for either synthetic or down filling (check what stuffing your bag uses). If you really have to use a washing machine and cannot wash it by hand then always use a front-loading washing machine and set it to a short, gentle cycle on a low temperature.
Once your bag is clean use light pressure to wring out excess moisture and hang it in a warm dry place to naturally drip dry, never tumble dry or machine dry your sleeping bag, it will shrink! You can find cleaning products and freshening sprays on Amazon and at your local camping store. We advise using camping-specific cleaning products as these will reduce damage through washing and prolong the shelf life of your sleeping bag.
Once you think your sleeping bag is dry make sure you leave it hanging for three or four days before stuffing it loosely in a draw, cupboard, or storage bag. This will ensure any micro-droplets and excess moisture has fully evaporated from the complex fibers inside the bag’s down or synthetic insulation.
If you feel that your sleeping bag doesn’t need a full wash but it needs freshening up, then using a product such as Febreze will give your sleeping bag a nice scent and “freshen it up” without having to do a full wash. This isn’t a long-term solution that you should use instead of cleaning, but it will keep your sleeping bag fresh without having to give it a full intense wash between close together camping trips.
Storage bags are a great storage alternative if you don’t have the room to hang your bag up on a string line or coat hanger. They offer a way to store your sleeping bag in a loose and breathable way without compressing and damaging the fiber structure of its insulation. Using a storage bag will ensure your sleeping bag doesn’t hold moisture, lose insulative value (R-value), or start to form mold and mildew within its fabric.
Storage bags are a loose and breathable means of storing your sleeping bag so it doesn’t stay compressed when storing between hikes or camping sessions. It doesn’t compress or deform the insulative fibers of the sleeping bag whether bird-down or synthetic fibers. Many high-quality sleeping bags come with an additional storage sack for this very purpose, but some do not. If your sleeping bag hasn’t come with an additional storage sack you should be able to easily find one for your bag’s specific dimensions on Amazon or in your local camping store. As mentioned before. If you have a spare draw or some room in a wardrobe or closet that you can fill with a loosely packed sleeping bag, then this will be fine. Just make sure it’s in a place where it will not get disturbed, damaged, or compacted.
Protecting Your Sleeping Bag While Camping
Protecting your sleeping bag while you are out on the trails or in your tent camping will ultimately reduce the amount of maintenance needed to preserve your sleeping bag and ensure its long-life. If you are “cowboy camping” without a tent, under a tarp in the wilderness then your best bet is to buy a groundsheet to keep your sleeping bag out of the mud and away from contaminants. Doing this will protect your sleeping bag from potential damage from the ground and keep it cleaner than if it were laid directly on the forest floor. Consider using a sleeping bag liner whether you are cowboy camping, hiking, or using your sleeping bag in a tent. Using a liner will protect your sleeping bag from the day to day dirt that your body gathers up and will prevent sweat from reaching the internal fleece and fabric of your bag. They usually add a bit of warmth as well, and it means instead of washing your whole sleeping bag you will just have to wash the liner instead. This is a great way to prolong the periods of which you need to give your sleeping bag a full clean and liners are usually machine washable at 40 degrees or more.
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