Your sleeping bag is one of your key pieces of camping equipment. Learn how to care for it - when you’re camping, when you’re storing it, and when it needs to be cleaned - and it will be your faithful camping companion for many years.
Your sleeping bag will serve you best to keep you warm and cosy if you do your part to keep it clean and dry while you are out camping with it. This means that, no matter how exhausted from a hard day’s hiking or adventuring, you should not sleep in your sleeping bag in dirty clothes. When your bag gets dirty it loses its ability to properly insulate and keep you warm. So strip those dirty clothes off before bed!
A great way to keep your sleeping bag clean is to use a sleeping bag liner. Wool, cotton, synthetic or silk liners have the additional advantage of making your bag even warmer. Use your liner while you’re camping and give it a wash when you get home - easy! (We have found the liners work better in roomier bags – they tend to tangle in snug ultra-light sleeping bags.)
Keep the outside of your bag clean, too. Keep your tent clean and sleep on a sleeping pad whether you are inside or out. During the day, hang your sleeping bag up to let it air out and for any condensation to dry, but don’t leave it in the sun for extended periods of time as the UV light can damage it.
Use a plastic bag INSIDE your stuff sac (not outside) - then it's protected from getting holed.
In a damp misty spot, place a tent fly or “veranda sling” your raincoat over yourself to keep (most of) the bag dry. Placed over your head, this works as a quick-fix mossie or sandfly net too if need be.
If ice forms on outside of your sleeping bag, shake it off as soon as you wake up, and your bag will stay dry.
On cold mornings, if you get up before condensation starts dripping, put your bag under stuff in the tent so it doesn't get dripped on - or over a rock outside.
Use every opportunity to dry a damp bag - lunch time for instance, or as soon as you arrive at your next camp. But not near smoky fires!
Storing and travelling
While you’re hiking, your sleeping bag will be most likely be stored in the compression bag or small stuff sack it came in. If you carry your bag on the outside of your pack, it’s a good idea to get a waterproof stuff sack to keep it dry. There’s nothing worse than finishing a rainy day of hiking by crawling into a wet sleeping bag! You can also line your backpack with a plastic rubbish bag to keep your sleeping bag and other stuff nice and dry no matter what the conditions.
At home, after airing out your sleeping bag, store it in a mesh or cloth storage sack. Many sleeping bags will come with a storage bag which allows your sleeping bag to breathe and prevents moisture build-up which can cause mildewing. Do not store your sleeping bag for long periods in its compression bag. This can reduce the bag’s loft (stuffing volume) and its insulating properties. When putting your sleeping bag away, maintain its shape by stuffing it into its bag feet end first rather than rolling it up.
If you are kind to your sleeping bag and treat it well, it will not need washing very often at all. Spot cleaning as necessary should usually be all you need. When you do need to spot clean, make a paste from water and a non-detergent soap and use a cloth or toothbrush to work the mixture onto the area you are cleaning. Pull the shell material away from the insulation so as not to get the insides of the bag too wet. Wipe off soap with a damp cloth and hang the bag up to dry. Keep zips operating smoothly by lubricating them with silicon spray occasionally.
If your bag is a few years old and there is an accumulation of grime or odour and it is losing loft, you can give it a full wash. The first step is to follow the washing instructions on your bag’s labels. These will vary depending on your bag’s construction and material and whether it has a synthetic or down fill. Do not dry clean your sleeping bag--the harsh chemicals will ruin it.
In general, you can wash most sleeping bags in a washing machine, as long as it is not a top loader with an agitator--these can catch and rip sleeping bag material. Also, some modern front loaders are quite small and might not have enough room for your bag to wash and spin properly. If this is the case with your washer, consider using a commercial machine. It’s also a good idea to put a few other items in with your sleeping bag while you’re washing it so that the washer is balanced and spins correctly. Unzip your bag before washing and bring the zip slider halfway up one side so that it doesn’t come off the end during washing.
When drying, be very careful when putting it in the dryer as the wet bag will be heavy and prone to ripping. Again, use as large a dryer as you can find. Use the lowest heat setting so as not to damage the bag. For a down-filled bag, throw a few tennis balls in the dryer with the bag to improve loft and prevent clumping. The drying will take a long time--expect at least three hours, potentially twice that. Check it periodically to make sure the heat is not damaging it and the fill is not clumping. Once it seems dry, take it out and wait an hour–if it seems damp again, put it back in the dryer. (If you really want to be scientific about it, you can weigh it before and after drying so that you know when all the moisture has gone.) Line dry it instead if it really doesn’t seem to be happy. Cleaning and drying can affect the water resistance of your sleeping bag fabric, so you may want to treat the bag with a waterproof spray from an outdoor shop.
To extend the life of zips, keep them dirt free, clean them, and lube with silicone spray.
Stuff down bags into sacs (toes first) - don't roll, they like it better apparently.
Surprise your mates and be a gourmet food hero - a one litre container of ice cream will stay frozen for many hours in the middle of a good bag (plastic bag it first), freak them out when you serve dessert at the hut.
Now that you’re an expert on how to care for your sleeping bag, where will you take it? Check out the wonderful wilderness experiences in New Zealand just waiting for your sleeping bag and you.