Sleeping bags are the most essential items on any camping gear checklist. A good one will be rated for the conditions in which you'll be camping, keeping you warm through the night and giving you a sense of comfort and safety needed for a good night’s sleep in the outdoors.
Whether you choose synthetic or down insulation, here are a few tips to ensure that your bag stays fluffy, warm, and comfy through years of outdoor adventure
The most important thing to remember when it comes to taking good care of your sleeping bag is not to leave it in its stuff sack for long periods of time. Yes, it may be convenient to stuff it down into its football-sized sack and throw it into the back of your closet, but there's no better way to ruin the bag's thickness (called “loft”) and warmth than that.
By keeping it cooped up in its stuff sack, you essentially compress the bag’s insulation—either down or synthetic—so much that it cannot trap air molecules nearly as well as it should. This could mean a surprisingly cold night if the last time your bag was fluffed out was your last backpacking trip months ago.
Many sleeping bags come with a large storage sack in addition to a small travel stuff sack. Keep your bag in this larger sack to let it expand to its normal state. If the bag doesn't come with an additional large sack, it would be worth your while to grab one. When storing it, keep it in a cool, dry place. Spreading it out under your bed or hanging it up in a closet will do the trick.
Keeping It Dry
Even if you're storing your sleeping bag properly, be sure it’s dry before putting it away. If your bag gets wet on a trip, or if you’ve washed it, let it air dry for about 24 hours in a cool place. Then it’ll be ready for its storage sack. If you don’t let it dry completely, there’s a good chance that mildew or mold will build up, so take the time to dry it out.
In the Wash
If you have a down sleeping bag, which is typically lighter than a synthetic one, you'll have to put a little more work into washing it. Because down is so much more fragile than synthetic, your safest option is to wash it by hand in the bathtub. If you're pressed for time and your bag's directions say it’s okay, a down bag can be washed in a front-loading washing machine—but you must follow the manufacturer's instructions exactly.
If you went the synthetic route, machine washing is a breeze. Wash formulas are specifically made for synthetics, such as Sports Wash and Tech Wash. Just follow the instructions on the bottle.
Note that overwashing can degrade the insulation’s ability to keep you warm. Take care to wash the sleeping bag only when necessary, such as when it gets obviously smelly or after a particularly grueling trip. Usually one or two washes a season will suffice.
Once a sleeping bag is a part of your outdoor gear collection, be sure to take proper care to ensure years of comfortable nights in the wild.
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