You just backpacked through the Grand Canyon for 4 days. The sites were wonderful. Every night you gazed up at the stars and watched the Colorado river roll past you. Each day was magical and full of new experiences. To handle all that, you put your sleeping bag through the ringer. Now though, it is time for some sleeping bag care, maintenance, washing instructions, and repair.
Proper Use, Prevention Matters as much as Maintenance
When out on the trail, preventive skills are critical to ensuring the longevity of your sleeping bag. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth an ounce of cure,” so it is important to deal with your bag with care.
- Keep your bag clean and free from abrasion. On one camping trip, my friends and I had a marshmallow fight inside the tent. It was a terrible idea. There is still old, sticky, and disgusting marshmallow residue on my sleeping bag. Besides avoiding marshmallow fights though, keep shoes off your bag and prevent dirt from coming inside.
- If your bag gets wet in any fashion, dry it out and do not compress it. When a sleeping bag gets wet, you need to get the water out of your bag. The longer it is in your bag, the more damage it does to the structure and integrity of your bag.
- Keep your bag out of the sun. While the sun will be sure to dry out your tent when it gets wet (especially if it is the only option available like during Winter camping), it can also damage your sleeping bag, weakening the fabric and the structure. Consequently, keep it shaded.
Correct Storage, Essential to Lengthy Longevity
There are two primary sack types where you can keep your sleeping bag, a stuff sack or a storage sack. When it comes to backpacking through the Grand Canyon and other similar trips, the former will be your best friend, reducing its size and freeing up room to store other essentials.
However, you do not want to store your bag in a stuff sack for your bag’s entire rest period. Once home, give your bag a good shake to fluff up the material as soon as you bring it home. Afterwards, air dry your bag for at least 24 hours. This will give it the initial rest your sleeping bag needs to work serve you again in the future.
Once your bag is out of the stuff sack, it is not going back in there until the next adventure. If you just put it back in the stuff sack, the sleeping bag will lose all its puffiness, damaging the insulation designed to keep you warm. Instead, you are going to want to keep it in a storage sack. They are much larger than stuff sacks, allowing the insulation to relax and expand.
When it comes to storage, always keep your bag in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Some good places are underneath your bed, hanging in your closet, and, of course, a storage sack. All these options uncompress the insulation, ensuring a long life for your bag.
Washing, Drying, and Careful Care
During this phase of maintenance, you have to be quite conscientious. If you put in too much detergent, your bag can become quite sticky and soapy. If you put it in the dryer for too long, the insulation can be ruined. Take extra precautions to keep your bag safe.
The Frequency of Washing and Drying
You do not want to wash and dry after every trip. It will too much for your bag. Most people will do this about once a year. If you only go camping on a 6 month or annual basis, then it may even be longer. It depends on how often you use your sleeping bag.
Down and synthetic bags are both different sleeping bags. In fact, I wrote about their differences in a previous article. Consequently, both need to be washed with different kinds of detergent designed specifically based on the bag’s design.
For down, nikwax down wash is going to be your best option. The brand has a distinct wash just for down. Because down is more natural than synthetic, it has organic oils. An improper detergent would remove those oils and damage the sleeping bag. With nikwax downwash though, your bag will be sure to clean your down bag effectively. For synthetic bags though, use a 1/4 cup of mild powdered detergent.
With regard to the washing machine settings, use warm water and the gentle cycle. Do not use hot water or else it will really damage the fabric. In my experience, warm water is the best balance between hot and cold worlds. It helps to kill any germs (like hot water) and is careful with the fabric (like cold water).
Ideally, you want to use a big, jumbo washer at your local laundry mat. Home laundry machines will damage the fabric of your sleeping bag. The agitators will twist and damage the structure and insulation fibers. They are much smaller and meant for clothing, not bigger items like sleeping bags.
Before placing your bag in the washing machine, unzip the bag and place the slider half-way up the zipper. You do not want the slider to come off during washing.
As an important side note, do not just send your bag to the dry cleaner. They use harsh chemicals that will be sure to wreak havoc on your sleeping bag.
Drying, Taking out the Water
After washing it, your sleeping bag needs to be dried out. When removing it from the dryer, take it out and move it gently. Because it was just in the washing machine, the bag is going to be full of water and quite heavy, making is prone to tearing. If the dryer is far away, use a rolling cart or something similar so you are not carrying a heavy bag the entire way.
Once you have your sleeping bag in the dryer, toss in 6 to 12 tennis balls. These will help the bag maintain its fluff and insulation integrity. If you just run the sleeping bag in the dryer without tennis balls, then you risk irreparable damage to the bag, so be sure to put in the tennis balls.
Next, you want to set the dryer to the lowest setting possible. If your bag gets too hot, then the fabric will be damaged. You can expect the dryer to dry out the bag in 2 to 5 hours.
Once in the dryer, check the bag periodically. You need to this to make sure the fabric is fine and not blistering hot. It also ensures the fabric is not clumping. If the insulation is bunching, then it is time to air dry your sleeping bag.
Extra Considerations to Keep your Bag Safe
Not all bags are equal. Many are unique, old, or even special. As such, your washing and drying needs to be tailored to the needs of your sleeping bag.
If you are especially concerned about the water temperature in the washing machine, use cold water instead. While cold water will not kill any bugs, fungi, or other unacceptable living features of a sleeping bag, it will also not compromise the structure and integrity of the fabric.
Patching the Hole
Use Duct Tape when on the Trail
Sometimes you are fighting a bear during the night and they poke a hole in your sleeping bag. More often than not though, someone’s long nails or a stick will poke a hole in your precious sleeping bag. In response, duct tape is going to be your best bet. It will do the quick and dirty work to patch the problem.
Unfortunately though, it is a short term solution. Duct tape will get your through your trip, but not through next month’s adventure as you will have to keep applying more of it.
If you want something specifically for sleeping bags, tenacious tape is worth consideration. It is quite flexible and lasts a long time. By far, it is much better than duct tape, holding up quite well for a long time. Unlike duct tape, it will not come off.
If you are skilled with a thread and needle, sewing up the hole with a good patch is an excellent route to take. Lastly, you can send it back to the manufacturer. It is the most expensive route to take, but they will do the job right. They have repair facilities, fixing your gear for a modest fee.
Your sleeping bag should be well rested for the next adventure. You have washed it and dried it out, along with giving it plenty of rest to puff up again and storing it in a proper manner. With your renewed sleeping bag, you are all set to hit the trail again. Grab your bag and set out on your adventure.
If you have thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, do not hesitate to comment below and please do share this article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!