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Everyone loves buying and using gear, that’s the fun part!
Researching for hours to find the perfect sleeping bag (one that is light, packs down super small, and will keep us warm on even the coldest nights) and then taking it out for the first time. It’s the equivalent of a kid on Christmas morning.
Once that camping or backpacking trip is done, though, we all want to get home and toss our gear into storage until the next trip. Who has time for something like cleaning gear? As it turns out, that part of the trip is very important in making sure our gear actually lasts til that next trip.
When it comes to down sleeping bags (or quilts), properly storing them can be the difference between lasting a couple of years and a couple of decades!
How to properly store sleeping bags between uses
Once you have found your new favorite sleeping bag, the next thing to focus on is making sure it lasts as long as possible. There is nothing worse than finding the perfect piece of gear, only for it to last only a short period of time. Sleeping bags should last you plenty of years, especially if they are taken care of properly.
When it comes to getting longevity out of your sleeping bag, the most important things are:
Make sure it is dry before storing it away
Clean it before packing it away
Store it properly and in the right location
Letting it dry out
As with any piece of gear, bringing it home from a trip where you got rained on and immediately throwing it into storage is a recipe for failure. This is more obvious with a tent because it is subjected to the rain more than other pieces of gear.
But sleeping bags can also become damp from rain (or less obvious from sweat) and the effects are worse than for a tent.
Two main problems occur when down sleeping bags become wet and are not allowed to fully air out.
The first is that down-fill loses its insulating capability when wet. This happens in the moment, so if you are backpacking and your down bag gets wet, always take time (when it’s not raining) to let it dry out. Taking an extra hour or two in the morning to enjoy an extra cup of coffee isn’t a bad way to make sure your sleeping bag dries out. Otherwise, you will end up crawling into a cold, damp sleeping bag the next night.
The second big issue is mold and mildew. Bacteria, mold, and mildew thrive in damp conditions, and you do not want them to thrive within your sleeping bag. (for hopefully obvious reasons) This can happen when you do not let your sleeping bag air out before storing it away between trips. It is very deflating to grab your gear out to start loading up for your next trip only to find that your sleeping bag is now a breeding ground for mold.
Keeping your sleeping bag clean
It is no surprise that sleeping outdoors (even in a tent) can get rather dirty. Whether it be mud, dirt, twigs, rocks, or anything else you find outside really, it will find its way into every nook and cranny of your gear. Sleeping bag included.
No matter the type of debris, the end result is the same. A reduced lifespan of your sleeping bag.
As dirt, mud, and sweat build up on your sleeping bag, they degrade the outer material of your sleeping bag. This can develop holes and make the sleeping bag useless as the fill doesn’t stay inside. Also, if the bag is moving a little bit in your backpack during the day, the increased friction from just a bit of dirt can do big damage over the course of a few days.
You wouldn’t come home from a hiking trip and immediately toss your dirty, sweaty clothes into the drawer for next time. You run them through the washer (maybe twice) before folding or hanging them before you need them again.
A sleeping bag should be treated with the same care.
Best storage sack and storage location
Once you have ensured that your sleeping bag is dry and clean, how and where do you store it?
A lot of sleeping bags these days come with a large cotton or mesh sack, and that is your number one choice of what to store your bag in. This storage bag will be airy enough to allow in some air circulation, and it will prevent you from having a large sleeping bag just hanging around in your closet.
If your sleeping bag did not come with a large cotton storage sack, using a large pillowcase or something similar would work too. The key is to prevent the sleeping bag (specifically the insulation inside) from being compressed.
Once you have the bag in a breathable storage sack, now you need to find a good place to keep it. In the garage? In the attic? Does it even matter?
You want to make sure wherever you store it long-term has AC and heat and is dry. Places like garages, attics, basements, etc. are often times not heated or cooled. This makes them poor storage locations for sleeping bags because of the extreme temperatures. Additionally, a place like a bathroom closet is subjected to too much moisture and humidity to make it a viable storage place.
Why you should avoid storing your sleeping bag in a stuff sack
Down insulation works by having small air pockets within the insulation that trap warm air. This insulation needs loft (think fluffiness) to maximize its ability to trap warm air. When the insulation is compressed, it becomes much less effective at creating those air pockets.
The insulation will “bounce back” when it is decompressed, but over time it loses its ability to do this. This is why your sleeping bag will be just as warm on night 4 of a backpacking trip as it was on night 1. However, if you were to store your sleeping bag in a compression sack for months between uses, it will have lost some insulating ability.
Sleeping bags should be stored in a large mesh or cotton sack in a cool, dry location. You want to avoid compressing the sleeping bag, and you also do not want it stored in extreme temperatures or high-humidity areas.
Do not store a sleeping bag in a compression sack or stuff sack. This will degrade the insulation inside, shortening the lifespan significantly.
If possible, you still want to store it in accordance with the recommendations above. (loosely stored in a cool, dry location) A night or two being stored in non-ideal conditions will not harm the bag noticeably.
Storing your sleeping bag properly is often an afterthought when you return home from your latest camping or backpacking trip. But, taking the extra couple of minutes to store your sleeping bag correctly goes a long way in preserving it for future use.
You want to follow the three steps to ensure your sleeping bag lasts for camping trips for years to come.
Make sure it has time to fully dry out
Spot clean to make sure dirt and debris don’t become permanently part of your sleeping bag
Store it in a proper way in a location that is not subjected to extreme temperatures or high humidity
Taking care of your gear is not the “sexy” part of backpacking or camping trips. But buying new gear every year or two because you don’t bother to take care of it isn’t cool either. Get the longest lifespan possible with your sleeping bag with proper sleeping bag storage.
Take pride in getting the most out of your sleeping bag and getting the most out of your next outdoor adventure!