My first sleeping bag was a rectangular, slumber-party special with horses and flowers adorning the yellow flannel lining. After my first backpacking trip, I retired it (too cold, too heavy, too bulky) and bought a down mummy, which I proceeded to store in its stuff sack for an entire winter. When I pulled it out the following spring, my cozy cocoon was flatter than a day-old pancake and offered less warmth than my old flannel job.
Regardless of whether you opt for down or synthetic fill, give your sleeping bag the TLC it deserves.
- After each trip, air dry your bag for at least 24 hours before storing.
- Never store your bag in its itty-bitty stuff sack! The longer you compress the insulation, the more loft it loses. It's fine to use a stuff sack-even a compression stuff sack-on the trail, but the minute you get home, get your sleeper out of that confined space, give it a good shake to fluff up the fill material, then store it in a cool, dry place. Spread it out under your bed, hang it in a closet, or put it in a big, breathable storage bag (often provided by the manufacturer). If you don't have such a sack, use a king-size pillowcase.
- Wash your bag when it gets stinky, dirty, or loses a noticeable amount of loft, but not after every trip. For most people, this means once a year. Don't dry-clean your sleeping bag, because the harsh chemicals wreak havoc on the materials.
- For safe and thorough cleaning, head to your local laundry and use a jumbo, front-loading washer. The agitators that churn clothes in most home washing machines can twist and damage insulation fibers and baffle materials (baffles inside your bag hold the insulation in place).
- Before washing, unzip the bag and bring the slider halfway up on e side of the zipper. This ensures that the slider won't come off during washing.
- Use warm water, the gentle cycle, and ? cup of a mild powdered detergent.
- "The key here is transferring the wet bag from the washing machine to the dryer," says Bob Upton, president of Rainy Pass Repair in Seattle, Washington. "When a bag is wet and heavy, the stitching and baffling materials are prone to tearing. Gently lift the bag onto a rolling cart, being careful to support the entire bag. Don't pull on any part of the bag," he cautions. Exercise the same caution when lifting your bag into the dryer. Opt for the largest dryer you can find-"preferably one you could crawl into," says Upton.
- For a down bag, toss in 6 to 12 tennis balls to help fluff it up.
- Turn the dial to the lowest/coolest setting, and start feeding in the quarters. Sleeping bags take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours to dry completely.
- Check the bag periodically to make sure the fabric isn't scorching hot and the insulation isn't bunching or clumping. If it clumps, line dry it instead.
- Special Considerations
- If your bag is an heirloom inherited from Great-Uncle Jeb, it might be unwashable. To check the integrity of an old bag, reach inside and grab a handful of lining material. With your other hand, grab the opposing shell material and tug gently. If you hear threads popping or ripping sounds, the baffles are damaged and will need to be repaired before washing.
- A bag with a waterproof or water-resistant/breathable shell will hold a lot of water, so use extra caution when transporting it from washer to dryer. And prepare yourself for the 4 to 5 hours it will take to dry completely.
- Detergents reduce the water-resistancy of shell materials. Treat your bag's shell after each washing with a spray-on waterproofing agent, available at outdoors shops.
- If you'd rather have professionals wash and dry your bag, contact one of the bag specialists listed at www.backpacker.com/repairs.