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Your sleeping bag is your last line of defense against the cold. Didn’t bring enough layers? Weather took a turn you didn’t expect? All you need to do is hunker down in your puffy fortress and you’ll be OK. That is, as long as it hasn’t been soaked. Whether through a torrential downpour or a misstep during a river crossing, a wet sleeping bag can put a real damper (ha) on your trip. In the worst-case scenario, it could even put you at risk for a deadly bout of hypothermia. Learn what to do with these expert tips from the Backpacker archives. —The Editors
Handle with care. Bags become very heavy when waterlogged, and interior baffles rip easily. Don’t wring or shake the bag, and support its weight as you carry it.
Line dry. Unzip the bag and fold it over a line strung between two trees, keeping it off the ground. Wind will speed evaporation, but your bag could take from several hours up to two days to dry completely. Note: Even water-resistant* down requires dry time after a full submersion (one we tested was well-soaked after an hour, and took about 24 hours to dry at room temperature).
Don’t use the fire. “You wouldn’t believe the number of burned sleeping bags we see,” says Lindsey Stone, who spent nearly eight years as manager of Rainy Pass Repair, a specialty gear service center. Direct heat won’t significantly speed the drying of the insulation, and temps above 370°F (campfires can top 1,500°F), as well as flying embers, could melt the nylon shell.
Massage away clumps. “As the bag dries, use your hands to gently break up the lumps inside, which speeds drying,” Stone says.
Stay warm. Exercise, drink hot fluids, and eat high-calorie foods to fuel your furnace. Time to sleep? Put on all your layers, stuff your clothes with leaves, and place hot water bottles near your armpits and groin. Then, stick your legs in your backpack for a makeshift bivy. Even a damp bag will still insulate; if it won’t dampen your clothing, drape it on as a top layer.
Originally published 2013; last updated January 2023.