During the Hike: Caring for your Sleeping Bag on the Trail
When you use your sleeping bag your body produces moisture and oils which can affect the insulating properties of your sleeping bag. This is especially the case with down sleeping bags, as these byproducts impede the ability of down to clump and loft as efficiently. To ensure your sleeping bag stays in action for longer and provides maximum insulation, here are some aftercare tips for bag maintenance.
Using a sleeping bag liner
A sleeping bag liner protects the sleeping bag from perspiration, grime and body oils. This will mean that your sleeping bag will require washing less often. Liners are available in a range of materials including silk, cotton and polypropylene. As well as being more hygienic, liners can add another layer of insulation for extra warmth in your sleeping bag.
Setting Up Camp
It’s a good idea to remove your sleeping bag from its stuff sack and lay it out as soon as you set-up camp, this will give the down time to loft fully before you go to bed. A gentle shake will also help ensure the down lofts out to its full potential.
Using an Insulated Sleeping Mat
Always use an insulating mat under your sleeping bag. Cold ground conducts warmth away from a sleeping bag, and down on the underside of your bag will become compressed as you lie down. A sleeping mat provides protection and insulation to prevent heat loss.
Keep your bag dry
Synthetic and down sleeping bags lose their ability to insulate when they become wet. This makes it imporant to protect your bag from moisture by using a waterproof stuff sack or rucksack liner while you are on the trail and a waterproof groundsheet and tent at camp.
Reduce heat loss
Reduce heat loss through your head by wearing a warm hat or snuggling into the collar and hood of your bag. Up to 50% of body heat loss can occur through the head.
Sleeping with your feet slightly down hill increases blood circulation to these extremities and keeps them warmer.
Eating a nourishing meal, with protein and having a high energy snack before bed will also help to keep you warm, by increasing your metabolic rate. Protein is important in cold conditions as it will keep the fires burning in your body longer than just high energy carbohydrates.
When packing up camp always stuff your sleeping bag back into its stuff sack. Never roll it as this can damage the baffles.
Quality sleeping bags use fabrics which prevent the down fill from leaking out. However there is often a small amount of feather quills in the down mix, which can occasionally pierce the cloth and escape. This minor leakage from a new down sleeping bag is no cause for alarm, and some of the escaping quills can be pulled back inside simply by feeling through the fabric and easing them back in.
After the Hike: Caring for your Sleeping Bag at Home
Caring for your sleeping bag at home can significantly increase the longeivity of your sleeping bag. While sleeping bags are built tough, years of abuse on the trail mean that they need some attention when you make it home.
Sleeping Bag Storage
When not in use your sleeping bag should always be stored uncompressed, outside of its stuff sack. This will prevent the insulation from becoming permanently compacted which can lead to cold spots. Often a mesh or cotton storage bag will be provided with your sleeping bag for this purpose.
Cleaning your Sleeping Bag
The insulation in your sleeping bag works most efficiently when it is clean from oils and dirt. If you have been on an extended trip or you notice that your sleeping bag isn’t lofting as well as it did, it’s time to give your bag a wash. We recommend the following procedure:
*Note: only use a washing machine if it does not have an agitator, a common feature in top-loading washing machines.
Undo all the zippers and loosen all the drawcords of the bag
Place the bag in the washing machine and set to a gentle cycle with a cold to warm water temperature. Consult the sleeping bag washing directions on your bag to check the manufacturer's washing temperature settings.
Use a technical cleaner to wash your bag, consult the bottle to see how much cleaner to use. Down insulation requires a specific down cleaner, while synthetic insulation requires a general technical wash. Do NOT use general washing detergents on your sleeping bag as they will strip the down fibres and remove the waterproof coating on the bag’s exterior.
Pass the bag through a rinse cycle after the first wash to ensure all the soap is washed out.
After the rinse cycle, gentle squeeze out the bag to remove some of the excess water
Placing both arms underneath the bag, lift the bag out of the washing machine and place it in the dryer. Down is very heavy when wet and can cause damage to the internal baffles, so be very careful when moving the bag.
Using a low heat setting on the dryer, dry the bag until there are no clumps of insulation remaining. This process can take several hours, especially for down. When washing a down bag, adding some washing balls or tennis balls helps to redistribute the down while it’s drying.
After drying the bag, set the bag out flat to dry overnight to make sure there is no remaining moisture before you store it away.
Begin by soaking the bag overnight in a bath or large tub of lukewarm water.
Using a technical cleaner gently knead the suds through the bag. Ensure you choose the right cleaner for your insulation. Down insulation requires a specific down cleaner, while synthetic insulation requires a more general technical wash. Do NOT use general washing detergents on your sleeping bag as they will strip the down fibres and remove the waterproof coating on the bag’s exterior
If the bag is really grimy, leave it submerged in the soapy water for a few hours.
Rinse with fresh water to remove all traces of soap. Keep rinsing with fresh water until you can’t see any more suds.
Gently squeeze out all excess moisture while your sleeping bag is still in the tub.
Carefully lift the soggy bag, placing your arms underneath it to support its entire weight, and place it into a washing basket. Down is very heavy when wet and can cause damage to the internal baffles, so be very careful when moving the bag.
Prepare a clean, dry area out of direct sunlight and carefully lay the bag out flat.
Pat the insulation on both sides of the bag to help minimise down clumping.
Your down bag may require several days to dry completely. Hot, non-humid days are best.