Unfortunately, its not one of those things you can just shove back in the closet and forget about until next season. Unless you go camping quite frequently, as in every few months, you’re going to need to store the sleeping bag the right way. Not doing so could result in you having to fork out the big bucks again next season to buy a new one.
Incorrect storage could lead to mold, mildew and the material on your sleeping bag deteriorating. Which is never a pretty sight on the morning of your next camping trip. Especially if you don’t have time or money to run down to your local camping store to purchase a new one.
Sure it’s not that big of a deal if your sleeping bag only costs $20, but when you invest in a high quality one that can cost over $100, you want to look after it. So how do you store your sleeping bag so that it doesn’t decay into nothingness?. Start by cleaning and drying it.
How To Clean & Air Out Your Sleeping Bag
The most important step to storing your sleeping bag is ensuring it is clean before you pack it away. Some people do this periodically, but I prefer to do this after every camping trip. This is because, no matter how hard you try, sand, moisture, dirt etc ends up on your sleeping bag.
I’m by no means a clean freak, but I do have my issues with sleeping with dirt, old smelly body oils (Sweat), grass, sand etc.
If the trip was only a short one, as in a night or two, I’ll often just spot clean the sleeping bag. Its as simple as getting a clean wipe and some laundry detergent. Go over any noticeable marks and stains.
Can You Wash A Sleeping Bag In The Washing Machine?
Whether its a synthetic fill or a down filled sleeping bag, they can be washed in the washing machine. While there are some pretty simple guidelines you can follow, its always best to check the washing direction on the tag of your sleeping bag first.
Here’s How I Wash My Sleeping Bags
As I have waterproof shells on my bags, its best to turn the sleeping bag inside out. This prevents any unnecessary damage to the waterproof casing. Do the zipper up, but not all the way. Bring the zipper up just under half way, this will prevent the zipper from coming off during the cycle.
Use a front loading washing machine as there’s less chance of damaging your sleeping bag. Select gentle wash with warm water. Add the desired amount of mild, non harsh laundry detergent. If you have a down fill sleeping bag, look for a specific laundry cleaner to down fill, if not a mild detergent is fine to use.
Its very important you ensure the bag has been through the rinse cycle on your washing machine. Even after its been through the rinse cycle, its not a bad idea to rinse it again to ensure all the soap suds are completely gone. You can simply press on the sleeping bag with your hands to see if you can detect any small soap bubbles.
Let your sleeping bag dry thoroughly. There’s been times where I have left my sleeping bags dry in a well ventilated area like on my deck for several days to a week. They must be 100% dry or mold and mildew can grow once stored.
Avoid leaving your sleeping bags dry in direct sunlight in the middle of the day, especially on very hot days. The UV rays can break down the fibers in you sleeping bag and destroy the waterproof coatings.
Using a clothes dryer is possible, but I will always opt for natural drying if possible to minimize damage to the sleeping bag. If you must put them in the dryer, ensure its on the lowest heat setting and dry them over several hours. Too much heat can damage the materials and cause the down fill to lump up together.
Let The Sleeping Bags Air Dry Before Storing Away
Do not roll up and store your sleeping bags immediately after taking out of the dryer, the heat acquired from the dryer can lead to moisture in the bag which can cause mold and the likes.
Regardless of whether I’m just spot cleaning or doing the full wash and then using a dryer, I will always hang my sleeping bags up in a well ventilated area so that they can air out. I will leave them hanging over night so as much fresh air can circulate. Letting them air dry is ideally done on a less humid night and when the temperature is not too cool to prevent moisture build up.
You can leave you sleeping bags, unzipped anywhere they are elevated off the ground and have air circulating around it. Hanging them over a couple of chairs works, or on a fence and even on your clothes line.
Roll Up The Bag And Store It
If you are skipping the whole cleaning part, its important you still shake out any dust, sand and dirt left over from your camping trip. Again, I like to air out the sleeping bag for a few hours at least. Just like storing a tent, this is equally important for your sleeping bags.
Once you are satisfied that the sleeping bag is completely dry and contains no debris, its time to roll them up. Make sure you do this on a clean floor or bed. No point going to the extreme of cleaning your sleeping bag only to roll it up in some loose dirt on the back deck.
How To Roll Up A Sleeping Bag Tightly
Rolling up a sleeping bag is pretty simple. Your bag will usually have directions, but in the case that you’re not sure, here’s a simple guide. While it always seems like the carry case provided with the sleeping bag is too small for the job, chances are you’re not rolling it up right.
1. Flatten the sleeping bag with the zippers not zippered up. This allows air to escape the sleeping bag, compressing the overall size. Fold the bag over in half and make it the shape as if it was zipped up.
2. Next you fold the bag length ways into thirds. The first third folds over to the middle third, while the third section folds back on top of the middle section.
3. Now you should have just one narrow long section of bag. From the feet end, roll up the sleeping bag towards the head end. Make sure you are gripping it tightly and compressing the bag as you go. This allows air to escape and not get trapped inside the bag. By not doing this, your sleeping bag will end up twice the size of your carry bag.
4. Store the sleeping bag in its carry case and put away in a well ventilated room. The garage is fine provided it has airflow and even a window allowing sunlight in is optimal. I store mine on a mesh garage shelving unit so air can circulate around the sleeping bag at all times.
5. Avoid storing the sleeping bag in small and dark areas like a closet. There’s no light or fresh air circulating making it the perfect breeding zone for bacteria.
Optional Steps To Storing Your Sleeping Bag For Long Periods
If you have followed all these steps, you should be able to successfully store you sleeping bag for shorter amounts of time. However, if you have a long period of time, more than a few months between camping trips, it may prove worthwhile taking the storage process to the next level.
The reason you should take the additional steps to storing your sleeping bag is so that the filling inside the sleeping bag doesn’t become compressed. The carry bag that comes with the sleeping bag is fine for short intervals, but do you really want the synthetic fibers and the down fill inside becoming squished.
When these fillings become squished, they no longer keep the warmth like they use to. The fillings lose there loft or ability to fluff up basically. The longer they are compressed, the more damage you are doing to the filling.
Why Loft Is Important
You may be thinking, ‘who cares, I can still use my sleeping bag if the inside is all flat now’. Well yes you could, but you would certainly feel the cold a heck of a lot more. This is because the fluffiness, or loft of the fillings inside the sleeping bag are there to keep the warmth.
They do this by being fluffed up and trapping the warm air created by your body heat. The warmth stays inside your sleeping bag, which I assume is something you want on a cold night. The warm air circulates through the loft and keeps you nice and toasty all night long.
So What Should You Do?
Simply put, you need to stop strangling your sleeping bag. Take it out of the stuff sack it came with and let the synthetic and down fill breathe. Don’t deprive it of what it was intended to do.
Best Option For Storing Your Sleeping Bag
Unless you have a open closet where you can fully unfold your sleeping bag and hang it up so that its well ventilated, the next best option is to store it in a breathable bag.
One of those mesh tie up laundry bags are brilliant for doing just that. They have hundreds of holes to keep your sleeping bag fresh and ventilated. Reducing the chances of moisture build up which can result in mold and mildew growing.
You can get those mesh laundry bags relatively cheap in a large number of sizes and packs. Amazon sell them here and they come in a variety of colors and sizes.
Once you have put your sleeping bag inside a mesh laundry basket, storing the bag is pretty much the same. In a well ventilated room so that air and even sunlight can shine to limit the amount of bacteria growth.