(Yes, there is a right way to store a sleeping bag)
Anyone who has spent more than a couple of nights in a row in a sleeping bag can tell you how passionate they are about this particular piece of backpacking gear. In fact, many hikers and backpackers are quite adamant that the sleeping bag is the single most important thing that you are bringing with you into the wilderness. After all, what could be more important than the thing that is protecting you from the mountain chill?
It seems incongruous then that so many adventurers do not seem to know how to store a sleeping bag. By that we mean how to store a sleeping bag correctly.
As it turns out, sleeping bags are not as simple as one might think, especially in today’s day and age of rapidly advancing technology and construction methods. The best sleeping bags require regular care and maintenance in order to keep performing at their highest levels.
In this article, we are not only going to show you the best way to store a sleeping bag when not in use, but we’re also going to share a few other tips on how to keep your sleeping bag in tip-top shape.
REVIEW GUIDE: Best Backpacking Sleeping Bag Under $100
Why Extended Compression is Bad for Sleeping Bags
After a long adventure in the mountains, nothing would be easier than simply tossing your gear into the closet and forgetting about it until your next outing. After all there are likely some victory sodas that will require your immediate attention after such an arduous trip.
While this method certainly works for things like hiking poles & headlamps, sleeping bags are a bit more specialized in their construction, so much so that they require a little extra attention and maintenance in order to stay healthy.
Here’s the deal: sleeping bags provide warmth by trapping heat inside of the fill, which can be either down or synthetic. No matter what the fill material is made of, heat is trapped in the air pockets that exist inside the fill. This is how heat is retained, as opposed to simply dissipating into the night air. The size of these air pockets and their ability to trap heat is collectively known as loft, and it’s pretty much the most important factor in keeping you warm in your bag.
When a sleeping bag is compressed for too long, those pockets of air get smaller and smaller, and the result is a sleeping bag that can no longer retain as much heat. Not only does it make for a colder sleep, but one that is significantly less comfortable as well.
Following a few quick steps after you get home is the best way to make sure that you sleeping bag’s loft isn’t being gradually reduced.
RELATED: Find out what our team thinks is the Best Ultralight Sleeping Bag in 2023.
Step One: Remove the Bag from its Stuff Sack
Whether you have a regular stuff sack or one of those fancy new compression sacks, the first thing you are going to want to do is remove the bag from its storage sack. You’re going to want to store the stuff sack in a logical place. Personally, I like to connect the stuff sack to the sleeping bag with a carabiner. This way, you’ll always know where it is.
Step Two: Dry Out Your Sleeping Bag
First things first: you’re likely going to need to dry out your sleeping bag before putting it away for storage. Even if your bag never got wet during the trip, it is highly likely that a significant amount of moisture is still trapped inside the filling.
Trapped moisture can lead to mildew, which can create a nasty odor that is not easy to get out. Unless you want to be remembered as the person with the smelly sleeping bag, you’re going to want to set aside more than a couple of hours for proper and complete drying.
How to Properly Dry Out a Sleeping Bag:
- Remove sleeping bag from stuff sack or compression sack
- Unzip sleeping bag and turn inside out
- Hang outdoors or in well-ventilate indoor area for 4 to 6 hours.
- Turn the bag right-side and repeat for another 4 to 6 hours
Can I Dry my Sleeping Bag in the Dryer?
While most contemporary sleeping bags are indeed designed to handle the rigors of a mechanical drying cycle, it is incredibly important to check the care instructions before putting it in the washer or dryer. Most of the time you will be fine, but there is a chance that your sleeping bag as some specialty instructions that need to be adhered to.
If you are simply drying your bag out after a few days on the trail, we recommend air-drying as it is safer and has less of a negative impact on loft. However if your sleeping bag is coming out of the washer and you don’t have multiple days for it to dry completely, then a drying cycle is appropriate.
When drying a sleeping bag in the dryer, be sure to use the lowest heat setting that is available. Also, in order to keep the fill from getting too compacted, throw 2 or 3 tennis balls in there to help keep things nice and fluffy.
Step Three: Put your Sleeping Bag in a Breathable or Mesh Storage Bag
Most sleeping bags come with storage bags that are different from stuff sacks or compression sacks. Storage bags are made from highly breathable material, usually mesh, to ensure that air can get both in and out, preventing the growth of mildew and mold during extended storage times.
Step Four: Store your Sleeping Bag in a Place with Temperature & Humidity Control
Set the bag in a cool place with humidity control. Extreme temperatures and moisture levels can quickly degrade the performance capabilities of your sleeping bag, so the best place is usually a cool dark closet with low moisture. Places like attics and crawl spaces make for bad storage locations because of their ability to hold both heat and moisture, not to mention the fact that they tend to experience greater temperature fluctuations over the course of the day.
We’ve seen plenty of people prefer to store their sleeping bags in a hanging position. This is an acceptable way to store the bag and can be quite space-effective, however some sleeping bags are constructed in such a way that much of the fill would gradually fall towards the bottom, which would necessitate frequent fluffing’s.
Do Different Sleeping Bag Styles (Mummy, Rectangular, Hybrid) Have Different Care Instructions?
It doesn’t matter if your bag is an ultralight hooded mummy or a classic rectangular with full zipper; Our tips for how to store a sleeping bag are relevant no matter what style sleeping bag you have. All you need to do is make sure that you have a breathable or mesh storage sack and a nice cool place to store it. If you can handle that much, then you will likely be using that sleeping bag for years to come. “
Frequently Asked Questions
Generally speaking there is little advantage to rolling a sleeping bag over simply stuffing it into the stuff sack.
However, if you don’t have a stuff-sack or compression sack, rolling the sleeping bag is probably the best way to transport it.
However if you are storing your sleeping bag for an extended period of time, it is best to not roll or stuff, but simply place in a large breathable bag and store in a cool, dry area.
Yes, most sleeping bags these days are built to withstand a drying cycle. However, there are a few important things to keep in mind when doing so. For more complete instructions on how to do this safety, check out the above section on “Can I Put my Sleeping Bag in the Dryer?”
To be honest, sleeping bags don’t need to be washed that often. Unless the bag is really dirty or smelly, you can usually go quite a while without needing a full wash. It is far more likely that your sleeping bag will need a thorough drying out between camping trips, however, even if the bag doesn’t get wet.
Having said that, it is not a bad idea to wash your bag on a periodic schedule even if there isn’t visible dirtiness. This is because oils, sweat, and dirt from your skin can slowly seep into the insulation and hurt overall performance. If you’re an avid backpacker, you still probably don’t need to wash your bag more than once per season.
If you do decide to wash you sleeping bag before your next big adventure, make sure to give the bag plenty of time to dry out completely, even if you are using a drying machine. Because low temperature settings are required, it can often take hours for a sleeping bag to be completely dried out.
As far as we know, sleeping bags do not come with an expiration date like a carton of milk does. Instead, they either get destroyed in unfortunate camping accidents, or, far more commonly, they simply lose their ability to stay warm and comfortable over time. When this happens they are usually replaced.
Taking proper care of your sleeping bag is no doubt the best way to keep it both warm and comfortable for years and years to come. The best way to store a sleeping bag is by following the instructions we’ve listed above.
Look, we’re big fans of compression. The ability to take something as big and fluffy as a sleeping bag and store it in a small, portable bag is absolutely necessary for backpackers who need to carry it around on their back all day.
It is true that compression for an extended period of time can cause a significant reduction in loft, whether you have a down sleeping bag or a synthetic sleeping bag. Over time the air pockets in between the fill fibers become smaller and smaller. As the fill becomes more tightly compressed, the sleeping bag’s ability to retain heat becomes compromised.
While it is possible to return the sleeping bag to a fluffier, loftier state, it is possible for permanent damage to be done to a sleeping bag that is compressed for too long.
However, quick-compression periods of less than 24 hours (which is all you would need when you’re backpacking) do not damage the bag, especially when they’re allowed to puff back up overnight while you’re sleeping in it.