How to store and care for your down sleeping bag - a story!
Updated: May 11, 2022
Six years ago, I was given my very first (and still current) down filled sleeping bag. My Dad is a big-time backpacker and he was always introducing my brother and me to new gear in order to get us involved in the sport so very close to his heart. I was excited, but at fourteen, my mind wasn’t thinking of this to be a contender present, but I also had no idea how versatile and useful this bag would become in the long run.
I remember all the stories that my Dad would tell me about his epic backpacking adventures. In one of the craziest stories, he was backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness during the weeks of early October 2016. The temperatures were beginning to drop to the low twenties, but he was also making a twenty+ mile trek, so his light, down sleeping bag was the most efficient choice for the cold nights.
He shared with my brother and I that on his third night in the wilderness he had just finished dinner and went down to the river to wash his camp utensils. He was a quarter mile from his tent and gone for about ten minutes. Once he had washed the Mountain House meal off his utensils, he trotted back up to his overnight camp and was in utter shock. The simple camp he had set up looked like a herd of elephants had sprinted through it. His tent had a giant tear, everything inside was aggressively rummaged through including his five hundred dollar, down sleeping bag. After using a flashlight to check tracks in the dirt it looked like a big black bear had just stampeded his camp. It had either smelt something or was bored and curious of a new landmark in its hills.
Either way, the bear was gone and so was the impeccable condition of his sleeping bag. Luckily though, there's a reason behind the costly price of these bags. The down feathers retain heat as long as they are contained inside a bag or between two fabric pieces. My Dad had a roll of duct tape with him, and proceeded to cut up small strips of the tape to seal the claw marks that the bear had left on his bag. Six years later, he still uses the same sleeping bag. The same duct tape seals in the down feathers that were torn apart by that bear on that October night during 2016.
Now, for the meat and potatoes of this post. The reason my Dad is still using that same bag is due to his continued maintenance of his bag. It’s very easy to believe that a sleeping bag is fine staying in its tiny stuff sack, but that’s the first and biggest mistake in Sleeping Bag 101. I can completely agree in the convenience of the tiny size these bags will compact into as being nice for storage, especially if you have limited storage. But leaving your down bag so compacted for a long period of time damages the down feathers, weakening their insulation capabilities. With that being said the best way to store these bags is by hanging them up. This of course requires a closet or somewhere you can place a hanger, but this allows the sleeping bag to breathe and remain dry. My Dad made sure we always hung our sleeping bags because he said it gave them life again!
It’s also frowned upon to directly place your down bag into the washer machine, so by hanging it up you're also ventilating the bag after a long backpacking trip. Many of these trips you won't have a shower for several days, or maybe only a jump into a river, so it’s nice to air out once you're back after a big trip. If you don’t have anywhere to hang your bag, a large mesh or cotton bag will do the trick. As long as the mesh bag has enough room for the down sleeping bag to expand to its full fluff that will do as well.
At Gear Hut, we have Adventure Pro Staff and Gear Specialists that can help you learn about and recommend the best options for your sleeping set up on your next adventure! We currently have variety of gently used down sleeping bags to get you backpacking this summer.
With that being said, if you expect to do more campsite or car camping Gear Hut often has a variety of cotton and polyester sleeping bags that could be perfect for your adventure. These bags naturally take up more space, but make you feel like you are sleeping in a bed versus the down bags that give more of a light puffy jacket vibe. Both are great options for different environments; it’s just important to weigh the pros and cons for your particular trip.
We’ve just entered in Spring and are getting closer to Summer so it’s strategic to get your gear now. Backpacking and camping essentials can become pricey which may deter us from taking on a new place or sport. Gear Hut can help you break that barrier by offering gently used gear, at a fraction of the cost. Come on down and check us out on S Wells Avenue where Adventure Staff are more than excited to help you decipher which style of bag is right for you and that adventure you’re going to check out after!
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Now let’s let the new backpacking trips commence!
Written by Marina Bucini, Exploration Optimizer, She/Her
Marina is a professional sunset watcher, who can appreciate a good dog park, and has a strong passion for exploring new states and trails to hike!