Drying Clothes in Sleeping Bag – Tips and Tricks

Grey tent in the woods

Surely you have experienced camping in the rain and getting soaked. You know that feeling when all you want to do is curl up in your sleeping bag and dump your wet stuff anywhere. True, it’s tempting, but you should consider hanging any wet clothes first. It’ll make sense the day after when your clothes are dry and don’t smell bad. 

Good advice would be to pack a clothesline, so you can hang all your wet clothing under a tarp. It will surely make your trip more pleasant, but what if…

You planned the trip, packed all the equipment, and then looked at the weather forecast for the weekend – cloudy with rain. You are so excited about your trip that the last thing you want to do is cancel it. Yet, you’re wondering if there’s still a chance to have fun and make the trip successful.

Rain can ruin your perfect trip, but it can also cause more trouble. Because getting wet on a camping trip may not only be a party-breaker. It can put you at serious risk of getting frozen or hypothermic. If you do get wet while camping, you can place your wet clothes inside a sleeping bag and dry them with your body heat while resting.

But, you don’t need to be desperate each time the rain starts. Read our article and learn how to deal with wet clothing when camping and still make the most of your outdoor time.

Drawbacks of Camping and Hiking in the Rain

When winter camping and bivvying in the rain, you should definitely try to dry anything that gets wet. It may be your socks or base layers and you can dry them in your sleeping bag. But, how do you dry your wet clothing when camping if it’s raining and you can’t hang them to dry outside? Some sleep with their boots on to keep them warm and do their best to dry the liners/socks out. 

What you can do if you’re desperate for dry clothes is put your wet clothing in your sleeping bag where your body heat will dry them.

Easier said than done. But what happens to the water if you put your wet/damp clothes in your sleeping bag? Basically, it will either absorb into the sleeping bag materials and/or evaporate, or absorb first, evaporate later. A number of factors determine the rate of evaporation, such as the humidity inside the bag. In turn, it depends on the evaporation rate.

The latent heat of evaporation of water is approximately 2264 kiloJoule/Kilogram (629 WH/Kg). Knowing that a sleeping person generates about 60-80W, if your wet clothing adds 100ml of water (1/2 a cup) to your sleeping bag, it will evaporate in one hour. Normally, it will not evaporate this quickly, because the humidity will reach 100%. It will evaporate in the first 10-20 minutes because the moisture will be taking the heat out of your body. At about the same rate you produce it. 

The result – you will be colder. Most times, people spend the rest of their sleep shivering and struggling not to freeze. Effectively, you can dry out your wet clothing by turning the water and body heat into water vapor. The vapor will escape through the sleeping bag into the outside air, with some of it absorbed in the sleep bag materials.

Tips & Tricks for Drying Clothes in Your Sleeping Bag

There’s a multitude of online sources you can check to get the idea about drying your clothing inside a sleeping bag. We compiled what we consider the most useful tips and tricks for handling camping when soaked.

Before putting them inside the bag, wrap your wet/damp items, like socks or basic layers, in a hand towel. Wring it tightly, and hold it to equalize the moisture between the items. You can also try stuffing pack towels in your socks to absorb moisture.

If there’s a camp stove, you can try placing the socks on your hands and warm them. Otherwise, you should stuff wet items inside your thermal underwear (while you’re still wearing them), and wear them to sleep. Putting the wet items, like socks, on your torso is definitely the most effective method and doesn’t require any additional gear/equipment.

All you have to do is put wet socks inside your shirt, under all layers of clothing, so they can touch your skin. You’ll have dry socks in the morning. This method is also effective with hats and gloves – basically, anything that gets wet and doesn’t require hand warmer towels, extra fuel, or fire. You could also try to put the socks on your legs, but your torso is much warmer. 

You can use this method during the day, as well, but you need to be careful not to lose your stuff as you hike.

Best Strategy for Drying Clothes in Your Sleeping Bag

Though it may seem easy to deal with the issue of wet clothing by taking the spares with you, especially for short periods of rain, it may happen that you end up with no dry spares and in need of an alternative solution. 

When dealing with long periods of rain, wringing your socks and basic layers in a towel and hanging them up in the tent may be the best way to start. Sure, they’ll probably be damp in the morning, but not quite unpleasant to put on, particularly as they’ll dry quickly on your feet. For winter camping, and especially if you like warm socks in the morning, you can try wearing a pair under your sleeping socks. They’ll warm up and dry quickly. 

Using a towel to extract water from your clothing should be the first step in your attempts to start the day dry, but you’ll need to decide which is critical for you to be dry at the time. You should also make an arrangement where water can evaporate without pooling. Use ultralight packable towels to wring out the excess water. In cold weather, you should make sure you can rotate clothing, but be careful with that due to risks of hypothermia.

Socks Rule

Bring at least two pairs of socks. You need one to wear and one to dry so you can rotate them every night and morning. It may be critically important to your comfort while being cold or wet. Moreover, you should opt for synthetic or wool socks, as cotton socks in the outdoors may not be a good idea. You will definitely need to wear quality hiking socks that dry more quickly and are not unpleasant to put on when cold. 

Wearing synthetic liner socks may be a revelation. They are significantly lighter than loop socks, which will save weight or allow you to carry more pairs. Synthetic liner socks are comfortable even when wet, and they dry rather quickly by body-heat. We couldn’t emphasize this enough. Thin socks dry quickly and won’t feel unpleasant to put on when damp and cold like looped wool socks. They are also durable and the stink factor is quite tolerable. 

Wet clothes drying in woods

How to De-moisture Your Sleeping Bag?

After a few days of drying clothes in your sleeping bag, it will start to accumulate some moisture. That’s why you need to dry it out when the rain stops. The moisture from your wet clothes is transferred to your sleeping bag. However, thanks to porous sleeping bag shells, it makes its way out into the outside air.

You can dry your clothes in both down and synthetic bags. Even if you don’t wear any clothes while sleeping, your breath and body still produce moisture. It means there’ll be no huge difference if you pack your socks or gloves inside. Whatever bag you use, it’ll be less efficient every night you use it (a bit truer of down bags). Especially when camping in high humidity and rainy weather. Therefore, you should let your bag air out during the day. It will not dry it out completely, but it can make a big difference.

Avoid confusion about how soaked your bag will get or the warmth of down versus synthetic materials. You should know that you can dry your socks and gloves in down bags effectively. Even in temperatures as low as -30ºF. While synthetic bags retain some insulation value when wet, a 0F bag will lose much of its 0F quality when damp. 

Whatever the material, you should avoid getting your sleeping bag soaked. Still, the moisture from your socks and gloves isn’t going to have an important effect on the state of your bag, especially if you air it out during the day.

Things That Can Help You Stay Dry

While protecting the outside of the tent is important, don’t forget to keep the inside dry. Take steps such as regularly ventilating the tent to prevent condensation from forming. This way, water will not form and penetrate the tent. Plus you will have another layer of protection under you to protect you from wet soil.

  • After a day of hiking in the rain, take off all wet clothes under the tarpaulin. Put them in drying bags before entering the tent. This reduces the chance of moisture building up (and mold forming) in the tent. It also makes sleeping bags and bag liners harder to dry if moistened. 
  • You can put any part of wet clothes in waterproof bags and put them to dry when you return home. Take off all accessories like hats and shoes and put them in drying bags until you get home. It’ll keep the tent clean and dry as much as possible.
  • If there is even the slightest chance that you will hike and camp in rainy conditions, do not risk not carrying waterproof equipment. More layers of clothing are necessary to stay dry and warm in rainy and humid conditions.
  • You should first wear long thermal leggings and basic layers made of breathable material to keep you warm. Then you would need a middle layer such as a short jacket or vest. And then put on a waterproof jacket and waterproof pants.
  • The choice of shoes depends on how long you will walk and whether you mind if your feet get wet. If you know you will be treading on ponds, you may need to invest in a better pair of rain boots to prevent water leaks. Longer walks would require a more comfortable pair of shoes. Therefore, even if your feet get wet, wear training shoes not to create blisters. And a good pair of socks in which you would be comfortable and warm.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of garbage bags. They can cover everything effectively within a few seconds. You can use garbage bags for the inside of the backpack, you can put them over the backpack if it is not waterproof or put wet clothes in them until you return to the camp.
  • You can also use a waterproof backpack cover to preserve your equipment. These covers keep the backpack clean and dry if you need to put it on a wet surface.

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