How Long Can You Leave a Sleeping Bag Compressed

Man with a compressed sleeping bag

Backpacking lovers develop a secondary obsession with quality equipment, with a sleeping bag being at the top among favorites. A good night’s sleep outdoors is very important, equally as important as the packaging of the bag when it can fold down to almost nothing.

In some cases, sleeping bags that have been tucked away for decades in some storage space work just fine, while others tend to lose quality on longer journeys where the bags stay compressed for a tad longer than they are supposed to.

Knowing how long you can leave a sleeping bag compressed is an important segment of the maintenance of your backpacking equipment. Too much compression causes damage to sleeping bags over time for both down and synthetic types, as it leads to loft degradation.

How long can you leave our sleeping bag compressed will depend on many factors, such as the used material, age, maintenance, and storage method. Knowing how to properly store a sleeping bag will allow you to use it numerous times in the years to come.

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How to Properly Store a Sleeping Bag?

The first thing you are probably wondering is how to store your bag between trips, keeping it safe, and still being able to free the bag from stuff-sack confinement. Here are a few simple steps you need to follow and everything will be great:

  • Extract the bag from the stuff sack.
  • Leave it to air out and dry from any moisture or residue from the last camping trip.
  • Loosely put inside a large cotton or mesh sack.
  • Make sure that your storage is both cool and dry.

Now you might be thinking how it may seem foolish to use up all that space when you can fold it down to a size smaller than a brick. You can, but it is meant to be folded down tightly only when you are moving locations during camping, or are bearing the entire base for your camp on your back.

In the meantime, the material needs to air out and be able to breathe so you don’t use a stiff bag that was stuffed and overexposed, as it can damage your camping equipment. Because of this people often end up having to buy a new sleeping bag piece for their next camping trip.

The ‘home storage rules’ should be applied to all types of sleeping bags (both with down and synthetic insulation, as well as boxy camping bags). So, it is only important to keep in mind that the steps mentioned before are critical for home storage. When your bag is tucked away it should have an airflow, while the methodical compression is done only when preparing to go out and about on your next trail.

Too Much Compression Is Bad For Your Sleeping Bag

An insulation loft is the most important thing that ensures a good night’s sleep outdoors. It allows the body to keep its body temperature and stay warm during cold nights.

Any type of bag, made from both down and synthetic fills, needs to be able to fluff up (loft). By doing this the created air spaces within the insulation trap the body heat and do the task they are meant to do.

Even though we mentioned that both types of bag insulations will do a good job of fluffing up after being compressed, there is a limit to their usage.

With a bag left in a compressed state (meaning it was sitting inside its stuff sack for too long), there is a high chance it will lose its resilience and lofting ability. In practice, synthetic bags gave a tendency to perform worse than down. Either way, there is a solid chance you will compromise the functionality of your sleeping bag if you don’t take care of it properly.

Tips on Cleaning and Drying Your Sleeping Bag

Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.

There is no professional climber or passionate backpacker who will be lazy to do their best to maintain their equipment. It does not come cheap, but with proper care, even the gear that might come off as cheap, can be long-lasting and serve its purpose numerous times. Because of this, it is important to know how to handle and clean your sleeping bag before stuffing it or storing it away.

Dry Out Your Bag Between Trips

Skipping on this when camping in high humidity or rainy weather can cause mold and mildew to grow on the surface, and even inside the insulation. To avoid this the first thing you should do when you come home is to fully unzip it. After that, hang your bag over a line or on a large hanger. Put it away somewhere outdoors but with a roof, or any covered space for 6-8 hours. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t leave the bag in direct sunlight as UV rays can weaken the fabric.

There is a way to speed up the drying process by turning the bag inside out for the first couple of hours. Leave it longer to dry on the outside because it is waterproof, and if there is any moisture it will block its evaporation.

Drying Your Sleeping Bag Indoors

Simply hang the bag in a dry, temperature-controlled indoor area. Set up a fan or dehumidifier if you have one in the room. This will speed up the drying process.

Another option is to use commercial dryers if you have a washing station in your living vicinity. Even though this is not usually needed, when you are at it, consider washing your bag.

Get two or three clean tennis balls in the dryer as they will help fluff up the fill and dry everything uniformly. Always dry it on a low heat setting, and check it frequently to avoid damage from heat or twisting.

Cleaning Your Sleeping Bag

Even if your camping/backpacking trip was on a hot sunny day, remember to wash your bag periodically. Body oil, sweat, and dirt in insulation can compromise performance.

Many people do this every few years but this is not enough. Frequent backpackers should wash it every backpacking/camping season.

How to Store a Sleeping Bag Until the Next Camping Season?

As you probably already understand, finding a good location where you can control the humidity and temperature is the best option to put away your sleeping bag until the next time a backpacking trip comes along. Moisture and temperature factors can impact the quality, durability, and functionality of your bag.

This means that you should avoid storing it in damp basements, as well as too cold or warm spaces, like garages, attics, and car trunks. Open your closet or find an upper shelf, rearrange a few things and stack your equipment in a safe, dry, room temperature space.

Put Your Bag in a Breathable Sack

Inherited sleeping bags can be tricky to store, but go to the nearest second-hand store and try finding a jumbo cotton storage bag. On the bright side, if you are looking into some new equipment, get a sleeping bag that comes with the cotton storage bag.

The cotton container keeps the sleeping bag safe without compressing the fill, and it allows airflow at the same time. Those bags can sometimes be out of budget, but a necessity.

A DIY option is to get a simple, cotton king-size pillowcase, a cotton or mesh sack to store it in. Check out your options but definitely decide on one so you don’t have to buy another sleeping bag next season!

People sleeping in uncompressed sleeping bags

Extend the Lifespan of Your Sleeping Bag

Right, storage and maintenance are key for you to have a long, happy, healthy, and dry relationship with your sleeping bag. Here are a few more tips you might find quite useful:

  1. Don’t treat it like a blanket because it is a technical piece of backpacking equipment. Snuggling up with bae under it will only stretch the material.
  2. Try alternative cleaning techniques, like simply wiping down the fabric with a cloth and warm water. Airing it out in the sun for a while (but not too long!) can also remove the odor and potential moisture captured inside.
  3. Avoid getting close to the campfire as most sleeping bags today have some synthetic material that can melt and easily get damaged by extremely high temperatures.

To Sum It Up

From time to time, you will hear a story or two from experienced campers about how their sleeping bags sat in their grandfather’s attic for half a century and are perfectly fine to this day! This might be true, but only to some extent.

Consider the age of the people making such claims, their experience, and tolerance to hard and cold surfaces for sleeping. Some of them might be former military and are used to harsh conditions. Also, the sleeping bag might have been store-bought, and never used, which is why it has no wear&tear as it started being used only a few years back.

Depending on the type of material, its durability, and maintenance, a single sleeping bag can be used for decades. That is true, but only if the people using it take the time to learn and maintain the equipment properly.

Sleeping in a bag that smells funky one time will not be hazardous for your health, and can be a great solution in any extreme event. Still, for regular backpacking getaways, it is advisable to treat your camping equipment the same way you treat your living surroundings. It prolongs its durability and prevents any negative impacts on your health.

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