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Say Goodbye to Cold Nights: Extending the Life of Your Sleeping Bag

Say Goodbye to Cold Nights: Extending the Life of Your Sleeping Bag

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If you are into camping or hiking, you’re going to be in the market for a sleeping bag sooner or later. Or you may be evaluating an old sleeping bag, and now you’re wondering how long sleeping bags last.

The lifespan of a sleeping bag depends on what sort of fill it has and how well you look after it. Down-filled sleeping bags will last 10-15 years, whereas synthetic sleeping bags will last 8-10 years. Keeping your bag clean and not compressing it too much will increase its lifespan.

Many factors influence the lifespan of a sleeping bag, so let’s look at them in detail so that you will know how to look after one properly.

What Do We Mean By Sleeping Bag Lifespan?

Sleeping bags have been designed to keep you warm while you are sleeping. They do this by trapping your body heat in pockets of air.

Air is a very poor conductor of heat and consequently a fantastic insulator. Sleeping bags trap pockets of air in their filling, and these act to hold in your body heat.

The ability of the sleeping bag filling to hold insulating pockets of air is known as loft. Sleeping bags with more loft have greater insulating ability.

Over time, as you use a sleeping bag and the filling gets compressed by being rolled up or stuffed into a stuff sack, the filling’s loft filling deteriorates. For this reason, the loft of the bag will gradually decrease.

As the loft of the bag decreases, so does its ability to keep you warm. At a certain point, you will notice that the bag no longer keeps you warm at a specific ambient temperature, even though it used to do so.

Once the loft of the sleeping bag has deteriorated past a certain point, it will no longer keep you warm enough to be of any use, and you will have to discard the sleeping bag and get a new one.

The length of time it takes for a sleeping bag’s loft to deteriorate determines the sleeping bag’s effective lifespan.

Sleeping Bag Lifespan Depends on the Filling

There are two main types of filling in use for sleeping bags:

  • Down
  • Synthetic materials

Down sleeping bags are filled with down from geese and ducks raised for food. Synthetic sleeping bags are filled with artificial insulating fibers.

What Is Down?

Down is the light plumage under a goose or duck’s feathers. It consists of down clusters and down feathers.

Down clusters are spherical structures with many ultra-fine fibers branching off the center and then fronds of even more delicate filaments radiating from the fibers.

The overall appearance is similar to a dandelion seed head and is about the same size.

Down feathers, in contrast, have quills with hair-like strands branching off from the quill. A goose-down feather is smaller than a US quarter.

This three-dimensional structure creates pockets of air that keep the bird warm, and when they are placed inside a sleeping bag, they keep you warm.

Manufacturers measure the quality of the down in fill power per ounce. Better quality down has more fill power and will loft more space.

Down with 700 fill power lofts a volume of 700 cubic inches per ounce, whereas 800 fill power down lofts 800 cubic inches per ounce. Thus, one ounce of higher quality down lofts more and therefore holds more heat than one ounce of lower quality down.

Not only does fill power impact the insulating power of the down, but it also affects how resilient the down will be, which determines how long it will last. Higher fill power down will last longer if properly cared for.

The Lifespan of a Down Sleeping Bag

High quality down will last for many sleeping and compression cycles with proper care.

The repeated compression cycles of being stuffed and unstuffed gradually cause down to degrade by clumping. You can, however, reverse this degradation to some degree, and we will show you how to do so.

Body oils and dirt also gradually cause degradation of the down. Keeping your sleeping bag clean and giving it a wash when necessary will help to prolong its lifespan.

A down sleeping bag, especially one filled with a higher fill power down, can often last for 10-15 years with regular weekend use.

Nevertheless, it has been known for down sleeping bags to be in use for 45 years, or a minimum of 1,500 nights, and still be going strong. Such a lifespan is made possible by keeping them scrupulously clean and storing them unstuffed with nothing pressing on them.

In contrast, if your job requires you to use a sleeping bag every night, for example, if you are a mountaineering guide, you will be compressing the sleeping bag a lot more, and it will get dirtier, too. Your down sleeping bag will start feeling colder around the 300-night mark.

Down is incredibly resilient, and you will be able to stuff it into your stuff sack over and over without affecting its ability to keep you warm. A high-quality down sleeping bag will give you many nights’ snug sleep.

This resilience and insulating ability make down an investment that can help offset the seemingly excessive price tags attached to most of these bags.

What Is Synthetic Sleeping Bag Filling?

Down is sourced from ducks and geese used by the food industry. As people eat less of these meats, fewer of these birds are kept, and consequently, the cost of down is increasing.

This increase in the price of down has driven innovation in the synthetic fill industry to provide a range of different synthetic options for consumers, which are less expensive than down.

As different companies have developed their proprietary fills for sleeping bags, they have come up with a variety of other solutions to the problem of how to achieve loft. Two general trends have emerged, namely short-staple fibers and continuous filaments.

Short staple fibers attempt to mimic the three-dimensional plume structure of down. They compress well but do not last well and break down much sooner than down after being stuffed and re-stuffed.

Continuous filaments consist of long filaments of variable diameter woven together to make high-loft insulation more durable than short-staple fibers. They are, however, not very compressible.

The Lifespan of a Synthetic Sleeping Bag

In general, synthetics do not match down for lofting ability or compressibility. However, synthetics retain the ability to insulate you to some degree even when thoroughly soaked, whereas down loses all its insulating ability when wet.

The longevity of synthetics depends on the exact type of synthetic used. Older synthetics such as Quallofil and Hollofil are heavy, bulky, and not very durable.

Newer synthetic bag filling is usually made either of PrimaLoft or Polarguard 3D. PrimaLoft is lighter and more compressible but theoretically less durable.

Polarguard 3D, on the other hand, is popular for its durability. It is a continuous filament polyester with a finer filament than older Polarguard fill, making it softer, more compressible, and warmer than its predecessors.

Sleeping bags filled with the older generations of synthetic fill will only last about 3-4 years, whereas the newer synthetics will last 8-10 years, or nearly as long as down. Don’t expect a synthetic bag to last decades, though, no matter how well you care for it.

Care Instructions for Sleeping Bags While Camping

There are several ways you can prolong the life of your sleeping bag:

  • Protect your bag from the ground with a good ground pad.
  • Change the clothes you cooked in to prevent the sleeping bag from absorbing cooking odors. Doing so is especially important if you’re in bear country.
  • Treat your bag gently, and avoid exposing it to sparks from campfires.
  • Use a cotton, polyester, wool, or silk bag liner to act as a barrier between your skin and your sleeping bag. They also add to your bag’s temperature rating.
  • Keep your bag clean in camp by sleeping in clean clothes rather than the dirty clothes you hiked in. Body oils, dirt, and sweat build up over time and degrade the insulating power of your sleeping bag.
  • Wear a knit cap or bandanna to keep oily hair and sunscreen off the bag’s hood.
  • Practice using the bag’s zipper at home so that you get familiar with it and don’t wind up causing a tear in the fabric.
  • Air out your bag daily by turning it inside-out to dry any moisture. Just don’t expose the bag to direct sunlight for long, as the ultraviolet light will degrade the fabric.

Care Instructions for Sleeping Bags When Storing

How you stuff and store your sleeping bag will also affect its lifespan. We recommend the following practices:

  • Stuff a stuff sack by partially zippering the sleeping bag. Push the foot of the sleeping bag to the bottom of the stuff sack and continue pushing in the sleeping bag so that the stuff sack is evenly stuffed. Doing so helps keep even stress on the stitching.
  • If the shell of your sleeping bag is waterproof, turn the bag inside out before stuffing to prevent air from building up inside the shell.
  • Use a somewhat larger stuff sack than strictly necessary.
  • Compression stuff sacks with built-in compression straps help save space in your backpack. Just make sure not to keep the sleeping bag compressed for too long, as this will degrade the bag’s loft.
  • On arriving home, unzip the bag and spread it out in a warm, dry, but shady place to air out and dry out completely.
  • Store sleeping bags unstuffed and preferably supported by a shelf, as this will help to retain the loft of the filling.
  • Store bags in a large mesh or cotton storage sack. If this is not included when buying the sleeping bag, buy it separately or sew your own.
  • Don’t use watertight storage bags, as these can cause the bags to develop mildew.
  • Launder your bag at least once a year, or more often for frequent use. Preferably use spot cleaning before resorting to a complete wash.
  • Wash your bag before storing it for an extended period.
  • Avoid dry cleaning your sleeping bag, as the industrial solvents will degrade fibers and strip the natural oils from the down (these oils help it retain its loft).
  • Restore the original durable water repellent finish to your bag by applying a product such as Nikwax TX-Direct.

How to Restore Loft to Compressed Sleeping Bags

To regain some of the loft you have lost from your sleeping bag, you will have to separate the fibers or the down in the fill to be less clumpy. Doing so will allow the filling to trap more air, resulting in a restoration of some loft.

You can try the following:

  • Vigorously shake the bag in every direction
  • Fluff the bag like a pillow by slapping and punching it
  • Feel for the clumps of down or other fillings in the bag, and gently separate them with your hands
  • Place the bag into a sizeable commercial tumble dryer with a couple of tennis balls or sneakers thrown in, and set it going on air and no heat to break up the clumps.

How to Machine Wash a Sleeping Bag

You can wash sleeping bags, but usually, a bit of spot cleaning is all they need. Use a bit of recommended non-detergent soap and water to make a paste, and use a toothbrush to clean the shell.

Best practices are to hold the shell away from the insulation to clean and rinse that spot of the shell without getting water on the fill and focus on the collar and hood, which are most prone to getting dirty from skin oils.

If your sleeping bag is excessively grimy and losing loft, wash it by hand or in a washing machine without an agitator. Use a technical detergent such as Nikwax Down Wash Direct for down, or Nikwax Tech-Wash for synthetics, as standard detergents can result in reduced loft.

We strongly recommend looking for the manufacturer’s instructions on the bag itself or online and following those.

You will have to dry your bag after washing, either by using a commercial size tumble dryer for a long time on low (or no) heat or by air drying it in a spot with low humidity and no direct sunlight. You can also drip-dry it, but ensure that you place even stress on the shell to prevent breakages.

Final Thoughts

Down-filled sleeping bags will last about 10-15 years, whereas synthetic sleeping bags will last only 8-10 years. However, the lower price tag of synthetics and their ability to insulate when wet are factors in their favor.

There are various ways to increase your sleeping bag’s lifespan, which essentially comes down to keeping it as clean as possible and not stuffing it more than is necessary.


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