Storing a sleeping bag compressed - the end of the world?


Brass Fetcher
October 30, 2006, 12:53 AM
Having read over the sleeping bag care guides from some manufacturers, I have recieved dire warnings about not storing my sleeping bag semi-tightly rolled up. Basically, its state of compression is somwhere between the nice 'storage bag' and the stuff sack that came with the bag.

What are your experiences with this? Did the bag not work after a long time in storage this way?

Thank you.


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October 30, 2006, 01:25 AM
Yes, compressing a sleeping bag will cause it to loose its loft, and thus be colder than it's "rated" temperature. This is true for both down and synthetic bags, although the problem is much worse with down.

Only keep a sleeping bag in a stuff sack when it's traveling. Otherwise store it in a loose cotton sack somewhere cool and dry.

This PSA is brought to you by someone who has way too many sleeping bags...

October 30, 2006, 01:48 AM
Most sleeping bags from better manufacturers come with two bags: a "stuff bag" and a "storage bag".

I personally never use the "stuff bag" as I put my sleeping bag directly into the sleeping bag compartment (bottom) of my backpack. (If I'll be doing a river crossing, I first line the compartment with a plastic garbage bag, then stuff the bag into it, closing the bag before zipping the compartment.)

The storage bag is where I keep my sleeping bagS when not in use. Store them in a noncompressed fashion - especially down bags, as rwc notes - greatly increases their longevity. I've never been sure exactly why (from a physics or materials sciences standpoint), but it does work.

I own three sleeping bags for different times of the year and different elevations. The lightest is a 25*F bag. Medium is 5*F,and my "winter bag" is rated to -25*F. (Keep in mind that those ratings are always offered for use in a tent, fully clothed. Don't expect to stay warm and toasty in a 30* bag without a tent in a wind sleeping in a birthday suit unless you have a high metabolism or extra natural insulation.)

I've had all three for about a decade, and keep all in storage bags (or used as comforters on the bed during winter). They all still have excellent loft.

Two other tips:

1) when one gets to "camp", one of the first things you should do - after getting the tent up - is unstuff your bag. It often takes a few hours to reach full loft. In the morning, if conditions allow, air your bag out, preferably in the sun, before stowing it in a stuff bag or backpack.

2) if you ever decide to clean your bag, resist doing it yourself. Take it only to a bona fide sleeping bag cleaning service, not just any dry cleaner. Better yet, if you buy your bag from a better manufacturer (e.g., Marmot), contact them about cleaners around the nation who will do a good job. I've lost two bags in 30 years to poor cleaning techniques. They came back flatter than they left.


October 30, 2006, 02:14 AM
No, it is not the "end of the world", but it will shorten the useful life of your bag. I keep mine on a regular close hanger, in my closet, when I'm not out backpacking/hunting. Synthetic fill is more susceptible to loft loss compared to down; but using down in wet climates is begging for hypothermia. I'm serious about down, I've had friends get near hypothermic as a result of relying on down in a wet/cold environment. Regular stuff sacks are fine for when in use, but stay away of those high compression bags, those will immediately start to destroy the loft.

October 30, 2006, 02:39 AM
...but using down in wet climates is begging for hypothermia...12GA, I've heard that all my life, but have been using down for over 35 years in some of the wettest parts of NA (check my location), and have yet to be let down by down. (Sorry for the pun. :rolleyes: )

Down is hands down (ooh, sorry again) warmer, loftier and has greater longevity than synthetic fibers. (Although some of the newer hollow synthetic fibers are getting close ...)

I suggest three solutions to the "wet down" problem:

1) make sure you pack your down bag in a plastic bag inside your pack if you expect intense precipitation or river crossings.

2) if you have a leaky tent (or are afraid of one), consider buying a goretex "bivy sack" for your sleeping bag. It's basically a waterproof bag that goes over the outside of your bag. Very common among winter campers for sleeping in snow without a tent.

3) If you've got the extra cash, consider "dryloft" technology for the sleeping bag outer material offered by some of the better bag manufacturers (again, Marmot is one of the best). Both my medium weight and winter weight bags have dryloft outer material. I can literally pour a glass of water onto either bag - even into a well that I created with my hand to hold the water for a long time - and it will not sink in. It just rolls off the bag. The water never gets to the down to get it wet.

Here's one example of a bag with dryloft (

Yes, dryloft will add from $50 to $100 to the price of the bag. Worth it to me.

Having said that, it is possible to be so warm in a bag that one's own perspiration gets the down wet. That just requires proper ventilation and paying attention. (If you are feeling a bit too overly toasty as you are dropping off to sleep, open the bag a bit to allow circulation.)

October 30, 2006, 11:56 AM
I always use the storage bag for storing my Marmot and it has never let me down, including on an ascent of Denali that really truly SUCKED and three IditaSport winter ultra-marathons on the Iditarod Trail in wonderfully warm February. I like down because it compresses so small, an issue with an expedition pack.

I've used other stuff, but I BELIEVE in Marmot! I use the bag and a Marmot Expedition down jacket that rarely gets word unless it is SEVERELY cold; then you need it real bad...the jacket did, however, go to Everest with a friend of mine. I told him if he died up there, he damn well better figure out a way to get the jacket back to me!

Michael B

October 30, 2006, 03:36 PM
How do those US army surplus Extreme-cold sleeping bags rate? I never realized a sleeping bag could cost $500, so I'm starting to wonder about my $20 one:uhoh:

October 30, 2006, 04:08 PM

Depending on what one wants a sleeping bag for, I would consider donating a $20 surplus bag to a young boy or girl who will use it for slumber parties in a heated home. Then, go out and investigate something a bit more substantial. (There's a good reason it only cost $20. In a world where really good bags start at $200, if the bag was really a good one, it would have cost you more than $20.)

Start by doing a little reading on the web.

Here ( here ( a couple of basic primers to get you started. There are a ton of pages out there similar to those. Read about ten.

AFTER doing some homework, then I'd suggest that you take your $20 bag to a quality backpacking/mountaineering store in your area. ("Quality" rules out Walmart, GI Joes & Big 5. Go no lower than an REI, and a store dedicated to backpacking is best. The better ones will at least carry the Marmot line, whether you buy one or not.)

With some reading and concepts behind you, you can have an intelligent discussion with a sales person that has some mountaineering experience. S/he can show you pretty easily what the differences are between quality and not-quality.

Briefly, it has to do with:

* "fill power" of the down
* bag shape & size (it must fit you)
* distribution of down in top and bottom, with properly spaced baffles to minimize bunching and cold spots
* shell material (e.g., dryloft)
* zipper construction (no fine teeth that cause jams; should be a double zipper to allow zipping from top and bottom for ventilation...)
* inner and outer zipper baffles (covers over the zipper to prevent air leakage)
* a properly fitting full-coverage hood with drawstrings

There are other details.

In addition, don't skimp on a sleeping pad. At a minimum, especially in cold conditions, go for a closed-cell foam pad. Or go for the gold: thermarest pads can't be beat.

Hope this helps.


October 30, 2006, 05:37 PM

It's this model, I guess I got a good price, due to the ripped zipper, but it was an easy fix. I just typed in the number and some sites say -10 and other -20 or 30 degree rating. Off-hand all I remember is that 32F is freezing, and -42 is the same in C and F, so I figure -30F must be about -15C. Bag is down and polyester filled, and the material is fluffy and keeps in place. But I put water on it as described above, and it's not water-proof, lol. Maybe it's because it appears to be 5 times heavier than equivalent new models, that could be why it was on sale!

If I was going to go camping in winter I'd just use a tarp or some heavy-weight clear plastic (comes on a roll) for a lean-to, logs and tinfoil for a reflector, and it shouldn't be too uncomfortable. Done it before with a rectangle-bag and wasn't uncomfortable (but I wore all my clothes and a toque).

October 30, 2006, 05:41 PM
I like this kind of stuff. . .

Everything above is true, but remember, men lived in the mountains before synthetic fibers and huge bags. They are a tool, don't let it be a crutch! I say go out in the craziest cold weather you can find and sleep under a bush in your bag. Can you sleep? If not, add things. You always hear about being naked keeps you warmer but let me tell you, a nice set of long john's is good. I've wintered through some serious winters in the bush, outdoors. Sometimes I just slept with a hot rock and some blankets. Modern bags are nice. I don't like how fragile many of them are. One hot coal or floating ember and psst, big ole hole in the thing. Insulation from the ground will do as much as a nice sleeping bag! Get you a ground insulator/pad, or pile up some leaves/fern under your pad. With the comfort of nice eq see how simple you can get, cause one day it might have to be real simple!


Of course, havin a woman doesn't hurt either:cool:

October 30, 2006, 05:49 PM
There is one company that claims their bags can be stored completely compressed and not suffer loft loss. Wiggy's ( I'm not an advocate of this company--the owner is something of a loon, but the same could be said of many of us. He does manufacture bags for Airforce survival kits, and his bags are available to the Marines and others. I tested some of the wiggy's gear for an outdoor store I used to work for. The bags were well made, and they did insulate well, but I did not get a chance to test the extreme lower limit of the bag. Cabelas sells this line as well and I have seen these bags discounted in the bargan cave several times.

Another company to check out that is known for decent no frills gear at lower prices is Alps Mountaineering. ( If you are involved with the Boy Scouts, they offer a 40% discount.

As to the down vs. synthetic debate: Yes if you are carefull with down, and if you pay extra for good exterior materials, you shouldn't have to worry about the down not insulating when wet because it won't be. However, if you do get it wet--synthetics will continue to insulate and will dry faster. The trade off is a slightly heavier bag that doesn't compress as small as a down bag with a similar temp rating.

Personally, I'm very happy with my synthetic winter bag, and I'm looking for a down 3 season bag.

October 30, 2006, 06:05 PM
Lucky, I'm not knocking your bag here, so please don't think I'm trying to be argumentative. It's up to you. If that bag meets your needs, great. You scored for $20.

But I tend to walk into some pretty extreme places (e.g., high altitude - > 10,000' in NM in December) and have been slammed by some pretty nasty storms. (One I remember very well was in the Sangre de Cristo's east of Santa Fe at Thanksgiving. The blizzard lasted 2 days. Winds were clocked in Santa Fe at over 70 mph. Up where I was, just below the tree line, it honestly sounded like a 747 coming in.)

My latest project is to consider a move to Alaska around Fairbanks (I've decided that the wilderness in the lower 48 is a bit tiny for my taste.)

In places like that, my life depends on my shelter and insulation. A plastic tarp under a bush in a $20 bag may be fine for you. That's great. I personally want something a bit more.

And STMTNMAN, I completely agree that mountain men in days of old did without high tech gear. I also understand that they had horses to carry their heavier wool blankets and animal hides (I don't) and that more than a few of them froze to death or lost limbs due to frostbite. (Jim Bridger was a direct relative of mine, so I've done a fair amount of reading on the topic.)

I do hear what you're saying about tarp tents, too. I like tarp tents. I use them on occasion when I know I'm going to be in a fairly protected area and not exposed to raging mountain storms. But otherwise, I'll take a regular tent.

If you're into minimal (like I am), you might also consider something like a Black Diamond Betamid ( Less than $100; nearly bombproof. Carry insect repellent.

With all that said, here's a few more thoughts just for consideration. No "truth" implied (since all this is relative and opinion driven). YMMV.

it appears to be 5 times heavier than equivalent new models, that could be why it was on sale!Yep, that could do it. The bags that some of us are talking about (e.g., Marmots) are backpacking/mountaineering bags. 11 lbs is just out of the question. Mountaineers often count ounces in an attempt to shave weight. Down weighs less than synthetic fiber, and compresses better.

If you're not going to be on foot much, or just like heavy loads, 11 lbs will do fine...weight wise, but ...

some sites say -10 and other -20 or 30 degree ratingHmm. Why am I skeptical of -20? :uhoh:

I saw a program recently on army equipment produced for WWII soldiers going to Alaska. People living in Georgia designed it, having no clue what the extremes of weather in AK were like.

The troops went up and were miserable: cold and wet all the time.

Don't know when your bag was produced, but if it's that old (unlikely), then I'd take those estimated ratings with a bag of salt.

In fact, I tend to take most statistics on bag ratings with a huge grain of salt. (See my caveats in an earlier post above on bag ratings.)

Then, again, just to reiterate: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.


October 30, 2006, 06:28 PM
No I don't take offence, lay it on me! I've just never really considered using a tent in winter. But then again I've never considered being away from trees, without trees I think I'd be SOL, digging a hole in a snowbank:) The way I've figured it was that a tent is for summer to keep insects and rain out, and in winter it's a lean-to so you can have a fire.

October 30, 2006, 06:43 PM
Lucky, I hear you about tents (or lack thereof) in winter.

When it's cold enough that I know there won't be rain, I sometimes just take my bag and a bivy sack (to keep the bag dry from snow melt under me). I love waking up repeatedly at night and seeing star light.

I don't build fires very often when packing. Only when I'm wet and need to dry out. Otherwise, I'd rather just look at the sky.

The times in winter when I want my tent is when I am going to be up high and there's a serious risk of a nasty blow with blizzard. Then, I want some bombproof shelter like one of my Garudas (

My two-man Garuda is in use in this photo ( of a trip on the continental divide in Weminuche, southern CO a few years back. (Oh how I miss those mountains. The ones here are mole hills by comparison...)

October 30, 2006, 08:21 PM
"I'd rather just look at the sky. " -NMTC

hear here!

October 30, 2006, 08:42 PM
Ziploc Big Bags are good for a makeshift dry bag for your sleeping bag if needed. They tend to be more useful than random garbage bags or plastic lining.

October 31, 2006, 01:54 AM
I use a large duffle when not packing, my roomate leaves his out under his bed. Reminds me I better let mine out, used it last week.

October 31, 2006, 01:58 AM
Lots of good ideas. A few extra thoughts:

If you are winter camping use a closed cell pad under a thermarest. This will keep you from "melting in" over night and keep you MUCH warmer. Also, while you are making dinner and putzing around you can use the closed cell pad doubled up as a seat.

I always have at least one spare long-sleve synthetic top and pair of socks. I put them on right before going to sleep. This way I'm dry going to sleep.

If your socks or gloves got wet during the day dry them out as best you can and then place them on your chest before going to sleep. They'll be mostly dry when you wake up.

Resist the urge to bury your face in your bag at night. Your exhalations will pump moisture into the insulation that you will need to dry out later.

Wear a snug wool or fleece hat at night.

A tent in winter is significantly warmer than a tarp shelter, but requires particular care to keep everything dry (this is when having an obsessive compulsive climbing partner comes in handy). Resign yourself to the fact that this is almost impossible with three people in a tent. For trips longer than three days be prepared to spend part of the morning drying out gear before packing.

If camping on snow dig a pit in the snow in front of the door the size of a doormat. This way you can sit in your tent door while taking off your boots or doing other chores like cooking, melting water...

Keep adjusting your layers of clothes, bag, bivy or tent, and pads until you find what works for you in the conditions you find yourself in.

October 31, 2006, 02:40 AM
rwc offers good advice. I concur.

this bit is particularly relevant to staying warm in a cold environment if the sleeping bag is not quite warm enough: "Wear a snug wool or fleece hat at night."

Due to the huge blood circulation going to our heads, through the neck, we lose ~25% of heat through our neck and head.

Putting on a warm hat, fleece or wool, helps keep that heat in. So will a well-fitting hood on a sleeping bag. It'll also help keep your face out of the bag, keeping moisture from respiration low.

Of course, all that is only relevant in really cold temps. If you are only a warm season camper, just ingore.

October 31, 2006, 03:25 AM
In 1968 I was 13 years old and bought a Coleman Sleeping Bag. I still have it.
It has been used from Canada to Key West, back up to West Virginia, West to wherever that was in West TX to Galveston.

For cooler temps, I used a Wool Army Blanket inside, and one underneath. It did not come with a storage bag, much less a compression bag. It has been "smushed" real good more than once , and various 'bags' from pcs of canvas tarp to trash bags to protect from elements.

I have use the Army "mummy bag" - whew, them things are warm!

My old Coleman is not as lofty as it once was, it has a patch or two on it for various reasons, the cords have been replaced umpteen times that it rolls into self and ties with, mismatched of course. Still, it is mine, I earned the money to get it, and not a lot of choices back then. I used it about a year ago, it worked. Just probably need to check on it, air it out or something.

I want another Army Bag ( whatever they call them now)

I used the wool Army blankets because wool keeps one warm - even if wet.
Which I need to get more of now that I think of it...

November 1, 2006, 05:21 AM
A good way to store any bag is in a large cotton pillowcase. This allows it to breathe - especially important if you live in a cold damp or humid climate.

If you have a down bag that has been stored a very long time compressed it is not the end of the world. Put it in a tumble drier on the absolute lowest heat setting ('delicate') for about a half hour, then on the 'air' setting no heat of there is one for another half hour. Pull it out every once in awhile and pull any clumps of down apart inside the item.

I have a sleeping bag and some down clothing that I bought in the mid-1970s that have spent a couple of periods of years tightly or closely packed - it is still fine. The only time you will have a real problem is if the bag get damp mildewed and mold infested.


November 1, 2006, 10:53 AM
The "new" (out a couple years now) three layer Army sleeping bags are the HEAT! Used them past 3 FTXs for ROTC and was never cold. Its got three layers, gortex bivy sack to keep you dry (friggen awsome in the rain, I know...) , green layer thats good down to 30* or so, a black layer that by itself is good down to -10*. Put them all together and your good down to -30*. I have personaly never used more then then black layer and the gortex sack. Even last "Spring" ftx where everybodies canteens froze solid. Got to 10* or so I think that night, much fun all around.

Are grumby supply guy keeps them stored in the sack but not compressed.

Also to get the maxium warmth out of your sleeping bags you are supposed to strip down to your skivies. Counter intuive, but it works.

November 3, 2006, 08:23 AM
I have to get outside this winter and try sleeping in my cheapo bag when it's -10f out there. I have used it down to about 20 degrees and find myself half out of it in the morning too warm for comfort. Maybe I'm blessed with super good cold weather metabolism or something, but I can be outside in +10f to -10f weather and if I exert myself at all, I can be stripped down to a t-shirt in no time and still feel warm.

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