Rescue or replace your #oldbag?
If your down sleeping bag is more than a few years old or you’ve given it a hard life, it’s probably time to decide whether to love it or let it go. The following advice will help you to decide what is the best route for you and your old bag.
Rescue – Care and Washing
Down sleeping bags are expensive items but their initial outlay is offset not only by their quality and performance, but also by their lifespan: with the correct care a down sleeping bag will last for decades.
Mountain Equipment recommend using a sleeping bag liner whenever convenient: it reduces the number of washes a sleeping bag requires, it increases the warmth of your bag, and makes a handy layer to sleep in if your bag proves too warm and you’d rather use it like a blanket. On weight-critical trips we’ll often leave our liner behind, but for valley or recreational camping they’re an excellent idea. During a trip, air your bag whenever possible, especially if it has got wet. This might just mean laying the bag out once you’ve got the tent up rather than leaving it until you go to bed. After a trip, leave your bag inside out to allow it to air before storing it. Small stains and spillages can usually be cleaned up with a damp soapy cloth.
Down sleeping bags should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct light sources. Whenever they are to be stored for long periods they should be kept uncompressed (inside a mesh storage bag or Mountain Equipment Storage Cube is perfect), rather than in a tight stuffsack.
Down sleeping bags are not easy to wash. Washing them is an involved and time consuming job, and if you have any doubt about carrying out the task yourself then you should send your bag to a specialist down cleaning service, such as Mountaineering Designs. The difficult part is not actually the washing, but the drying. The washing cycle can be done in most large household washing machines, while a tumble dryer is extremely useful during the drying stage.
Your down sleeping bag should not be washed frequently; it certainly should not be washed after just a few uses, and many people will never wash their sleeping bag during the lifetime of the product. However, if your bag smells strongly or has lost significant loft due to grease and sweat causing the down to clump, then it is time to wash it. Most sleeping bags can be washed in a large (>7 kg) front-loading washing machine, though we recommend bags with more than 1000g of down in to be washed only in >8 kg machines or to be sent to a specialist down cleaning service. Hand washing in a bath is also an option for large bags or very old delicate bags. Instructions can be found in the Care Instructions section.
Bags should be washed at 30°C on a delicate cycle using a specialist down cleaning product (such as Nikwax Down Wash Direct, Nikwax Tech Wash®, or Granger’s Down Wash) from an outdoor shop, or soap flakes from a supermarket. The spin cycle speed should be no greater than 800 rpm. The bag will require additional rinsing cycles (up to 3 extra rinses). Make sure no trace of soap remains in the sleeping bag before beginning drying. Remove your sleeping bag from the washing machine very carefully, as the extra weight of the wet down can cause delicate internal stitches to fail. As this stage the bag may well look ruined – flat, empty, and with the down collected into little hard lumps. Don’t worry. The next stage is to allow the sleeping bag to drip dry and air dry for a while to start the drying process – don’t hang it over a line but lie it flat on a rack or across a rotary washing line.
Dry the sleeping bag in a tumble dryer. The tumble dryer should be as large as possible, but avoid using a laundrette’s unless you really trust the temperature setting. Use the lowest heat setting – this is not so important during the start of the drying process but is absolutely essential as the bag dries further; the down will not be effected, but fabrics and transfers can melt. Putting tennis balls or other soft objects in the dryer may help break up lumps of down. The drying process may take many hours, particularly for heavier sleeping bags, and it should be checked occasionally to ensure it is not getting too hot. Once much of the bag seems dry, begin to tease apart any small lumps of wet down you can find. These are usually found in the hood, footbox and collar. Once the lumps are broken up, continue the drying, and repeat this process until the bag is completely dry and no further lumps can be found. If much of the bag is dry and only a couple of lumps are present, a hairdryer can do the job of the tumble dryer. When you are sure that the bag is thoroughly dried, leave it to air for a day or two before storage.
It may be possible to renovate an old sleeping bag to improve its performance; small tears can be repaired with glue-on or sewn patches. Sometimes stitching comes undone and this can be repaired either at home or in a local repair shop. It is also possible to boost the fill of an old bag by adding more down. This is a fairly specialist service that is offered by Mountaineering Designs: www.mountaineering-designs.co.uk
Even if an old sleeping bag no longer meets your requirements it may be welcomed by a number of charities that will put it to good use. In the UK we suggest you contact: www.salvationarmy.org.uk
Even at the very end of its life your old bag can go into our recycling programme, the down will be taken out – reprocessed and cleaned and then used in a new bag. We are at the start of this project but hope to start producing bags with recycled fill within the next year or so.
All good things come to an end – your trusty sleeping bag included. The new breed of bag, benefitting from the latest fabrics and construction techniques is highly likely to offer a superior warmth-to-weight ratio and a better night’s sleep than your old bag ever did. And if you’re used to ‘old tech’ it’s probable that you will be very surprised by how small these new bags pack, how warm they are and how little they weigh. Buying a new sleeping bag may not always be top of your gear wish-list but it is one of the most important pieces of kit that you will own.