Sleeping Bag Bliss

For being a Boundary Waters canoe outfitter who spends many nights sleeping outside and camping I’m not a gear junkie.  I did however just purchase two new pieces of camping equipment for my solo hiking adventure on the Superior Hiking Trail.

When you’re canoe camping in the BWCA weight isn’t as much of an issue as it is when you’re hiking so I needed some lighter equipment.  I purchased a down sleeping bag from Sierra Trading Post online and it weighs less than 2 pounds. It’s super comfortable and it kept me nice and warm.  When I returned from my trip I saw a little article in Backpacker Magazine online about down sleeping bags.

Apparently they last forever as long as you take care of them, keep them dry and store them correctly.  I have usually just hung my sleeping bags in a closet but decided I would put the new bag inside of the big storage sack that came with it and hang it in the closet.  If I have this sleeping bag for as long as I’ve had my last one then I’ll be using it in the nursing home!

Does a down sleeping bag go bad?

Q.} Does a down sleeping bag go bad? I have an old The North Face expedition down bag. It has been in storage for 35 years. It looks good still, but will it fall apart?

Submitted by: Richard – Thousand Oaks, CA

A.} Impressive—a 35-year old down sleeping bag! Sounds like it might belong in a gear museum (like the one at Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, CO).

No, down bags have no expiration date, but only if they have really, truly been properly stored. Take this quiz:

-Has your bag been living in a large, roomy, breathable sack? Think cotton pillow case, not black, plastic garbage bag. Small, non-breathable sacks compress and permanently damage the feathers, while air circulation is key to prevent mold and mildew.

-When you take it out of its sack and fluff it up, is it still lofty? Or is it flat and sad-looking? Warmth comes from plentiful air pockets inside the bag, and if your bag is flat, so are the air pockets.

-Has it been stored in a cool, dry storage facility or a damp, hot basement? Thirty-five years of basement dank does not do down any favors.

-Has it been safe from UV rays or been exposed to long periods of direct sunlight? If the latter, the fabrics may have deteriorated. A simple visual and manual inspection, and you’ll know.

If you answered yes to all the above questions, and the shell fabrics still seam strong and in tact, take that bag out and use it! (It will not spontaneously fall apart while you sleep!). But you may want to wash it first. To learn how, check out this video.