Flat, lumpy sleeping bags. They happen to the best of us. All kinds of things can cause a down sleeping bag or quilt to lose its loft. Maybe you left it compressed inside of a stuff sack for too long. Even worse, maybe it doesn't look all that lumpy or flat upon taking it out, but the lack of warmth your backpacking quilt provides that first night on a camping trip after an absence of use would certainly point to a loss of loft. Or, perhaps you haven't taken care of your trusty top quilt as best as you could have.
No matter the cause, you will be relieved to learn that down sleeping bags and quilts are fairly easy to re-fluff. Another bonus is that they are even easier to restore the loft in than products made with synthetic down and other artificial blends and tend to be more durable overall. So, how do you restore the loft in a down sleeping bag or quilt?
How to Restore the Loft in a Down Sleeping Bag or Quilt
Is your bag as flat as a pancake? Quilt as lumpy as oatmeal? Not to worry. Try these ideas below (in ascending order of difficulty) to get your down goods as fluffy (or at least close to it) as new!
- Give it a good shake out then lay it on the floor to see if it will re-fluff. This is the easiest way and will usually fix your problem, especially if your clean down bag or quilt has been inside of a compression bag for several months to a year.
- Throw your down sleeping bag or quilt in the dryer (no heat!) with some dryer balls or clean sneakers to kill two birds with one stone and loosen clumps and restore loft. It's worth noting that some people suggest using low heat while doing this, but you could be playing with fire, so to speak, as some people have still ended up with melted spots on the outside of their bags by doing this. Really, it just depends on the bag. Just be sure to check the manufacturer's recommendations in advance and ask around first if you have any concerns.
- For clumps, try to manually un-clump the down by hand or hang it up and beat it. Even gently rubbing clumps by hand should help as the feathers get stirred up and disperse inside. For more stubborn clumping or if you're just impatient, try hanging your bag or quilt on a clothesline, drying rack, etc and using a tennis or badminton racket (or something similar) to expedite the process.
Give your bag or quilt a good wash. If you've tried all of the above and are still having issues, this should do the trick. This is especially true if you didn't get around to washing it before storing it for an extended period. (More on why it's important to keep your down ultralight quilts and sleeping bags clean below in the “Prevention” section.)
Most backpackers tend to fall into one of two camps when it comes to the best/preferred way to wash a sleeping bag. The first is to do it by hand at home in your bathtub. This is the most easily accessible way to go about it and a great option if you are worried about possibly damaging your bag or quilt as it's very gentle. The second most popular option is to send it through a large front-loading washing machine, such as those at laundromats. Just be sure to not use a machine with an agitator in the center, like most top-loading washing machines usually have, as these can be rough on your sleeping bag and potentially damage it.
No matter which option you use, it's highly advised to use a special down wash, such as Nikwax Down Wash or Revivex Down Cleaner from Gear Aid.
- If all else fails, send it to a special company or through the manufacturer to see if the fluff is broken down. Companies, such as Rainy Pass Repair, can wash your sleeping bag, add new down if it's a bit lacking, or completely replace it if it is completely broken down. No need to part with your beloved bag!
- If you happen to be handy with sewing, you can replace the down yourself. It should be noted that down is rather expensive and you may look like someone tarred and feathered you by the time you finish.
As with most things in life, prevention is the key to avoid problems to begin with. While it might be easy to get the impression that down items are more difficult to care for than synthetic, and yes, they do require some extra attention, it is nothing ridiculously hard. Taking care of your lightweight quilt or sleeping bag goes a long way in prolonging its lifespan, preventing clumps, and decreased loft. Here are a few simple ways to avoid these nuisances before they start.
- Hang it up loose. The best and easiest thing you can do aside from keeping them clean is to hang your down items up loosely, whether it's on a clothes hanger in your closet or its storage bag. In other words, don't leave it in a stuff sack for months or even years on end
- Take it out of its bag as soon as you set up camp. The more time your down quilt or bag spends decompressed, the longer it will take to lose its loft over time. Plus, it will be nice and fluffed up and ready to keep you toasty by the time you roll into bed at night on your backcountry adventures!
- Avoid getting it dirty. This seems like a pretty easy feat if your sleeping bag will be spending most of its time outdoors in a tent, but dirt, dust, and other natural debris aren't the only things that can cause a down item to become dirty. Oils from your skin can also find their way inside of your quilt over time, causing down feathers to clump. If you can, wipe yourself down, even if it's with baby wipes, before bed to get as much grime, sweat, and excess oils off your skin.
- Consider waterproofing the outside of your bag occasionally to prevent moisture, dirt, and grime from getting in there in the first place. Special treatments are available, such as Nikwax TX Direct Spray-On Waterproofing.