Mother Nature has come up with some pretty incredible designs over her years of evolution. One of them that we are particularly appreciative of, is down, the tiny feathers found on ducks and geese used to keep them warm. There might be a concern with animal rights as it’s a natural product, but we don’t want to go into that debate and can only be thankful to our feathered friends for the gift they give us, or we take, depending on how you look at it.

 

Getting It Wet

Down can be cycle tourist’s best friend, but water is unfortunately down’s worse enemy, put simply, you cannot get a down bag wet with the hope that it’s still going to keep you warm. For some reason we feel very nervous about washing our sleeping bags, luckily we don’t have the same paranoia when it comes to our bodies, we’d stink otherwise. In just under a year and a half on the road and using them day to day, the amount of times we have washed our sleeping bags has amounted to a grand total of zero. However we have now successfully washed our bags, and hopefully after this short post we can dispel any fears about washing your own bag.


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Taking The Risk

Being on the road for so long, and coming across very few baths, we thought that trying to wash a sleeping bag could be risky in a shower or large bucket. Reading reports online of people ruining their down clothing or sleeping bags made us think we’d just put up with the smell and stay warm when the temperatures dipped down below freezing.

We didn’t use a machine to wash our sleeping bags, we used a bath with warm water and a few measurements of liquid detergent. We did read that you need special down soap, we just thought what's the worse that’s going to happen, after all a bit soap never hurt anyone. Mayu had washed our bags before like this back in London, I was too busy on a building site digging holes, so I never got to witness this slightly stressful event. But I can safely say it works, the bags smell like hotel linen and we are set once again to build up that offensive odor we have become so accustomed to.

Maybe the smell is not as bad as I am making it out to be, we are pretty good when it comes to washing ourselves before bedtime. By that I mean soaking a cloth in our cooking pot and scrubbing off the sweat of the day, followed by a change of clothes, it makes us feel pretty fresh. That’s the best we can do in the circumstances, and having never used a sleeping bag liner we can’t comment on that, but we've never felt the need or wanted to carry the extra weight.

 

Wash Time

Ok on to the washing. We filled up a bathtub, maybe one thirds full, with a few measurements of liquid soap and started massaging the bags, making sure all the feathers get an even clean. Depending on the material of the bag, will depend on how easy it is to wash. Our Montbell 650 down hugger was much easier than the Montbell 800 down hugger, due to the water resistant material on the 800 model. It took a lot effort to get the water into the bag and deal with the constant battle of air pockets. In total we washed and drained the bags five times, until the water became semi clear. It was a lot of work washing and draining over and over, but we just thought we’re here now, might as well do it properly.

 

Drying The Bags

After the fifth rinse, we pressed out as much water as we could, but didn’t ring out the water, just pushed down with our feet and hands to press the water out. The weather is reasonably warm in spring where we live in Japan, and we have an undercover outdoor space to hang the bags. The first day and night they hung on the line, and by the morning they felt close to dry, but the feathers were still clumped together. Spending 10 minutes or so on each bag trying to break up the clumps to get them fluffy. We then left the bags in full sun for most of that day. By evening both bags were bone dry, and after a few minutes of fluffing up they were back to their original state and basically as good as new.

Rush Or Rot

We have read that laying your bag out in the sun is a bad move, as the UV degrades the material, and we’re not arguing against that, it probably does. However we are much more concerned about getting the feathers completely dry as soon as possible. In the cases where people have had problems, it seems to be with drying. Our advice is not to attempt washing any down clothing or sleeping bags in colder climates or without access to a large front loading tumble dryer. If the feathers don’t dry quickly enough, it can lead to mold growing on them. With down being a natural product, and unlike synthetic materials, it will rot.

Making Sure It's Dry

Don’t feel like it’s a panic and you need to get them dry as soon as possible, the message we are trying to put out is make sure they are completely dry before they are put away in a storage sack. We left ours laid out for another week and fluffed them up occasionally just to be sure that no mold was growing. Now that we are 100% sure they are completely dry we can put them in a storage sack. Please note there is a difference between storage and stuff sacks, the storage sack is five times larger than the stuff sack, allowing the bag to breath and means that the feathers are not compressed for long periods of time. Good luck!

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