Your home away from home

Time camping
isn't spent
it's invested. Author unknow

When heading out for a night or two it is well worth thinking about where you will stay. Normally we first think about camping in a tent, but there are other great options like a camping hammock, caves, Bivvy bags, huts and even hostels when closer to towns.

Not all options are available on all trips, but each provides a unique way of experiencing nature. Hostels are great for luxury and for large groups, a hammock can be pitched in steep country but is less social. Caves are a wonderful way to sleep in the open, sheltered from the elements but are on a first in basis. This is about what is available to you on your next trip and what will work best for you and your group.

Sleeping Bag

Everything you need to know about sleeping bags

“A sleeping bag is a tortilla for a human.” Mitch Hedberg

A sleeping bag is a fundamental piece of gear for warmth and comfort on overnight trips . The quality of sleeping bag that suits you depends on the type of trips you are doing, how cold the areas you are walking in, and how exposed your campsites will typically be.

Tents & tarps

Everything you need to know about tent and tarps

“I'd rather be in a tent than in a house.” Mary Leakey

Tents and tarps are the most common shelters used by overnight bushwalkers. They come in many different shapes, sizes and designs, with plenty of options to find something that works well for you.

Tents are self contained units with an inner and an outer, whereas tarps have open sides and are simply an outer cover without insect protection. Tarps are generally pitched using trees or sticks for support, whereas tents have designated poles. Some tents can be pitched like a tarp by simply using the outer and groundsheet components.

Tents are great for people starting out bushwalking, whereas tarps require a little more thinking about in terms of where to pitch them and how to avoid insects and rainfall getting in. Bushwalkers that do a variety of different kinds of trips often own both and choose the one that best suits their trip.

Although it may take time to find a tent or tarp that is best for you, it’s a piece of equipment that lasts a long time, so very worth the time getting one that work well for the trips you typically do.


Sorry, this article is not written yet

“An optimist is a man who plants two acorns and buys a hammock.” Jean de Lattre de Tassigny


Everything you need to know about caves

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Joseph Campbell

When bushwalkers talk about using caves to sleep in on overnight trips, they usually mean a sizable rocky overhang with a flat sheltered space underneath rather than an underground cave (a fully enclosed cave is generally dark and wet – not great for sleeping!).

These ‘camp cave’ overhangs are a fun way to experience the bush by night, and can make great shelters for overnight bushwalking trips.

Check Checking what caves are ok to use for camping

If you’re planning to use a camp cave on a bushwalk, check the cave conditions before heading out on the track. Look for recent track notes or online blogs from walkers that have been in the area to make sure that the conditions are still good. Ask around to see if you can find someone that has been there recently and have a conversation about the cave condition and if it’s still suitable for overnight use.

Double check that the cave you are planning to stay does not have artwork or is known to be significant to indigenous peoples. Check with local National Parks visitor centres for more information, or contact the Office of Environment and Heritage.

Some of the more popular camp caves can get pretty busy at certain times of the year, so it can be worth check that other bushwalking clubs aren’t planning a trip into the same area as you. Caves can get fill up if a few groups arrive at the same time, so be prepared to camp in a tent if needed.

Plan ahead for your water supplies. Many caves are not close to a water supply, so you may need to carry in water or collect from a distance. This is something that needs to be factored into route planning as it may not be easy to backtrack to a water supply. Water bladders or old cask wine inners make excellent water carriers as they fold down easily and are lightweight (excellent when not in use). Some caves have a regular water drip and pool of water that can be used to drink from, but under certain conditions, this may dry out. Find out whether a water source is likely to be there based on recent rainfall events and chatting to bushwalkers that have been in the area recently (or know it well).

Lastly, check what your backup shelter is. Always carry some kind of backup shelter in case you don’t make it to the cave, or the cave is full and you need to find an alternative. Consider carrying a lightweight shelter such as a fly for a backup as it doubles as a handy sun/rain shelter for breaks along the track.

Once you’ve got to your cave in the bush, here are a few checkpoints to make sure that it really will be suitable for camping:

  1. Protection from the elements
    Check the direction of the cave and how protective it is from the elements. Does the overhang provide enough shelter from rain and wind? Will the area be dry inside, despite a downpour?
  2. Air flow
    Fresh air flow is important as stagnant moist air can lead to lung issues. Check that the air is fresh and not dusty.
  3. Enough space & flat areas inside
    Check that there is enough space for the group inside including flat areas for everyone to get a good night’s sleep.
  4. Water availability
    Check that you have enough water to spend the night here. This may involve doing a water collection trip if the cave is away from a water source.
  5. Collapse risk
    All geological features change over time. A cave roof is guaranteed to collapse at some stage, although the risk is normally low the outcome if it does occur can be very bad. Check the ceiling and rock above the cave for cracks or recent movement. Without a lot of study, experience and measurements it is not really possible to predict a collapse reliably, but look up and if looks too risky to you then find a safer place to camp.

Use in field Using camping caves on a bushwalk

Great caves to spend the night in are those that provide protection from the elements and generally have large flat areas where groundsheets and sleeping mats can be laid out. Of course, in an emergency, protection from the elements is the primary concern, and comfort (i.e. space to sleep) is secondary.

Caves can be tiny, just large enough to sleep one person, right through to the infamous 100-man cave on the Ti Willa Plateau at Kanangra Boyd National Park.
Caves indeed are a first-come-first-serve basis, so make sure to carry enough gear to be self-sufficient and able to camp elsewhere if the cave is already full. However, if there is room, make new visitors welcome and share.

Do not camp in a cave that has artwork or that are known to be significant to indigenous people. If you unexpectedly come across indigenous artefacts, do not touch or disturb. If you believe you have found an unknown piece of artwork or artefact, please contact the Office of Environment and Heritage.

For cave camping, use a ground sheet to protect your sleeping pad and bag, and prevent dust getting all throughout gear. Some bushwalkers use a material called Tyvek, which is a lightweight building sheet that is extremely effective at providing a waterproof protective layer. It can be purchased by the metre and cut down to meet the exact dimensions you need, hence saving on weight. It’s also incredibly cheap at less than $10 per metre.

Never light a fire within a camp cave itself. Campfires produce soot and smoke which will quickly blacken the cave walls with a charcoal layer. Instead, find a suitable spot outside the cave, or use other cooking options (e.g. stove).

If there is a logbook in the cave, sign it before you leave and make the place good. This means leaving no trace by carrying out all rubbish and leaving behind no evidence of your being there.

Care & Maintenance Caring for camping caves in the bush

Paintings, engravings, middons, grinding grooves and more are evidence of Indigenous Australians using caves for as long as they have inhabited the land. While some caves simply provided shelter, others were sacred, for instance, Baiame Caves, where women were not allowed to enter, and men were initiated.

There is an incredible amount of history and culture depicted through cave wall paintings, telling Dreamtime stories, depicting animals and their relationship to humans. Near Sydney, Red Hands Cave is one of the best depictions of rock art in the area.

Spending a night in a cave, you can’t help but feel connected to the indigenous heritage of Australia. Bushwalkers who visit should consider how they can pay their respects to indigenous people past and present and acknowledge the long rich cultural history that Australian caves hold. Never touch any artwork, engravings or other cultural artifacts. If you believe you have found an unknown piece of artwork or artefact, please contact the Office of Environment and Heritage.

Selection Selecting a suitable camping cave

While there are a few camp caves that are extremely well documented with precise GPS coordinates online (e.g. 100 man cave), the vast majority of camp caves are not well known or documented.

Often, you can get a sense of what caves are in an area by reading track notes and trip reports online as they may be mentioned in passing. The other key way to find out about camp caves is simply through word-of-mouth. Often, simply chatting to another bushwalker can be a fantastic way to glean information on suitable camping caves in an area. In some cases, the camp caves that you can learn about through these conversations are merely caves that people have stumbled upon by accident and remembered as great spaces to be used on future trips.

If you’re planning a walk in an area and want to find a suitable camp cave ahead of time, search through bushwalking blogs and track note descriptions to get a bit more information about the area. Sometimes, a trip report write-up might have some clues as to where suitable camp caves are. If possible, find someone that is familiar with the area and ask them a bit more about it – how likely will you be able to find a particular camp cave?

Another alternative is to examine maps and look for cliff lines that are likely to contain suitable cliffs. Sometimes you can use the Satellite view of Google Maps to get a sense of the land layout and take a reasonable guess as to whether or not an area will have camp caves. Of course, you will need to have a backup camping shelter set up in these cases, as you could very well turn up to the area and not find a suitable camp cave.


Everything you need to know about huts

“There are a lot of stories out there, waiting for you to live them.” Author unknown

Huts make great shelters for bushwalking trips, particularly in landscapes with unpredictable weather, rain and even snow. Huts are common in alpine areas such as the Snowy Mountains (e.g. Kozi huts) as well as cooler wetter climates like Tasmania (e.g Tasmanian huts).

Check Checking the hut is suitable before your trip

Hut use in Australia is based on honesty and respect. Virtually all Australia huts do not have a permanent warden, caretaker or ranger living there, so visitors are expected to respectfully use the huts and leave them in good conditions for subsequent visitors.

Formed in 1970, the Kosciuszko Huts Association (KHA) helps conserve and manage huts for their heritage value and potentially life-saving service, particularly in high alpine regions where visitors may use huts as an emergency shelter. KHA push the heritage value of huts for cultural and safety regions, coordinate reconstruction work and encourage responsible use by everyone (from recreational users through to scientists). Despite their main focus being in Kosciusko, KHA does maintain and protect huts around Australia.

Not all huts are open to the public. Some are privately owned, and others that are for emergency use only. NPWS does have a few huts that they actively manage, and these have an online booking system:

Huts used by bushwalkers generally fall into two categories: huts that are for overnight use where bushwalkers are welcome to spend the night, and huts that are for day and emergency use only. In the case of the latter, people are welcome to hang out in these huts during the day and use as a short respite but are discouraged from spending the night unless there is an urgent need to do so (in which case, guests are welcome). The key thing here then is to plan your route accordingly, and check that your intended hut for the night is open to being used as an overnight shelter. You may also want to include day-use huts on your route for lunch and food stops along the way.

Bushwalker groups must be self-contained and carry all the gear they need to camp out at all times and in any conditions (e.g. tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag etc), in case there is no room in the huts, or they are delayed reaching the huts due to unexpected conditions (e.g. poor weather, injury). Check your gear accordingly.

Use in field Using huts in the field

Most huts used by bushwalkers in Australia work on a first-come-first-serve-basis, whereby visitors simply show up and take pot-luck as to whether or not they get a bed. This means that bushwalkers will generally carry a lightweight shelter as a backup.

Huts usually have a designated sleeping area (usually bunk beds), where people can roll out their sleeping bags. Some huts have mattresses provided, whereas others are simply wooden structures, so bushwalkers will need to carry in a sleeping mat.

There is usually a log book and information sheet in the entrance area or on the dining table. The logbook not only provides a historical record of who has visited, but it also is also an important record for search and rescue authorities in an emergency. Fill in the logbook with details of your party and your trip intentions. If the logbook is full, contact land managers when you get home and request a replacement.

The Kosciuszko huts association has a good summary information for visitors here:

Care & Maintenance Caring for huts

Huts are there for everyone to use, and guests are expected to behave courteously to others and make new guests feel welcome.

In general, users are expected to follow these guidelines:

  • Share the facilities with other visitors and make new visitors feel welcome.
  • Keep fires small. Never leave a lit fire unsupervised. Make sure that the fire is completely out before leaving.
  • Replenish firewood: huts provide refuge for visitors, and there is a culture that current visitors restock wood, kindling and match supplies for future visitors to enjoy.
  • When cooking, use gas stoves outside, and away from any materials that could ignite with a flare up. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur if stoves are used in closed areas without good airflow. Some huts are gas stove only. If you can, use a gas stove to reduce wood consumption directly around the hut.
  • Report any hut damage (e.g. leaks, cracks etc.) to land managers upon your return.
  • Use pit toilets if provided. If not available, find an appropriate place 100 away from the hut or water supplies.
  • Use tank water sparingly. If collecting water from a source nearby, collect upstream and purify if necessary.
  • Carry out all rubbish, sweep and clean up hut before leaving. Do not leave any food behind as this encourages animals.

Selection Choosing a hut

The Kosciuszko Huts Association (KHA) is a great starting point for getting information about possible hut use for bushwalking trips. The website has up to date information on hut condition and size. Use this to double check that it will meet your party’s needs.

Some things to consider include:

Is the hut near the track or will you have to detour significantly? Will this impact upon route planning?

Facilities and access
Use photos to check what facilities are available at the hut and that access will work for you and your group. Some huts have pit toilets, while others require guests to go away from the hut. For people with mobility restrictions, check critical issues including things like that rooms have minimal steps and bathrooms are wide enough to access. Likewise for other types of impairments or disabilities within your group.


Using an inn/hostel as overnight accomodation on a bushwalk

“Home is in your head.” Author unknown

Inns/hostels can make comfortable and convenient overnight accommodation on overnight bushwalks and saves you carrying sleeping gear.

Hostels can fill up quickly, so be sure to book in early. Check what equipment such as bedding, cooking and food supplies you need to carry, and what time you need to be out of your room in the morning.

Check Checking your Inn/Hostel

Before you leave on your bushwalk, double check a few things about your accommodation.

Location & contact details
Make sure you know where the accommodation is located, and how to get to it from the bushwalking track. Check what you must do if you arrive later than expected, i.e. will the reception still be open or do you need to contact an after-hours receptionist?

It can be helpful to carry a contact number for the accommodation in case you have trouble locating it, or you want to alert your host that you are running late.

Booking details & payment
Print out a copy of your booking reference (or have it readily to hand on your mobile device). Clarify how you’ll pay for your room booking, and don’t forget to carry your credit card. If it’s possible, making an advanced payment can be a great way to alleviate stress around the booking, however, you’ll probably still want to carry a method of payment to settle up for additional extras (e.g. breakfast, phone calls etc.). Check that they accept the payment method you intend to use.

Bedding, linen & toiletries
Some hostels provide all linen and toiletries, while others expect you to bring all of these. Double check so that you’re not caught out. It makes a lot of sense to lighten your pack by avoiding carrying an extra sleeping bag and towel that’s not needed.

Double check the food situation: is there a meal provided with your booking, or will you need to carry in some/all of your food?

Arrival/departure times
Hostels/inns usually have arrival and departure times. Double check you know these in advance and plan your bushwalking schedule accordingly.

Use in field Using an inn/hostel as overnight accomodation on a bushwalk

Hostels and inns can be great places to meet other bushwalkers as well as relaxing and recharging after a long day on the track.

In some inns and hostels, you’ll have your own private bedroom, whereas in others, you could be sharing in a dormitory with several others.

If sharing a dormitory with other people, it’s helpful to have an eye-mask and earplugs as you may find it noisier or louder than usual and harder to sleep.

Care & Maintenance Looking after your inn/hostel room

In a private room setting, treat the room and contents with care, and report any damaged items to management. Respect your neighbours, keep noise to a minimum after 10pm and try to make as little noise as possible if you have an early departure.

In a dormitory setting, be considerate to your other roommates: look out for them and share the space respectively. Be friendly: have a chat to your other roommates, check they are ok. Share tips, snacks and ask people if they want to join in your card game.

Keep noise to a minimum in the evenings and mornings: people are on different timetables, with some people getting up very early, or falling asleep late. This is particularly true when sharing a dormitory with several other people. In a dormitory, turn main lights off after 10pm: use a head torch if you want to keep reading or need to enter/exit the room.

Keep your gear tidy and organised: don’t leave gear lying around a shared dorm room. Instead, find out where you can hang out your wet gear so that it doesn’t smell and annoy others.

If you’re leaving early in the morning pack as much as you can the night before. For those sharing in a dormitory, finish packing your final pieces of gear away from people sleeping, and preferably out of the room.

In shared bathroom facilities, keep shower lengths short, and leave facilities clean for the next user.

Selection Selecting a suitable inn/hostel

Although it’s far more common in Europe to stop at hostels along a multi-day walk (e.g. The El Camino Trail), there are some options to do this in Australia for example on the Great North Walk and Six Foot Track. It’s worth keeping this in mind as a great option to avoid carrying heavy packs and enjoy some creature comforts along the track.

Here are some things to think through when selecting a suitable inn or hostel on your trip.

On some trips, the track may go straight past a suitable hostel, whereas on others, you may need to detour off the track. Consider how far you need to detour to get to the hostel and factor this in when assessing if it is a good option. If the hostel is a significant distance away, it may be better to organise a taxi pickup or consider other options like camping instead.

Single or shared room
It can be fun to share a dormitory with others, but it’s not for everyone. In a dorm with 4-8 other people, there will be a lot of shuffling and scuffling noises throughout the night as people settle down, change position, and hop up during the night to use toilets.

Some people are susceptible to noise, and find it incredibly difficult to sleep with other noises and sounds. If this sounds like you, then a shared dormitory is probably not the right choice! However, if you’re reasonably comfortable that you can sleep well enough in a room with others and still be able to function well on the track the next day, then it might be the right choice for you.

If you’re looking into group accommodation for everyone on your trip, bear in mind that everyone will have a different budget to you. And an amount that might be reasonable for one person could be extremely tricky for someone else. That’s why it’s great to provide options. Hostels often have a couple of different room setups that cater to different budgets: private en-suite rooms being at the high end of the spectrum and 10-bunk dorms at the lower end. The main thing is to be upfront and transparent with your party about what the expected costs of the accommodation are. Don’t forget to check for hidden costs (e.g. meals, linen).

Some hostels will provide meals, whereas others won’t offer any. Check in advance to find out and be prepared. If the hostel is in a community, you may be able to go out for a pub meal in the evening, however, if the hostel is remote, then you’ll be relying on the hostel to provide (or bring in your own food).

Facilities and access
Lastly, check what facilities come with the hostel and that access will work for you and your group. For people with mobility restrictions, check critical issues including things like that rooms have minimal steps and bathrooms are wide enough to access, and with support railings. Likewise for other types of impairments or disabilities within your group.

A few websites that may be useful when searching for accommodation:

Check & Pack

Checking and packing your sleeping bag

“Speaking of sleeping bags, has anything ever had a less creative name?” Adam Carolla

Sleeping bags are relatively quick to check and pack. First, make sure that your sleeping bag is clean and dry and doesn’t have any damage to the material. Check by running your hands over the material and doing a visual inspection. Also, check that the zippers can open and close smoothly, and any other toggles or clips are working too.

Check that the sleeping bag rating is suitable for your trip.

Next, find a clean open area at home to pack your sleeping bag. Some people find sitting or kneeling is a comfortable position to pack the bag, but the most important thing is to be relaxed and not straining shoulders or arms.

Most shop-bought sleeping bags come with a stuff sack or compression sack that makes it easy to reduce the sleeping bag volume with drawcords on the side. Generally, sleeping bags made with down compress into a smaller volume than synthetic bags (although sleeping bag technology has been steadily improving with new materials on the market each year, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for new products).

It’s really important to pack your sleeping bag in a way that minimises the risk of it getting wet. Your sleeping bag is your primary source of warmth at night and will not effectively insulate when wet [note]Hawks, Leona K., “Care of Down and Synthetic Sleeping Bags” (1990). All Archived Publications. Paper 210[/note]. Sleeping bag stuff sacks are generally water resistant, can let water in, particularly in heavy rain or if the pack is submerged. Another option is to pack the compression sack into an additional dry bag, or double bag it with garbage bags, ensuring to twist and tie the tops to prevent water getting in. Lining the stuff sack with a large plastic bag, before stuffing the sleeping bag – then twisting the plastic bag closed before sealing the stuff sack is a good way of adding an extra layer of protection from water.

There are two ways to pack a sleeping bag: rolling or stuffing. Generally, stuffing is a good option if you have a compression bag and you want to get the sleeping bag as compact as possible. Rolling is very straightforward, but results in a larger volume bag so is generally used in situations where volume doesn’t matter (e.g. car camping).

Option 1: Stuffing (generally for down sleeping bags)

Start at the foot end of the sleeping bag and place it into the bottom of the stuff sack (this lets the air escape through the top of the bag). Then gradually add small wads of material into the stuff sack without folding or rolling the bag. The aim is to fold the material in a random (and different) way each time you stuff the sack, and in doing so, this keeps the insulation in the sleeping bag evenly distributed and performing better over time. It also reduces lumps in the fabric and likelihood of tears on the material.

Tighten the cord at the top of the compression sack, and then adjust the straps on the side to reduce the volume further. Tighten the straps little by little, keeping the compression even across the sack.

Option 2: Rolling (generally for synthetic sleeping bags and when volume is not an issue)
Lay the sleeping bag out on the floor and fold the sides in to create the desired roll width. For some sleeping bags, this will be thirds, others halves. Decide based on the what width you need the final roll to be.

Then begin to roll up the bag from the foot end, keeping the roll as tight as possible. For extra pressure, you can place a knee on the roll. Once entirely rolled, tie up straps, or use tape or rope to prevent the bag from unrolling. Sometimes it can help to grab another person to give you a hand attaching the straps.

Use in the field

Using your sleeping bag in the bush

“Good people are good people because they’ve come to wisdom through failure.” William Saroyan

Insulation in sleeping bags works best when it is all ‘fluffed up’ and fully expanded. Once your shelter is set up, unpack your sleeping bag and give it a few shakes to get the expanding started.

Sleeping bags work best and last longest when kept clean and dry, so in the field, try to minimise the amount of dirt, sweat and dust that gets onto the bag [note]Hawks, Leona K., “Care of Down and Synthetic Sleeping Bags” (1990). All Archived Publications. Paper 210 URL =[/note]. Air your bag out after each use (in the morning over breakfast before packing up is best) – avoid direct contact with UV light for extended periods of time, but an hour of sunlight can help kill smell causing bacterial and fungal growth[note]Amichai B, Et.Al.,“The efficacy of sun exposure for reducing fungal contamination in used clothes.” (2014). Isr Med Assoc J.[/note].

Treat your sleeping bag gently! Bags that are well cared for will stay warm for longer [note]Hawks, Leona K., “Care of Down and Synthetic Sleeping Bags” (1990). All Archived Publications. Paper 210 URL =[/note]. Do not use a good sleeping bag near the fire. All it takes is a single glowing ember from the fire to create a hole and damage the bag. Not to mention all the dirt, dusk and smokey smell that the bag will pick up. If you like having something to wrap around you at the fire, consider a lightweight fireproof thermal shawl or throw over instead.

A sleeping bag liner is a very worthwhile investment. Not only does it keep your sleeping bag clean and dry, but it provides extra warmth. Avoid sleeping in your bushwalking clothes overnight. Instead, change into nighttime camp clothes. This reduces body odour transferring to the sleeping bag and minimises the amount of oils or body sweat.

A few extra tips

  • Give your bag a chance to fluff up especially on colder nights.
  • If you are too hot in the bag, try un zipping it part way, take your head out of the hood or shake the bag to force out the warmer air.
  • Try to minimise the amount of direct contact that your sleeping bag has with the ground. Use a ground-sheet if sleeping in the open, to protect sleeping pad and bag.
  • When airing out your sleeping bag, hang it high off the ground, to reduce the chance of the bag getting dirty.
  • Never force any zippers or buckles if they get stuck. Instead, be gentle and slowly undo any caught fabric.
  • If using a sleeping bag without a hood, wear a hat or hoodie to keep warm and reduce the mozzies (if the shelter does not have a flyscreen).
  • Wear clean clothes and be clean when getting into your sleeping bag.

Tips and tricks if you are feeling cold in your sleeping bag
If you are feeling cold then here are some tips to help

  • Fully zip up your bag and use the hood.
  • Ensure your insulation in your bag is inflated and evenly spread over the top of you.
  • If rolling around, try to keep the bag from moving.
  • Reduces air flow around the bag – block any drafts.
  • Especially if you feel cold between you and ground than improve the insulation of your pad. Add clothing (or even your pack) between you sleeping pad and ground.
  • Use a sleeping bag liner as this can increase temperature by up to 5 ℃.
  • Wear a beanie to keep the head warm and loose fitting layer of warm clothes.
  • Place your head inside your sleeping bag and breath inside the bag for about half a minute to warm up the air. Be mindful that your breath is also humid, so avoid doing this for long stretches as condensation inside your sleeping bag can be counterproductive.
  • In an emergency scenario, you can use a foil wrap from your first aid kit for warmth. Be mindful again for condensation and water collecting on the foil and wetting your bag.

Sleeping with or without clothes on
There’s a lot of debate around whether or not wearing additional layers of clothing adds more warmth to the sleep system or detracts, with strong advocates on both sides and surprisingly little research on the topic.

A blogger called ‘onlinecaveman’ frustrated by the lack of information carried out his own DIY experiment to test the difference between heat loss wearing a layer of clothing versus not wearing a layer of clothing. He found that the system that used a layer of clothing lost less heat than the one with no clothing.

The main purpose of a sleeping bag is to create a layer of warm air around the body by trapping body heat, so any additional layers may enhance this effect. Sleep systems work best when the insulation is allowed to do its job, that is, the insulation isn’t overly compressed (i.e. too many clothes).

It seems the layering effect that we use with clothes during the day also works in the sleeping bag, however, avoid tight-fitting clothes (these can restrict circulation), and ensure extra layers are clean and dry. Also stay away from clothes with zippers or other hard or patterned sections that may cause pressure sores.

Care & Maintenance

Looking after your sleeping bag

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” Author unknown

Sleeping bags can be used for several years before they need a wash. Washing tends to add wear and tear to the bag and reduces the loft (i.e. insulation), so if you can delay the need for washing by caring for the bag, this is the best long-term option.

Check your bag over regularly to make sure that all the zippers are working and the seams are intact. Check that the insulation is evenly distributed as over time the insulation can clump unevenly (suggesting that a wash might be in order).

Carry out small spot-cleaning jobs on areas such as the hood that are likely to accumulate sweat and dirt. Mix a little water with non-detergent soap to create a paste. Hold the shell away from the filling and use a toothbrush to clean and rinse the shell. By keeping the shell away from the filling you can clean the area without getting the inside wet.

When you do decide to wash it, do it as per manufacturer’s instructions.

Hawks, Leona K., “Care of Down and Synthetic Sleeping Bags” (1990) provides this table as a guideline:

Type of sleeping bagHand washMachine washDry clean
DownBest method - wash using soap and water softener

Don't use detergent - it will strip natural oils from feathers

Machine dry on low heat or no heat. Heat can burn off the natural oils
Use only if recommended by manufacturer

Wash with soap and water

Don't use detergent - it will strip natural oils

Machine dry on low heat or no heat. Heat can burn off the natural oils
Not recommended

Dry cleaning chemicals residue toxic when inhaled

Attacks down's natural oils
SyntheticGentlest method
Use detergent or soap and water softener

Washing or drying should not be above 60° Celsius
Fastest and easiest method
Use detergent or soap and water softener

Washing or drying should not be above 60° Celsius
Not recommended

Dry cleaning chemicals dissolve resin and silicone finishes used to stabilise fibers

Fibers lose crimp above 60° Celsius

In general, the process for washing a sleeping bag looks like this (but check and follow specific manufacturer’s instructions):

  1. Washing: Do up all zippers before washing to protect them.
    1. Hand washing: Fill up a large bucket or bathtub with warm water. Add a small amount of non-detergent soap. Gently massage material and leave to soak (but no more than 1 hour). Gently squeeze bag to remove any water and empty the water. Refill with clean water, massage the material to remove suds, and let the bag sit for 15 minutes. Repeat until all suds are gone.
    2. Machine wash: Many sleeping bags can be machine washed in a front-loader or a top-loader without an agitator. Add a small amount of appropriate soap (do not over-soap to ensure no suds are leftover). Consider adding a few additional wet garments to balance out the spin of the machine (e.g. t-shirts). Consider running the cycle a second time soap-free to remove all soap residue).
  2. Transferring: Take care when handling your wet sleeping bag so as not to damage the fabric. When the down is wet and heavy, it is particularly vulnerable to stretching and tearing. Take time to squeeze out as much water as possible from the bag as possible, and lift the bag from below to support the material.
  3. Drying:
    1. Dryer: Once most of the water is out of your bag place it in the dryer and use a low heat to ensure that synthetic materials do not melt. As the bag dries, the insulation tends to clump together. This can be avoided by placing objects (tennis balls or other soft but firm objects) into the dryer during the final stages of drying to displace the clumps. Once dry, air the bag out overnight to make sure there is no residual moisture before storing.
    2. Air drying: Place the bag on a clean surface outside in partial shade as UV rays can degrade synthetic materials. As the bag dries, the insulation tends to clump together, so check the bag periodically and manually break up the clumps.
  4. CAUTION: What not to do!

    • Never dry-clean your bag. The chemicals used in the dry-cleaning process can damage the bag fabric.
    • Avoid using fabric softeners or bleaching chemicals on your bag. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for what soap to use (usually a non-detergent soap).

    Other maintenance jobs:

    • Rips to fabric: If the outer layer of fabric is damaged, consider doing a small repair job by hand if it occurs in the field to prevent loss of insulation, then back home, remove stitching and do a more thorough job using gear-repair tape.
    • Leaking down feathers: Over time, a few down feathers may work their way through the outer shell fabric and poke out. Work the feathers back into the insulation layer by gently massaging the surface and pushing the feather back in.
    • Waterproofing: Some sleeping bags have a water-resistant outer layer which helps protects the bag from water damage and dirt, but eventually wears off. Consider reapplying the durable water repellent using a suitable product (check with your manufacturer).

    Store your sleeping bag in a cool dry area away from direct sunlight. The bag is best stored fluffed up. Many sleeping bags come with a large breathable storage bag us this otherwise a cloth bag like a pillow case of larger is ideal.