Wet sleeping bags can quickly ruin a camping trip. If you allow water to leak into your bag, the only way to dry it out before retiring for the evening may be to hang it up by the fire. But, with fire restrictions and inclement weather, that may not always be an option you can take. Since wet sleeping bags can insulate less heat than dry ones and potentially lead to some illnesses, I think it’s crucial that you utilize these methods for keeping your sleeping bag dry.
Tips on Keeping Your Sleeping Bag Warm and Dry
Wrapping Up Your Sleeping Bag
The simplest and most effective way to keep water out of your sleeping bag while you’re hiking and on the move is to wrap the entire sleeping bag (including its stuff sack) in a water-resistant film. Plastic wrap, garbage bags, and many other household materials do this job very well without adding extra weight to your backpack. I recommend a double-layered garbage bag since these can typically be removed and replaced much faster than plastic wrap.
Some sleeping bags, usually more expensive models, come with special waterproof stuff sacks. I’ve found that while the more expensive versions tend to do their jobs well, cheaper stuff sacks can easily allow in water from even the lightest rainfall. But, if you’re willing to spend more money on a high-end sleeping bag, you may be able to score a great stuff sack in the process.
Backpack Rain Covers
Attaching a rain cover to your backpack should work well for all but the strongest of storms. If you secure everything correctly, these covers should divert any water striking your pack away from the contents inside. However, these rain covers do little to protect against driving rain, river wading, or snowmelt. Because of this drawback, I don’t think you should rely on a rain cover to keep your sleeping bag safe.
Unzipping During Transport
Keeping your sleeping bag unzipped while you carry it around can help to remove some of the moisture that may already be inside. While the stuff sack will likely contain almost all of the water regardless of what you do, keeping your sleeping bag unzipped allows moisture to slip out of the bag when you remove it and stay inside the stuff sack. I’ve found that this can be an easy way to stop my bag from accumulating moisture when it is excessively humid outside or when I accidentally got it wet the night before.
Backpacking without a tent or tarp can be risky, even when the weather is forecast to be clear for your entire trip. As soon as some rain starts to fall at night, your sleeping bag will start to suck up moisture, and you’ll be unable to protect yourself. Keeping a bivy cover with your sleeping bag helps to ensure that you can have a peaceful night of rest even if the weather turns sour and the rain starts pouring.
Bivy covers are a good idea even when you have a tent or a tarp. If your tarp isn’t set up correctly or if your tent has a leak somewhere in the rainfly, you may not be able to protect yourself from the weather if you forgot to bring a bivy cover. I always bring mine on expeditions, since the extra few ounces of weight can be well worth it during a storm.
Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, your sleeping bag may still get some moisture leaking into it. When this happens, a liner can be a great thing to have. Waterproof sleeping bag liners add a few degrees of temperature protection overnight but are also harder to get wet when stored correctly inside your pack. I usually choose not to bring my liner during the summer months, relying instead on some of the other waterproofing methods to keep my bag dry, but during colder parts of the year, my liner can be a great tool to have.
Keeping Out Snow
I want to add a special section for snow since most of these measures are only effective against rain. If you expect to encounter snowfall during your trip, you should take care to wrap your sleeping bag extra-tight with trash bags or plastic wrap. Additionally, if you’re camping in the winter, you should always bring a bivy. In addition to protection from freezing snow and wind, the bivy cover should also help to keep your sleeping bag warm.
Nobody likes sleeping wet. Even if you’re a “tough guy” who claims to love sleeping in the rain, it’s not healthy for you and could potentially lead to severe hypothermia. Taking the extra steps to protect yourself from the elements and to keep your sleeping bag dry isn’t just comfortable – it could even save your life.