Is your trusty old down sleeping bag showing its age? Not quite as toasty in cold weather as it once was?
Well, the good news is that you can probably restore it to its former glory by either reconditioning or restuffing it.
- Down is much more durable than you think, so it’s best to try washing the bag or getting the down insulation professionally laundered before you opt for refilling.
- Specialist companies can clean, restore, or refill your bag — either using fresh down or donor down from a second bag.
- You can also restuff down bags DIY-style at home, though it’s going to get a bit messy…
- You can also add extra down for a little more warmth, but overfilling will just make the bag heavier.
Does Your Bag Really Need Refilling?
Down is a remarkable product. Those hair-fine fluffy filaments are incredibly durable, and in most cases the shell fabric will reach the end of its life long before the down fill.
If your down bag isn’t as warm as it used to be, it’s probably just because the down needs a wash. Dirt, grease, sweat, and fuel will all stop the insulation performing properly, so you don’t usually need to drop a whole pile of money on fresh feathers.
Wash It Yourself
The first step is to try washing your bag yourself, using a specialized down wash rather than standard detergent.
This is best done at the laundromat, where you’ve got large front-loading machines that are less likely to damage your pricey gear.
When you’re washing a sleeping bag, you need to make sure you get it absolutely dry — otherwise you run the risk of mildew and mold. Most down bags are safe in the dryer on a warm setting, but it could take five or six hours to get it properly dried out.
Send It Off for a Professional Clean
A DIY clean will only get you so far. For a really heavily soiled bag — or one that’s already been washed without any noticeable improvement — you’ll need to send it off to a professional cleaning and restoration service.
These guys can resuscitate really grimy down to give it more loft — in some cases by emptying all the down out, washing the filling and the shell fabric separately in special machines, then putting it all back together again.
This level of cleaning can be expensive, but it’s still usually a whole lot cheaper than starting again with fresh down.
Some companies will also offer a free assessment service if you pay the shipping, and here at Effortless Outdoors we’ve generally found that this is worth doing.
We once sent off a bag that we were pretty sure had reached the end of the road, but it came back as good as new after a $70 clean.
Getting a Professional to Refill Your Sleeping Bag
Sometimes, the down filling has genuinely given up the ghost — often due to rot or incorrect storage rather than hard outdoor use.
If you’ve sent your sleeping bag to a professional company and they don’t think they can restore it with a clean, they can probably give you a quote to completely replace the down.
The cost of this may vary significantly depending on where the new down is coming from.
Using a Donor Sleeping Bag
Most of the time, the cheapest way to get your sleeping bag refilled is to send a donor bag. Remember that in many older bags the shell fabric might be kaput, but the down filling can be restored with a specialist clean and transferred across to a fresher shell.
If you don’t have an old bag of your own lying around, you could try trawling eBay or other sites in search of a likely-looking donor.
Using Fresh Down
Companies can also refill a bag with fresh down. This is expensive, but it’s still cheaper than a shiny new bag, and you can feel confident that the down quality and workmanship will be A++.
Can You Refill a Down Sleeping Bag at Home?
Perhaps you’re looking to save a few bucks, or perhaps you just love tinkering with your gear. Whatever the case, you can also take the DIY approach.
Be warned that adding down to a sleeping bag makes a real mess, and you will be hoovering up down for weeks afterwards. Some enthusiasts on forums even recommend doing it in a tent in the yard to limit the carnage.
Adding Down to Sleeping Bag – Step 1: Buy Some Down
You can order fresh down from Amazon and other retailers. Just make sure you get the right fill-power, and try to verify the quality as best you can.
We found that when we looked closely, some of the “down” available on Amazon was actually feathers — which are not the same thing as down, and are no use for sleeping bags.
Adding Down to Sleeping Bag – Step 2: Open Up the Seams
Find the seams for each of the down tubes, and open them up. This is best done with a sewing tool called a seam ripper, rather than a pair of scissors.
Adding Down to Sleeping Bag – Step 3: Refill or Replace the Down
If you’re completely replacing the down, empty the old stuff out then start filling inwards from the hole, using a broom handle to distribute the down fill. Otherwise you can just top up each tube with a few handfuls of down fiber.
However, don’t overfill (see below).
Pin or hand-stitch the seams closed again, then use a sewing machine to seal them up securely.
Overfilling Your Down Sleeping Bag
To understand why overfilling isn’t a great idea, you have to appreciate how down works.
When you take your sleeping bag out of its stuff sack, the down filaments “loft up” — which means that they curl and expand to fill the available space in the tubes. What keeps you warmer isn’t necessarily the down itself, but the tiny pockets of warm air that it traps.
That’s why higher “fill power” down is so highly prized — because an ounce of top-quality down expands to fill more cubic inches of space, providing the same warmth for less weight.
So, if you stuff great handfuls of extra down feathers into the tubes, all you’re really doing is compressing the filling and stopping it lofting up properly. You’re adding weight and bulk rather than warmth, which kinda defeats the point of using good-quality down in the first place.
That said, many sleeping bags do have a little bit of extra volume in the tubes, so you may be able to boost the temperature rating by adding more fill. You just have to work out when to stop — which isn’t easy unless you’ve got a bit of experience.
Can You Refill a Down Sleeping Bag?
You can, but down is very long-lasting and it often just needs deep cleaning rather than replacing.
How Do You Restuff a Down Sleeping Bag?
You can buy replacement down online, then open up the down tubes with a seam-ripper and stuff them with fresh down. Re-seal the seams securely using a sewing machine.
How Much Should You Fill a Down Sleeping Bag?
Ideally, you should replace insulation with a similar weight of down, leaving room for it to loft up. Overstuffing will increase total weight without significantly improving warmth.