Down jackets and sleeping bags have the highest warmth to weight ratios and provide excellent cold weather insulation. However, they are often encased in delicate nylon shells and require special care and maintenance to ensure they provide the best insulation year after year. Before I talk about cleaning your down gear, I’ll first go over a couple of preventative maintenance points that I follow.
Caring For Down
- Keep it dry: down loses its insulation properties when wet. When I’m tromping throughthe wet woods or skiing I wear my down jacket under a hard shell like my Outdoor Research Furio Jacket.
- Keep it clean: use a bag liner or wear long underwear in your down sleeping bags as body oils and dirt will absorb into the down feathers and stop them from trapping and warming air. I sleep in merino wool long underwear and socks and after each trip I wipe down the inside of my sleeping bags with a damp cloth and leave them out to air dry.
- Protect it: wear an outer shell and be mindful of branches. My dog once jumped up and ripped my North Face Thunder Jacket, I fixed it up with some Tenacious Tape, but it still made me sad.
Cleaning Your Down
I use the following process for washing my down gear. Set aside some time as it takes quite awhile, if you’re at a laundromat bring lots of change and a good book (I recently read Will to Live by Les Stroud and it was entertaining). Note that I normally only wash my sleeping bags and jackets once a year as I follow my above points to keep it in good working order.
- Use a front load washer and dryer so there are no agitators that could snag your gear.
- Get a mild detergent. I use soaps specifically made for cleaning down, both Granger’s Down Wash and Nikwax have worked well for me.
- Choose a gentle cycle and low heat. (I use the handwash setting on my washer and low heat with lots of time on my dryer).
- Toss some clean tennis balls or similar dog toy in the dryer which helps break up the wet down clumps and speed up the drying process.
- Be patient: it took me three drying cycles to get two sleeping bags and a jacket completely dry. You don’t want to put your gear away wet as that can cause mold and mildew.
If you protect and maintain your down gear it should keep you warm for many years of use!