How to Pack a Sleeping Bag: Packing Tips for Camping

Learn to pack any type of sleeping bag most effectively, with or without a stuff sack


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Dana is one of our review writers and has been writing professionally for over a decade. By day, she works as a content marketing specialist for an international tech company.  Read More

Good backpacking sleeping bags are usually lightweight, compressible, portable, and you can carry them in a backpack with other outdoor gear.

However, packing a sleeping bag and getting it to fit in a backpack can be tricky, and improper packing can turn it into a wet, heavy lump.

So in this article, I'm going to show you the best way to pack a sleeping bag in your backpack, some sleeping bag packing tips for camping, and answer some frequently asked questions about packing a sleeping bag properly.

Let's get started.

How to Pack a Sleeping Bag

The Best Way to Pack a Sleeping Bag in a Backpack

Before packing your bag, you should consider getting a stuff sack to pack the sleeping bag in a smaller volume. 

Using a compression sack with cinch straps can be an excellent choice to further compress the bag after packing.

Stuffing the bag in a sack before packing it in the backpack will help keep it contained, reduce volume, protect it against tears and save space.

Remember not to store your bag in a compression sack when you're not camping, to maximise its lifespan.

How to Pack a Sleeping Bag in a Backpack

Two hiking backpacks with sleeping bags on the grassy ground

Packing a Synthetic Sleeping Bag in a Backpack

  • Grab the foot end of the back and scrunch it up in your hands
  • Get the stuff sack and push it down the bottom of the bag. Make sure to compress it right down the bottom and don't put it in loosely
  • Put the bag between your feet and grab it a bit under your arm and then start punching the bag down into the stuff sack
  • Twist it once it's pulled on one side and continue punching it right down to the bottom of the sack
  • Keep twisting it and work your way around supporting it with your feet by holding your fist in the top and then doing the top
  • After you're done stuffing the bag in, cinch the straps to tighten it further, and then pull the cord on the sack as tight as possible
  • Now you need to put it inside your sleeping bag, and you're good to go.

Packing a Down Sleeping Bag in a Backpack

You can use the same process with a down bag as you did for a synthetic bag, but you should be extra careful because it's made of a lot of fabric and battles inside.

Many down sleeping bags have a water-resistant shell and don't breathe easily, so if you try and stuff it inside a sack, the fabric might end up ballooning out at the top.

Once again, with a down bag, stuff it in just like the other bags. However, you can turn it inside before loading it into the sack. You can follow the following steps to pack a down sleeping bag:

  • Turn the bag inside out by unzipping it a little bit and get your hands down to the foot and pull it through.

  • Follow the same process as synthetic bags, start with the foot end, and stuff it into the bottom.

  • You don't necessarily need to pinch it between your feet, but you can keep stuffing it in, working your way around, and pushing it right down to the bottom.

  • Keep going gently, ensuring that you don't pull the fabric as you go so that you don't tear anything inside the bag.
  • Once you have finished stuffing it, tighten the sack further by pulling the cord on it as tight as possible, just like we did with synthetic bags.
  • Now you just put it inside your backpack along with your other stuff. That's it!

This is much easier than rolling them back and putting them into the sack. 

Stuffing your sleeping bag this way will ensure that the insulation stays evenly distributed since the bag is never folded the same way.

Packing a Sleeping Bag by Rolling It

Packing a bag by rolling is more effective for compressing a bag back to a convenient size when the volume is not an issue, such as on sleepovers or when car camping.

Follow the following steps to pack your sleeping bag by rolling it:

How to pack a Sleeping Bag by Rolling It
  1. Get a fitted sack (not a stuff sack) which the bag can fit into when it's rolled up.

  2. Fold the bag in half, width-wise, to become half as wide and twice as thick when rolled up.

  3. You may need to fold it a second time, depending on the size of the bag and the stuff sack.

  4. Start rolling the bag at the end without straps attached, rolling as tightly as you can.

  5. Pull the straps over the bundle to keep the bag together.

  6. To roll the bag as tightly as possible, kneel with your knees on the bag and roll it against your upper leg.

  7. Fit the bag into the sack and your backpack.

  8. Alternatively, if you don't have a fitted or stuff sack, you can cinch the bag and tight it with a belt or rope (you may need someone to hold it for you while you tie it).

You can use this process on both synthetic and down bags, but you'll need to be extra careful on down bags carefully because it has a lot of extra fabric and battles inside. 

Down bags are also more challenging to roll, and you might end up creating a sort of sheet of down on the bag that you won't want to lift.

How to Pack a Sleeping Bag with a Pillow

If you're carrying a pillow along with a sleeping bag for a camping trip, it can be a bit tricky to pack them together, considering the sleeping bag weight, size of the pillow, and the method used to pack sleeping bags.

However, it's straightforward and not as difficult as you might think. You can follow the following steps to pack your sleeping bag with a pillow:

  • Put the pillow inside the sleeping bag.

  • Then put the sleeping bag inside a pillowcase.

  • Take around 30cm of the sleeping bag and fold it horizontally over your arm.

  • With this 30cm horizontal fold, you want to roll it vertically and tight, then place it within the compression stuff sacks.

  • Next, put the now stuffed compression sack between your feet while holding the remainder of the sleeping bag under your arm (armpit area).

  • Now take a good handful of the sleeping bag and stuff it into the compression stuff sack. Give the compression stuff sack a quarter turn and repeat until it is fully stuffed.

  • After that, you can then put the bag into the bottom of the backpack.

Apart from reducing the size of your sleeping bag, a compression sack can also help protect your bag from dirt, dust, and debris. It also makes it easier to keep your gear organized while camping.

How Do You Pack a Sleeping Bag without a Compression Sack?

A camper stuffing her sleeping bag on a stuff sack

There are various ways you can pack your sleeping bag without a compression sack which includes:

  • Packing the bag into a trash compactor bags and stuff sacks along with your other stuff, keeping everything on top of the bag

  • Packing the bag at the bottom of your backpack and putting every other stuff such as clothes, sleeping bag liner, and electronics on the top

Packing your bag without a stuff sack may not only help gain more room inside of your backpack, but it also has other advantages such as:

  • There'll be no lump in the backpack pressing against your back

  • The bag will already be partially fluffed (a fluffier bag is warmer) when you arrive at the camp because it wasn't fully compressed

  • The bag will wrap itself around other stuff in the pack preventing rattling, shifting among other things

However, one of the downsides of not having the bag in a compression sack is that it'll be nearly impossible to separate wet stuff from dry stuff or keep the bag dry on rainy trips.

Protecting Your Sleeping Bag from Water

If you are crossing a stream or river, camping in the rainy season, or a wet environment, protecting your sleeping bag from water and keeping it dry, especially a down bag, should be a significant priority.

Because there's nothing more uncomfortable than sleeping in a wet sleeping bag on a cold night., even with all your clothes on!

Sleeping bags can get wet not only from rain or crossing the stream but also from setting your backpack on the damp ground since you always put it at the bottom of your bag.

An excellent way to protect a sleeping bag from water is to pack it inside waterproof stuff sacks or rucksacks, but they can be a little expensive and are not always reliable.

However, you can use a good pack cover and line the interior of your pack with a trash compactor bag for extra protection.

Alternatively, you can line the interior of the stuff sack with a regular garbage bag before stuffing your sleeping bag in if you don't have a trash compactor bag.

Follow the following steps to protect your sleeping bag from water:

  • Fold the top of the trash compactor or garbage bag so that it is sealed to prevent water from getting inside.

  • If you're using a garbage bag, twist the excess ends of the bag and stick it under the drawstring so that nothing sticks out.

  • Pack the bag at the bottom of your since you'll not be needing it during the day.

  • However, if your pack has two compartments, you can store the bag at the bottom of the top compartment.

If your pack can accommodate all your camping gear and you'll need to lash larger items like a camping tent and sleeping bag on the outside, you can strap the bag at the top of the pack and the tent at the bottom.

It's better to have the tent in the ground than the bag, especially if the ground is wet since water can not affect the tent.

If you're strapping the bag to your backpack, you should ensure that you center it on the pack as best as you can and tighten it as much as you can. So that you don't end up stopping and re-securing your bag because of falling out while you're on the trail.

Is It Better to Roll or Stuff a Sleeping Bag?

A woman rolling a sleeping bag before packing

We recommend stuffing it in. It's better on the bag, more accessible for you, gives the bag a longer shelf life, and makes it warmer to sleep in. 

Rolling and folding backpacking sleeping bags can cause repeated stress in the same parts of the bag, which can cause lumps in the stuffing or tears in the fabric.

Additionally, there are other reasons why you should stuff it, especially with synthetic bags.

New synthetic bags come folded in half and tightly rolled. Over time, you'll get repetitive folds that run down the middle of the bag. 

This makes the synthetic fill consistently folded, and rolling the back also creates tension through it. As you try to make it tighter, you'll stress the bag and the synthetic filling. So over time, this can break down the synthetic filling, particularly up and down the middle and the front of the bag.

On the other hand, stuffing the bag in can help get around this because you'll grab and load it inside with an irregular pattern. Thus creating some irregularity within the synthetic fill, and there'll be no regular folds on the bag. This will help it loft up better when you're going to use it again, and it's also much easier than rolling the bag.

Is It Ok to Compress A Down Sleeping Bag?

It's okay to compress a down sleeping bag. However, you can damage the bag by leaving it compressed for an extended period, especially when it's damp.

The key is to keep the bag clean and dry while storing, especially when stuffed. It would be best if you always got it out, air it right away and let it dry after every camping trip.

It's also recommended to store the bag very loosely in a big breathable storage bag (should have come with the bag) or keep it under the bed or hang it in the closet.

How Do Sleeping Bag Compression Sacks Work?

Sleeping bag compressions sacks work by pushing out all the air in a sleeping bag, which is excellent for packing a warm or inflated sleeping bag into a relatively small backpack.

If your sleeping bag has a lot of lofts, a compression sack can help reduce the bag down, and it is as small as possible by pushing all air out of the bag. 

This can be very useful if you're going on a long backpacking trip and need to maximize space in your backpack to fit all your gear and other stuff.

However, putting a sleeping bag into a compression sack, especially for an extended period, can turn into a somewhat oddly shaped hard-sided object. 

Also, depending on the shape and size of your backpack, it can be a bit more challenging to pack a filled compression sack than it would be to stuff the

Can I Use a Compression Sack for My Sleeping Bag? Isn't It Bad for Your Bag?

Yes, you can use compression sacks to pack your sleeping bag, and it's not bad for your bag unless you keep it compressed for an extended period.

Keeping your sleeping bag compressed will usually not permanently affect the bag's loft. However, the compression may affect down sleeping bags, so it's better to avoid compressing them for long periods.

How Long Can I Keep My Sleeping Bag Compressed?

It's recommended to use your sleeping bag when you buy it. However, if you want to keep it compressed for an extended time, you can do so, but you should avoid leaving it compressed for more than two weeks.

You can compress synthetic bags for a very long time without causing any damage. However, sleeping bags should be worn inside packs if possible to reduce compartment space and weight.

What Is a Sleeping Bag Compression Bag?

A sleeping bag packed in a compression bag

A sleeping bag compression bag is a type of drawstring bag used to store sleeping bags stuffed into the bag rather than rolling or folding.

It compresses and reduces the volume of the sleeping bag so that you can easily stuff it into a backpack without taking up too much space.

Sleeping bag compression sacks are equipped with a cloth lid attached to the sack's sealed end by adjustable straps. These straps help reduce the size of the sack and its content when the straps are possibly shortened.

What If Your Sleeping Bag Is Too Big for Your Pack?

Is your sleeping bag too big to fit inside your backpack? Not all sleeping bags are compact, and some people may prefer a larger or a mummy bag that won't fit in their pack than a light sleeping bag.

If your sleeping bag doesn't fit in your pack, you can try to pack it in a waterproof stuff sack or dry bag. Straps will keep the sleeping bag from slipping out of the bag is attached to a handlebar.

You can also use backpack straps to attach your sleeping gear to the pack to keep it off the ground. Sleeping bags can be attached either on top or on the back of the pack.

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