When you’re at the end of a long day of hiking, one of your most important pieces of equipment is a cozy, dry sleeping bag. It’s no fun at all to attempt to dry out a sleeping bag when you’re tired, hungry, and perhaps wrestling with a tent in inclement weather if you don’t attach it to a backpack.
Don’t Attach it, Pack it
Some experienced campers advise packing your sleeping bag inside your backpack rather than attaching it.
In fact, some accounts suggest to first pack your sleeping bag, then pack end-of-the-day items such as your mini-cooker, spare clothes, MREs, or other meals, followed up by your tent, and finally topped off with your rain gear and whatever you plan to have for lunch.
There are several advantages to this method:
- Your sleeping bag or tent won’t swing around and unbalance your load.
- Your sleeping bag, especially if encased in a plastic garbage bag before being placed in your bag, will remain dry.
- Your sleeping bag and clothes can cushion hard items such as cans or waterproof boxes.
- Your tent will also stay dry.
There are also disadvantages when you don’t attach the sleeping bag to a backpack:
- Sleeping bags and summer tents are bulky.
- A heavy sleeping bag at the bottom of your pack can put a strain on your bag.
- A tear or being dropped in a puddle can expose your sleeping bag to the elements.
How to Strap a Sleeping Bag to a Backpack
Many modern hiking packs have built-in straps. These are used for two purposes. The first is to compress your load after you have it packed. The second is to attach useful items, such as your sleeping bag or backpack to the outside of your pack.
Before strapping your sleeping bag to your pack, first, make sure that it’s protected from the elements. One way to do this is to roll it tightly as if you’re going to place it in its designated carrying pouch.
Before doing that, however, slide the bag into a black plastic trash bag. Insert the covered bag into its carrying bag, with the closed end out. This will keep dust, dirt, and water from seeping into the open end of the carry sack.
Once that’s done, use the designated straps to secure the resultant sausage roll to the bottom of your backpack. Position the sleeping bag so that it will rest comfortably across your hips, not bang against the back of your legs.
Alternatively, if your backpack has compression straps but no designated straps for your sleeping bag, turn the sausage-shaped assembly vertical so that it can be fastened against the back of your backpack.
Tie it securely to loops that might be provided for hanging things on the outside of your pack, then cinch everything together with those handy compression straps.
How to Tie a Sleeping Bag to a Backpack
Not every backpack is equipped with straps or even loops. Therefore, you might find yourself having to improvise. First, stitch or otherwise fasten some of those handy loops to your backpack. Next, add loops of paracord or similar material to the small loops you stitched or clipped onto your backpack.
Hint: Using this style of packing it might be best to lay your bedroll across the top of your other packed gear, just under the top flap of your backpack. This will help support it and put less strain on your improvised tie-downs.
Before attaching the sleeping bag, fold it lengthwise so that the folded edges are the same width as your backpack. Next, starting from the bottom end, roll it up as tightly as you can manage, then tie it using more of that handy cord.
Once it’s in as compact a roll as you can manage, slip it into a plastic bag then roll it up in your sleeping pad or ground cloth. With the top flap of your pack open, place a plastic bag or a rain poncho (or both) over the gear that’s packed in your bag.
Tie the bedroll across the top of the other packed gear, and tie it down to the loops you added, making it secure enough that it will not sway or bounce. Ideally, it should be at a height where your shoulders can take the weight without the bag pulling you off balance.
Suggestions and Precautions:
- Practice packing and unpacking your bag several times until you can do it quickly and easily.
- Do some practice campouts in your backyard or a friend’s backyard before heading off into the wilderness.
- Develop ways to secure both your sleeping bag and your tent so that they don’t get scraped off by trees or rocks. They are your warmth and shelter, so you do not want to lose them.
- Get a good book on knot tying, such as My First Book of Knots by Berndt Sundsten, or The Ultimate Book of Everyday Knots by Geoffrey Budworth. Practice your knot tying; it will help keep you from embarrassing moments when you wind up cutting your precious cords instead of untying them.
- Take some extra cord. You never know when you might need it.
- You can save some space in your backpack by laying your extra clothing flat on your bedroll and rolling them up in it.
Remember that however you fasten your sleeping bag to the rest of your gear, the goal is to arrive at the end of the day with a dry, comfy bedroll.
There’s nothing so miserable as trying to dry out your bed and spare clothes at the end of a long day of hiking.
Strap or tie it securely so it does not swing or bump against you, and so that it won’t be scraped off or caught up in brush or tree limbs. An even worse fate than arriving at your campsite with a wet sleeping bag is to arrive with no sleeping bag.
No one wants a crash course in survival camping, especially if you’re camping alone. Your survival water filter, your tent, and your sleeping bag could be the three most important items in your pack.