How long can you keep a tent and sleeping bag packed wet? 🏕

October 5, 2021

Picture credit: Val

Camping is not always going as planned. You might hit unexpected rain, or just a very humid weather, and might be forced to leave in unideal conditions, where your sleeping bag or tent is still humid from rain or condensation, and you’re not in a situation where you can properly dry it off before packing.

How bad can it be if you packed your wet sleeping bag or tent? What if you forgot it like this for a few days, or just weren’t in a situation where you could take it out to dry the same day? How bad can this be for your equipment? Here’s my experience.

Tents in snow

Equipment and context

My tent is a MSR Hubba Hubba NX, and my sleeping bag is actually a down quilt made by Enlightened Equipment. Both are fairly expensive so I’m always pretty cautious about them.

Few days ago I was camping and packed my tent in the morning after a rainy night. It was going to rain all day so there was no chance of the equipment drying properly before leaving.

This is not the first time this happens, and usually I can unpack them a few hours later or at least the same night at home, and have them dry in the apartment or outside if it’s nice enough. When it’s dry, I shake the dust off the tent and pack everything nicely again. Or if I’m on a multiday hike, I’ll just set it up again somewhere else the same night, and even if it’s still raining, the humidity is usually not a problem unless the gear is tightly packed and cannot breathe.

Tent on an island

The exception

But this time, something different happened that made me forget about my equipment. We went for a bouldering session during the day, and I took a pretty bad fall and broke my tailbone. Not bad enough for me to go to the hospital, but still shook me enough that I forgot about my tent and sleeping bag during the rest of the trip (we were staying at a chalet for the last few days).

I left my (damp) gear packed in my hiking backpack. It’s only when getting back home that I realized everything stayed packed wet for 4 days straight. Kinda worrying when you read online a sleeping bag shouldn’t stay compressed more than 12 hours, let alone compressed wet, and a tent can develop mold when stored wet for more than 24 or 48 hours.

Generally speaking, you should not leave your sleeping bag in a compression sack for longer than 12 hours at a time.

This is only a guideline though, and you shouldn’t worry if your sleeping bag is compressed for longer than this. It is not like it will be ruined if it’s stored for another few hours or even a day like this.

Big Outdoor Adventure, “Compression sack sleeping bags – how long can they stay compressed?”

What about when it’s 4 days straight or more though?

It only takes 24 to 48 hours before mold starts to noticeably grow on the fabric of your tent.

Camping Habits, “How long can you store a wet tent?”

Tents with a sunset

How bad was it?

When I unpacked everything, they were both still pretty wet to the touch. I let them dry overnight in my apartment. 🙏 Those are very good and expensive equipment and I was worried that I might have ruined or significantly damaged them by leaving them packed wet for pretty much 4 times longer than recommended.

The next day, I shook everything off, and it turns out the tent didn’t develop any mold! And the sleeping bag was nicely dry and took back its normal fluffiness. Both smelled as smokey as usual 😆, no worst no better, but definitely not like mold or anything concerning.

Conclusion

While you should definitely avoid doing that, if you end up in a situation where you left your tent or sleeping bag packed wet for a few days, maybe even a week, don’t sweat it, you probably didn’t ruin your gear!

If you have high quality equipment, maybe it’ll last 28 years instead of 30 because of such a mistake? But it shouldn’t be a huge deal if it happens exceptionally and you otherwise take good care of it.

Did you have a similar experience where you left your gear packed in an unideal way for longer than you would have wanted to? Let me know what kind of gear you have, what happened and how it turned out! I’d love to update this post and get a better idea of how different equipment react to rough situations.

Tents in snow

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