If you're like me, you like to own good quality gear. Put the money in up-front and your equipment performs better and lasts much longer. Sleeping bagsare no exception, but a good sleeping bag can be a significant investment. If you want to get the most out of your bag, you need to properly care for it and properly store it. Just jamming your sleeping bag into its stuff sack and dropping it onto the bottom of your closet till the next time you need it is the worst thing you could do.
Sleeping bags - all kinds of sleeping bags - rely on Loft to keep you warm and cozy. Loft is the technical term for fluffiness. The more fluffiness in the sleeping bags insulating layers, the warmer you'll be. A good sleeping bag will pack down nice and small for travel, then spring up to full loft when it's time for bed.
When not in use, be sure to take your sleeping bag out of its stuff sack or compression sack. Bags stored for a long time that are compressed tightly will lose their loft. No Loft, no warmth. So, store your bag loosely rolled, in a breathable cotton or mesh stuff sack. Or simply store the sleeping bag hanging or loosely folded. Let the bag breathe and you will gain years of warm use out of it.
When you head out into the great unknown, Weather happens. Canoes are tippy. Tents occasionally leak. Water is not your sleeping bags friend. Wet sleeping bags will not retain heat effectively, and are perfect breeding grounds for mold and mildew. Do not pack your bag away if it is wet or damp. If it does get wet, hang it out to dry in the sun, or tumble dry with no heat.
When you're out in the wild, you're going to get a little dirty. Maybe a little smelly. Maybe a lot smelly. After a long day of getting dirty and smelly, you're going to climb into your nice, cozy sleeping bag.
Washing a sleeping bag is hard on the loft, the insulation layering and the stitching - especially if it is a lightweight sleeping bag. Try just hanging your sleeping bag after each trip to allow it to air out. Washing it after each trip is probably not necessary (unless each trip is one month of gruelling grimey bogs or something). Airing it should do the trick. Especially if you're clever and use a sleeping bag liner - then you just pull out the liner and wash it.
If you do need to wash your bag, be careful to follow the manufacturers instructions. Use a front load machine without an agitator, and machine dry with no heat. Be gentle on your Sleeping bag, as there are lots of bits and pieces that can be affected by a washing machine.
Invest in decent gear up-front, then look after that gear properly and you should not need to replace it for years to come. Enjoy your tripping!