A lightweight down coat should be at the center of any good backpacking list. You’ll wear it just about every night on the trail. It’ll keep you toasty warm, even after spending hours jammed into the bottom of your pack. Your down jacket will be put through the ringer in the backcountry, but it’s a tough piece of gear built to take the abuse. So, considering how essential your down coat is and how often you use it, let me ask you this: When was the last time you washed it?
Yeah… that’s what I thought.
Showing your down some love will get rid of smells and stains, but more importantly it will rejuvenate the insulation of your coat. The more loft your coat has, the better it will be at keeping you warm, which is the whole point.
Most backpackers are afraid to wash down because they think getting down wet will ruin it, but that’s not actually true. When down gets wet it clumps together and loses its loft, so it performs poorly at holding in heat. But when it’s properly washed and dried, down will fluff up just like new and insulate your body much better.
In addition, washing a down coat is super easy. It’ll take a little more time than washing normal clothes, but it’s well worth the effort. To wash your down jacket, all you’ll need is:
- Down wash
- A front loading washer
- A dryer with low heat
- Three clean tennis balls (or substitute)
For down wash, I recommend using Granger Down Wash, Gear Aid ReviveX Down Wash, or Nikwax Down Wash. I’ve used them all and they work very well. You could use a regular detergent, but I wouldn't recommend it. Regular detergents can leave fragrances and residues that are hard to wash out and they might even strip some of the natural oils from the down.
For a washing machine, it’s generally best to use a front-loading washer because it will be more gentle on your coat. Top-loading washers can sometimes snag and rip gear. I’ve used both types of washers to clean down coats and I’ve never caused any damage, but I tend to be very cautious with gear I like. If you're worried about your top-loading washer, consider taking a trip to a laundromat in your area.
Washing your down jacket:
- To get started, use a small amount of stain remover or down wash to treat any really grubby spots.
- Place your jacket in the washing machine on a warm cycle (not hot or cold) and put in the down wash as directed.
- Let the jacket run through the cycle and then run it one more time without any detergent to make sure all the soap is removed.
- When it’s time to dry, use a very low heat setting on your dryer and throw in three clean tennis balls to help break up wet clumps of down. If you don’t have any tennis balls, you can put shoes inside clean socks or make sock balls as a substitute.
- The drying process will be slow, but it’s the most important part, so be patient. It usually takes around 2-3 hours to dry a lightweight down coat. Don't risk frying your jacket fabric by turning up the heat.
- Pull your coat out of the dryer every 15-30 minutes to break up any clumps that might be forming. The more your coat dries, the easier it will be to remove clumps.
- You’ll know when your coat has fully dried when it is light, fluffy, and clump free.
- Make sure your coat is completely dry before packing or compressing it. Compressing wet down can hurt the insulation properties of your garments.
- Always store your down jackets and sleeping bags uncompressed in a clean and dry spot.
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