How to Properly Roll Up a Sleeping Bag

When going on a longer hike, it's crucial to save space in your backpack since you don't have a lot of space. Here's how we're rolling up our sleeping bags to save space.

For the newbie hikers out there, you’re probably thinking that rolling up a sleeping bag needs no instruction. How hard could it be, after all? Of course, when you get down to it, rolling it up yourself, you realize that this isn’t exactly going the way you pictured it. It’s full of air, won’t smash down, and takes up ¾ of the room in your pack. 

To roll up the bag the right way, and leave enough room in your pack for essentials, there is a step-by-step process that involves getting all of the air pockets out as you go, while also not allowing the bag to unfold on one end. 

How to roll up a sleeping bag? It’s not as easy as you’d think, at least, not at first glance. This is especially true with mummy bags, as they almost never want to play nice and roll up tightly. The goal is to get your sleeping bag rolled up in such a way that it saves space.

If you’re new to backpacking, saving space is one of the most important things that you can do. It’s even more important if you are going on a multi-day, multi-night hike, or if you are going to be out camping for the weekend in primitive style.

Now, we’ll be covering how to roll up the two most popular sleeping bags which is:

With that out of the way, let’s jump straight into the first type of sleeping bag!

How to roll up a mummy sleeping bag

blue sleeping bag lying on green grass
Image credits: Felix M. Dorn

The mummy bag, so aptly named from the shape and form of the bag resembling the sarcophagus of a mummy (most notably, Tutenkamen in the consumer’s mind at least), is a pain to roll because of how well it seems to retain large pockets of air. 

On the plus side, mummy bags don’t zip down much, if at all, so it won’t easily come unraveled as you are trying to pound the air out of it. Make sure that there is nothing left inside of the mummy bag, such as clothing.

Here’s how you roll it up step by step:

  1. Lay the bag out flat on the ground
  2. Fold it in half from the bottom to the top
  3. Squeeze out all of the air
  4. Roll from the folded edge, towards the top
  5. Roll as tight and constricted as you can
  6. Go slow, ensuring that the entire length of the roll is consistent
  7. Make sure you press out the air as you go
  8. Once you’re done rolling, kneel on it
  9. Use some rope, nylon, paracord, or a compression sack
  10. Stuff it inside your backpack or hang it on the outside

Wait, why would you want to strap it to the outside of the bag? Well, it’s all part of the “saving space” mantra. A sleeping bag that is strapped to the outside of the bag is one that’s not taking up any space in your backpack.

If you’re also carrying a sleeping mat on the outside of your backpack, you can lay the mummy bag on top of the sleeping bag and roll it up inside the sleeping mat. It’ll keep your sleeping bag well protected throughout your hike.

How to roll up a rectangular sleeping bag

man standing on field with orange sleeping bag
Image credits: Martin Jernberg

Rolling up a rectangular sleeping bag is much the same as how you roll up a mummy sleeping bag. The first thing that you should always do is lay it out on the ground and go through it, ensuring that you’re not leaving anything inside of it and that the inside is nice and dry.

Then all you have to do to roll it up is:

  1. Lay it out flat and all zipped up on the ground
  2. Use your hands to work out all of the air pockets
  3. Fold it in half like the mummy bag
  4. Roll from the bottom to the head tightly
  5. Use either some rope, some paracord, or a compression sack
  6. Stuff it inside your sleeping bag or hang it outside your backpack

Like the mummy bag, if you’re also carrying around a foam mat, it’s a good idea to roll it up and enclose the sleeping bag within. Foam mats make pretty tight rolls and if you have plenty of paracord, you’ll be able to cinch the two up tight on the top of your pack. 

If you need the space in your pack or you like to travel as light as possible, you should try to keep your sleeping gear on the outside of your pack, so long as its all waterproof. If not, you really don’t have much choice but to jam it down inside.

Is it a good idea to roll up your sleeping bag?

When rolling up your sleeping bag, you run a slight risk of waring out the exterior shell of your sleeping bag and if it’s a down sleeping bag, you might damage the downs.

If you have a down sleeping bag and TONS of space in your backpack, then I’d probably go with a stuff sack to avoid damaging the downs but if you have a synthetic sleeping bag, then it’s really not a problem rolling it up.

In other words, stuffing your sleeping bag will create a massive ball that you have to carry around and give you 10 solid years of sleeping bag glory before the shell becomes too worn. Rolling your sleeping bag will keep it tight, uniform, and compact enough to strap to your pack, saving a load of space and will give you a solid 9 years and 364 days of sleeping bag bliss.

It’s not going to make much of a difference unless you want to stuff your sleeping bag in a sack. If all you’re doing is going on little camping excursions with your family, then stuffing it is perfectly fine. In fact, it may even be advisable.

After a full 24-hours in the wilderness, with your kids cut off from the internet, you may want to stuff the thing just to take out some of your anxiety and rage. Who knows?

If you’re hiking, however, especially if it’s going to be a multi-day and night endeavor, then you want to roll your sleeping bag as opposed to stuffing it. All of the naysayers can say what they want about stuffing, but when you are on a multi-day hike, precision and space-saving trump haphazardly stuffing your sack into a giant mesh ball every, single time. 

In defense of the stuffing bag option, it should be noted that there are compression, dry-sack options available as well. These compression sacks are designed to compress around your sleeping bag, reducing the size or volume of your load.

That’s all well and good, however, it still doesn’t solve the issue of backpacking with a large lump that lacks the tie-down and simple functionality of a well-rolled-up sleeping bag. If you want to go the bag stuffing route, stick with it only for those family camping trips, where speed on the trail and ease of travel isn’t necessary.

Final thoughts

For those who are into backpacking, scaling every cliff face that comes across their path, hiking into the middle of nowhere, and staying out in the wild for days on end, rolling up your sleeping bag and knowing how to roll it up are both important and the best choice.

It’s all about saving space for essentials because, in all honesty, a sleeping bag or an ISO mat is a luxury and nowhere near the necessity of first aid, water, and sustenance, which should always take priority in your pack.

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Thomas Godwin

Thomas Godwin is a writer and Marine Corps veteran with a degree in Creative Writing from the Full Sail University. He has been writing content for HeadlessNomad since 2021. Being a veteran, Thomas knows pretty much everything there is to know about the use of paracord, how boots should fit, and nature in general.