Compression Sacks 101

Avatar Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: November 24, 2020
Compression Sacks 101

I love a good compression sack because it allows me to save on space in my bag and provides some waterproof protection for my sleeping bag.

I have a mid weight down sleeping bag from REI. It is over 30 years old because I bought it used and it was vintage then, I have been camping with it for 16 years at this point. It still doesn’t have a hole in it. The drawback is that it is bulky unless you put it in a compression sack.

Matt bought me an amazing compression sack for Christmas the first year we were together. I still use it on every camping trip. When he bought it I remember thinking that it was really thin and was a little shocked that such a thin piece of something cost $30. It was worth every penny and so much more and it shows how buying good gear can pay off.

You can get a good bag for less money than you might think.

Due to more competition and availability, it seems that compression sacks are one of those gear items that have become more affordable for the quality you receive. Water filters are another piece of survival gear that have plummeted in price.


I remember when we bought a few compression sacks from Guide Gear. They were huge! The problem with buying a big compression sack is that you wind up trying to pack way to much and it often does not fit in your bag. The Guide Gear bags were inexpensive and they were good for what they were but they eventually broke and were mostly useless.

We mostly got them for the size, since we were given a really huge sleeping bag for camping in sub zero temperatures. It was made for a really big guy and we could both fit in it so it was useful for cold weather camping where we didn’t have to carry things too far or we could car camp.

So be careful what size compression sack you choose. I like to just consider what size I need for my sleeping bag plus a few clothing items. I can usually fit two outfits and extra socks in with my sleeping bag.

Strong straps and stitching are important

If your compression bag doesn’t have strong straps and stitching it is not going to last very long. You can reinforce a cheaply made compression sack or repair a good one that has seen better days if you can sew a little bit and use the right type of thread or replacement straps. Sometimes a broken compression sack can just be repurposed as a laundry bag or storage bag. That is what happened with the Guide Gear bags we had.

Multiple compression sacks can make more sense than just having one.

It can be cumbersome to pack or attach a single large compression sack that has your sleeping bag and a bunch of clothing in it. For the sake of organization, having just a single one may not be the best plan either. You might consider having one compression sack for a sleeping bag and then another compression bag for clothing. This will reduce bulk and allow you to distribute the weight of your bag better.

Packing your bag in the right order helps.

Think about the order in which you will need items when you are packing your bag. Items that are least likely to be used should be at the bottom for example. If I am stuffing extra clothing and a sleeping bag in the same compression sack, I always put the sleeping bag in first.

Clothing like rain gear that I might need to get to fast, I will stash in a different compartment. How you pack is going to vary a bit depending on the situation. The point is to make it easy to get to things when you need them and not be the person on the side of the mountain that has to almost completely unpack to find one thing.

Some compression sacks are more waterproof than others.

There is a difference between a compression sack and a dry bag. If you want both of these features in a bag, then you will need to get a specific bag. Some of these bags cost more than traditional compression sacks but they offer a lot of protection. If you plan on being out in a climate that has a lot of precipitation or if you spend a lot of time on or near water then it might be worth it to get a bag that can totally keep out water for an extended period of time. All bags are waterproof on some level but a real dry bag is thicker and made of slightly different materials. Here is a link to a post I did on dry bags for more information.

Compression sacks can be used for a pillow when camping

It is not practical to bring a pillow unless you are car camping or maybe if you have space for an inflatable one. A compression sack that has some extra clothing in it or even a good fleece coat makes an excellent pillow. The only real issue is keeping any plastic buckles out of your way because they can be uncomfortable. This is usually pretty easy to do.

ALPS Mountaineering Compression Stuff Sack

This bag comes in various colors and sizes. It is made of the same strong nylon material that the bag I have had since my early 20s. If you are in doubt about what size to get, I would recommend getting a large or x-large unless you plan on having multiple compression sacks. D-rings allow the bags to be easily attached to any backpack.

Outdoor Research Airpurge Dry Compression Sack 35 Liter

The Airpurge offers a classic dry bag design but in a handy compression sack. This is a lightweight yet heavy duty bag that will keep your clothes or sleeping bag nice and dry even if you get caught in a downpour. The 35 liter capacity is large enough for long trips.

Sea to Summit Event Compression Dry Sack

If I was going to pick out a dry bag/compression sack hybrid, this would be it. This is made of very thick 400D nylon and features a roll top closure that provides an excellent seal against water intrusion. These are not the least expensive bags but they are made to last. Always remember that with gear you use a lot, quality really matters. If you buy quality the first time, you will probably be using it many years down the road.

M-Tac Nylon Military Compression Sack

If you like a more military or tactical style compression sack then this is the bag for you. I am adding the XL size to this list but you can get this bag in different sizes as needed. I like the way the straps are situated on this bag. It makes it far easier to strap it to any type of backpack. The straps are also made in a way where they actually help reinforce the bag more. A lot of compression sacks don’t have the webbing effect that this bag uses.

The XL size has a 40 L capacity and measures 23″ in length and 11″ in diameter when not compressed. This bag would be large enough for your sleeping bag and plenty of clothing.

Osprey Packs StraightJacket Compression Sack

This compression sack caught my eye because it has a unique shape that may be appealing to some. Osprey is a popular brand in the world of compression sacks and other outdoor gear. It compresses items longways instead of into a ball shape like most compression sacks.

A lot of people prefer this style once they try them out because they feel it makes for a compression sack that is much easier to pack in standard backpacks. I have to say that I am intrigued and plan on buying a sack that compresses longways in the near future. The bag is made of strong ripstop nylon that barely weighs anything at all. There are a variety of sizes to choose from so you may want to get several of these to help organize your bag for any trip or emergency.

Granite Gear Air Compressor Stuff Sack – 16L

Granite Gear is a well-trusted brand. I actually think this is the brand Matt has had for over 20 years. These are tough bags that can take on long trips with no issues whatsoever. Matt had this on our week-long trips back in college when we could manage to get away for that long. These bags can be a little thicker than some but that is a good thing and doesn’t add a lot of weight.

Gonex Ultralight Stretch Stuff Sack Set

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The Gonex Ultralight set is a good inexpensive set for those that travel or that just like to keep their gear well organized. I wouldn’t expect this set to last as long as some of the bags on this list, there is something to be said for having some bags that you are not as concerned about keeping in good shape or letting others use. The bottom of each bag has a handle that can be used for easy carrying.

Kelty Compression Stuff Sack

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Kelty is a good and reliable brand. This small stuff sack has a hidden storage pocket and it can be stuffed into itself for compact storage when you don’t need your bag. You can choose multiple colors if the orange version is not appealing to you.

Borogo Compression Stuff Sack

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Borogo is not a company I am familiar with but there bags stand out as large, affordable, and people say they are good for thick sleeping bags. You can get a 24L version as well if you want a set.

Remember that no piece of gear is indestructible. Keep sharp objects away from bags.

Consider if any item that you are putting your bag has anything that could be pokey. Even small holes can be an issue and let in water. At the same time, just because there is a small hole in a compression sack doesn’t mean it is is still not useful for using within a pack or in other instances. Over time any bag is bound to weaken at least some. Although the compressions sacks Matt and I have are 15-21 years old, they have not been used regularly for some of those years.

Don’t wash your bags in a washing machine.

If you need to wash a compression sack then I recommend hand washing in very mild soap. Beating a bag to death in a washing machine is a good way to ruin it. Bags often smell a lot better if merely allowed some time hanging in the sun. This is a good habit to be in while out on the trail. When camped, hang our bags out and they will not get smelly. A lot of the modern bags are made to be antimicrobial so bags are usually not that gross even if used for an extended period of time.

Renewing the waterproof coating

Scotch Guard or silicone sprays can be used to make a bag more waterproof. If you have an older bag it may be time to do this. Over time even the best gear tends to become less water resistant if not renewed.

Consider how much weight you are putting in a bag if you are carrying it by the straps or a handle.

Compression sacks are often just stashed in a backpack and normally they are not filled with heavier items. At the same time you may find yourself in a situation where you want to use a compression sack to hang food up to keep it away or you may need a carrier for something heavy.

Compression sacks are not made to carry very heavy objects. I am not saying they cannot be used that way but that you will wear out your bag straps faster and you may just destroy your bag. Stitching can only take so much. If you hang a bag and all the weight and stress is going to be on the handles and any associated stitching.

What has been your experience with compression sacks over the years?

I am curious to know if anyone reading this feels like the overall quality of compression sacks has stayed good or if it has declined. Since I have been using the same bag for so many years I do not know how the bags of the last 10 years are really holding up for people that use them regularly or even occasionally. I know that some survival gear like knives has changed due to the location of manufacture and other factors. What compressions sacks have you found to be reliable, tough, and good at handling moisture?

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One Response to “Compression Sacks 101”

  1. My favorite style of comp.stuff sack is the M-Tac military design (mentioned above), I’ve been using that style for over 30 years and have and use several each time (1 for sleeping bag and 1 for clothes primarily, regular stuff sack for food). It allows either a horizontal compression and/or a vertical compression.
    When only allowed the vertical (like most listed) you’re limited to a stuffsack resembling a ‘basketball’ , but with horizontal cinch straps you can shape it like a ‘banana’ which will fit ‘across’ your pack instead of having to put only ‘a ball’ in which takes up 3/4 of the space, leaving 1/4 to fill with odd shape/sizes…

    Sam is right about NOT washing any ‘coated nylon’ products such as stuff sacks, tents packs or other like equipment. What coating doesn’t come off in the washer (from the agitating) will come off in the dryer (even on low/no heat). Spot wash by hand and line dry, then spray with Kiwi Brand ‘Camp Dry’ or ‘NikWax’ fabric spray (or other brands). Both are available at any outdoor store or at WM in the shoe care aisle/ shoe dept.

    One last thing… to get rid of musty oders (on just about anything incl. books, packs, tennis shoes, etc. Anything! really!) is to put it in a plastic bag (garbage or grocery type) and then put it in your freezer for several days to several weeks. IT REALLY WORKS and doesn’t hurt the item (my original concern was primarily old books). I’ve put old classic books that were musty into a bag (just to protect it from other foods) left them in there for a week and presto! smell gone. I had a high end fanny pack that got wet and left in the trunk for many summer months…phew! Put it my freezer for about 4-5 weeks and finally, it was gone. With books or the other items, I just checked on them every few days with the ol’ sniff test, if it still smelled, it went back inside. and checked it a few days later. It really does work!

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