The Art of Sleeping Warm – A Guide to Sleeping Bags and Quilts

Down quilts are far and away the best sleep value for most backpacking trips. They are half the cost and substantially lighter than sleeping bags. For example, a +20°F down quilt like the one above weighs just over a pound and can cost as little as $150, far less than $460 for a +20°F sleeping bag like a Marmot Phase 20. And even less even than most synthetic bags! [Pic in the High Sierra at over 10,000 feet]

What’s Great About Quilts

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of down quilts. But now even Backpacker Magazine has jumped on the bandwagon, selecting Enlightened Equipment’s Enigma Quilt in their “The 13 Best New Sleeping Bags [and quilts] & Pads of 2017.”

At half the price and much lighter than most sleeping bags, a down quilt is your best value to sleep warm. As such, it’s not surprising that quilts are increasing in popularity and new quilt manufacturers are popping up. Quilts are lighter and cost less than conventional sleeping bags with similar warmth. In fact, some down quilts are less expensive than synthetic sleeping bags!

featheredfriends_sleeping_bagStill Not Convinced About Quilts?

Just want a conventional sleeping bag? Yup, a light down sleeping bag like the superb 23 oz Feathered Friends Merlin UL 30 Sleeping Bag (pictured on the left) is still an excellent choice! So, if you aren’t interested in quilts you can jump to the Recommended Sleeping Bags section. I list out some great sleeping bags from Western Mountaineering and Mountain Hardwear.

Pros and Cons of Quilts vs. Sleeping Bags

But before we get into Pros and Cons let’s give you a brief 101 on Backpacking Quilts

What is a Backpacking Quilt?

Sleeping Bags and Quilts

The warm and super puffy Hammock Gear Burrow showing the detail of the top and bottom of a backpacking quilt. Note the longitudinal baffles (purple) that do a better job of keeping down over you at night vs. the standard horizontal baffles.

A down backpacking quilt is much like the down quilt you would use on a bed. Just like a bed quilt, you don’t sleep on top of it since the down under you is compressed and doesn’t keep you warm. For a bed, your mattress keeps your bottom-side warm, and for a backpacking quilt your ground pad keeps you warm. Not having down on the underside of a quilt saves cost and weight. You save the weight and cost of down (very expensive!) and fabric as well as the associated sewing cost. And you save the weight, cost and assembly time of a zipper.

Pros of Down Quilts

1) Quilts Are Substantially Lighter and Less Expensive

The best way to explain this is to compare a few examples of each at the same temperature rating, +20 °F


On the left: the least expensive sleeping bag or quilt is the very light Hammock Gear Econ Quilt. It is even less expensive than the two synthetic sleeping bags The North Face Cat’s Meow 22 and REI Lumen 20! On the right: the three lightest are all quilts, the Hammock Gear Burrow, Hammock Gear Econ, and Enlightened Equipment Enigma.

Sleeping Bags and Quilts

The standout is the $149 Hammock Gear Econ down quilt. It is the lowest cost of any bag/quit & the third lightest! (Note: current Econ quilts do not have longitudinal baffles)


The Details +20 °F Quilts vs. Sleeping Bags

As you can see from the charts above and the table below, a Down Quilt is half the cost comparable sleeping bags—at times less than a good synthetic sleeping bag! And the quilt is substantially lighter than even the highest quality down sleeping bags.

ModelTypePriceWt ozTemp FFill Type
Value – Quilt vs. Sleeping Bags
 Hammock Gear Econ Quilt$149 23.0 +20 800 FP Water Res. Duck Down
 The North Face Cat’s Meow 22 Bag$169 43.0 +22 Synthetic Fill
 REI Igneo 17 Bag$299 31.0 +17 700 FP Water Res. Duck Down
High End – Quilt vs. Sleeping Bags
Hammock Gear Burrow 20 Quilt $249 18.5 +20850 FP Water Res. Goose Down
Enlightened Equipment Enigma Quilt $280 18.1 +20850 FP Water Res. Goose Down
Feathered Friends Hummingbird Bag$479 25.0 +20950 FP Water Res. Goose Down
Western Mountaineering Ultralight Bag$500 29.0 +20850+ FP Goose Down

 2) Quilts Work

Quilts work in all sorts of environments and situations. I’ve used quilts for outings like a February backcountry ski trip in Wyoming’s Beartooth Plateau, winter at 15,000 feet in the Andes, and hammock camping down to +10F in the Appalachian mountains. Alison and I have shared a 2-person quilt for the last 13 years.

3) Quilts are More Comfortable

Quilts are less confining and more comfortable than a constricting mummy bag. Quilts more easily accommodate wearing clothes inside them without squeezing you and compressing insulation (keeping you warm and comfortable).

Cons and “Learning Curves” for Quilts

Availability of Quilts is Usually 2-4 weeks from order to delivery

Down sleeping bags are available on-the-shelf from many major retailers like REI, and individual manufactures like Feathered Friends, and finally,  Campsaver has one of the best online sections of Western Mountaineering’s best down bag and down jackets.

Quilts are not so readily available. Many quilts have a 2-4 week delivery (but all are made in the USA). The only exception is Jacks R Better, which has most quilts on-the-shelf see under “Top Quilts.” And Enlightened Equipment has a limited selection of on-the-shelf quilts.

Learning Curve – How to Use a Quilt

People are sometimes worried about drafts under the sides of the quilt. This is addressed by getting a quilt of sufficient width that drapes down to the ground to form a draft free seal (talk to the manufacturer), and by learning to move a bit more quietly when you shift during sleep. Most people I know quickly master this. And finally, many quilts have a cord/strap arrangement on the side of a quilt that goes under your sleeping pad to hold the quilt sides in place. Quilts usually do not have a built in hood like many sleeping bags. This is addressed by sleeping in the same warm hat you were wearing in camp. If it’s super cold, I have used a down hood (some quilt manufacturers make them) or have slept in my down jacket which has a hood. But this has been rare. Usually my fleece camp hat does fine. Actually the hat is more comfortable and less confining than the immobile hood on a sleeping bag.

Tip – When in Doubt Size Up

If you think you are between sizes (width or length) size up on your quilt. The extra width especially will give you more drape along the side to form a seal against your pad and/or the ground. And the extra width will cost you virtually nothing in $ or additional weight. Most quilt manufacturers will happily discuss this with you and make a recommendation.



Best Sleeping Pad for a Quilt (or Bag!) – Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite

This is the “Women’s” version of the XLite, but it’s the right size for most backpackers (all the men I know use it). At 12 oz and with an R-value of 3.9, it’s warmer and lighter than the “Men’s” version. The beauty of this pad when used with a quilt is that the sides of the quilt drape down along the edges of the pad to form a seal. Super warm and super comfortable! And it is just as good for use with a conventional sleeping bag!



Recommended Sleeping Bags and Quilts

How Warm a Sleeping Bag or Quilt?

For most 3 season use I would recommend a +30 °F to +20°F bag or quilt. The +20°F is likely for women or men who know they sleep cold. Or if you do a fair amount of camping on the shoulder seasons of early spring and late fall.

Why you might consider the warmer +30 °F rating? Well, many buy a sleeping bag or quilt rated for the average low temperature they expect. They know if they encounter unexpectedly cold temperatures (well below average)  they can wear their warm down jacket and possibly other clothing in combination with the quilt or sleeping bag to increase warmth. This saves weight and money by not overbuying your quilt or bag. And, quilts do better with wearing clothes inside as they more easily expand their circumference to accommodate wearing bulky clothes like a down jacket.

Recommended Sleeping Bags & Quilts

Quilts usually do not have a built in hood. Most just go to bed in the same warm fleece had they were wearing around camp.

Buy a Down Quilt or Sleeping Bag – Skip Synthetics

I am only going to recommend down quilts and sleeping bags. You have to be extremely negligent to get a down bag wet enough that it isn’t warm. Especially now that there are new water resistant shell materials, and now water-resistant down. In the last 15 years of backpacking and climbing, no member on my trips has ever got a down bag wet enough to seriously compromise its warmth. Synthetics while initially cheaper are significantly heavier and bulkier than down. In the long term synthetics are likely a worse value than down. They loose loft and warmth quickly—sometimes in a single season. And make no mistake, sleeping in a wet synthetic bag is no fun. Note: for most folks 800 fill power water-repellent duck down is fine. Unless you are flush with $, you can skip the upgrade to goose down and/or 850 & 900 fill power down.

Recommended Quilts

$249 +20°F Hammock Gear Burrow Quilt

Hammock Gear Burrow +20°F Quilt is an excellent value. A +20 Burrow weighs less & costs almost 1/2 of a down bag with similar warmth and performance. Note the longitudinal baffles in the purple section. These do a better job of keeping down over you body at  night — keeping the down for sliding down the sides.

The $250, 18.5 ounce Hammock Gear Burrow 20°F Quilt is an exceptional value in lightweight, high-performance sleeping insulation. It costs far less than comparable down quilts (e.g. the $470 Katabatic Gear Palisade 30°F quilt) or conventional sleeping bags (e.g. $485 Western Mountaineering UltraLite 20°F  sleeping bag). The Burrow is equally adept for use with ground sleeping (use like a conventional sleeping-bag) or as a hammock top-quilt. [Hammock Gear also makes hammock accessories including some Very Nice Tarps.]

Best value: $149 +20°F Hammock Gear Econ Quilt

Save $100 and get the same warmth: Hammock Gear just released its Econ line of down quilts. For a slight increase in weight over their popular ultralight Burrow Quilts, you get essentially the same quilt for a lot less money. The difference is that Burrow quilt (above) uses 850 fill power goose down and light 0.7 oz fabric. The same Econ quilt uses 800 fill power duck down, and slightly heavier (but more durable) 1.1 oz fabric. Total weight difference is only 5 oz! (+20 Burrow is 19 oz vs. +20 Econ at 24 oz) Note: HG hasn’t yet managed to get the longitudinal baffles (on the pictured quilt) into the standard workflow for the Econ line. They hope to in the future.


$280 20°F Enigma Quilt – Enlightened Equipment

This quilt was a Backpacker Magazine pick in their “The 13 Best New Sleeping Bags [and quilts] & Pads of 2017.” And to be sure Enlightened Equipment makes some very nice quilts some using pricy 950 fill power down!

Sleeping Bags and Quilts

$260 20°F Ghost Pepper – Loco Libre Gear

Loco Libre Gear is another good source for a value down quilt. The chevron baffles on their $260 20°F Ghost Pepper Quilt not only look sexy, but they do a good job of keeping the down on top (over you) rather let it drift down to the sides overnight. Loco Libre also does some fun stuff with multi color combinations.

The Warbonnet

$275, 19 oz Warbonnet Mamba +20

The $275, 19 oz Warbonnet Mamba +20 quilt is another option for a quilt with entirely longitudinal baffles. Lead time as of writing was a reasonable 1-2 weeks. Warbonnet sells a full line of quilts and hammocks. All are made in the USA.

Off the Shelf Quilt Options

Jacks R Better make the only complete line of on-the-shelf quilts in this group. Their +25 to +30°F  Hudson River Quilt is only 21 ounces and $249 with 800 FP Activ-Dri down. They also make a unique line of wearable quilts Sierra Stealth,  Sierra Sniveller and High Sierra Sniveller. All can be worn in camp as poncho, possibly eliminating the need to bring a down jacket—saving money, weight and pack volume.

And Enlightened Equipment has a limited selection of on-the-shelf quilts.

Other quilt manufacturers

Finally, don’t be upset if your favorite quilt maker is not listed. I know of a fair number and most probably make a good product. I just haven’t had enough experience with them to recommend their products.

Recommended Sleeping Bags

I know that I haven’t convinced all of you that a quilt is what you want. A down sleeping bag is still a great choice. And they do have an advantage for very active sleepers. Campers that thrash around at night and sleep heavily may be unaware that they have thrashed their way out from under a quilt. And down sleeping bags have the advantage that many are available off-the-shelf from major retailers like REI, or Feathered Friends and Campsaver (great online selection of Western Mountaineering bags). Many of the quilts above are not and usually have a 2-4 week delivery (but all are made in the USA).

Here are a few recommended down sleeping bags. For most trips a down bag with a rating of around freezing, 32°F and a weight of 1.5 pounds or 24 ounces should be about right. 

Feathered Friends

A very WARM winner: The 23 oz Feathered Friends Merlin UL 30 Sleeping Bag. With 12 oz of 900+ fill power down (vs. the 8 oz in the WM SummerLite), it’s likely to be closer a +20 F bag but weighs less than 1.5 pounds! (Although Feathered Friends conservatively rates it +30 F.)

Don’t overlook Feathered Friends. For years Feathered Friends has been quietly making high quality, super warm down bags and jackets.  For most 3-season use you’ll likely want the 23 oz Feathered Friends Merlin UL 30 Sleeping Bag. With a generous 12 oz of 900+ fill power down, it’s likely to be closer to a +20 F bag but weighs less than 1.5 pounds (Although Feathered Friends conservatively rates it +30 F.) The Merlin is a fairly narrow cut for a mummy bag but there are plenty of options if you want a roomier bag. Medium bags here and wider bags here.

Western Mountaineering


The Western Mountaineering SummerLite +32°F is the gold-standard, do-it-all lightweight sleeping bag for most trips

Lighter than the FF Merlin UL,  the 19 ounce Western Mountaineering SummerLite +32°F is the gold-standard, do-it-all lightweight bag for most backpacking trips. WM has impeccable design and construction and uses the highest quality down that will retain its loft over many seasons. Downsides are that the WM SummerLite bag costs almost $400, and its trim profile to save weight (59″ circumference at the shoulder) may be confining to some. And if you run a bit cold: for the same price and just a few ounces more you can get the warmer 23 oz Feathered Friends Merlin UL 30 Sleeping Bag.

The 29 ounce Western Mountaineering UltraLite 20°F  is standard lightweight down sleeping bag for those expecting below freezing temperatures. You could take this bag pretty much anywhere. Downsides are that the WM UL bag costs almost $500, and its trim profile to save weight (59″ circumference at the shoulder) may be confining to some.

Most Readily Available at Major Retailers – Mountain Hardwear and Marmot

While a simdge heavier, the

While a smidge heavier than bags from smaller manufacturers, the the 22 ounce, Mountain Hardwear Phantom Spark 28 Down Sleeping Bag is likely the most readily available at major retailers like REI.

REI carries the 22 ounce, +28 °F Mountain Hardwear Phantom Spark 28 Down Sleeping Bag. This bag is similar in weight, size and performance to the Western Mountaineering SummerLite. It is likely the most readily available at major retailers of the bags listed here.

A very similar performance bag at is the Marmot Phase 20 Sleeping Bag


The +20 °F Marmot Phase 20   is just over 23 ounces with 850 fill power moisture resistant down. It’s lower temperature rating might be attractive to folks that tend to sleep cold.

The Big Three

Quick ways to reduce backpack weight

Quick ways to reduce backpack weight

Moving fast and light along the spectacular ridge line of the GR20 in Corsica. A minimal pack (and good pre-trip training) enabled Alison and I to do a 16 day trip in under 8 days. Pictured – the award winning Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Pack

Quick ways to reduce backpack weight. A few may surprise you…

  1. Look at The Big Three: Backpack, Tent/shelter, and Sleep System (sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and ground cloth). You stand to loose a bunch of weight from these: as much as 10 to 12 pounds.
    1. Take a Backpack that weighs less than two pounds
    2. Take a Tent/Shelter that weighs less than two pounds
    3. Take a Sleeping bag that that weighs less than 1.5 pounds
  2. Look on The Backpacking Food Page to save a ton of weight at zero cost
  3. Get a weather report (the NOAA hourly weather graph is among the most informative and accurate)—then pack for those conditions! Since 90% of backpackers take 90% their trips for 3 days or or less, this weather report should be quite accurate for the short time you are out. This will let you pack a tent, clothing, and sleeping bag appropriate for actual conditions. It will also deter you from taking inappropriate, “what-if-the-worst-happens!” gear, e.g. 6 pound tent, and a +10F sleeping bag for a balmy weather trip on the Appalachian Trail.
  4. Don’t take extra clothing. e.g. don’t take any more clothing than you can wear at one time.
  5. Take less: Be disciplined and leave a few items at home that you haven’t used in the last three trips. Put stuff like sunscreen and trail soap in smaller containers.
  6. Extra Credit: Browse The Gear Lists Page for other ideas and examples to save weight. This will give you a good examples of what type of gear is available and what is a reasonable weight for that type of gear, e.g. around 6-8 ounces for a rain jacket, or around 1.0 ounce for a pocket knife. Think hard if your gear is 2 to 3x heavier than the examples on these lists.
  7. Read my The Best Hydration — Drink When Thirsty. Use a Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter to drink at the source (lake, stream, etc.). Then only carry a sensible amount to get to your next known water source. I.e. it makes no sense to carry 3 liters of water, almost 7 pounds, when your next water source is only two hours away.
  8. Remember to have fun! That will at least, lighten your spirit and mood.

How Do I Start?

  • Ground yourself in reality: Get all your stuff together and weigh it. If you’re like most conventional hikers, your equipment will weigh around 30 pounds, possibly higher.
  • Get individual weights for your heavier items like tents and backpacks. For stuff in the range of a few pounds or less you’ll want to buy an inexpensive digital scale that weighs up to 10 pounds.
  • See what you can leave at home. Anything you don’t bring is free weight reduction. Think hard about this one. Do you really need it?
  • Put together a spreadsheet (or at least a list) with all your equipment weights. This is an indispensable analysis tool.
  • Try to figure out where you’ll get the most “bang for the buck.” e.g. figure out how much a new item costs and divide that by the amount of weight it will save you over your old equipment. Target the items that give you the most weight loss for the fewest dollars.
  • Don’t try to purchase all your new equipment right away. Many items regularly go on sale or are closed out, e.g. Sierra Trading Post. Watch carefully over the course of a year and you could save 30 to 70 percent on your equipment.

The Big Three – Recommended Backpacking Gear

The Big Three

Moving fast and light along the spectacular ridge line of the GR20 in Corsica. A minimal pack (and good pre-trip training) enabled Alison and I to do a 16 day trip in under 8 days.

To save as much as 10 to 12 pounds with with the minimum of effort, look at The Big Three.  1) Backpack, 2) Tent/Shelter, and 3) Sleeping bag (or quilt). The lighter versions of these are just as functional as their heavier counterparts. They will carry your load and keep you warm and dry. The only thing you stand to lose is a bunch of weight off your back.

And most people do not enjoy being a pack mule. It is rarely the highlight or happiest memory of a trip. Alternatively, unburdened from the misery of carrying a heavy pack, folks become joyful and alert—in the best state of mind to appreciate everything around them—the reason they went backpacking. The Big Three is the fastest way to achieve that goal.

The Big Three

1) Take a Backpack that weighs less than two pounds
(see Recommended Backpacks)

Recommended Backpacking Gear

2) Take a Tent/Shelter that weighs less than two pounds
(see Recommended Tents, Tarps and other Shelters)
Recommended Backpacking Gear

3) Take a Sleeping bag that that weighs less than 1.5 pounds
(see Recommended Sleeping Bags and Quilts)
Recommended Backpacking Gear