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!
Still 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?
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.
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.
|Model||Type||Price||Wt oz||Temp F||Fill 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||+20||850 FP Water Res. Goose Down|
|Enlightened Equipment Enigma||Quilt||$280||18.1||+20||850 FP Water Res. Goose Down|
|Feathered Friends Hummingbird||Bag||$479||25.0||+20||950 FP Water Res. Goose Down|
|Western Mountaineering Ultralight||Bag||$500||29.0||+20||850+ 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.
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.
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)
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!
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.
$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.
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.
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.
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
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.