From the 1980s through to 2003, I exclusively used sleeping bags. From 2003 to 2011, I tried a couple of different types of quilts, but being a side sleeper who occasionally tosses and turns, I was never entirely satisfied with the attachment systems. As a result, I invariably found myself returning to the simplicity and reliability of a mummy sleeping bag.
Finally in 2011/12, after trying quilts from a relatively new Colorado-based company by the name of Katabatic Gear, I made the full-time switch from bags to quilts. More than 1000 nights in the wilderness later, I suspect there is no going back.
Below are listed seven reasons why I prefer quilts over bags:
Quilts are generally between 20 and 30% lighter than their sleeping bag equivalents. Why? Quilts don’t have hoods, and provide insulation on top of the sleeper where it matters, but not underneath where the user’s weight will negate the benefits of loft.
2. Less Volume
A quilt takes up less space. This can equate to less compression (see Tip below), which in turn means that when I remove the quilt at day’s end it doesn’t take as long to re-loft. No small matter if it is freezing cold, I’m exhausted and the only things I really require are warmth and seven to eight hours sleep. As a bonus, it is worth noting that by minimizing compression over an extended period, you are potentially improving the longevity of your quilt/bag.
*Tip: When loading my backpack, I use my quilt as a “filler” for the outer section of the pack’s interior, as opposed to putting it in a stuff sack at the bottom (see How to load a backpack).
3. Just as Warm (well……almost)
This wasn’t necessarily true in days past. However, in recent years lightweight gear companies have upped the ante in regards to design and workmanship. Top-quality quilts now come with neck collars, width options and improved attachment systems. In regards to the latter, I look for a versatile set up that addresses three main factors:
1. Minimizes/eliminates bracing drafts (i.e. The long-time bane of side sleeping quilt users around the backpacking universe).
2. Keeps dead air space to a minimum.
3. Allows for freedom of movement.
“That all sounds great, but how do I keep my noggin warm without a hood?” Wear a beanie/buff; chances are you are carrying one anyway.
“That still doesn’t sound warm enough…….anything else?” Layer up. Utilize the hoods you likely have on your jackets (i.e. windshirt, insulating layer and/or rain) and even throw on a bandana if you’re really desperate.
4. No Zipper Issues
Nothing to snag or break. Tip: For sleeping bag users that get their zippers stuck, try pulling the fabric sideways, while moving the zipper back and forth. Be patient, as it can sometimes take quite a few minutes to free the shell material. Resist the urge to give it a good old country yank; think tortoise rather than hare.
5. Less Restrictive
Quilts provide greater freedom of movement; particularly if you are a side sleeper.
“Can’t an open sleeping bag do the same thing?” Yes, however, your sleeping bag won’t have an attachment system underneath to keep out the drafts if you happen to turn over.
6. Less Moisture
With your head outside rather than inside, there is less chance your bag will be compromised by moisture buildup from respiration.
If you are using a sleeping bag and have a tendency to toss and turn in your sleep, you may flip over during the evening and end up face down in the hood*; this is not an issue if you are using a quilt.
No zip and less material generally equate to a more affordable night’s sleep. That said, it should be noted that the savings on top-of-the-line quilts such as those from Katabatic Gear, will often be minimal in comparison to quality sleeping bags (e.g. Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering) of an equivalent warmth rating. However, if you are willing to shell out big bickies for a primo quilt, chances are you are doing so because you are serious about lightening your pack load, and head out into the woods on a fairly frequent basis (or maybe you’re just rich). Therefore, a few extra dollars spent on an item that will provide you with years of good service is money well invested.
(Note: Synthetic bags are cheaper than their down equivalents. They also perform better when wet. However, down models have a superior warmth to weight ratio, as well as being lighter, more compressible, and more durable).
Quilts aren’t everyone’s cup of backcountry tea. If you do a lot of camping in the middle of winter in well below freezing temps, then chances are a mummy bag might be a better option. Same goes if you are one of those people for whom pack weight is not of great importance, and you just want the simplest option available, without having to worry about attachment systems and wearing enough layers to keep your head warm.
There is no way around it, quilts are lighter, more versatile, take up less space and usually cost less than sleeping bags. If you decide to give quilts a try, make sure you pick one that isn’t too narrow, has a warm neck collar and a good attachment system. When doing your research, focus on long-term reviews from people who have used the items in which you are interested in extended periods (i.e. months or years, not days or weeks – don’t get me started on “out of the box” reviews). Take particular note of the reviewer’s size and where they fall on the sleeping warmth spectrum (i.e. hot, cold or average sleeper), as chances are this will give you a better idea of how suitable the quilt in question will be, in regards to meeting your own sleeping needs.
Quilt Recommendations (alphabetical order):
- Enlightened Equipment (Down and Synthetic)
- Hammock Gear
- Jacks R’Better
- Katabatic Gear
- Loco Libre
- Mountain Laurel Designs (Synthetic)
- Nunatak (Down and Synthetic)
- ZPacks (hybrid bag/quilt)
Sleeping Bags Recommendations (alphabetical order)
- Feathered Friends Hummingbird UL 20 (-6.7°C)
- Feathered Friends Swallow UL 20 (-6.7°C)
- Marmot Helium 15°F (-9°C)
- Montbell Down Hugger 900 #2 25°F (-4°C)
- Montbell Down Hugger 800 #1 15°F (-9°C)
- Patagonia 850 Down Sleeping Bag 19°F (-7.2°C)
- RAB Mythic 400 (19.5°F / -6.9°C // 900 Fill)
- Western Mountaineering Ultralite 20°F (-6.7°C)
- Western Mountaineering Megalite 30°F (-1.1°C)
- Western Mountaineering Badger 15°F (-9°C)
Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links, which means ‘The Hiking Life’ receives a small commission if you purchase an item after clicking on one of the links. This comes at no additional cost to the reader and helps to support the website in its continuing goal to create quality content for backpackers and hikers.