In the never-ending quest to cut weight and bulk, many minimalist hikers, bikepackers, and travelers are making the switch from a sleeping bag to a quilt. Everyone is going ultralight. This guide outlines the pros and cons of a quilt vs sleeping bags. I’ll compare weight, warmth, ease of use, cost, durability, comfort, size, moisture control, and more to help you decide which is best for your next camping trip.
What is a Camping Quilt?
A camping quilt is essentially a sleeping bag with the unnecessary parts removed. The goal of this design is to make the quilt as lightweight and compact as possible. This minimalist design appeals to anyone who wants to reduce the weight and bulk of their sleep system.
Quilts cut weight and bulk by eliminating unnecessary insulation and fabric from the underside of the bag. Instead of wrapping around your body, the quilt is simply left open underneath so that you lie directly on your sleeping pad with the quilt draped over the top of you. It only provides insulation on the top and sides of your body. Your sleeping pad insulates you from the ground.
This design doesn’t sacrifice warmth because down is ineffective when compressed under your body weight. The reason is that down needs to loft (or fluff up) so it can trap heat in air pockets between the down. This is how the material insulates. Down under your body is basically useless so it can be eliminated.
Most quilts also eliminate the hood and full-length zipper to save weight. Instead of a hood, there is a drawstring or neck collar to prevent heat from escaping around your neck. To keep your head warm, you’ll need to sleep in a hat.
The bottom 1/3 or foot box of most quilts surrounds your lower legs and feet to preserve heat. The foot box is either sewn, buttoned, or zipped. The bottom usually seals up with a drawstring.
Most quilts that are designed for ground camping include some type of attachment system to hold the quilt in place on your sleeping pad and to prevent drafts. These are usually simple straps with clips or buckles that attach to the sides of the quilt and wrap around the underside of the pad.
Traditional backpacking sleeping bags have a mummy shape meaning that they are wide around the shoulders and taper down around the feet. A hood covers the head. A zipper running down the side opens up so you can enter and exit the bag. Some modern ultralight sleeping bags eliminate the hood and shorten the zipper to save wight.
The main difference between sleeping bags and quilts is that sleeping bags wrap completely around your body instead of just draping over the top. This way, you are completely surrounded by insulation on all sides. Even your head is covered with a hood. This fully enclosed system holds warm air in and prevents drafts.
Pros and Cons of Quilts
- Lighter-Quilts often weigh 3-5 oz less than comparable sleeping bags.
- Less bulky/more compact-Quilts contain less material so they can pack down smaller.
- Cheaper- Because quilts require fewer materials to make, they cost $30-$50 less than comparable sleeping bags.
- Quilts are custom made to order- Most quilts are made by cottage manufactures who sew each quilt. You get to choose the exact size, fabric, filling, and features.
- More freedom of movement- Quilts attach to your sleeping bag so they stay in place when you toss and turn.
- Better moisture control- Because quilts don’t have hoods, you’re less likely to breathe inside and introduce moisture. You can also open the quilt up if you start to sweat.
- Better temperature modulation- You can use a quilt like a blanket for better ventilation or close it up and hunker down. This allows you to use your quilt in a wide range of weather conditions.
- More efficient- Quilts have a better warmth-to-weight ratio.
- Colder- Drafts are a common problem with quilts.
- You have to sleep in a hat because quilts don’t have hoods.
- Attaching your quilt to your sleeping pad is a hassle- This setup step isn’t required with sleeping bags.
- There is a learning curve- You need to learn how to properly attach your quilt and set it up so you don’t experience drafts.
- You may have to wait to get your quilt- Because most quilts are made to order, it can take 4-8 weeks for delivery.
Pros and Cons of Sleeping Bags
- Warmer- Sleeping bags eliminate drafts because they are enclosed. They also have a hood to keep your head warm.
- Easier to use- There is no learning curve. Just unroll your bag on your pad and climb in.
- Sleeping bags can be cheaper- Mid-range and low-end factory-made sleeping bags are cheaper because they are mass-produced.
- No wait time- Sleeping bags are sold off the shelf.
- Heavier- Sleeping bags have more material because they wrap around you. They also have a hood and full-length zipper. This all adds weight.
- Larger- Because sleeping bags have more material, they take up more space in your pack.
- More expensive- Because quilts have more materials, they cost more to make.
- Less comfortable- Sleeping bags tend to be a bit tighter and more constricting. You can’t move around in your sleep as easily.
- Less customizable- Most sleeping bags are sold off the shelf. they are not custom made.
- Poor moisture control- The hood can direct your breath down into the bag.
- Useful in a smaller range of weather conditions- You may need two bags. One for warm weather and one for cold weather.
Quilts Vs Sleeping Bags
Quilts generally weigh around 25% less than comparable sleeping bags. Quilts save weight by eliminating unnecessary insulation and fabric under the sleeper.
This is possible because down or synthetic insulation does not provide warmth when compressed under the user’s body weight. The bottom is simply left open instead. Removing this unnecessary down and fabric saves a considerable amount of weight. Your sleeping pad keeps the underside of your body warm.
Quilts also cut weight by removing additional features like full-length zippers and hoods. There’s simply less material in a quilt.
For example, a 20° ultralight quilt may weigh 20-24 oz with around 16 oz of 850 fill down. A comparable 20° ultralight sleeping bag may weigh 25-30 oz with around 18 oz of 850 fill down. Both have the same warmth rating but the sleeping bag needs more filling and fabric so it weighs more. For many hikers, saving 5 oz is significant.
The weight of a sleeping bag or quilt depends mostly on the type and amount of filling. Down filling is lighter than synthetic. Down comes in several grades with the most common ranging from 750 fill-950 fill. The higher the better. Bags with more filling are obviously heavier but also warmer.
Volume/Bulk and Compressability
Because quilts contain less insulation and material, they compress down smaller than sleeping bags. By switching to a quilt, you might save an extra liter or so of space in our pack. This has several benefits.
Most importantly, you can store your quilt in a less compressed state. This allows it to loft faster when you’re ready to go to sleep at night. You’ll be happy about this when you’re cold and tired and just want to crawl into your tent and go to sleep. For example, a quilt that was loosely compressed might fully loft in just a minute or two. A tightly compressed sleeping bag might take 5-10 minutes to fully loft.
As an added bonus, the quilt will last longer when it’s not compressed as tightly. The reason is that down and synthetic insulation breaks down over time as they are compressed and decompressed. Eventually, they lose some of their insulation quality. By improving the longevity of your gear, you save money because you don’t have to replace it as often.
You can also get away with using a smaller pack when you use a quilt. This comes in handy if you often fly to your hiking destinations or if you simply prefer to use a more compact backpack. A quilt takes up more space and may require you to use a larger pack.
Tip: When packing your backpack, stuff your sleeping bag or quilt into the bottom uncompressed then load everything else on top. It will compress down as needed and efficiently fill any unused space. This way, the quilt/bag will be less compressed than if you had put it in a stuff sack.
Generally speaking, sleeping bags are warmer than quilts, all else being equal. There are several reasons for this. First, sleeping bags are completely sealed around all sides. This means you don’t have to worry about drafts of cold air when you move around in the night. Also, most sleeping bags have a built-in hood to keep your head warm. You can zip the sleeping bag completely closed, pull the hood over your head, and cinch it up tight. This maximizes heat retention and keeps you toasty warm.
Having said this, ultralight gear manufacturers have greatly improved quilt design in recent years. Modern quilts perform almost as well as sleeping bags in terms of warmth. Improved attachment systems hold the quilt in place and eliminate drafts. Cold weather quilts come with neck collars that seal up tightly to prevent cold air from coming in. Wider options are available as well which allow for freedom of movement. The quilts are shaped to reduce dead air space. These recent design changes greatly improved warmth.
Quilts generally have more insulation than sleeping bags as well. When comparing a sleeping bag and quilt with the same temperature rating, it is common to see an extra 2 ounces of insulation in the quilt. This extra insulation helps the quilt trap more warmth on the top and sides of your body.
The main problem with quilts is that they can be drafty. Drafts are usually caused by a gap between the sleeping pad or the quilt. When a draft forms, heat escapes and you get cold.
A few causes of drafts in quilts include:
- Rolling over or moving around in your sleep- If you’re an active sleeper, your movement can cause the quilt to separate from the sleeping pad, creating a gap.
- The quilt is too narrow- If the quilt isn’t wide enough for your body, your hips can push the sides of the quilt off of the sleeping pad. This creates a gap which allows for drafts. If you sleep on your back and don’t move around much in your sleep, drafts are rarely a problem.
- Gaps around the neck or at the bottom of the foot box- These areas close with a drawstring on most quilts. If they aren’t sealed up tightly enough, you you may experience drafts.
- Poorly designed attachment system- The attachment system is how the quilt attaches to your sleeping pad so it doesn’t slide off in the night. Some manufacturers have better designs than others. Some attachment systems allow the quilt to come loose in the night or allow gaps to form.
One drawback to quilts and some ultralight sleeping bags is that they don’t have hoods to keep your head warm. The solution is to pack a warm knit hat to sleep in. If you’re still cold, you can also sleep in a hooded jacket for extra insulation.
Regardless of whether you choose a quilt or sleeping bag, you’ll need a good sleeping pad to keep the underside of your body warm. Otherwise, the ground will suck the heat out of you and you’ll get cold. This is particularly important when using a quilt because there is nothing separating you from the ground.
Sleeping pad warmth is measured in R-value. They range from 1 to around 7. The higher the number, the warmer the pad. For more info, check out my guide: Inflatable Vs Foam Sleeping Pads and 3/4 Length Vs Full Length Sleeping Pads.
Ease of Use
Sleeping bags are much easier and faster to set up. When you’re ready to go to bed, just unstuff your sleeping bag, roll it out on top of your sleeping pad, and climb in. You don’t have to bother with any straps or clips. The zipper keeps the bag closed. There is no learning curve.
Quilts, on the other hand, take a bit more time and effort to set up because they need to e attached to the sleeping bag so they stay in place. Every manufacturer uses a slightly different attachment system. Most designs use some kind of snaps, clips, or hooks to hold the quit in place. Some work better than others. Some have a tendency to come lose and some are just annoying and complicated to set up. If one of your attachments comes loose in the night, cold air can draft in the gap.
There is also a bit of a learning curve to quilt camping. You need to learn how to properly attach your quilt. You also need to adjust the straps to the correct tightness so you don’t experience drafts yet still have enough space to move around. It takes a bit of trial and error to get the hang of quilt camping. User error is also a possibility with quilts. There is a bit of a learning curve to properly setting them up.
One benefit to quilts is that they tend to be easier to get in and out of. This is great for those that have to get up in the night to go to the bathroom. The quilt stays in place because it attaches to the sleeping pad. There is no zipper to mess with. You can just get up through the wide opening.
All else being equal, quilts are cheaper than sleeping bags. There are two reasons for this. First, quilts use fewer materials to make. They take less fabric and generally don’t have zippers. Second, the designs are simpler because quilts don’t have hoods. This makes quilts faster and easier to sew. For these reasons, quilts cost less to manufacture so they can be sold for cheaper.
For example, you might expect to pay $250-$350 for a nice ultralight 20-degree quilt. A comparable sleeping bag might run $350-$400. On average, a quilt is around $30-$50 cheaper than a sleeping bag. The savings is pretty minimal.
On the lower end of the price spectrum, sleeping bags tend to be cheaper than quilts. If you’re on a tight budget and you don’t care about weight or bulk, you can buy a sleeping bag from a big box store for around $20-$50. Mid-range sleeping bags from major outdoors manufacturers are cheaper as well. These low prices are possible because cheap sleeping bags are mass-produced whereas most quilts are hand made by cottage manufacturers and are higher end.
The price of a sleeping bag or quilt depends on a number of factors including the quality and type of insulation, the complexity of the design, and the build quality. When buying a sleeping bag or quilt, you’ll want to consider how long it will last. It may turn out that a more expensive model costs less in the long run.
For example, If you buy a cheap $150 bag and get 3 seasons of use out of it, you spend $50 per season. If you shell out for a premium $300 bag and get 10 seasons out of it, you spend just $30 per season and get to enjoy a warmer and more comfortable night of sleep as well as some weight savings.
Side sleepers and people who move around in their sleep tend to find quilts to be more comfortable. The reason is that they are less restrictive. They allow much greater freedom of movement.
Because quilts attach to your sleeping pad, they also stay in place when you toss and turn to change position. This means the quilt doesn’t move with you so you don’t have to worry about sliding off of your sleeping pad in the night.
When it comes to sleeping bags, you can open them up for more freedom of movement. The problem is that you’ll get cold because there is no attachment system to hold the bag in place.
My biggest complaint with sleeping bags is that I tend to drift off of my sleeping pad in the night. Particularly when I’m camping on a slight incline. I also end up with the hood on top of my face after rolling over because the sleeping bag rolls with me instead of staying in place. Of course, comfort is subjective. Some campers prefer quilts.
Quilts are more durable than sleeping bags. Mostly because they are use simple straps, clips, and shock cord to hold them closed instead of zippers. You can easily repair or replace clips and straps if they break. Zippers are much more complicated.
The weak spot of many sleeping bags is the zipper. The material can get caught in it when zipping and unzipping. Zippers can get kinked if they are overcompressed. After enough use, zippers just break. Most quilts don’t have zippers. It’s just one less thing to worry about.
Quilts deal with moisture better than sleeping bags. The reason is that your head always stays outside because the quilt cinches up around your neck with a drawstring or neck collar. This keeps your moist breath out which helps keep the quilt warm and dry.
In a sleeping bag, It’s easy to roll over in your sleep and end up laying with your face in the hood. When you breathe into the hood, your breath gets directed into the bag. It’s also tempting to bury your head into the sleeping bag when you get cold.
It is important that you keep your breath out because respiration produces a surprising amount of moisture. If you breathe into your quilt or sleeping bag, moisture builds up inside over the course of the night. Eventually it compromises the insulation qualities of the down.
When down gets wet, it tends to clump together and lose loft. This means it can’t trap as much heat because there are fewer air pockets inside. Worst case, you could end up in a cold and soggy sleeping bag.
Quilts are useful in a wider range of weather conditions. When it’s extremely cold, you can attach the quilt to your sleeping pad and seal up the foot box and neck collar tightly to hold the quilt close to your body and trap as much heat as possible.
On a warm night, you can open the quilt up like a blanket and drape it over you to keep the chill off. It offers plenty of ventilation while keeping you warm. This way, you can comfortably use a cold weather quilt in a warm climate without overheating.
This feature is great for thru-hikes or long trips where you expect to encounter a large range of temperatures. You don’t have to swap between warm weather and cold weather quilts partway through. One warm quilt can work for every trip.
Sleeping bags, on the other hand, are useful in fewer weather conditions. A 0° mummy sleeping bag with a partial zip just gets too hot when camping on a 70° night. Even if it’s left unzipped. Because of this, many hikers have two sleeping bags. One summer bag for warm weather camping and one winter bag for cold weather camping.
If you expect to encounter a wide range of temperatures, you may have to swap between a 20° and 40° bag, for example. This is common on long thru-hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail.
One area where a sleeping bag outperforms a quilt is in cold weather near the limit of your bag’s warmth. A sleeping bag allows you to zip yourself in, cinch the hood around your face, and hunker down.
One nice feature of a quilt is that you can get some use out of it when you’re not sleeping. Most quilts allow you to unbutton or unzip the foot box to turn it into a flat blanket. Drape it around yourself while sitting around the campfire or on a cold morning. Wear it like a down jacket for extra warmth while hiking on a particularly cold morning. There are a number of ways to use your quilt. Use it on your bed at home as a normal blanket.
A sleeping bag, on the other hand, can only really be used for sleeping. You probably won’t use it around the house or anywhere else.
Of course, you probably won’t want to use a $400 ultralight quilt or sleeping bag as a blanket around the house. You might as well save it for camping and use a cheap throw.
Customization and Purchasing Process
Most quilts are made by small cottage manufacturers. They are often custom sewn to order and are only sold online. The main benefit to this is that you get to choose the exact specifications of your quilt so you get exactly what you want and don’t have to pay for additional insulation or features that you don’t need. When ordering a custom quilt, you get to decide on:
- Warmth rating/Amount of down insulation– This is the most important decision. You can choose from a range of temperature ratings. Most manufactures offer bags from -20°-50° in 10° increments. You can usually choose from 850 or 950 fill down as well.
- Length and width/Size- Most manufacturers offer 3 or 4 width options and 4 or 5 length options. You have up to 20 different size combinations to choose from. On the manufacturer’s website, you’ll find a sizing chart to help you choose the right sized quilt for your height, shoulder width, and foot size. Some manufacturers custom make quilts to your exact measurements. This way, your quilt fits you like a glove. The benefit of having the perfect size quilt is that you’re not carrying around any unnecessary weight or bulk. For example, you don’t need a 90” long quilt if you’re only 5 feet tall. Most sleeping bags only come in short and long versions.
- Foot box style- You can decide whether you want the foot box sewn shut, with a zipper closure, or with a drawstring closure. Most manufacturers offer a couple of different foot box options to choose from. A sewn foot box is the warmest, lightest, and simplest option but doesn’t allow you to lay the quilt out flat like a blanket. Most quilts have snaps or an 18” zipper.
- Fabric color and type- Most manufacturers offer a few different quilt models that are made of different fabrics. The different fabrics may have different deniers (thicknesses), weights, durability, and water repellent characteristics. Most quilts are made of nylon fabric and include some type of Durable water repellent coating DWR to keep them dry. You can also choose the color for each side of the quilt. I recommend dark colors because they absorb sunlight and heat up quickly. This helps the quilt dry out quicker.
- Pad attachments- You can buy the manufacture’s attachment system or make your own.
- Price- Most manufacturers offer a few different models at different price points. The lower-priced models might use a slightly lower grade of down and fabric. These generally weigh 2-3 ounces more than the higher-end models. If you’re on a tight budget, Hammock Gear offers an ‘economy’ model that offers an excellent value.
A few popular quilt manufacturers include: Enlightened Equipment, Hammock Gear, Loco Libre, Zpacks, Katabatic Gear, Mountain Laurel Designs, Jacks R’Better, UGQ, and Nunatak
The drawback to the made-to-order style of cottage manufacturers is that it takes longer to get your quilt. Most companies take 4-8 weeks to ship your quilt. After all, they are mostly hand sewn to order. This is problematic if you’re in a hurry to get your quilt for an upcoming trip.
Another problem is that you can’t try most quilts out before you buy. You won’t find them on the shelves of sporting goods stores. Most brands only sell online. You have to pay in full then hope you’re happy with the product when it arrives.
On the bright side, cottage outdoor gear manufacturers have some of the best customer service that I have ever experienced. If you’re quilt arrives with a defect or you’re not happy with it, most companies will go out of their way to make you happy.
With the increase in popularity of ultralight gear, some of the bigger manufacturers are starting to produce quilts. REI, Therm-A-Rest, and Western Mountaineering sell quilts that are available off the shelf. Some of the cottage manufacturers also stock some of their more popular models and sizes so you don’t have to wait. The drawback to buying off the shelf quilts is that you don’t get the customization. It is more convenient because you can get your quilt immediately if you’re buying in a store or in just a few days with shipping.
Sleeping bags, on the other hand, are nowhere near as customizable. Most sleeping bags are sold as-is off the shelf. There are often 2-3 sizes per model. You may end up with a bag that’s longer than you need or not quite wide enough for your comfort. You don’t get to choose the fabric, color, foot box style, etc.
Having said that, there is an enormous selection of sleeping bags on the market. A few popular brands include Kelty, REI, Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, The North Face, Sierra Designs, Western Mountaineering. There are also a few cottage manufactures who make custom sleeping bags these days. One of the more popular brands that offers these is Feathered Friends.
The benefit of buying a sleeping bag from a major manufacture is that it is available off the shelf. You can head to the neares
t sporting goods store, buy a sleeping bag, and go camping tonight.
DIY/ MYOG Quilts and Sleeping Bags
Quilts are easier and cheaper to make than sleeping bags. This is because quilt are simply less complex. A basic quilt doesn’t need a zipper or hood. Quilts also take less fabric and down which further reduces the cost.
If you’re into MYOG or DIY, you can buy a kit and sew a simple quilt pretty easily if you have basic sewing skills. You could probably make a decent 20-30° quilt for around $200 if you already have a sewing machine that you can use. This will save you $50-$100. I’m planning to sew my own quilt this summer. I’ll post my results when I finish it.
You could sew your own sleeping bag as well. It may just take a bit more work and cost an extra $20-$30 for the extra materials that you’ll need.
Efficiency: Warmth-to-Weight Ratio
A great way to measure the efficiency of a sleeping bag or quilt is to look at the warmth to weight ratio. This measurement is helpful in comparing bags with the same temperature rating but different designs or insulation materials.
To calculate the warmth to weight ratio, you can use the weight of the filling or the total weight of the bag or quilt. For example, if you’re comparing a 20° quilt that weighs 20 oz to a 20° sleeping bag that weighs 24 oz you’ll find that the quilt has a better warmth to weight ratio because it weighs less but has the same warmth rating. This indicates greater efficiency.
Generally quilts have a better warmth to weight ratio than sleeping bags because they are considerably lighter. Down insulation offers a better warmth to weight ratio than synthetic insulation.
Technology and Trends
The trend these days is to have the lightest possible base weight. Everyone is going ultralight. It’s almost a competition among hikers to see who can put together the lightest kit. Modern high tech materials and ultralight quilt designs allow you to get to that 10 pound base weight. If you care about having the most modern gear and trendy gear, a quilt is the way to go.
Sleeping bags, on the other hand, are considered to be a bit old school by some hikers. They are out of style. Mostly because they are heavier because they force you to carry some unnecessary material. If you care about following the newest trends in outdoor gear, you may want to stay away from sleeping bags.
Of course, you shouldn’t really care what other hikers think. You should use whatever gear you prefer and feel more comfortable using.
More Hiking Gear Pros and Cons Analyses from Where The Road Forks
- Bivy Sack Vs. Tent
- Tarp Vs. Tent
- Hammock Vs. Tent
- Poncho Vs. Rain Jacket
- Down Vs. Fleece Vs. Wool
- Hiking Boots Vs Trail Runners
A Note About Quilt and Sleeping Bag Temperature Ratings
Every quilt and sleeping bag has a temperature rating. In theory, this would be a great way to compare the warmth of different bags. The problem is that not all temperature ratings tell you the same information. Sometimes they are inaccurate.
These days, sleeping bag temperature ratings have been standardized with 2 rating systems: European Norm (EN) and International Standards Organization (ISO). Both systems are pretty similar in their methods and results. Tests are performed in a lab. Each rating comes with two temperatures:
- Comfort rating- This number indicates the temperature where a cold sleeper can get a comfortable night of sleep.
- Lower limit rating- This number indicates the temperature where a warm sleeper can get a comfortable night of sleep.
These standardized ratings allow you to directly compare sleeping bags or quilts that have an ISO or EN rating. The ratings are fairly accurate and reliable.
The problem is that most quilts don’t undergo EN or ISO standardized testing. Oftentimes the manufacturer does their own testing and makes up their own warmth rating. There is no third-party testing to ensure accuracy. This can result in a bag that isn’t as warm as indicated.
The point is that you can’t rely completely on the temperature rating unless you’re looking at standardized EN or ISO ratings. If a quilt doesn’t have a standard rating, you can look at the amount and type of fill. This can give you a better idea of the warmth of the quilt.
For more info on sleeping bag temperature ratings, check out this excellent article from REI.com.
Which Temperature Sleeping Bag or Quilt Should I Choose?
This is the most important decision you’ll need to make when choosing a sleeping bag or quilt. The ideal temperature rating depends entirely on the climate where you plan to camp as well as your personal needs in terms of bag warmth. Some people sleep warmer than others. If you choose a bag that’s too cold, you’ll be miserable and freezing at night. If you choose a bag that’s too hot, you’ll end up carrying more weight than necessary.
The most versatile option is probably a 20° F (-7° C) bag. These work great for 3 season use. They are warm enough to use in the shoulder seasons and even into the winter in many regions. 20° bags can also be used in the summer relatively comfortably. If you only have the budget for one bag, I’d go with a 20° bag. Cold sleepers may be more comfortable in a 10 or 15 degree bag for 3 season use.
If you only camp in warm weather or summer, go with a 40° F (4°C) bag. You can cut a decent amount of weight and bulk by choosing a cooler bag for warmer climates. The main drawback to this is the fact that it’s not quite as versatile. If you’re a particularly cold sleeper, you may wish to go with a 30 or 35 degree bag for summer use.
Some thru-hikers carry a 40° bag through the warm sections of the trail then swap it out for a 20° bag when they reach the colder sections. That way, you’re not carrying around the extra weight of a warmer bag when you don’t need it.
If you plan to camp in extremely cold weather, look for a 0° bag. These can keep you warm even in the coldest of climates.
Tip: Make sure your sleeping pad is warm enough for the climate that you’re camping in. If it’s not, you’ll still get cold even in the warmest of sleeping bags. For more info, check out my guide: Inflatable Sleeping Pad vs Foam Sleeping Pad: My Pros and Cons List.
Down Vs Synthetic Quilts and Sleeping Bags
Another important decision to make when selecting a sleeping bag or quilt is the insulation material. Both quilts and sleeping bags are available with both synthetic and down insulation. For most trips, down is the better choice.
- Lighter-Down offers a superior warmth-to-weight ratio.
- More compressible- Down compresses much better than synthetics. This leaves more space in your pack.
- Longer lasting/ more durable- If properly cared for, a down sleeping bag or quit can last over a decade. You can compress it and decompress it many times before the down begins to break down.
- Down doesn’t perform well when it gets wet. It loses its insulation properties. Avoid down if you camp in rainy conditions often.
- Slow to dry- If your down sleeping bag gets wet, it can take all day to dry.
- More expensive
- Can be inhumane- Down is an animal product. The feathers are harvested from ducks and geese. You’ll want to make sure your down is responsibly sourced.
- Some people are allergic to down. The material is not hypoallergenic.
- Down is difficult to clean. You need to take special care so you don’t damage the feathers.
- Better performance in wet conditions-Synthetic bags can still provide insulation when they get wet. For this reason, they are a great choice for rainy environments.
- Cheaper than down
- More humane- Synthetic insulation is basically made of plastic.
- Fast-drying- If your synthetic bag gets wet, you can lay it out in the sun and it will dry quickly.
- Bulkier- Synthetic bags don’t pack down as small.
- Less durable/ don’t last as long- Synthetic fibers break down faster than natural down fibers. You may only get 3-4 years out of a synthetic bag if you use it often.
For more in depth info, check out my complete guide to down vs synthetic insulation.
This cottage manufacturer makes some of the lightest, highest quality, and most well-designed quilts available. Their original quilt is the Revelation. They also offer a lighter model called the Enigma. The only drawback to Enlightened Equipment is that they are fairly expensive.
Hammock Gear makes some of the best value quilts available. If you’re looking for a quality custom made quilt from a cottage manufacturer but you’re on a tight budget, the Economy Burrow is probably the best option available. Hammock Gear also offers premium quilts that weigh around 5 ounces less.
This ultralight quilt weighs in at just 1 lb 9 oz. It is insulated with 800 fill power dry down. This interesting quilt features a few unique design decisions to add warmth. First, it is oversized. This reduces drafts because the quilt provides more coverage. Another unique feature is the hideaway-hood. This is basically a small slit near the top of the bag where you can poke your nose and mouth through while you sleep. This way, you can breathe and the quilt insulates your head. When you’re not using the hideaway-hood, it seals itself closed because the fabric overlaps. The top inside corners of the quilt features small hand pockets to help keep your hands warm while you sleep. The foot box is sewn shut to help keep your feet warm. The drawback to this quilt is the fact that it doesn’t have an attachment system.
REI Co-op Magma Trail Quilt 30
This ultralight quilt from REI weighs just 1 lb 1.5 oz and compresses down to just 3 liters in an included stuff sack. It is filled with water-resistant 850 fill down. The outer shell is downproof and features a durable water repellent (DWR) coating to keep the down dry. One great thing about this quilt is the fact that it is available off the shelf at REI. You don’t have to wait for the quilt to be sewn and shipped.
A few more quilt manufactures to consider include: Loco Libre, UGQ, ZPacks, and Mountain Laurel Designs.
Sleeping Bag Recommendation
REI Co-op Magma 15 Sleeping Bag
This ultralight sleeping bag from REI weighs in at just 1 lb. 12.2 oz. and compresses down to 5.2 liters in the included stuff sack. It is filled with 850 fill-power goose down. My friend owns this sleeping bag and really loves it. I inspected it and was shocked by how light and compact it was.
Marmot Helium Down Sleeping Bag
This ultralight sleeping bag is insulated with 800-fill goose down that has been treated with Down Defender for increased waterproofing. It weighs in at just 2 lbs. 1 oz. This is a 3 season sleeping bag with a 15 degree temperature rating.
This cottage gear manufacturer offers some of the lightest and highest quality sleeping bags on the market. Their most popular model is called the Swallow. Another popular option is the Hummingbird, which has a slightly slimmer cut. Both use 950+ fill power goose down and are available in 20° and 30° options. These bags are quite expensive and may take time to be sewed before they’re shipped.
This is one of the best budget sleeping bags available that is still light and compact enough for backpacking. The Kelty Cosmic 20 uses 18.2 oz 600 fill power DriDown for insulation. It is surprisingly water-resistant. I hiked through 6 days of rain with this sleeping bag on the Wonderland Trail and it still stayed dry enough to keep me warm. The whole bag weighs in at around 3lbs. This is on the heavier side for a down bag. Check out my full review of the Kelty Cosmic 20 here.
Another Option: DIY or MYOG Quilt or Sleeping Bag
If you have some basic sewing skills, or you’re willing to learn, you can sew your own quilt. I’ve seen some pretty impressive results from fellow hikers. The benefit of sewing your own quilt is the fact that you have complete control over the design. You choose the features, materials, and size of your quilt to fit your specifications. Of course, designing and sewing your own quilt takes a considerable amount of time and effort.
Don’t expect to save much money by sewing your own quilt. Materials are expensive. Particularly down. Ultralight water-resistant fabrics aren’t cheap either. Expect to spend $120-$200 to make a 20-degree quilt with high-quality materials. You could make a synthetic quilt for around $70-$100.
You can also sew your own sleeping bag. The difficulty is a bit higher due to the more complex design. I’m planning to attempt to sew my own quilt later this summer. I’ve found these three resources helpful in planning my design:
- MYOG ultralight 20 degree down quilt from Instructables.com
- How to make a down quilt Youtube video from Dubber Designs
I’ll report back with my results after I finish my project. If you end up sewing your own quilt, share your results in the comments!
My Choice: Quilt Vs. Sleeping Bag
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been focusing on lightening my base weight. When I switched from a sleeping bag to a quilt, I cut about 2 pounds from my pack, which is significant.
After making the switch to ultralight, I have found that the lighter I travel the more I enjoy myself. A lighter pack allows me to travel faster while using less energy. It’s just more efficient. Carrying less weight is also healthier. A lighter pack puts less stress on my back and knees. I feel safer as well because I’m more stable when there is less weight on my back.
Having said all of this, there is one situation where I would prefer to have a sleeping bag. That is extremely cold weather camping. Sometimes when I roll over in the night, I can feel a draft of cold air make its way into my quilt. In temperatures below 20 degrees F, I pack my sleeping bag. I also miss the hood occasionally. A hat just isn’t as cozy.
Final Thoughts: Quilt Vs Sleeping Bag
As more and more campers make the switch to ultralight gear, quilts are quickly becoming the most popular choice for hikers, bicycle tourists, and travelers. The quest for the most ultralight camping gear drives manufacturers to continue cutting weight.
By switching from a sleeping bag to a quilt, you can cut at least a few ounces from your pack. Maybe even up to a pound. You can also save some money by choosing a quilt over a sleeping bag for your next camping sleep setup.
Where do you stand on the quilt vs sleeping bag debate? Share your experience in the comments below!
More from Where The Road Forks
- Goose Vs Duck Down: Pros and Cons
- Is Camping Safe? Avoiding Wild Animals, Insects, and Injury
- Rooftop Tent Vs Ground Tent: Pros and Cons
- Freestanding Vs Non-Freestanding Tent
- Hot Tent Camping: Using a Wood Tent Stove
- Bear Safety Tips: How to Avoid Bears While Hiking and Camping
- How to Reduce Condensation in a Tent
Tuesday 18th of April 2023
Hey, nice post!
Instead of buying a very expensive quilt, why can't I just use the down duvet I have at home? Packs equally small, more comfy, but since the shell of a duvet is made of cotton, it's probably less good when it gets wet. Am I missing something?
Thursday 27th of April 2023
You could use your down duvet. It's a great way to save some money. It may not be as warm as a purpose-made quilt. You should test it out in warm weather first or bring a sleeping bag as a backup just in case it's not warm enough.