I feel as if we have entered into an interesting place in the backpacking world recently. Backpacking quilts, once the tools of only the most hardcore Ray-way ultralighters, have begun to make their way into the everyday backpackers packs, and for good reason. But with this paradigm shift comes a struggle. There isn’t a lot of great info out there on how to appropriately size a backpacking quilt, nor do most people know what to look for when buying a quilt. Couple this with the fact that most of the mainstream gear companies’ quilt offerings are complete garbage, and now we’ve got a bigger issue. Not only is it hard to find an appropriately fitting quilt, but the market is saturated with mostly bad quilt designs that give quilts a bad name and leave potential quilter users running back to their sleeping bags.
Never used a quilt before?
I’m not going to use this article to justify quilt use, that could be an entire article in and of itself, but I will leave you with a few sentences and a video to watch if you haven’t been sold on quilts yet. For starters, here are a few benefits:
You can nearly halve your sleeping bag weight in one fell swoop. This can mean upwards of a pound of weight savings, where else can you cut this much weight from your pack?!
Quilts are far more comfortable than sleeping bags. They are not nearly as restrictive as mummy bags and you’ll find that nearly every sleeping position is more comfortable in a quilt. It’s like sleeping with a comforter in bed. Side sleepers, toss n’ turners, and knee tuckers rejoice!
Save space! Quilts can compact down much farther than most sleeping bags, thereby saving you precious space in your backpack.
Stay warm or cool. Temperature regulation with quilts is phenomenal. I use my 10 *F quilt in all seasons. In warm temperatures, I stick my legs out or loosely drape the quilt over me to stay cool, when it gets cold, I tuck the quilt underneath me and over my head to stay super warm. Adaptability like this is hard to find in a sleeping bag. Being able to use one quilt for most conditions is also great for those that can’t afford more than one sleeping bag/quilt.
Still not sold? Check out this video I made below for more reasons why you should switch to a quilt:
Step 1.) What to look for in a quilt.
Quilts are not the easiest items to purchase, especially if you’ve never used one. Many factors contribute to a good nights sleep with a quilt, and not all of them are relatable to what you look for when buying a sleeping bag. What follows is a list of specs, features, and qualities to look for in a quilt.
1.) Weight - There are many overweight quilt options on the market. Part of the appeal of a quilt is that it can save you a large amount of weight over your traditional sleeping bag. Avoid the quilts using cheaper, heavy materials and low quality down. A useful benchmark for avoiding overly heavy quilts is to aim for under 20 ounces (567 g) for a 20 *F quilt and under 24 ounces (680 g) for a 10 *F quilt. These weights are on the low end of quilt weights and aren't always achievable, but even getting close to them will assure that you aren't missing out on the precious weight savings quilts can offer.
My DIY quilt features 900 fp down, a 10F temp rating, and weighs 21.2 oz
2.) Down Fill Power - Down fill power (often abbreviated FP) is a mark of the quality of down used in the quilt. Higher fill power means higher quality down. Higher quality down means less weight, longer lasting durability, better heat retention, and more fluffiness. Fill power is measured in cubic inches per ounce. So one ounce of your typical 850 fill power down will fill approximately 850 cubic inches of volume. As you might expect the higher the fill power of the down in the quilt, the higher the cost. As a general rule, stick to 850 or greater fill power down. Once you dip below 850 fill power, you begin to see feathers mixed in with your down and weight efficiency begins to drop.
3.) Water Repellent Down - Water repellent down has been a point of controversy for the last few years in the backpacking world. Some people are arguing that it can lessen the life of the down in the long term, while others question the environmental impact that the polymer coating on the down has on our world’s precious natural resources. While you’ll find that most big name brands have chosen to adopt “dry-down” into their gear, you’ll also find a few bastions of resistance to the new technology, companies waiting for more research on the actual usefulness and environmental impact of this new technology (Western Mountaineering is a prime example of the latter.) It is my opinion that dry-down is here to stay, and that it is a technology worth adapting. More importantly, the technology is already moving towards more sustainable manufacturing processes. In my experience dry-down won’t make much of a difference in keeping your down from wetting out under direct rain/water, but it will keep your down much more efficient, warm, and effective in humid conditions. I always opt for water repellent down in my gear.
4.) Appropriate Sizing - More on this later…
5.) A Footbox - Again… I’ll delve into this later too.
6.) Pad Straps - Some quilts come with straps or loops for straps built into the quilt. These straps are meant to secure the quilt around your sleeping pad and keep it from shifting too much throughout the night. I’ve found that these straps are completely unnecessary. Neither I nor anyone I’ve met on trail actually uses these straps. I’ve found that the best method for securing my quilt in place is tucking it underneath my body. This method assures that drafts stay out, and doesn’t cost me any extra weight penalty. I’ve found straps to be unwieldy and somewhat of a nuisance, not to mention that they add weight to my sleep system.
7.) Hoods - Nope. Quilts don’t have hoods, nor should they. Just use your down jacket or a beanie to keep your head warm. Hoods are unnecessary in quilts and only add weight.
8.) Draft Tubes - Draft tubes are of questionable use in quilts, however I am of the opinion that they are useless. It makes no difference whether or not I have a draft tube when my quilt is tucked underneath my head. If you choose to cinch the top of your quilt around your neck, you may find them useful for filling in the air gaps that a cinched quilt creates, but I still maintain that you should just tuck the quilt around your head and be done with it.
9.) Baffles - Simply put, you don’t want sewn through baffles, you want boxed or 3D baffles. Sewn through baffles sew both the inner and outer shells of the quilt together to control down. This leaves cold spots without insulation, where cold air can easily make it inside your quilt, and warm can escape. Boxed baffles control down by using vertical pieces of material to join the inner and outer shells of the quilt, creating no “pinch-zones” or places for loss of insulation. Sometimes sewn through baffles are acceptable in a lightweight summer quilt, but I always opt for boxed baffles when I can get them.
A glimpse at what baffles inside a quilt look like
10.) Materials - Materials shouldn’t be a huge concern for you, most manufacturers now are using the lightest and most appropriate materials available. Obviously you want a tightly woven, down-proof material that won’t allow down to penetrate it and leak out. Lightweight materials are preferable, often times a 10 or 15 Denier ripstop nylon will be the best candidate for the job. A water-resistant DWR coating is a plus but is rarely necessary in a quilt. If you are using a minimalist tarp and often find that rain splashes onto the foot of your bag/quilt, some brands offer a strip of weather proof fabric at the foot of the quilt for just this purpose.
Step 2.) To Box Your Feet Or Not To Box Your Feet.
Footboxes are exactly what they sound like. A box in the bottom of a sleeping bag or quilt designed to hold your feet. They come in many shapes and forms in quilts, but can generally be divided up into two forms: Sewn-In and Optional footboxes. A sewn-in footbox is exactly what you’ll find in most traditional sleeping bags. There is a box to contain your feet sewn into the quilt and it can not be removed. Optional footboxes are footboxes that allow the user to either create a footbox (Usually with a combination of zippers, velcro, and snaps) or lay the quilt out flat like you would a comforter on a bed. The choice between sewn-in and optional footboxes is very much a personal one. Generally, sewn-in footboxes tend to be a little warmer than optional ones. If you are an extremely restless sleeper, an optional footbox may provide you the freedom necessary for optimal sleep. I’m a fan of sewn-in footboxes, as they tend to save a little weight, hold the quilt around my body slightly more securely, and keep my feet nice and toasty. I used to opt for optional footbox quilts, but found that I never actually used the quilt in it’s “flattened” or un-footboxed form. This really isn’t a huge concern either way, though be wary of some optional designs that use a cord cinch at the foot of the quilt. If there is no way to seal the hole formed by the cinch at the bottom of the quilt, you may find that you have to stuff a pair of socks into the cinch hole at the bottom to keep drafts completely out.
A sewn-in footbox (left) compared to an optional footbox (right)
An Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt with it's optional footbox opened
Step 3.) Sizing Your Quilt.
Sizing your quilt correctly is the absolute most important thing to get right when buying a quilt. I would guesstimate that about 80% of the people that have issues with quilts have never used a quilt that fit them correctly. Having an appropriately sized quilt will keep you warmer, keep out drafts, give you more adaptability in different temperature conditions, and even allow you to stay more comfortable. Having a quilt that doesn’t fit you correctly can result in cold, drafty nights and will probably leave you wishing you had a sleeping bag.
There are several important measurements to look for when sizing a quilt. While getting these measurements 100% dialed in will give you the lightest possible, closest fitting quilt, I believe it is smart to size your quilt slightly larger than your measurements dictate. This gives you a little more adaptability and will likely lead to a much more comfortable quilt, no matter the conditions you face. When taking measurements for these dimensions, I use a soft tape measure like you would use sewing. This gives much more accurate measurements than you’ll get with a ruler or tape measure.
>Quilt Length - Choosing a quilt length (also know as height) can be a bit of a tricky thing. Altough quilts are meant to come up to and cover your shoulders, it’s often beneficial to have a little extra length in the quilt to allow your head to be tucked under on extremely cold nights. This extra length will also make it easier to tuck the quilt around your neck snugly, to keep pesky drafts out. Additionally, keep in mind that some of the length of the quilt is used up as the quilt contours up and over your body, so having a bit of leeway in the length dimension will assure that your quilt isn’t coming up short on you. When it comes to calculating the length of the quilt, I take a measurement of my height and add approximately 4-6 inches to the total. This gives the quilt enough length to run the contours of my body and come up to about my forehead, giving me room to tuck my head inside when the temperature really drops. If you are a larger person you may even consider adding 6 inches to your height. Alternatively, for summer specific or super light quilt builds, I’d recommend going with just your height as the length of the quilt. I am 5’ 10” and I prefer all of my quilts to be about 6’ 2” - 6’ 4” long.
>Quilt Width - Quilt width is perhaps the most variable measurement among quilt users and is largely dependent on both the users dimensions and their sleeping style. To put it simply, side sleepers and sleepers that shift often in their sleep should opt for a wider quilt while back/belly sleepers can get away with a slightly narrower quilt. Just as essential to keeping out drafts as quilt length is, quilt width should be carefully considered. You want to be able to tuck every piece of your quilt underneath your body to keep out drafts and seal in heat, so again, having a little extra width to play with is never a bad idea, especially around the shoulders where width is at it’s maximum. While many quilts feature a tapered design that narrows as the quilt nears the feet, I’ve found that coming up with a solid shoulder measurement and adding a little extra width will assure that your quilt fits well width-wise along it’s entire length. To take this measurement, I take a soft tape measure and wrap it around my body at the widest point of my shoulders. This gives me my shoulder girth, to which I will add 6-10”. For a form fitting, lightweight quilt add 6”. For a warmer, draft-proof winter quilt add 8-10” instead. Here’s another way to look at this: back/belly sleepers add 6”, side-sleepers add about 8”, and wider folks add at least 10” possibly more for those with extra girth. As an example, my shoulder width comes out to 48”. I could get by with a 54” wide quilt, but because I am a side sleeper and I enjoy really snuggling into my quilt, I opt to add about 8” of width to my quilt. My ideal quilt is about 56” wide.
>Footbox Circumference - Footbox circumference is not a measurement that most quilt users will need to concern themselves with. The vast majority of quilts on the market allow ample space for feet to stay cozy. If however you have larger than average feet, you may want to double check the dimensions on your quilt’s footbox to assure that your feet do not create tight spots. Tight spots create areas of compression and can result in cold spots. One particular brand to watch out for is Z-packs. Their quilts tend to be slightly tighter than most in the footbox due to the nature of their design.
Step 4.) Choosing your quilt’s temperature rating.
In many regards, choosing your quilt’s temperature rating is similar to choosing a sleeping bag’s temperature rating, however one key benefit of quilts is their ability to adapt to both warm and cold conditions. This means that you can choose to go with a winter-temperature rated quilt, yet still use it in summer temperatures by venting or draping it over you. In this way, you can have one quilt to do it all! Many backpackers are opting to replace their winter and summer sleeping bags with a single, do-it-all quilt. This is especially good news for thru-hikers, who can use a single quilt throughout an entire thru hike, where temperatures can vary quite dramatically.
So how do you choose your temperature rating? Well, honestly this is very much personal preference. It depends on the climates you hike in, how warm or cold you sleep, and a myriad of other factors. My general recommendation for a quilt is to start with a 10 degree F temperature rating. Why? Well for starters let’s look at sleeping bags, a 20 degree F sleeping bag has become the go to do-it-all bag for many backpackers and for good reason. It’s warm enough to keep most hikers happy in near/slightly-sub freezing temperatures but with a little extra wiggle room for cold sleepers. And the fact of the matter is that most people avoid camping in weather much colder than freezing. In my opinion, a 10 degree F quilt is the modern equivalent of the 20 degree F sleeping bag but better. A 10 degree F quilt will keep you reliably warm throughout all 3 seasons, with an extra safety margin for those days when an unexpected cold snap happens. It will still be much lighter than your average 20 degree F sleeping bag, yet you can choose to push it’s limits further into the cold months of winter if need be. And cold sleepers need not worry, there’s enough warmth in a 10 degree quilt to assure warm sleep when 20 degree bags won’t quite cut it.
If you lean more towards ultralight backpacking, and wish to save as much weight as possible at all times, you may wish to have two quilts: a summer quilt and a cold weather one. Summer quilts can weigh dramatically less than most colder weather quilts and bags (often under 14 oz) and are perfect for those trips where you know temperatures will remain high. The most common temperature for a summer quilt is 45 degrees F, though some choose a 30 degree F quilt to allow for near freezing camping.
Staying nice and warm in my quilt atop Colorado's highest peak
Step 5.) Choosing the right brand.
This one is easy. There aren’t too many brands out there selling quilts. A few of the big names in the outdoor industry are beginning to dip their toes into the quilt pool, but in large most of their attempts are laughable. The best advice for now is to avoid the big brand names and stick with smaller cottage companies. Check out a few of the options below:
> Enlightened Equipment - I’ve been accused of being endorsed by EE simply based on how often I recommend them, and although I’m not actually, they are absolutely my first recommendation for quilts. Enlightened Equipment is one of the longest standing quilt manufacturers and for good reason. They do an excellent job of producing high-quality quilts that are: lightweight, durable, appropriately customizable/sizable, and best of all affordable. Be aware though, EE quilts take time to produce so you’ll often have to wait a week or two after ordering your quilt before actually getting to use it! Good things come to those who wait. (Update: Good news! EE is now backstocking some of their more popular designs/sizes for immediate shipping!) Check them out here: http://www.enlightenedequipment.com
> Z Packs - If you’ve explored the wold of ultralight backpacking at all, you have undoubtedly come across Z Packs. They are one of the most well know and true to ultralight brands available. This minimalist approach bleeds into their quilt design as well. With cuben fiber baffles and tight cuts, their quilts push weight boundaries in the same way that much of their gear does. A unique feature of the Z Packs quilts is the back zipper that allows the quilt to function much as a sleeping bag does for extremely restless sleepers that are worried about rolling/kicking the quilt off in their sleep. These quilts are very customizable, though do tend to be a bit more pricey than EE quilts. It’s worth noting that currently, 10 degrees F is the lowest temp rating available. Find them here: http://www.zpacks.com/quilts/sleepingbag.shtml
> Katabatic Gear - https://katabaticgear.com/sleeping-bags/
> Hammock Gear - http://www.hammockgear.com/down-quilts/
> Warbonnet Outdoors - https://www.warbonnetoutdoors.com/product/mamba-topquilts/
I don't think I could write a post about quilts without recommending you make one of your own. By making a DIY quilt you: gain a ton of experience in the DIY/sewing world thereby assuring confidence in future projects, save at least half the cost associated with buying a quilt, assure that you have a perfectly fitting quilt, create the absolute lightest quilt possible and with all the features you want yet none you don't. It's a tough project for those inexperienced with sewing their own gear, but consider it a crash course in gear making. For more info on making your own quilt, check out these videos below:
>Designing a quilt (theory): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5gPKrAE6Bk&list=PL4p96ziEpQP2-ULwd5rEV4VWxFjr7-YgS&index=9
>Calculating Down Fill for a Quilt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTYqTRkRuRk&list=PL4p96ziEpQP2-ULwd5rEV4VWxFjr7-YgS&index=10
>An overview of my down quilt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KnfpfrSm7g&list=PL4p96ziEpQP2-ULwd5rEV4VWxFjr7-YgS&index=14
Joe Brewer is a triple crown hiker with a serious addiction to the trail and all things thru hiking. Currently he resides in Denver, Colorado where he is working at a gear store, creating videos for his Youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/biophthera), doing his best to avoid dropping everything and starting up another thru hike, and producing content for his hiking website BackcountryBanter.com.