In the past few years, backpacking quilts have seen an explosion in popularity among long-distance backpackers, particularly among people investing in ultralight setups. A backpacking quilt is built like a traditional sleeping bag, except that it doesn’t zip up into the fully enclosed ‘bag’ shape, and it doesn’t have a hood.
Many backpackers love down quilts because they allow for more freedom to sprawl when you’re sleeping, as opposed to the somewhat confining shape of a mummy bag. A quilt also saves weight by eliminating the full-length zipper, and by not having any insulation underneath the sleeper. Down fill maintains its insulating properties partly with loft, so the idea behind a quilt is that you aren’t actually getting any warmth from the down that’s being crushed under your body while you sleep. The sleeping pad is keeping you protected from the ground, not the underside of your bag.
It’s important to remember that quilts aren’t just a lighter-weight alternative to a mummy bag, and they aren’t for everyone. Even if the down of a mummy bag doesn’t insulate from underneath, a fully enclosed sleeping bag does eliminate drafts. One of the detracting factors from using quilts is that unless you get a wider model, it can be hard to get the quilt fully wrapped around you, especially if you move around at night. Gaps let cold air in, and keeping that microclimate heated without having it fully sealed can be a huge energy suck.
It’s also worth doing a quick warmth-to-weight comparison. There are some incredibly lightweight sleeping bags on the market that can compete with the weight of a quilt without sacrificing draft protection.
All that said, there are plenty of quilt models out there with draft protection and warmth for the coldest sleepers. There are also many options for ultralight, fully enclosed mummy bags, and the price difference is often negligible between the two styles. There are very expensive quilts and there are very expensive mummy bags. Additionally, if you’re thinking of switching to a quilt and you’ve spent years backpacking with a mummy bag, the change could take some getting used to.
As always, there are pros and cons to both styles, and no model is perfect for everyone. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re thinking of switching from a traditional mummy bag to a down quilt, and you can find Garage Grown Gear's full selection of options here.
Are you a cold or warm sleeper?
While temperature ratings are supposedly universal, there’s more to a rating than the fill weight and quality of the down in a bag or quilt. Like we mentioned above, a regular-size quilt might not be big enough to fully protect from drafts, so if you’re a cold sleeper and go the quilt route, be sure the width is adequate to get the material secure on the sides. If you tend to sleep cold, you might want to opt for a fully enclosed bag with a hood and a draft collar. It creates a tighter environment and has better heat retention.
If you sleep on the warmer side and find temperature ratings to be generous, you’re a good candidate for a quilt, and will probably prefer the option of kicking a leg out from underneath it, and the easier venting capabilities. While you can always unzip a sleeping bag, the option to simply toss the quilt off of you if you get too hot at night is convenient and can make the quilt feel more versatile.
When do you do most of your backpacking?
This relates to the temperature ratings as well. If you want one option for all of your backpacking, and you do a lot of colder-weather outings, a lightweight sleeping bag might be the better option since you can seal it up and cinch the hood down on the coldest nights.
If you live in a warmer region and take most of your trips in summer and during milder shoulder season weather, a quilt will likely be more than adequate, and you don’t even have to worry about sizing up for paying more for a warmer rating.
Do you move around a lot when you sleep?
A ‘still’ sleeper will be fine with either a mummy bag or a quilt, but people who are constantly changing positions, kicking a knee out, or sprawling will appreciate the heck out of a quilt. In fact, if you’re this type of sleeper, mummy bags probably feel confining. With their open sides, quilts allow plenty of space for moving around in your sleep. Different models have options for footboxes, and some can be completely unzipped so you have a true quilt. Others come stitched close, so you won’t have cold air sneaking in through a drawcord.
How much does weight saving matter to you?
The lightest options out there are in the quilt category. If you are dedicated to shaving every last ounce from your base weight, a quilt is your best option by at least a few ounces. Saving weight on the zipper and forgoing the underside not only saves weight, but also volume. Ultralight hikers with smaller-capacity packs will appreciate the almost comical packability of some ultralight quilts out there.
For those who don’t care too much about ounces, you can do a side-by-side comparison between quilts and mummy bags with the same temperature rating and find they often come within a few ounces in comparable weight. If you don’t feel like changing your sleep system, or you’re worried about being cold, there are mummy bag options out there with a solid warmth-to-weight ratio.
With all that said, remember that there is no perfect sleeping bag or quilt. There are so many factors to choose from, including model, temperature rating, fill power, fill weight, zipper style, and more.
In general, it takes plenty of trial and error before you get your gear dialed, and your sleep system is no different. Hopefully these questions got you a little closer to making the best choice for you and your adventures.
Kate: It looks like a Whyld River dog sleeping bag https://whyld-river.com/products/whyld-rivers-doggybag
Several years ago, I bought a Zenbivy. It has the advantages of a quilt with a ‘bottom sheet’ that protects the sleeping pad. I usually sleep in a hammock, so I leave the bottom sheet at home. (It has a hood attached to it, so if it’s going to be cold I bring a separate hood.)
I’m a side sleeper, and unfortunately my eternally-cold read end is right in the area where there’s a gap cold air can enter. If that’s the case, I use my puffy jacket.
If you’re looking for a quilt but are worried about sleeping directly on your sleeping pad, check out the Zenbivy. (I’ve since purchased their inflatable mattress and pillow. I’ve become a big fan of the company over the past few years!)
I have a very wide upper body (48" chest) and the confinement of a mummy bag was very claustrophobic to me to the point of being on the brink of a panic attack. Plus I am what I call I “rotisserie sleeper” so who knows where I would end up in the tent with a mummy bag? Discovering quilts, and dialing in my strap system was a game changer for me!
Thanks! Great article!
What is that great dog quilt/bag in the last photo?