In their most elemental form, quilts are essentially a rectangular down or synthetic blanket. While potential features range from partial zippers to sewn-in footboxes and vertical baffles to draft collars, quilts seek a more minimalist and open sleeping experience than traditional mummy bags.
Although they arguably require a bit more finesse and intentionality than sleeping bags (or at least some more trial and error), their incredible comfort, versatility, and lightweight nature make them my preferred sleeping companion. While I do love quilts, I will say that I don’t have a particularly organized vendetta against sleeping bags. These are simply my thoughts, opinions, and experiences! As quilts get more and more popular within the outdoor community (the norm in many circles), I figured I’d share. Have complimentary thoughts? Contradictory? Please share in the comments!
Comfort - For me, traditional mummy bags have always felt claustrophobic. Zipping up to your chin and leaving you without much ability to move (other than flopping around like a fish), every adjustment feels difficult, awkward, and radically dissimilar to my sleeping experience in frontcountry life.
Quilts, on the other hand, offer me freedom of movement. Without the constricting confines of zippers, footboxes, and hoods, I’m able to sleep in positions natural to my body. My arms and legs can position themselves in comfortable locations, and I’m able to move seamlessly from side sleeping to back sleeping to stomach sleeping without each movement feeling like a Herculean commitment. No struggling to blindly find zippers in the middle of the night and no rolling over to find myself slowly suffocating in my sleeping bag’s hood. For those who move around a lot at night, quilts can radically improve the quality, ease, and duration of your ZzzzZzzzzzs.
Since I switched to using quilts 5 or so years ago, the concept of using a sleeping bag has increasingly felt like a “one size fits all” option that frequently requires its users to settle for a uniformly mediocre sleeping experience. While some people love the total body hug that a sleeping bag provides, as someone who thrashes around like a banshee, sleeping bags seem to largely ignore the unique patterns of movement that make my good sleep possible. I don’t expect particularly luxurious sleeping on trail, but quilts certainly provide me with a more comfortable sleep and they reward me with a more energized day of hiking.
Ultralight - Quilts are significantly lighter than sleeping bags (usually by about 20-30%). By removing zippers, hoods, unneeded filling/fabric, and other extraneous features, switching to an ultralight quilt is a great way to lighten your kit.
Much of the weight saving nature of quilts is based around the idea of maximizing the insulating nature of down. When using a sleeping bag, the down beneath your body is compressed. When compressed, down isn’t given space to loft and it ultimately does very little to help insulate your body. Quilts remove that inefficient down (and the associated fabric) and instead largely rely on the design of the quilt and the quality (and appropriate R-Value) of your sleeping pad to keep your body from transferring its heat to the ground.
By replacing sleeping bag hoods and footboxes with a warm hat and socks, you utilize clothing you already carry to maximize and sustain your warmth during the night. Removing these design elements also means your quilt packs down smaller and takes up less space!
Versatility - While sleeping bags can do an excellent job at keeping you comfortable within a very relatively narrow range of temperatures, quilts excel at providing a comfortable sleeping experience in a wide range of temperatures and climates. Since quilts typically have sewn in or adjustable footboxes (zippered with drawstring closures), on cold nights you can close your footbox, attach your pad straps, and effectively trap in heat and to eliminate draftiness. On warm nights, quilts can be used as an open blanket. Toss out a leg, leave your torso exposed, or snuggle with your quilt between your legs to keep them from sweatily rubbing together.
Long story short, quilts allow you to trap warm air in when its cold or let airflow in when it's warm. I find I can use my 20-degree quilt for all but the coldest and hottest of temps with a high amount of comfort.
While I know people have some hesitations about quilts due to concerns about their warmth, if you are equipped with the right degree quilt, the correct sizing, the proper sleeping pad (and straps), and a bit of trial and error, quilts are pretty dang incredible. Experiment with your quilt in warmer temperature, and as you get a hang of its quirks, try it in colder temps.
Quilts I enjoy: