On a thru-hike, you want to be comfortable and warm when sleeping outdoors. Traditionally, you would pack a sleeping bag, but backpacking quilts have become increasingly popular. When you’re next planning to camp as part of a hike, you may want to consider buying a backpacking quilt instead.
A backpacking quilt is camping gear designed to wrap around the body to keep you warm when sleeping outside. The quilt does not have a back, hood, or zipper, offering greater freedom of movement than a sleeping bag. Less material means a quilt is lighter and more compact then a sleeping bag, too.
A backpacking quilt offers a viable alternative to a sleeping bag and is a lighter item for you to carry. In this article, we shall look at how a backpacking quilt is different to a sleeping bag, its advantages, disadvantages, and whether or not it’s a good choice for side sleepers.
What Is A Backpacking Quilt?
A backpacking quilt is like a large blanket, designed to contain body heat. The quilt is built to wrap around you and keep you warm when sleeping out under the stars. However, it can just as easily be opened up to allow the air to flow and keep you cool on warmer nights.
The main differences to a sleeping bag is there is no back on a backpacking quilt and no zipper. The removal of the back also removes much of the down insulation found within a sleeping bag. This is the primary factor in why a backpacking quilt is lighter than a sleeping bag, making it a more attractive item for weight-conscious hikers.
You may be thinking that removing the insulating base of a sleeping bag is counter-intuitive when sleeping outside, but the design of backpacking quilts helps to keep you warm by trapping your body heat within it. On some backpacking quilts, the bottom third is designed to form a foot box, and in these cases, there may be a zipper at the lower end of the quilt to help enclose your feet.
How A Backpacking Quilt Keeps You Warm
When you wrap a backpacking quilt around you, the colder air is kept out and the heat from your body is contained within the quilt. You will need a sleeping pad with a backpacking quilt, as the pad provides the insulation and comfort to protect you from the ground. A backpacking quilt does not have a back to it, which is where much of the insulation in a sleeping bag rests.
However, many people use a sleeping pad with a sleeping bag anyway. This is because a sleeping bag loses a good deal of its thermal properties due to the compression caused by the weight of a person’s body. The sleeping pad ends up providing the larger part of the insulation against the ground rather than the fill of the sleeping bag.
A backpacking quilt will usually have straps to attach it to a sleeping pad to help keep you contained within the quilt and anchored to the sleeping pad. The logic behind backpacking quilts is a simple one, as the best ideas often are. The one additional item you may need to take on colder nights is a warm beanie or hoodie, because backpacking quilts do not have a hood.
Difference Between A Backpacking Quilt And A Sleeping Bag
On first viewing, it may not seem like there’s much of a difference between a backpacking quilt and a sleeping bag. There are several things that set them apart, however. Here are the key differences between a backpacking quilt and a sleeping bag.
Weight And Volume
One of the main differences between a backpacking quilt and a sleeping bag is a quilt is lighter. Without a back, full-length zipper, or a hood, a backpacking quilt weighs less. A backpacking quilt tends to weigh one to two pounds less than a sleeping bag, which can be a significant difference when you are looking to pack ultralight.
A backpacking quilt also has less material than a sleeping bag and therefore less volume. While less weight reduces the load to be carried, less volume means a more compact item to pack. So, a backpacking quilt will take up less room in your backpack, giving you the option to pack additional essentials.
No Back, No Hood, No Zipper
Where the design of the two products is fundamentally different is that there is no back on a backpacking quilt. The quilt is designed to wrap around you, containing the heat within the quilt. A backpacking quilt is also designed to be used with a sleeping pad, with the pad providing the insulation and comfort against the ground.
Sleeping bags may come with a hood to protect the head and neck from colder nights. A backpacking quilt has no hood. Body heat is generated and contained within the quilt, and it’s when you’re properly wrapped up that your neck is warm.
That said, some quilts do come with a draft collar which acts like a scarf to further insulate the neck. As a result, those using backpacking quilts might opt for a beanie or a hoodie to help keep their head warm on cold nights and to reduce any heat loss.
When you tuck yourself up at night in a sleeping bag, you zip up the whole length of the bag. As a backpacking quilt is designed to wrap around you and sit snugly against the body, there is no zipper attachment. On some backpacking quilts, you may find a zipper covering the lower part of the quilt, but this is used to form a foot box.
If you are sleeping out at night, warmth will naturally be one of your primary considerations.Both sleeping bags and backpacking quilts are given temperature ratings to guide you, and they both offer largely the same ratings.
A backpacking quilt tends to have a temperature rating between 15 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, while a sleeping bag used for hiking tends to have a slightly larger range between 0 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although there is not a huge difference between the two, a sleeping bag of similar quality and temperature rating will usually be cheaper than the equivalent backpacking quilt. You can pay up to $400 or more for either item, but backpacking quilts start from around $75.
You can pick up a sleeping bag for as little as $20, but before doing so, you will want to question its quality and whether it will be appropriate for sleeping out at night when temperatures drop. As with quilts, the price of a sleeping bag will vary depending on the brand, fabric, temperature ratings and insulation offered, but generally sleeping bags start from around $50.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Backpacking Quilt
Advantage: Lightweight And Compact
The fact that backpack quilts are lighter and more compact is what will initially draw most hikers’ interest. Any piece of hiking gear which can do the same job as the item you are currently using but is lighter is well worth investigating when looking to pack as lightly as you possibly can.
Less material also means the backpacking quilt is more compact than a sleeping bag, making it simpler to fold and taking up less space in your backpack. A backpack quilt is soft and flexible, and on average weighs around 20 to 30 percent less than a sleeping bag.
Advantage: More Movement
Since backpacking quilts are like a blanket, they are far less restrictive and are very handy if you tend to twist and turn a lot when you sleep. A zipped sleeping bag can feel much more restrictive, and the freedom of movement offered by backpacking quilts can be the biggest plus for many hikers.
With a backpacking quilt you can also adjust the straps which connects the quilt to the sleeping pad if you require more room. A bonus of havingstraps is that if you do move a lot in the night, you won’t slide off the sleeping pad as you might when you are in a sleeping bag.
With less material, backpacking quilts are more breathable than sleeping bags, which can mean a better night’s sleep after a long day’s hike. When we talk about how breathable a product is, we are referencing how dry it will keep you. A backpacking quilt is made from breathable materials that help regulate your body temperature as you sleep.
If you start to overheat while asleep, you sweat. Moisture can become trapped and can result in you becoming colder if the temperatures start to dip. In a sleeping bag, you have few options if you are too hot. As well as being breathable, a backpacking quilt can be folded back and rearranged to allow more air to circulate to keep you cooler and prevent you sweating.
Since it is similar to a blanket in design, a backpacking quilt is great to use at any point of the day, whether you want to wrap something around you for extra warmthor protect yourself from a chilly wind. A quilt means you do not need to pack an extra blanket. Quilts also come in many shapes and colors to suit your preference and can even be customized for a more personal feel.
Backpacking quilts can come with various features, too. Side straps, wings, and chords make it easier to connect a quilt to a sleeping pad and still allow you to adjust their tightness. A foot box can turn a quilt into more of a sleeping bag beneath the knees if your feet tend to get cold, and draft stoppers can also be added if required.
Advantage: Seasonal Use
A decent quality quilt with a temperature rating between 10 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit can provide year-round camping use. Some hikers may prefer to use their quilt for three seasons out of the four, finding the lack of a hood can be an issue in the colder months. Others may find a warm beanie and wearing extra clothing, perhaps including a hoodie top, does the job for them.
A backpacking quilt which works across the seasons means you don’t need separate sleeping bags for different seasons. Being able to wrap the quilt around you or fold it back according to the temperature makes it more of a one-stop product you can use at different times of the year.
Advantage: Easier To Dry, Fewer Parts To Break
Even while propped up on a sleeping pad when in use, a backpacking quilt is still going to get grubby when hiking. However, being designed with fewer materials and less padding than a sleeping bag means a quilt is easier and quicker to wash. It should also take less time to dry, especially since you can open out a backpacking quilt to help it dry even faster.
This may seem a minor point, but when you’re settling down to sleep after a day’s hiking, the last thing you want is for something to snap, break off, or malfunction on your sleeping gear. For example, it would be very annoying for the zipper of a sleeping bag to break. Due to its blanket-style design, a backpacking quilt has fewer parts that can break or potentially let you down.
Disadvantage: No Back, No Hood
The first disadvantage is that there’s no back to a backpacking quilt, so it requires a sleeping pad to avoid sleeping directly on the ground. If you do not already use a sleeping pad, then you may think this is an unnecessary extra item to carry. However, some people use a sleeping pad with a sleeping bag anyway for extra comfort and insulation from the ground.
A lack of a hood may not be an issue until the temperatures start to drop as winter approaches, but people feel the cold differently. You can lose a lot of heat through the head, and sleeping in a hoodie or a beanie might not be for everyone. Some people may also roll up the hood on their sleeping bag to double up as a pillow to avoid having to carry an extra item.
Disadvantage: A Fiddlier Set-Up
It’s not by much, but setting up your backpacking quilt takes more effort and more time than unfurling a sleeping bag. The main element is attaching the quilt to the sleeping pad. Different brands of backpacking quilts can have different types of straps, but whichever one you use, it does make setting up your sleeping arrangements a little fiddlier and time consuming.
Disadvantage: Less Warm When Very Cold
While on the whole a backpacking quilt will keep you as warm as a comparable sleeping bag, some people may find a quilt does not keep them warm enough when temperatures turn very cold. Again, a lack of a hood can be a contributing factor here with the heat lost through the head.
As backpacking quilts are lighter and use less material, they can feel colder, and not everyone is comfortable sleeping wearing extra clothing. If you like the notion of minimal clothing when sleeping in colder temperatures, a sleeping bag may be the better option.
Another result of not having a hood is that a backpacking quilt can be vulnerable to drafts, which can be quite pleasant on a warm summer’s evening, but not so welcome on a chilly winter night.
However, many quilts can have a draft collar added, which is a form of insulating tube that is sewn into the quilt and worn like a scarf. Tightening the straps which attach the quilt to the sleeping pad can also limit the effect of a draft.
Should You Buy A Backpacking Quilt?
Whether or not you should buy a backpacking quilt is a matter of personal preference. That said, there are good reasons why hikers buy them. First and foremost, if you want to hike ultralight, any weight saved by using a backpacking quilt instead of a sleeping bag is a huge bonus.
If you always end up wishing you had been able to pack a few more essentials for the trip, then buying a more compact backpacking quilt can help solve this problem. With fewer materialsinvolved in the design, a quilt is less bulky than a sleeping bag and will take up less room in your backpack.
Naturally, warmth will be a major concern. A backpacking quilt can match a sleeping bag on this front, except when the weather turns really cold, at which point you would most likely need to wear extra layers of clothing as you sleep. You will also want to ensure your sleeping pad is the same length as the quilt you are buying. If it is marginally shorter, you will not get fully insulted from the ground.
On the flip side, you only need one backpacking quilt, as it is easy to fold and arrange to keep you cooler when sleeping out in warmer summer temperatures. If you tend to overheat at night, then a quilt could be the solution to keeping you cool and making sleeping easier.
For those who have a tendency to move around a lot during the night, the blanket-style nature of a backpacking quilt may also suit you best. A sleeping bag can feel very restrictive if you tend to change sleeping positions a lot during the night, whereas a quilt has much more freedom of movement. They are also easier to get out of quickly if nature calls during the night!
Ultimately, you will need to weigh the pros and cons of both a backpacking quilt and a sleeping bag to better appreciate which bit of kit works best for you. However, although still a bit of a niche product at the moment,backpacking quilts are gaining in popularity.
6 Things To Look For In A Backpacking Quilt
When considering sleeping out in the wild, there are some basic concerns you want covered, namely that you will be warm and comfortable enough to get a good night’s sleep. Hikers will also want sleeping gear which adds minimal weight to the load they have to carry. The following are six criteria to consider when buying a backpacking quilt.
Reducing the weight of a backpack is a large part of the appeal for hikers in buying a backpacking quilt. However, be aware that some quilts on the market, particularly cheaper options, may not provide any benefits as far as weight is concerned. They are lower priced because they use cheaper materials which are also heavier.
Down is the lightest material. While more expensive, it means you do not forego the lightweight benefits of a backpacking quilt. Ideally, you should consider the highest-quality, lightweight quilt to suit your budget.
2. Temperature Rating
The temperature rating of a backpacking quilt will be a personal choice, and it will largely depend on the time of year you intend to hike and camp overnight. We can all feel the cold and heat differently, but the one thing to note is the versatility of quilts means you may only need one regardless of the time of year, as opposed to having winter and summer sleeping bags.
You can buy summer quilts, which are even lighter in weight. Starting off with one quilt with a temperature rating between 10 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit should see you suitably warm for at least three seasons of the year. In particularly cold winter temperatures, this rating will not be suitable for everyone, and you may find a sleeping bag more appropriate.
Having a correctly-sized and correctly-fitting backpacking quilt is key to keeping you warm and comfortable. It will help keep out drafts and give you more room to maneuver in different temperatures. You also need to make sure your sleeping pad is not smaller than the quilt, or you will suddenly have an uninsulated spot beneath you.
You may want to buy a quilt just a little larger in dimension then your size suggests,allowing for the chance to adapt and adjust the quilt in different temperatures and conditions. A little extra length can also mean you can tuck your head in to the quilt if the night turns a bit colder than expected, or tuck it around your neck to keep out any drafts.
4. Down Fill Power
The down fill power is a way to determine the quality of the down used in a backpacking quilt. Down quilts are lighter, and the higher the down fill power, the higher the quality of the quilt,and the lighter it will be.
The fill power indicates how much space one ounce of down occupies in cubic inches. A good starting point is a backpacking quilt with a down fill power of at least 850, although the higher the down fill power, the more expensive the quilt tends to be due to its higher quality.
“Baffles” is the term given to the part of the design in the quilt which prevents the down from shifting around. Boxed baffle designs are seen as the superior option over stitch-through baffles because they’re less likely to leave potential cold spots between the inner and outer layer of the quilt, where insulation can be lost.
Backpacking quilts are still a fairly niche, cottage industry, and most manufacturers use the most suitable, lightweight materials for the price of the product. As well as insulating down, the quilts are generally made from synthetic materials such as nylon or polyester.
As long as they are lightweight and tightly woven, which material you buy should not be a major issue, although this could change as the market expands and more manufacturers enter the fray. However, ripstop nylon is seen as a particularly strong material for a backpacking quilt, while a water-resistant coating would be an added bonus.
Are Backpacking Quilts Good For Side Sleepers?
Backpacking quilts are good for side sleepers. Camping gear tends to be made for those who sleep on their backs, but many people toss and turn in the night or sleep on their sides. This freedom of movement that backpacking quilts provide is why they benefit side sleepers.
Without the limitations of having to zip yourself into a confined space, you can wrap the blanket-style backpacking quilt around you and sleep in your preferred position. If you tend to swap sides during the night, it is easy to adjust a backpacking quilt and wrap back around you once you have turned over.
Sleeping on thru-hikes is so important to maintain energy levels, feel fresh, and be ready to go the next day. Having the most suitable sleeping arrangement for your preferred sleeping position gives you the best chance of being rested ahead of the next day’s hike. Side sleepers may want to buy a backpacking quilt which is slightly wider than one you would use if you were to sleep on your back.
How To Take Care Of Your Backpacking Quilt
Taking good care of your backpacking quilt will see it last longer and continue to keep you warm and comfortable when sleeping out in the wilderness. Your quilt is bound to be exposed to dirt and grit when in use and when packed with clothing and other items.
Dirt and oils from your skin will also end up on your quilt, as will sweat. Mold can begin to gather from any trapped moisture. The good news is that a backpacking quilt is simple to wash, although there are one or two things you should not do.
Firstly, you want to avoid a top-loading washing machine, because the spinning of these types of machines can rip the material and rip off any straps. If you use a washing machine, it should be a front loading machine.
Washing machines can be a little tougher on the quilt, so washing it in a bowl or a tub might be better. You want to avoid traditional detergents and use a product designed for sleeping bags and quilts such as Nikwax Down Wash. If you have any doubts, check your quilt manufacturer’s recommendations.
How To Wash A Backpacking Quilt At Home
First, submerge your quilt in water that is warm but not so hot that you can’t comfortably put in your hand. Add the appropriate quilt-cleaning detergent, using the measurements as instructed on the product. Keep submerging the quilt for around 10 minutes to ensure the water and detergent reach all areas. Rinse multiple times to remove any detergent from the quilt.
Wring the quilt out to remove excess moisture. You can use a drier to dry the quilt, but set it to a low heat. It may take a few cycles to fully dry the quilt, but once it does, fluff it out, untangle any twists, and break up any clumps between cycles. Finally, ensure the quilt is completely dry before storing.
You should not take your backpacking quilt to a dry cleaner, because the detergents they use can damage the materials. This is why you need to use a product-specific soap when washing your quilt at home. A backpacking quilt should be washed at least once a year, but it needs to be washed more if it’s regularly used.
While hiking, you should look to air your quilt out when possible to reduce any build-up of moisture. Some people may add a liner or a bin liner within the quilt to protect it from sweat and oils from the skin. Changing into clean clothes brought specifically to sleep in can also achieve this, and it can ensure dirt from your daytime clothes does not get into the quilt.
Backpacking quilts are lighter and more compact than sleeping bags. They require a sleeping pad but contain heat by wrapping snugly around the body. They do not have a back or a zipper like sleeping bags, but this allows more freedom if you are a side sleeper or toss and turn a lot while you sleep.