When you go camping, there are a lot of things to think about in order to make your trip comfortable and enjoyable. One important factor that is often overlooked is the importance of staying warm at night, and how to manage to contain warmth.
Most thru-hikers will be familiar with the ground causing heat loss and the need for a sleeping pad to protect and provide extra insulation. For a hammock, an underquilt, or frequently shorthanded to UQ, provides similar functionality but is also able to provide warmth.
This combination of an insulated quilt provides from the air while down or synthetic insulation provides warmth can help keep you cozy when temperatures drop, making for a more restful and restorative sleep.
What is a Hammock Underquilt?
Key to managing those cold nights on the trail, a hammock setup with an underquilt allows you to keep your complete body warm as it encompasses around three-quarters of your body which is quite a change from the traditional sleeping pad you would use in a tent or ground sleep system.
Underquilts are built to hug the underside of your hammock and block out air from reaching your body and sucking core body heat from you. This is vital in a hammock as you don’t have a shell enclosing you fully so drafts occur regardless of the time of year.
Let’s go examine some reasons why you would want to make an underquilt part of your permanent kit and why it works for more than just cold weather, as your thru-hike will frequently be in varied weather and we can discuss how comfort plays a huge part in a longer thru-hike.
Keeping Your Bottom Warm is Everything
The most common issue a hammock user will experience is cold butt syndrome, which as you would expect comes from inefficient coverage underneath you causing your lower section to cool.
Actually now that I think about it this is very similar to the incorrect R-Value on a sleeping pad leading to rotating all night and inefficient sleep in general.
An underquilt is built specifically to hug and adjust directly to your body in the hammock maintaining this warmer air underneath your body throughout the night ensuring you don’t lose any core heat on a cold night.
The Key to Warmth and Comfort
Underquilts are kind of similar to your mattress at home, always providing a base level of comfort and warmth. This is why you see a lot of people using a UQ for all types of camping, not just in cold weather.
Having a constant layer of insulation underneath you can help result in a more comfortable overall sleep and one that can be used season after season without the worry of constant drafts and cold spots.
Having a more consistent heat leads to more comfortable sleep due to a more regulated body temperature.
Versatile for All Season Camping
Underquilts can be used in any season, even if rated for colder temperatures than you will be facing you can always use lighter top quilts, like the Zpacks Solo, to vent out any heat build-up.
For a three-season UQ, you’ll likely want something that starts around 35-45 degrees F and goes up from there. This will cover you in temperatures down to near freezing and be comfortable in the high 30s, this will work for nearly everyone.
Is an Underquilt Even Necessary?
When you are trying to keep a small, lightweight backpack and hammock gear kit some may wonder about the need to carry the more bulky and traditional underquilt along with whether you even need an underquilt for a thru-hike.
An underquilt will always work better with a hammock than choosing to use a sleeping pad, as a sleeping pad has no native attachment methods to a hammock that can allow it to shift and move around where an underquilt is affixed to the hammock suspension itself which allows it to always be in place.
For many, the worry about using an underquilt comes down to mental concerns about finding spots to hang their hammock, for most trails within a forested area this is not a concern.
How Far Under Your Hammock Should Your Underquilt Hang?
While you may think you want the underquilt pulled tight to your body the length of the hammock you would be making a critical error, you do want the sides to stay in place and the end at the head and foot to be tight against the hammock but the middle needs space.
To generate and hold heat your setup would provide approximately 3 to 6 inches of an air gap between the hammock and your underquilt as this is the space that can be warmed via your body heat and provides the most insulation value to your rear to help stop cold butt syndrome!
Many feel that pulling a quilt tighter should yield better heat but this constricts the down when too tight along with doesn’t provide the insulative air which is what helps keep the cold away from you and your body.
Underquilt or Sleeping Pad
This may be the most difficult thing for many on a transition from tent-based shelters, as those who have never hammock camped before, to understand that a sleeping pad is not what you would prefer to use in a hammock.
There are some things to look at though which could influence the decision you have to make about what you should use as an insulation layer below you in your hammock.
Reasons Why You Might Want to Get an Underquilt
Below I have listed some reasons why you may want to purchase an underquilt, even if you have never hammock camped before.
Pads are made of materials that can often feel slick and unstable when using them in a hammock, they also lack the ability to conform to your body like an underquilt will. This can lead to feelings of instability and less comfort while trying to sleep.
Levels to Warmth
You can get an underquilt built to a specific temperature rating where the R-value of a pad is more an “insulative” performance, this is far more interpretive which can lead to underperformance and poor sleep.
No Worry About Pad Creep or Shifting
Sleeping pads tend to move or shift in the night, which can cause you to roll off of them, and when your entire body or even part of it shifts off the pad underneath you it negates what heat reflectivity and insulation they may have had to offer.
You can find a well-performing underquilt for less than a similar sleeping pad in many instances, making it a more economical choice in many ways.
Reasons Why You Might Want to Get a Sleeping Pad
There are some definite advantages that a sleeping pad can have when used in a hammock, which I will list below.
Converted Tent Users Have a Sleeping Pad
If you come from using a tent prior you will already have a closed-cell or inflatable sleeping pad so adding an underquilt is an expense you may choose to forgo at least at first.
Sleeping Pads Are Simpler to Setup Than Underquilts
Using a pad only requires inflating it and then inserting it to sit underneath you, there are no cords nor prep work needed like what you would do to an underquilt.
Easier to Store and Transport
Sleeping pads are often more compact and easier to store in your pack than a bulky underquilt, making it a better option for those with limited space or who are looking to save on weight.
Sleeping Pads Give You Increased Flexibility
If you find yourself in a place without trees and need to look to cowboy camp a sleeping pad can offer you the comfort you need to get a good night’s sleep.
What Size of Underquilt Matches You?
If you have made the commitment to acquiring your first underquilt you now have some questions on how to choose the right one for your needs, questions fly in like how long should my underquilt be, should I get down or synthetic insulation, and more.
3/4 Length Quilt
This quilt is shorter than your full body length when you choose to cut the fabric and insulation off around the lower leg and foot area to help cut overall weight and increase compactness.
The feet and leg area are then covered by the use of a small insulation mat that most backpackers will carry for use during breaks, helping allow that gear to perform multiple functions to save weight.
Covering you from head to toe a full-length underquilt provides much more coverage and will keep you warmer in colder climates.
This style is best for those who are looking to hammock camp in three-season and colder weather conditions or those who tend to run cold when sleeping.
I would recommend anyone new to hammock camping start with the full length and as you gain experience you can then make a decision to move to a three-quarter if you find it worth the weight cut.
What Insulation Type Should You Choose?
Now that you understand the lengths you can think about how they will keep you warm and there are 2 distinct ways this can be done, down feathers or synthetic man-made materials.
Duck and Goose Down Underquilts
For most backpackers down will be the preferred insulation for any gear they carry as it is, by a long distance, better at maintaining heat retention for the weight and space it requires in a backpack due to its high loft fill.
There are issues with down should it get wet that could cause failure to loft up and without this loft, it can’t help hold in and maintain warmth which could be dangerous on the trail.
The main advantage of down insulation is the superior loft and compressibility. Premium down can be compressed into a tiny package but still provides ample insulation when unpacked.
Goose down is preferred over duck down due to greater loft, durability, and less smell. High fill power down (800-900) offers the best warmth for weight for cost but 1000FP exists at some places like Trailheadz Hammocks.
Down when treated well and cared for can last decades with many reporting they have still using down-insulated gear for 20+ years and that it still provides the same warmth today as when they bought it, a key benefit to the more expensive down gears.
Additionally, there are people who don’t choose to use down whether that is for belief reasons, like veganism, or due to allergies where synthetics will need to be the primary option.
I started on my backpacking journey with a synthetic top quilt, they are very nice and very warm in general but you have issues with synthetic that can make them more of a short-term investment.
Synthetic material doesn’t have the same issue down has, a synthetic quilt can and will still provide warmth when wet and dry since the synthetic fibers will still expand and build the loft to create the insulation barrier this is a win for synthetic quilts.
Synthetic insulation is a good budget option, though less durable over time. Look for synthetic fills that mimic down properties like welded construction and siliconization. Primaloft is a leading synthetic known for good warmth, compressibility, and water resistance.
A synthetic underquilt is a nice way to start if you are unsure of your decision as they tend to be much less expensive versus a down equivalent, this can be good but the issues to me outweigh the benefits unless on a hard budget, it happens and I get it.
Synthetic fabrics are made of materials that break down over time, the more often it is compressed the more this fiber breaks down leading to less loft and less warmth with many synthetic gear choices lasting years, not decades.
Not only do the fibers that make it work break down over time but the space in a backpack gets dramatically higher the warmer you need leading to purchasing a larger and heavier backpack with the internal liter capacity to hold it comfortably.
A synthetic is a good option when you are limited by budget or belief but it is a worse choice for most thru-hiking trips unless you have the expectation of getting wet and not being able to dry.
What Temperature Rating is Right for an Underquilt?
This is where it gets to be a bit grey overall as each person is somewhat unique in their ability to self-generate heat, some are cold sleepers and others are warm sleepers who can get away with less insulation.
For cold sleepers making the right decision is further complicated by temperatures shown aren’t standard across the board with some vendors showing the “limit” value and not the “comfort” value as to temperature.
The comfort temperature would be lying fully extended and warm without worry. The limit temperature is more like laying in a fetal position maintaining heat without issue and as you can probably gather the fetal position is pretty ineffective in a hammock.
This is one of the reasons I prefer quilts from Hammock Gear and Underground Quilts (UGQ) because they fill them to comfort level temperatures so a 20-degree quilt with them will give you comfort to 20 degrees, to me this is a vital key to warmth on the trail.
When selecting an underquilt temperature rating, consider the climate and seasons you plan to use it in.
If you’ll be winter camping in temperatures below freezing, choose an underquilt rated to at least 0-20°F. For 3-season use down to around freezing, a 20 degree quilt should suffice. Go with a 40-50 degree rating for hot summer nights.
Also factor in whether you sleep cold or warm. Cold sleepers may want to size up and get a quilt rated 5-10 degrees cooler than expected temps. Warm sleepers can likely get by with less insulation.
The advantage of down insulation is the ability to fine-tune warmth by shifting the loft.
For a Three Season Thru-Hike
For a typical three-season hike that starts and ends between early spring and late fall, you will more than likely want to choose a 20-degree comfort rating for general use if you aren’t a cold sleeper.
For a cold sleeper, it may be more important to look to a 10 or maybe even a 0-degree underquilt as comfortable sleep is key to success.
Underquilt suspension systems also impact warmth. The shock cord allows more adjustment but can be tricky to fine-tune. Simple adjustable webbing is easier to dial in the perfect hang but offers less flexibility if temperatures fluctuate. Test different systems to find your preference.
For a Summer Thru-Hike
For these warmer-weather hikes, you have less worry about extreme conditions, it’s more about at night when temperatures can drop suddenly as the concern but in most cases, this can be managed with a 40-degree quilt without having any issues.
How to Set Up an Underquilt
The majority of underquilts have a pretty similar system to attach them to a hammock, there are variations but the basics include two long straps with loops on each end. These straps will go around the hammock at the ends of the bed and then you clip the quilt onto these loops, it is that simple.
Then, depending on the underquilt, you will have multiple adjustments through the use of 1/8-inch shock cords, suspension lines, cord locks, and possibly other adjustable cords to pull the underquilt to the hammock and angle it as needed to provide optimal warmth for comfortable night sleep.
Proper setup is key to getting full performance from your underquilt. Make sure to allow a 3-6 inch gap between the hammock and underquilt to hold heat.
Cinch end channels tightly but keep the middle loose. Shock cords allow for more adjustability to prevent cold spots. Use line locks or toggles to fine-tune the hang. Always do a test hang and make adjustments before your trip.
I would highly suggest going and setting up during a nice day to work out how to manage the process without the stress of being on the trail once worked out, you would then do a shakedown hike overnight or over a weekend to see how it works on repeated nights after days worth of hiking when you are tired and sore.
Additional Hammock UQ Questions
Do you need an underquilt with a hammock?
When you are hammocking, you want to be comfortable. You want to be able to lie back and relax without worrying about getting cold or wet. So, do you need an underquilt?
An underquilt is essentially a sleeping bag for your hammock. It provides insulation and helps to keep you warm and dry. While you can certainly Hammock without an underquilt, it is definitely worth considering if you want to maximize your comfort.
In addition, an underquilt can also help to protect your hammock from the elements, prolonging its life. So, if you are looking for the ultimate in hammocking comfort, an underquilt is definitely worth considering.
Do you need a top quilt if you have an underquilt?
If you’re an experienced camper, you know that there are many different types of sleeping bags and quilts to choose from
Depending on the climate and your personal preferences, you might choose a mummy bag, a down quilt, or even a synthetic quilt. But what about a top quilt? Do you really need one if you already have an underquilt?
The answer depends on a few factors. If you tend to sleep cold, or if you camp in colder climates, then a top quilt can provide an extra layer of warmth.
Additionally, since your underquilt is less adjustable (and underneath you), a top quilt can help you fine-tune your temperature control by opening and adapting how it rests on your body.
Why Underquilts Are Important
When it comes to backpacking, there are a lot of different opinions on what gear is essential and what can be left at home. However, most experienced backpackers will agree that an underquilt is one piece of gear that is definitely worth the investment.
An underquilt is a small, lightweight quilt that attaches to the underside of a sleeping hammock. It provides insulation from the cold outside air and can be adjusted to provide just the right amount of warmth for any conditions.
In addition, an underquilt can be easily removed and used as a standalone blanket, making it a versatile piece of gear for any backpacker.
Why an Underquilt for Summer Hammock Camping Is Perfect
As the weather starts to warm up, you may be wondering whether you need an underquilt for your hammock. After all, isn’t a hammock supposed to be a cooling oasis on hot summer days? The answer is yes and no.
While a hammock can provide a welcome respite from the heat, it’s important to remember that the air underneath the hammock is still subject to the same laws of physics as the air outside.
That means that hot air will rise and cold air will sink, which can make for a very uncomfortable night’s sleep. An underquilt helps to insulate your body from the cold air beneath the hammock, making it much more comfortable to sleep in on even the hottest summer nights.
Final Thoughts on Hammock Underquilts
Hammock underquilts are essential for any thru-hiker and hammock user. Whether you need to provide insulation from the cold night air or want to protect your hammocks, this lightweight and versatile piece of gear are well worth investing in.
An underquilt can also help to keep you warmer in general when they sleep on cold or hot summer nights making it a great choice for all-season camping. So, what are you waiting for?
I am newer to hammock hiking and use a Hummingbird Hammock kit and love to learn please comment if you found this helpful or if you have tips to share with readers, I don’t mind being wrong and as always never quit learning and exploring!