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Why You Need to Choose a Backpacking Quilt for the Trail

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When you are looking to gear up properly for a long-distance thru-hike you want to maximize performance to the weight of the gear to provide the maximum benefits, so what is a backpacking quilt?

A backpacking quilt is similar to a sleeping bag but instead of having a hood and long zipper to close up a quilt removes the down and fabric that provides little benefit under you while sleeping and adds more in many cases to the top side to insulate you against the cold air.

Let’s dig in a little more and cover why quilts have been becoming more and more popular in the outdoors and then the benefits they give someone who is willing to make the change to their gear.

After this, we will talk about the current favorite quilts from a hiker trash favorite to the budget and honorable mentions that can get the job done for you if you decide to convert over.

What is the Difference Between a Sleeping Bag and a Quilt?

You would think when you look at the two next to each other that there are very few core differences between the sleeping bag and the sleeping quilts.

There are two big differences between a backpacking quilt and a sleeping bag which comes down to the removal of the zipper and hood, the removal of the bottom fabric, and related fill. These two things help to dramatically lower the weight for the same provided warmth.

The big reason for a quilt to be able to drop weight versus a similar sleeping bag is in the removal of the unnecessary fabric and down. Many people don’t know that down is worthless when compressed so anything under you in a sleeping bag provides you NO protection.

Are Quilts Better Than Sleeping Bags?

So when you want to start reading and deciding on your gear you may wonder more about whether a backpacking quilt is better than a sleeping bag for the average thru-hiker.

For some who side sleepers or people who shift a lot in their sleep they prefer a quilt, they are just about equal to each other though in the 3 season use. Many will argue a sleeping bag is better to use in 4 seasons, extremely cold weather, as the hood and wrapping help keep all the vital heat inside.

So as you read they aren’t better but in the game of thru-hiking where you run on a limited timeframe with only the goods on your back, those few pounds they can help you drop can mean a large difference over 6 months.

Let’s take a look at how the quilt works and why it is a good match for the other things you will already be carrying with you on a long-distance trail.

How Does a Backpacking Quilt Work?

At the very core, a down quilt for backpacking works by keeping the heat in from the air not allowing it to escape out when properly set up. This ability to add the “lost” insulation to the top instead of being under your body helps to generate more heat and keep more in.

The quilt though will depend on your choice of the sleeping pad as the heat lost to the ground is not managed by the quilt and this is the number one reason why people say their quilt (and sleeping bag) don’t work to recommended temperatures.

You must build a good overall sleep system for a quilt to perform to the best values, the colder it goes the higher the R-Value needs to be on a sleeping pad and if going into 20 degrees you NEED to have at least a 4 R-Value, if not you will lose heat to the ground and it will be miserable.

How Do You Attach a Quilt to a Sleeping Pad?

Since a sleeping bag encloses me and protects me from the ground and drafts on a sleeping pad we have straps or cords which can be used to anchor the quilt onto your sleeping pad to help keep you on the pad.

Most quilts will come with attachment straps or similar cords that run from one side around the back of the sleeping pad to help keep you contained and connected. Some quilts this will be an add-on though so be certain that if you want them to check with the quilt maker details.

Now that you know how you can keep your quilt connected to your sleeping pad we can look into the additional benefits that a backpacking quilt can give you on your trip to make it more comfortable and warm.

Reasons Why a Sleeping Quilt Is Better Than a Sleeping Bag

I have assembled a large and helpful list of the reasons why I made the change along with maybe why you would consider the change to a backpacking quilt for your next long hike.

Less Pack Weight

A key feature and benefit to a backpacking quilt versus a sleeping bag is the drop in overall weight for the same warmth. Since the sleeping pad removes the zipper, fabric, and insulation from the bottom your overall pack weight drops.

Many people worry about their heads being cold without a mummy-style hood area, for those who experience cold heads you could look at something like the EE Hoodlum Hood, or wear a beanie that you probably already carry.

Less Space and Volume in Your Backpack

An additional win is that without a zipper and the additional fabric the quilt takes up much less volume within your backpack, this allows you to get into smaller backpacks and move into lighter carries.

Equal Warmth

While a sleeping bag is arguably warmer, newer quilts and manufacturing have made these much better in helping retain heat. Adding methods to keep the quilt from allowing drafts helps to contain the warmth just like a sleeping bag nowadays.

Less Restrictive to Movement

This point is what sold me on a backpacking quilt after using a sleeping bag my entire life, I move a lot, shifting shoulder to shoulder. In a sleeping bag this is restrictive and isn’t easy to adjust without waking up more, now I sleep awesome!

Less Cost

On average versus a similar sleeping bag a quilt will typically be less expensive due to less materials and less labor to create the backpacking quilt versus the same sleeping bag.

Less Moisture Buildup

Since your head is exposed you aren’t breathing moisture into your backpacking quilt, this happens a lot with people who toss and turn when in a sleeping bag.

Built to be Paired with a Sleeping Pad

Where a sleeping bag has deflated down or synthetic insulation under you a backpacking quilt was built specifically to take advantage of the value a sleeping pad provides to keeping in heat from the ground.

Less Malfunctions

By removing the zipper you remove some of the issues that can come with having the additional mechanical movement. This means nothing to snag over or break while sliding so you won’t have a bad night.

Breathability

After you start to relax you may become overly sweaty depending on the effort and the speed of slowdown prior to making camp, the ability to breathe and let your body relax and decompress from the day is VITAL to long-term success.

Should you get sweaty breathability is the ability of the material to ensure you aren’t still damp as when it gets cold the worst thing is damp and cold together as that can be very dangerous!

Customization Options

For most quilt manufacturers you will have a large assortment of options in colors, fabrics, fill, foot box, and much more. This can allow you to customize and build yourself the best quilt for your needs and not stuck with just what is available.

Final Thoughts on What is a Backpacking Quilt

While I prefer a quilt and am pretty sure that I will never use a sleeping bag again but they are definitely something that requires adjustment to how you sleep.

If you are a heavy winter hiker and camper you may need to evaluate if a sleeping quilt will be perfect for your needs but if you are a three-season hiker a quilt is perfect for any time!

There is no argument though that a backpacking quilt is lighter, compresses better, and in many cases costs much less than the exact same option as a sleeping bag, and here is a post from Hammock Gear with more benefits.

Top 5 Quilt Recommendations

The below are a perfect match for anyone looking to take on a thru-hike on any long-distance trail, they can all ensure your safety and warmth as long as you take care of your gear.

Hiker Favorite – Enlightened Equipment Revelation

They started as a small business with Tim Marshall sewing quilts in his basement in 2007, they have shown the continual quality process in the creation of all their gear and are beloved by the hiking community overall.

EE has grown to over 50+ workers creating quilts and more in a 50,000-square-foot building in Winona, Minnesota as a truly American small business and I would do you a disservice to not make an enlightened equipment quilt first.

Benefits

Drawbacks


Budget Backpacking Quilt – Hammock Gear Economy Burrow

This backpacking quilt is perfect for those on a budget but looking to do a major thru-hike. Unlike many of the other “budget” options online and in stores you have the ability to still customize to fit your temperature needs.

Economy Burrow Benefits

Economy Burrow Drawbacks


Runner Up – UGQ Bandit

The UGQ Bandit is a hybrid quilt replacing their previous best-selling Flight Jacket Quilt while also providing many of the wanted features from their other High-Performance RENEGADE Quilt line.

Building from their previously established chamber designs, the UGQ team introduced the concept of isolated chambers on the torso and foot box for the max value placed insulation.

Benefits

Drawbacks


Honorable Mention – Zpacks Solo Quilt

Zpacks makes all of the big three in amazingly high quality and massively lightweight which can help you drop overall weight in your backpack while receiving quality goods.

There are a great many people who choose a Zpacks quilt to take with them in their Zpacks Duplex and maybe even a Zpacks Arc Blast or another backpack, they are an easy solution when looking to lighten your load with ease.

Benefits

Drawbacks

Honorable Mention – Katabatic Quilt

Katabatic Gear was started because they were unhappy and unsatisfied with the available options for ultralight quilt-style sleeping bags. They shared some of the same concerns you may have about making the switch to a quilt-style bag.

For hikers looking for more versatility, the Katabatic Flex series has a zippered foot box, allowing it to be completely opened to a blanket, or snugly closed to seal in warmth.

Benefits

Drawbacks

I love hiking and exploring as many trails as I can find the time to get onto, my plan is to complete the triple crown and to thru hike as many trails as I can find.

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