The Big Quilt Debate – Zipper vs Sewn Footboxes for Backpacking

Should your ultralight backpacking quilt have a zippered or sewn footbox? We break down the pros and cons so you can decide what's best for your next thru-hike.

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Josh Koop

I live with my wife and daughter in Katy, Texas and my local trail is the Lone Star Hiking Trail which is an amazing way to experience the Sam Houston National Park!

Hammock and quilt setup on the trail to keepmaximum warmth
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There are many options to choose from when purchasing a backpacking quilt. They range in price, weight, warmth, and features.

One of the most important decisions you will make in your backpacking quilt is choosing between a sewn foot box or a zipper foot box for your comfort level.

This blog post will discuss the pros and cons of each type so that you can decide which one best meets your needs!

The large difference between a sewn foot box and a zipper foot box is that a sewn foot box is fully enclosed and insulated leading to fewer cold spots. The zipper and drawstring always leave a gap in the bottom which can allow in cold air but allows you to open and lay the quilt flat on the ground.

For many, a foot box can make or break them for comfort, especially on the real cold days on the trail when the temperatures begin to drop below freezing. Most people know if they sleep cold or are hot sleepers, this can make a huge difference in which gear will work for you based on expected temperatures.

Let’s Discuss Sewn Vs Zippered Footboxes

For thru-hikers, the love of quilts has grown massive over the last decade from being something a hammock user would use to mainstream use whether on the ground or in the air.

This is all for good reason as they are incredibly warm for their overall weight and compressibility. Both of these are incredibly necessary for a long-distance hike where all this has to be carried on your back for thousands of miles.

There are two big differences in the types of quilts you can purchase which will feature either an open foot box with a zipper and drawstring allowing you to open it wide on those nice nights or pull it in to be more closed on colder nights.

The other is a sewn closed foot box, this is important for the cooler (sub-freezing) temperatures for many, this does limit foot movement and can’t be opened up even in warmer weather.

Benefits & Drawbacks of a Sewn Footbox

These quilts are perfect for those colder nights or if you are a cold sleeper due to the work done to craft an enclosed space that keeps you from losing your heat over the nighttime.

There are numerous ways and methods used to sew the flat foot box which can yield a box shape, triangle shape, or other layouts. From what I have experienced with my own sleeping quilts this hasn’t made a performance difference.

Sewn Footbox Benefits

There are some benefits that are specific to the use of a sewn foot box backpacking quilt, these can appeal to a backpacker based on their heat needs.

Generally Warmer

When you make a sewn foot box the baffles help to ensure there is no loss of heat through the zipper or through any gap from the drawstring located at the end to pull the end together.

If you experience cold feet or sleep colder, then this can be a key to your comfort on the trail.

Additional Fill Available

A sewn closed foot box allows a manufacturer to provide the option to add more down into the sewn closed baffled area, which can provide you additional heat retention and overall warmth.

Limitations of a Sewn Footbox

There are some irritations and penalties to having a sewn foot box on your backpacking quilt that should be understood before purchase.

Limited Movement

If you move your feet a lot in your sleep, the forced enclosed space will not allow much freedom of movement which can cause some people to get less restful sleep, at least until they adapt.

High-Quality Sewn Footbox Quilts

Katabatic Alsek 22 Backpacking Quilt

Katabatic Gear Alsek

Tired of tossing and turning all night? Frustrated with bulky, restrictive sleeping bags? The incredible Katabatic Gear Alsek 22 is about to transform your sleep experience like never before!

  • Patented Pad Attachment System – Widely considered the best design on the market for preventing drafts.
  • Elastic Binding Around Bottom Opening – Elastic binding around the bottom opening prevents gaps and drafts at the sleeping pad.
  • Differential Cut – A critical factor in quilt-style bags with adjustable girth, the differential cut allows for maximum loft from our premium down.
  • Continuous Baffles – With continuous baffles, the down can be manually moved as temperatures dictate for maximum versatility.
  • Down-Filled Collar – Our overstuffed collar fits comfortably against your neck to seal this critical area from drafts.
  • Trapezoidal Foot Box – We have shaped our foot box for the greatest comfort, warmth, and efficiency.

Hammock Gear Economy Burrow

This ingenious quilt is ultralight, packable, and loaded with intelligent features to help you get the best sleep. The premium water-resistant down provides superior warmth, while the flexible foot box and adjustable cinch system give you customized comfort.

  • Ultralightweight – Weighs around 26 oz, making it easy to carry on backpacking trips. Saves your energy for the trail.
  • Premium Down – Features 850-fill power goose down for maximum warmth-to-weight ratio. Keeps you toasty even in cold temps.
  • Customizable Foot Box – The foot box can be cinched up or left open for adjustable comfort and temperature regulation.
  • Durable Water Resistant Shell – Treated with a DWR coating to resist moisture and limit down-clumping. Designed to last season after season.
  • Compressible – Packs down incredibly small into included stuff sack. Frees up room in your pack for other gear.

Zippered Footbox Quilts

A zippered foot box with a drawstring is popular on many of the quilts used by popular YouTubers, the most prevalent being the Enlightened Equipment Revelation with some options coming with full-length zippers.

Zippered foot boxes can be a good match for a thru-hiker as you are going to start in the cold and possibly end in the cold but in those hot months in between the ability to use it like a blanket is invaluable.

For most zippered quilts you will have two main shapes for the quilt itself, a tapered (where the top is wider than the bottom) which means it weighs less overall. Or you can have a standard (all sides the same length) which can be the most like a blanket but will have more weight.

Benefits of a Zippered Footbox

There are some benefits that are specific to the use of a zippered foot box backpacking quilt, these appeal to many backpackers based on their versatile construction.

Movement

For the people who move around a lot at night, like me, having some foot freedom in most cases is very appreciated as it makes the quilt more like a blanket at home.

While they allow movement and freedom they also can be pulled tight into an enclosed foot box on those super cold nights.

Adaptability

A zipper and drawstring foot box grants you the ability to open the quilt up wide and be like a blanket on the trail, on those non-freezing days this can open you up to way more relaxed rest and less enclosed feeling.

Limitations of a Zippered Footbox

There are some irritations and penalties to having a zippered foot box on your backpacking quilt that should also be understood before purchase.

Draft Issues and Generally Colder

With the need to have a hole in the bottom to support the zipper and drawstring close many will experience drafts if they don’t find a good quilt that has a plug or snap to cover the hole.

This and the loss of heat through a zipper can lead to a colder experience than a similar quilt with a sewn closed foot box.

High-Quality Zippered Footbox Quilts

Katabatic Flex 22 Backpacking Quilt

Katabatic Flex 22

Stay warm and comfy all night long with the versatile Katabatic sleeping bag. This innovative design offers the insulating power of a mummy-style sleeping bag with the adaptable comfort of a quilt.

  • FlexBafflesTM – Patented vertical baffles provide unrestricted movement and continuous insulation when changing sleep positions.
  • Attachment System – Integrated pad attachments connect securely to your sleeping pad, keeping the quilt in place all night.
  • Ultra-Packable – Uses 900 fill power down for an impressive warmth-to-weight ratio and minimum compressed size.
  • Durable Water Resistant – Treated with a DWR coating to repel moisture and enhance weather resistance.
  • Customizable – Available in various lengths, widths, temperature ratings, colors and options to meet your exact needs. Get the perfect quilt for you.

UGQ Bandit

The UGQ Bandit Quilt is the best backpacking quilt out there! It’s a hybrid cross-over design and, without a doubt, the preferred option among outdoor enthusiasts.

  1. Lightweight, breathable shell fabrics like M10T 10D taffeta nylon or MRS20 20D ripstop nylon that are highly downproof yet retain breathability. M10T maximizes ultralight weight while MRS20 balances durability and weight.
  2. Vertical baffle design on the torso section enhances drape and efficiency by reducing dead air space. This provides better thermal performance.
  3. Zoned fill with torso area overstuffed to 130% and footbox overstuffed to 140% to add warmth to extremities.
  4. Customizable options like full or no taper shape, zipper and drawcord footbox, overstuff percentage, Dynamic Tension Control System, and fabric prints using OutdoorINK.
  5. Premium quality goose down with large clusters and high fill power for maximum loft, compressibility and warmth. Different shell fabric and fill power options allow customizing warmth vs weight.

Why Zippered Quilts Lead the Way for Most Thru-Hikers

For most thru-hikers, your gear needs to be functional and comfortable while being as light in weight and compressible as possible.

This is a lot to ask from most gear but backpacking quilts are some of the most adaptable pieces of gear you will buy.

Overall though sewn quilts aren’t as favored as once the warmer weather comes you are nearly forced to either ship yourself another quilt or blanket or buy a new one on the trail and ship your other quilt home.

The issue with this is you normally will end in some colder weather which means now you need to have the warmer sent home and the cold weather one sent back to you, I have ADHD and this sounds like a management nightmare for me!

In the end, a zipper just makes you more adaptable to your needs currently on the trail, they can be used while sitting by a fire as you can easily wrap them around you making them just more useful in more uses.

The one thing you need to consider for the best cold-weather performance is sleeping pads and when possible draft collars as they will help you stay warmer any night.

Final Thoughts on a Sewn Vs Zipper Footbox on Backpacking Quilts

Regardless of if you are a down or synthetic quilt fanatic, the choice in a foot box is a key area of focus to keep your body temperatures up. When you start a trail like the PCT in early Spring or Late Fall you will encounter serious cold at some point.

You want to get the right quilt before you ever hit the trail, preferably one that you can use the entire time on the trail and not have to swap out later as buying gear on the trail is EXCEEDINGLY costly, and one-way thru-hikes derail is a large expenditure.

If you sleep cold, you want to focus on a sewn foot box and aim for a 10 to 20-degree colder temperature on the quilt.

So if you expect 20-degree whether you would benefit from a 0-degree purchase to provide you that extra heat or at least add a sleeping bag liner.

If you sleep warm you will have some more flexibility in what you choose to purchase, this is when a zippered foot box can be easily purchased and a close-to-standard temperature quilt like a 20-degree.

As always making sure you have the right gear for the trip you are planning is paramount to success and enjoyment!

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