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.
Sewn Footbox Quilts
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.
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.
Sewn Footbox Drawbacks
There are some irritations and penalties to having a sewn foot box on your backpacking quilt that should be understood before purchase.
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
The Economy Burrow is a go-to hammock and ground camping quilt for people all around the world. It’s constructed of 20 denier nylon taffeta fabric with a Nikwax DWR® (durable water-resistant) finish to aid in moisture evaporation, as well as an internal calendared finish for down-proof construction
The quilts are meticulously made with quality materials, ensuring cozy comfort and maximum durability. Each quilt is filled with RDS Certified, 800 fill power, Nikwax DWR treated duck down on top and sides of the body to provide insulation while keeping the ground beneath insulated.
The temperature rating of The Economy Burrow allows you to stay warm down to its temperature rating with any sleep system, whether accompanied by a ground pad or an underquilt.
When utilizing The Economy Burrow with any ground sleep system, adding a wider width is strongly suggested for complete coverage along the sides of your body.
Unlike others on this list, the Outdoor Vitals team builds specific quilts in specific temperature ranges meaning you can’t truly customize them but they can be delivered in a much faster timeframe than the custom quilts, I love mine and use it frequently!
OV wanted to address or solve the most common questions and problems they were hearing from their fans when they created the new Outdoor Vitals StormLoft™ TopQuilt. “How do I prevent drafts?”, “Is there a learning curve to quilts?”, “I’m a side sleeper; will this work?”
That’s precisely what they did with their completely new design! They added a neck draft, extended the quilt, curved the shoulders around your neck, improved the cut around your body to naturally fall around you freely, included two pad straps for confidence as you toss and turn, and even redesigned the foot box for greater warmth without impeding space!
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.
Zipper Footbox Benefits
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.
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.
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.
Zipper Footbox Drawbacks
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
EE’s lightest and most minimalist quilt is the Enigma. It’s the ideal ultralight quilt for people who suffer from chilly feet, combining our classic quilt pattern, the Revelation Quilt, with a completely sewn-closed footbox.
The Enigma is exceptionally warm yet extremely light, allowing for greater upper body mobility while also providing structure to your feet. There isn’t a zipper or a built-in hood on the Enigma, which saves even more room and weight in your luggage.
The Enigma is a quilt, not a sleeping bag, therefore it’s meant to be used with a sleeping mat for insulation between you and the ground.
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.
UGQ developed the idea of isolated chambers on the torso and foot box, building on previous chamber designs. This baffle design allows for zone filling in the quilt, allowing for more down to be added where it’s most needed to achieve MAXIMUM COMFORT AND FUNCTION.
The BANDIT Quilt, like a glove, will fit you thanks to a combination of vertical and horizontal chambers. This innovative design developed by UGQ avoids the unresolved quilt bridging that commonly occurs with conventional left-to-right chamber designs.
The BANDIT Quilt is a true performance value thanks to its design, manufacturing, lightweight fabrics, and UltimaDOWN 800/850/950 fill power down insulation.
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.
If you want to check out our list of the best premium quilt options head over here and you can find the perfect quilt for your trip. I always want to carry an ultralight quilt as weight adds up fast and the cost difference is low to drop serious ounces.
As always making sure you have the right gear for the trip you are planning is paramount to success and enjoyment!