A Down Quilt Just Might Be Able to Replace Your Sleeping Bag

What do you really need the bottom of your sleeping bag for anyway?


It only took about 15 years of me wrestling inside a sweaty mummy bag, elbows and knees bent in bizarre angles by that constrictive tube, a human pretzel stuffed inside a polyester manicotti, before I finally thought: You know, maybe I ought to give a down quilt a chance. And now that I’ve enjoyed the radical, limb-expanding freedom of a down quilt, that simple rectangle-ish throw of ripstop nylon and sweet, sweet down, I don’t think I can ever go back to sleeping in a bag. Unless I’m in the snow of course.

The quilt vs bag tilt is by no means a new debate. Do you favor maximum warmth above all else? Or the joyous lightness and simplicity of a zipperless quilt? Do you sleep like a literal mummy, flat on your back, arms crossed dutifully at the chest? Or are you chasing peaks and working on your backcasts in your dreams? Or, the practical—do you really want to buy both a quilt AND a sleeping bag, the quilt for warm summer nights, the bag for who-knows-what-the-weather-might-do shoulder seasons and winter camping?

Well, I can’t answer those questions for you, but I can offer a suggestion: Give the quilt a chance.

Here are the pros:

• They’re much lighter than a sleeping bag since they’re missing the bottom of the bag which is doing you no good anyway since when you lay on down you compress it, eliminating the warmth that comes from loft.

• For the same reason, they’re far more compressible than a bag.

• You can sleep on your side, or your stomach, or your stomach and your side, in the lotus position, however you want, I’m not judging, all without wrestling around inside a bag or laying on a zipper.

• A quilt is approximately 47 percent more comfortable than a sleeping bag.

• No zipper to frustratingly get caught on the draft tube while you’re trying to get out of the bag in the middle of night to pee, but okay, now you’re out, you’ve done your business, my god it’s cold, and now you’ll just get back in the bag again, and are you kidding me, the zipper’s stuck again.

• When using a quilt in cold temps, you’ll likely wear a down jacket to sleep, which means that when you wake up to pee or to get out of bed in the morning, you’re already dressed for the cold. I realize this sounds like maybe a detriment, like the quilt isn’t warm enough so you’re sleeping in your jacket, but seriously, getting out of bed fully dressed for the cold is awesome.

Here are the cons:

[sound of crickets chirping]

I can’t think of any.

A lot of quilts now, like the two I’ll recommend below, come with mummy hoods and footboxes too, rather than just being simple down blankets. They’re almost quilt/mummy bag tweeners. Most people who don’t like the idea of quilts are concerned that they won’t be warm enough, and that with no bottom they’ll be too drafty. But with the right fill power down, and if you wear insulating clothes, I don’t believe you’d even notice the quilt has no bottom. If the temps stay in the 40s or above at night, you don’t even have to be careful with what you wear, provided your quilt is warm enough. While yes, some quilts dip down into the 0 degree range, but I’d probably use a bag in ungodly temperatures like that. They have their limits.

These are the two quilts I’ve most enjoyed this year.

Nemo Tango Solo 30 ($270)

Whisper-light at one pound, thirteen ounces (I actually thought it was lower than that, this quilt feels like nothing) the Nemo Tango Solo 30 still offers a full hood, and with a sleeping pad inserted in the sleeves at the bottom of the the quilt, you get a footbox too. 700-fill water repellent down does the warming, and it feels nice and lofty. It also has a little turn down blanket collar thing right about where your neck would be, just like in your bed back home. It’s a really nice comfy touch. I’ve slept under this quilt in temps down to the high 40s, wearing just a pair of wool leggings and a long-sleeve polyester shirt and I was plenty warm. Whole thing compresses to the size of a football. The nylon taffeta lining is soft and has a very premium, quality feel.

Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt 700/30 ($220)

Wider than most quilts, with a footbox, hand pockets, and a cool hidden hood, the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt is a luxurious quilt that suffers a tiny, tiny bit in compressibility, but totally makes up for it in comfort. The hand pockets let you sort of wrap the quilt around your arms so that if they fall off the sleeping pad, they’re still nice and toasty under the quilt. The hood is basically two flaps that you stick your head through in the top of the quilt—comfortable, not constricting, and adds tons of warmth. Like the Nemo, you get 700-fill power down and a 30-degree rating. It’s a touch lighter than the Nemo at one pound, nine ounces, but doesn’t pack down quite as small. A brilliant quilt for the money.

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