A guide to the best backpacking quilts for ultralight backpacking and how to use.
Published: June 23rd, 2020
© Lea "Blue Cheese"
Backpacking quilts, they’ve been around for a long time but they’ve only recently begun gaining major popularity. What gives? Do they have some serious advantages over sleeping bags that we’re all just finding out about? Many ultralight thru-hikers believe so, and it appears the secret is starting to reach beyond just the ultralight packing elite.
To weigh in on this discussion for ourselves, we took a deeper look into this sleeping bag alternative, comparing 10 of the top quilts around.
*NOTE: This post is about quilts ONLY. For the best sleeping bags, GO HERE.
|Enlightened Equipment Revelation||850-950||20.9 oz||$280|
|Feathered Friends Flicker UL||950+||25.2 oz||$424|
|Katabatic Gear Flex||900||19.6 oz||$345|
|Hammock Gear Economy Burrow||800||21.8 oz||$180|
|Nunatak Arc UL||900||23 oz||$435|
|REI Co-Op Magma||850||20 oz||$319|
|Therm-a-Rest Vesper||900||20 oz||$370|
|UGQ Bandit||800-950||21.5 oz||$270|
|Warbonnet Diamondback||850||22 oz||$330|
|Zpacks Solo Quilt||900||19.1 oz||$360|
|NEMO Siren||850||21 oz||$270|
Quilt back (left) and sleeping bag front (right).
Open Back: The idea behind the “open-back” concept on a quilt is that the fill in the back of sleeping bags gets compressed by laying on it anyway… which doesn’t do much insulating. Quilts have cut out this useless feature to lessen weight and enhance packability. Instead, hikers rely on well-insulated sleeping pads to act as the insulation on their back.
No Hood: For the side and stomach sleepers out there, having a quilt that doesn’t have a pesky hood getting in the way is pretty great. Not to mention, they get to cut some bulk and weight by ditching a feature that doesn’t serve them anyway.
Sleeping Pad Straps (optional): Sleeping pad straps are the things that will ensure you’re not getting a draft under or on the sides of your quilt. Not always necessary, but can definitely help keep you secure. There are a few different sleeping pad attachment systems that can address this, and they’ll differ depending on each manufacturer. The key idea behind your setup will be to use both your quilt and your pad together to create one complete insulated sleep system. This is a vital component to keeping the sides of your quilt secured enough to keep you insulated and drafts out, while still allowing the freedom of movement that quilt users so love.
Elastic cords keep quilt on sleeping pad.
Draft Collar (optional): Another cool feature you’ll find on many quilts is an adjustable snap and drawcord collar at the neck. This cinches the quilt around your neck, keeping heat inside and cold air outside. These are not exclusively on quilts, of course though.
Footbed: This point can be a little confusing for first-time quilt users. When considering backpacking quilts, we differentiate the footbed and the footbox. The footbed is the bottom area of the quilt where your feet rest, while the footbox is the type of closure used at the bottom end of the quilt. Here are the two types commonly found:
On the left, a sewn footbed/footbox. On the right, a zippered footbed with a drawstring footbox.
✔️ Roomier: For many, the design of a mummy sleeping bag can feel restricting and uncomfortable. This is an especially common problem for side and stomach sleepers or those that spread out or move around a lot throughout the night. Quilts don’t have the same confined feeling of a mummy bag, and they don’t get all twisted around and diss-aligned if you toss-and-turn.
✔️ Versatile comfort: One of the greatest benefits of a quilt over a mummy bag is that they are adaptable and adjustable. For example, a hiker can adjust the girth of the quilt depending on temperature for either more or less ventilation. On colder nights the quilts circumference can be tightened to further insulate the body, while on warmer nights the quilt can be lightly draped, leaving more breathability. This makes quilts an excellent option for hot-sleepers, summer hiking, or if heading into warmer climates.
✔️ Packability: Quilts are already smaller than sleeping bags because they’re made from less fabric and they don’t have backs, hoods, and most of the time zippers. Most compress down to around half the size of a sleeping bag or smaller.
✔️ Lighter: Quilts have around the same amount of down insulation as sleeping bags. But, without the extra fabric, zippers, and hardware, quilts weigh in about 30% lighter. They typically average between 15-22 oz., while sleeping bags start at about 23 oz.
✔️ Cheaper: Quilts already have a cost advantage by cutting out zippers, hoods, and extra odds and ends that mummy bags feature. To further cut back on cost, stick with a base layer, non-customized quilt. As soon as you customize, quilt prices skyrocket. Also, the higher the “fill-power” of a quilt, the pricier it will be.
✔️ Ideal for hammock camping: For hammock hikers, quilts are a saving grace. Sleeping bags can be a real pain to climb in and out of in a hammock, but quilts aren’t nearly as restraining. Also, sleeping bags do little for warmth on a person’s backside since all the insulation is getting smooshed by lying on it anyway. This can be fixed by carrying a lightweight underquilt or sleeping on an insulated pad.
❌ No head/neck coverage: In below-freezing temps, the hoods and neck coverage provided by mummy bags have a noticeable advantage in capturing and keeping body heat. Scroll to the bottom of this post for some tips on keeping your head and neck warm in a quilt.
❌ Less secure: Mummy bags are simple. You lay them out, climb in, and they fit the natural shape of the human body, swaddling you in tight with no drafts. If you’re new to using a quilt, it might take a few tries and finagling before you get your quilt-sleep-system 100% perfected.
TEMPERATURE RATING: For most 3-season hikes, a quilt with a 20F rating is a safe bet.
Temperature’s a hard thing to gauge. First off, there are cold and hot sleepers, and what’s comfortable for one person isn’t necessarily comfortable for another. With that being said, there are some standard guidelines hikers can use to get in the ballpark of a good temperature range for them.
When looking at temperature ratings on quilts and sleeping bags, keep in mind that both are rated by the lowest temperature they’re recommended to withstand.
To be “comfortable” in just base layers, hikers should add about 20 degrees to those ratings (i.e. a 20F sleeping bag, without extra clothing added, will be more comfortable at around 40F.)
Quilts aren’t ideal for winter camping or if heading into an area that regularly reaches below 20F. In such conditions, mummy bags are the better choice.
It’s always good to check average temps in the area you’ll be hiking. If you’re still debating which quilt to buy, being too warm is probably a better option than being too cold.
SIZE: You'll want extra space at the toes and enough room to toss and turn.
There should be plenty of room to toss and turn under your quilt. And, it should be long enough to cover your head while not exposing or yanking on your toes. To pick the right size, make sure the quilt you select is slightly longer than the length of your body and wide enough to tuck comfortably around you.
If you purchase a quilt with a foot box, be sure to leave some extra room. Once the foot box is enclosed, the quilt will usually decrease in size by 3-6 in.
MATERIAL: 10-20D risptop nylon as a minimum for durability.
For the shell of your quilt, the higher the denier it has the more durable and heavier the fabric will be. To be considered lightweight, a quilt will need to have a denier material that’s under 30. Typically, quilt shells are designed from nylon or polyester, with ripstop nylon proving most durable and having a denier rating between 10-20.
FILL: 700-900 fill power is ideal for most 3-season hikes.
Many companies that make quilts rate their temperature range using the same scale as sleeping bags. Unfortunately, this also makes their ratings somewhat inaccurate. A better way to measure temperature range is to look at the amount of fill-power in the individual quilt.
The “fill-power” of a quilt will largely affect its warmth, as it’s measuring the quality of the down material in the quilt which directly impacts its ability to retain heat. This means the higher the fill-power the more insulation the quilt will have. Most quilts and sleeping bags range anywhere from 600 to 950.
Quilts are filled with either synthetic or goose down insulation, and are usually treated with a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) agent for water resistance.
Each fill has its own pros/cons:
BAFFLES: Horizontal, vertical or continuous
These are the sewing lines that keep down from separating and shifting around in a quilt. Quilts can have vertical, horizontal, or continuous baffles. Sometimes, they even have all three.
Vertical baffles from top to bottom (Hammock Gear).
Note: To keep our model comparison "consistent", each quilt below has a temperature recommendation of 20F and is Regular size.
Fill: 850 or 950 down
Weight: 20-22 oz
This lightweight quilt won’t disappoint. It has a 20’’ zippered foot box and a shock cord that can either close up the quilt like a sleeping bag or open it up like a blanket. The pad attachment system is simple and easy to use, comprising two elastic straps with clips to secure the quilt in place, a drawcord/snap neck closure to keep drafts out, and nylon fabric with a DWR finish to keep the quilt dry. The quilt is super compact and comes with a stuff sack.
On the down side, the Revelation doesn't feel as warm as other 20-degree quilts on this list.
See at Enlightened Equipment
Fill: 950+ goose down
Weight: 25.2 oz
The Feathered Friends Flicker UL is the best of both worlds between a quilt and a sleeping bag because technically, it functions as both.
It has a full-length zipper that goes up the center turning it into a playoff of the mummy-style sleeping bag, but it can also be unzipped and used as a quilt that’s large enough to cover two adults. There’s a foot box feature that can partially zip and cinch, and a draft collar with two drawcords. The quilt also has webbing loops for hammock use.
Because of this quilt’s functionality, it’s a favorite for both warm- and cold-season hikes.
See at Feathered Friends
Fill: 900 goose down
Weight: 19.6 oz
To help keep the cold out, this quilt comes with a patented pad attachment system and extra cording, a down-filled collar, and a zippered foot box with closure guards all which eliminate any chance of drafts. This quilt is praised in the hiking community as being warm, super compact, lightweight, and an all-around exquisitely designed, durable item. The quilt has continuous baffles for adjustable heat distribution and HyperDRY hydrophobic down for moisture resistance and quick-drying capabilities.
See at Katabatic Gear
Fill: 800 duck down
Weight: 21.8 oz
This quilt is an excellent bargain, coming in as one of the cheapest high-quality quilts on the market. With it, you have the option of selecting either a zipper or sewn foot box, and the quilt commends itself on being a great option for both hammocks and ground sleepers. It has vertical baffles with 15-20% overfill that help avoid the down from moving around. This quilt is one that’s guaranteed to keep even cold sleepers good and toasty throughout the night.
See at Hammock Gear
Fill: 900 goose down
Weight: 23 oz
This three-season quilt is best used in April-October in the Western U.S. Mountains.
There’s just over 14 oz of goose down stuffed into it, which is a hefty amount compared to other 20-degree quilt options. Another cool feature is the drawstring in the middle of the neck baffle which provides great comfort. The quilt compacts well, lofts quickly, has a generously sized foot box and is ultra-soft.
A great backpacking quilt, the Nunatak Arc UL is also the most expensive one on our list.
See at Nunatak
Fill: 850 goose down
Weight: 20 oz
Filled with water-resistant goose down, the quilt is also covered with a Pertex shell that's treated with a DWR finish. There’s an insulated neck snap system, a draft collar, and a roomy foot box. This quilt is a good option for most 3-season hikes, and it packs down to about the size of a Nalgene. In addition to a stuff sack, it also comes with a mesh sack to help with breathable storage.
We found the stuff sack a bit small for the quilt, which made packing a bit more challenging than we would have liked it to be.
See at REI
Fill: 900 fill down
Weight: 20 oz
With 900-fill-power Nikwax Hydrophobic down, this quilt remains dry and keeps its loft over 60 times longer than down that’s not treated. It’s made from ripstop nylon with a DWR finish, and it features an insulated foot box, snap neck, and boxed baffle design with mesh walls that help enhance loft and diminish cold spots. The quilt is highly suggested for temperatures above 20 degrees, and it packs down to about the size of a water bottle.
See at Therm-a-Rest
Fill: 800, 850 or 950 UltimaDOWN
Weight: 21.5 oz
The UGQ Bandit is the more cost-effective version of the UGQ Renegade. It’s designed with both horizontal and vertical baffles for maximum fill, draping, comfort, and warmth. There are plenty of customizable options including the fill-power, choosing an overstuffed foot box or not, the shape of your foot box, and even if you want the quilt to be tapered. Each quilt is made to order and includes a 40D stuff suck.
See at UGQ
Weight: 22 oz
The Warbonnet features vertical baffles with a specially designed constriction-point-baffle pattern that aides in “isolating” each half of the quilt so the down isn’t able to shift as easily and you don’t have to do as much redistributing or fluffing before use. The quilt has nine different sizing options, three different fabric options, and two fill options (both of which are RDS-certified goose down). You can choose between a zippered or sewn foot box, and the neck of the quilt has both snaps and an elastic drawcord.
See at Warbonnet Outdoors
Fill: 900 goose down
Weight: 19.1 oz
An option for the minimalists out there, this cozy, soft, and ultralight quilt is great for hikers looking to drop some ounces without sacrificing quality. The upper half of the quilt features vertical baffles while the bottom half has horizontal. The foot box is rectangular and roomy, and both the liner and shell are treated with a water-repellent agent. The down is specially treated with DownTek which claims to keep down dry 90% longer than untreated down. The quilt comes with a roll-top dry bag, and each quilt comes with a 2-year limited warranty.
See at Zpacks
Fill: 850 FP Down
Weight: 21 oz
Price: $270 on moosejaw.com
This quilt has no extras, but it does promise you a warm and draft-free sleep. It has a strap and neck closure system, which makes it comfy in cold weather but easily discarded in warmer temperatures when you can use it as a blanket or comforter. Great for side sleepers or restless bodies, you can tightly couple it with a sleeping pad by a simple draw-cord strap system in cool weather. It’s designed to be used with a sleeping pad to provide insulation against the ground and it works best with a thin self-inflating sleeping pad. The exterior is made of 10D Nylon Ripstop with DWR to prevent moisture compromising the down fill and the interior is lined with comfy and soft 10 Nylon Ripstop Mini-ripstop. There is not much in the way of colors to choose from and the cost may be an issue for some folks.
1. Attaching Quilts to Sleeping Pads
Using pad straps or clips can tighten the sides of your quilt on frosty nights, protecting against drafts and frigid air while still allowing the freedom of movement quilt users so love.
Drawstring footbox (Warbonnet).
2. Choosing a Sleeping Pad
Buying a quality sleeping pad with good insulation is important if you’re using a quilt.
For super chilly climates, make sure you choose a pad that has a high “R-Value.” The higher the R-Value, the higher the level of insulation the pad will have.
Many sleeping pads range from an R-Value of 1-7. Most 3-season hikers can get by with an R-rating of 3 or higher. But, for winter hiking, it’s best to go with a minimum rating of 5.
On especially frosty nights, it may seem like a great idea to put your sleeping pad inside your quilt. Not the best choice. Quilts and sleeping bags aren’t made of the most durable, rip-resistant material. Having your sleeping pad underneath your quilt acts as a barrier between it and the ground floor, protecting it from abrasion.
For more information on sleeping pads, check out our Ultralight Sleeping Pad Buying Guide.
3. Anticipating Lead Times
Many quilts are made to order by small cottage gear companies which can cause long lead times. Depending on the season and how many orders are ahead of yours, you may wait a few weeks... to well over a month. Many brands have an ETA arrival date listed next to their products, so be sure to check this and allow plenty of time between placing your order and your trips start date.
Since quilts don't come with a hood, you'll want to make sure your camp clothes include appropriate headwear, especially for sleeping in colder temps. Many quilt companies also sell down hoods you can buy to wear with a quilt, but if you’re going anywhere less than the arctic, a beanie or hooded thermal should work just fine.
By Katie Licavoli: Katie Licavoli is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast who specializes in articles, blog posts, gear reviews, and site content about living the Good Life spent exploring The Great Outdoors. Her favorite days are ones in nature, and her favorite views are any with mountains.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
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