​Arguments Against Quilts

One argument against quilts is that they have no hood for colder temperatures. Most quilt users solve this problem by wearing extra warm head gear or a parka to bed.

The main argument against quilts is their draftiness in colder and windier conditions, especially for side sleepers and those who move around a lot. A related issue is not being able to sit up without a draft.

negates the potential weight advantage of the quilt.

Sleeping Quilts For Backpacking?

Final Thoughts on Quilts

Quilts are definitely for those who have patience and are willing to experiment. I experimented with many combinations before I found one that would work. They certainly take some getting used to. If I valued simplicity more than reducing my pack weight and if I didn’t like experimenting with gear options so much, I would have spent my backpacking bucks instead on an ultralight down bag (weighing only slightly more than my quilt with a similar temperature rating) and called it good.


Arguments For Quilts

There are several arguments in favor of using quilts in the backcountry:

  • Their flexibility in different temperatures, their reduced weight and their simplicity, especially for the do-it-yourselfer (DIY).
  • There are no zippers to snag or fail.
  • The freedom of movement when shifting from side to side (just like the quilt at home), especially when compared with a mummy style bag.
  • If the quilt is being supplemented with an insulated parka (common), the parka hood will move with the sleeper.
  • For around camp use, quilts with adjusting straps can be used as a parka with the foot box positioned over the head (tying off the foot, temporarily).
  • Quilts probably last longer under heavy use in that there is little crushing of the insulation under the body (of special concern with synthetic bags).

Solving the Problem of Drafts

Since the draftiness of quilts is a big issue, let’s examine some solutions. Following are most of the ways quilt users solve the draft problem:

  • Obtain a larger width quilt (usually 50” or more for one person);
  • Obtain a variable-girth quilt that can be cinched up with adjusting straps;
  • Place the adjusting straps around an air mattress which has raised side tubes;
  • Add 7-10 inch wings around the edges of the quilt or a thin layer of fabric across the bottom for draft control; the latter technically makes the quilt into a “top bag”.
  • Use the quilt in a fully enclosed tent to reduce drafts;
  • Combine the quilt with a highly breathable bivy sack;
  • Combine with an inner liner (e.g., a vapor barrier)
  • Increase the amount of warm clothing worn under the quilt;
  • Learn to hold the quilt in place (i.e., centered) when turning over by grabbing the edges;
  • If not already, learn to be a back sleeper.

As you can see, dedicated quilt campers have gone to considerable lengths to make their sleeping system work. A common and relatively effective combination of draft control tactics: wear an insulated parka to bed using a variable girth quilt with adjusting straps threaded underneath a sleeping pad all enclosed inside a bivy sack.

An obvious compromise to a pure sleeping quilt is a sleeping bag with a full-length zipper to allow it to be used either as a quilt or as a traditional bag. However, this option negates the potential weight advantage of the quilt.

This article is divided into five parts, which you jump directly to by clicking one the following: Arguments For Quilts, Arguments Against Quilts, Solving the Problem of Drafts,  Author’s Experience With Quilts, Final Thoughts.

Learning From the Author’s Experience With Sleeping Quilts

I now own two quilts: a 18 ounce, 3.0 inch loft down quilt (with a 30 degree rating) and a 12 ounce, 0.75 inch loft synthetic quilt insulated with Polarguard (with a 50 degree rating). Each quilt has adjusting straps underneath, but no hood. I bought the quilts in order to experiment with different light and ultralight weight sleeping systems.

I use the quilts singly or in combination depending upon the expected temperatures. The synthetic quilt is new and I am looking forward to experimenting with it when temperatures are well above freezing. I sometimes carry the 12-ounce quilt for emergency purposes on winter day trips.

Draftiness, when sleeping out in the open or under a tarp, can be a problem with sleeping quilts. When the temperatures are on the cold side, I solve the draft problem by:

(1) placing the adjusting straps underneath a fairly wide (25 inches) air mattress with raised side tubes;

(2) wearing a quilted parka to bed with an integrated hood;

(3) using a highly breathable bivy sack outer covering;

(4) sleeping under a tarp-tent that can be lowered to ground level in stormy conditions to reduce drafts. 

My quilt based sleeping system is truly an integrated system of component parts. My 3.0-inch loft down quilt supplemented with a bivy sack and extra clothes will allow me to stay warm into the mid twenties. Sleeping in an enclosed tent and adding a down parka and pants will take me down into the single digits.

One interesting problem I have encountered using my 900-fill power down quilt is that the bivy sack tends to compress the down when I was wearing all of my clothes to bed for warmth. The best solutions for this problem are to:

  • purchase a lower fill power rated quilt (say 650-800) or use a synthetic filled quilt that doesn’t easily compress,
  • purchase a larger girth bivy sack,
  • leave the bivy sack home when using the 900-fill quilt.

 My current solution is the latter: leave the bivy at home and bring higher loft insulated clothing to supplement my 900-fill quilt for colder temperatures.