When you want to have a good night’s rest under the stars, staying dry and warm is crucial. Even though most people consider sleeping bags to be the best solution to this, modern hiking enthusiasts have a myriad of options to choose from. One of these options is the backpacking quilt.
While they’re gaining in popularity, backpacking quilts are still a mystery to many campers. What makes them different from the standard sleeping bags? Are they a better choice?
As it turns out, choosing between Backpacking Quilt vs Sleeping Bag can be rather tricky. Both have their own pros and cons and differ in terms of set-up, temperature regulation, weight, warmth, and more.
In the following paragraphs, we’ll outline sleeping bags and backpacking quilts and take a closer look at their differences.
Essentially, the primary difference between these two styles is in the backpacking quilt is an ultralight cousin of the sleeping bag. (Read all the best sleeping bags reviews)
Designed to be simple, lightweight, and very compressible, quilts are an ideal choice for ultralight hikers. They’re a great option for outdoor enthusiasts who need the most compact and lightest pieces of gear.
On the other hand, sleeping bags come in a wide variety of styles, weights, and sizes, e.g. summer sleeping bags, or winter sleeping bags. Therefore, they are more versatile – there’s a sleeping bag suitable for every type of adventure.
What are Backpacking Quilts?
As something designed for camping, a backpacking quilt is not just a simple blanket. Essentially, it’s a sleeping bag whose unnecessary and heavy parts have been removed. The result of this is a product that’s more compact and lighter than the conventional sleeping bag.
Most of the best backpacking quilts feature no full-length zippers or hoods. The bottom third part of the quilt is called the foot box and comes closed (zipped, buttoned, or sewn). The upper two thirds, on the other hand, are open.
These design choices turn quilts into cheaper, more compact, and lighter sleep systems.
The Pros of Backpacking Quilts
The number one reason why people opt for backpacking quilts is that they’re lighter. Most models weigh at least 25% less than the equivalent sleeping bags.
Since they contain less material in their construction, backpacking quilts are also more compact. They compress down smaller and can be stored in a less compressed state. This introduces yet another benefit – quilts loft faster when you’re ready to go to sleep.
An additional advantage of quilts using less fabric than sleeping bags is the lower price, but you can get a decent sleeping bag for less than $100. This, however, doesn’t mean that they’re not durable. After all, backpacking quilts don’t have zippers, which are typically the weakest spots of many conventional sleeping bags.
Many quilt models allow users to unzip or unbutton the foot box. This can turn a backpacking quilt into a full-fledged blanket, which you can wrap around yourself when sitting next to a campfire.
The Cons of Backpacking Quilts
Not all backpacking quilts are designed in the same way. However, it’s pretty safe to say that most of them sleep colder than regular sleeping bags. They’re not the best choice for extreme cold weather camping.
To save weight, most of these products feature no hoods. Humans lose a lot of warmth through their heads, which means you’ll have to wear a cap when sleeping in a backpacking quilt outdoors in cooler weather.
Furthermore, sleeping in a quilt requires the use of a sleeping pad. Using a backpacking quilt without a pad means sleeping directly on the ground.
This brings us to another disadvantage – the attachment systems. Every manufacturer of quilts seems to use a distinct system of attaching the backpacking quilt to a sleeping pad.
In general, these attachment systems can be a huge hassle. Therefore, make sure to buy a quilt whose attachment system is not overly complicated and which won’t come loose in the night.
One tiny issue can be having to take along a backpacking pillow. With some sleeping bags, you can roll the hood and use it as a pillow – but not all of us require a pillow when camping.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a learning curve to quilt camping. Learning how to set up a backpacking quilt so that you don’t experience drafts takes a bit of trial and error.
What are Sleeping Bags Really?
Sleeping bags have been a quintessential part of camping for decades. Over the years, the technology behind these items has improved so much that there’s an ideal sleeping bag for any kind of situation.
They are available in many different shapes (rectangular, mummy, etc.) and come with two main types of insulation – synthetic vs down. Down fill offers an exceptional weight-to-warmth ratio and is very compressible. Synthetic fill, on the other hand, retains its insulating properties in wet conditions and can be machine-washed.
Here are the main benefits, as well as downsides, of opting for a sleeping bag instead of a backpacking quilt:
The Pros of Sleeping Bags
As they’re entirely sealed around their sides, sleeping bags tend to be warmer. The user doesn’t have to worry about cold or draft getting inside. Moreover, a sleeping bag will typically include a hood, whose purpose is to protect the sleeper’s head from the cold.
The attachment systems, which we mentioned as a disadvantage of backpacking quilts, are completely absent here. When you want to go to sleep, you only have to roll out the sleeping bag and get into it. The only thing you’ll have to do is close the zipper.
If you’re on a tight budget, you can simply pay a visit to your local Walmart and purchase a synthetic sleeping bag for no more than $20. After all, cheaper sleeping bags are popular, mass-produced items.
While they’re generally less expensive than sleeping bags, backpacking quilts also come in high-end variants, and these can be very expensive. These specialty items, made in lower quantities, are typically only used by professional ultralight backpackers.
Finally, there’s no learning curve to using one of these items. As we already mentioned, sleeping bags come without complicated attachment systems and are pretty foolproof. Once you climb inside, you only have to pull to the zipper to stay warm.
The Cons of Sleeping Bags
Unfortunately, features such as hoods and full-length zippers add weight. As they’re wrapping around the user’s body, sleeping bags also use more fabric than backpacking quilts. They’re not as lightweight and can take up a lot of space.
This translates to a sleeping bag taking up more volume in your backpack. A sleeping system of this type won’t compress down as much as a quilt, requiring you to use a larger backpack.
Another disadvantage of sleeping bags is that they trap more moisture. Hoods only exacerbate the issue – they often direct the sleeper’s breath down into the bag. Waking up in a soggy sleeping bag is not uncommon.
As we already mentioned, the zipper is the sleeping bag’s weakest spot. After months of use, zippers just break. Moreover, the fabric can easily get caught in the zipper when zipping and unzipping. While this may look like a minor annoyance, it’s one less thing to worry about with a backpacking quilt.
The Verdict Backpacking Quilt vs Sleeping Bag
With more and more outdoor enthusiasts switching to ultralight gear, backpacking quilts are slowly becoming the most popular choice. Their benefits outweigh the drawbacks – it’s a lightweight, space-saving, and less-restrictive solution to sleeping under the stars. One other consideration is a sleeping bag liner for when you know it will be hot. These are tiny and very light – they have the added benefit of keeping bugs out.
However, a regular sleeping bag is still the best choice if you want something that will completely enclose your body and insulate you from wind and drafts. While not as lightweight, these sleeping systems are a tried choice and a better option for the majority of people.
I love hiking. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.