Backpacking Quilt vs Sleeping Bag: Which One is Better?

Hello there. In this post, I will list the pros and cons of buying and using a quilt vs sleeping bag. Both have their good points but bear in mind the type of sleeper you are will be the deciding factor.

A quilt will likely be best if you are like me and become hot easily during the night. Also, if you like your legs sticking out from under bedclothes, a quilt might be for you. Conversely, sleeping bags are often better if you get cold easily while sleeping.

Overview of Sleeping Quilt or Sleeping Bag

Essentially, the primary difference between quilts and sleeping bags is that the backpacking quilt is an ultralight cousin of the sleeping bag – generally, but not always. (Read all the best backpacking sleeping bags reviews)

Quilts are designed to be simple, lightweight, and very compressible and are an ideal choice for ultralight hikers in warmer weather. They’re a great option for outdoor enthusiasts who want the most compact and lightest 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?

Backpacking or camping quilts are a type of sleeping system used by outdoor enthusiasts as an alternative to traditional sleeping bags. They are designed to be lightweight, compact, and versatile, making them ideal for backpacking, hiking, and camping trips.

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.

Here are some key features:

  1. Design: Unlike sleeping bags, quilts are open on the side and do not fully enclose you while sleeping. They are designed to insulate over the top and sides of your body, similar to a blanket. This design reduces weight and allows for greater versatility in regulating body temperature.
  2. Insulation: Quilts can be filled with either down or synthetic. Down is typically lighter and more compressible but performs poorly when wet. Synthetic is heavier and less compressible but maintain their insulating properties when wet.
  3. Weight and Packability: Quilts are generally lighter and more compact than sleeping bags, making them popular for backpackers and thru-hikers who want to minimize their pack weight.
  4. Temperature Regulation: Because they are open, quilts allow you to easily vent excess heat, making them a good choice for warmer weather or for those who sleep hot.
  5. Cost: Quilts can range in price depending on the materials used, the quality of construction, and the brand. High-end down quilts can be quite expensive, but there are also more affordable options available.
  6. Versatility: Quilts can be used in various ways, not just for sleeping. They can serve as a blanket for lounging around camp or be draped over a hammock for insulation.

The Pros of Sleeping 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. Here is a list of the main pros of:

  1. Lightweight: They are typically lighter than traditional sleeping bags because they use less material.
  2. Compact: They are often more compressible than sleeping bags, meaning they take up less space in your backpack.
  3. Versatile: They can be draped over you like a blanket, tucked around you for more warmth, or even used as a hammock under quilt. This versatility can be a big advantage in different weather conditions and temperatures.
  4. Comfort: Many people find quilts to be more comfortable than sleeping bags. They offer more freedom of movement and can be easily adjusted to regulate temperature.
  5. Easy Temperature Regulation: Quilts allow for easy temperature regulation. If you’re too hot, you can vent or push it off.
  6. Cost-Effective: In general, you can often get a high-quality quilt for less than the cost of a high-quality sleeping bag.
  7. Simplicity: Quilts are simple and straightforward to use. There’s no need to worry about zippers or other mechanisms that can potentially fail.
  8. Adaptable: They can be used with a sleeping pad for added protection from the ground, making them adaptable to a range of temperatures and conditions.

Since they contain less material in their construction, they 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.

Another advantage is that they use less fabric than sleeping bags is the lower price, but you can get a decent sleeping bag for the Camino for less than $100. This, however, doesn’t mean that quilts are not durable. After all, they don’t have zippers, which are typically the weakest spots of many conventional sleeping bags.

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.

While they have many advantages, they also have some potential drawbacks. Here are some of the cons:

  1. Less Insulation: Because they are open and don’t have a zip, quilts may not provide as much insulation as a fully enclosed sleeping bag, especially in colder temperatures. This can be mitigated by using a sleeping pad or wearing additional layers, but it’s something to consider.
  2. Drafts: The open design can allow drafts to enter, especially if you move around a lot in your sleep. Some quilts have features to mitigate this, like straps to secure the quilt to your sleeping matt, but it can still be an issue for some people.
  3. Requires a Sleeping Pad: You’ll typically need to use it with a sleeping pad to get the full benefits. This is because the quilt doesn’t provide insulation on the underside, where your body would compress a traditional sleeping bag. This is one of the ways they save weight.
  4. Not Ideal for Cold Weather: Quilts are generally best suited for mild to moderately cold temperatures. If you plan to camp in very cold conditions, a sleeping bag is a better choice.
  5. Exposure: Unlike sleeping bags, quilts do not fully enclose your body. This means your head and sometimes part of your upper body might be exposed, which can be uncomfortable. You may need to pack a separate hood or wear a hat to keep your head warm.
  6. Learning Curve: There can be a bit of a learning curve to using a quilt effectively, especially when it comes to managing drafts and securing the it to your sleeping matt.
  7. Size and Fit: Quilts come in different sizes, and getting the right fit can be more challenging than with a sleeping bag. One that’s too small will not provide adequate coverage, while one that’s too large can be unnecessarily heavy and bulky.

Remember, the best choice of sleep system depends on your needs, preferences, and the specific conditions you will be camping in.

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. Check here on how to wash a sleeping bag.

Here are the main benefits, as well as downsides, of opting for a sleeping bag:

The Pros of Sleeping Bags

Sleeping bags have been a staple of my camping gear for a long time and come with their own set of advantages. Here are some of the pros of using sleeping bags:

  1. Full Enclosure: Sleeping bags fully enclose your body, providing consistent insulation all around. This can be especially beneficial in colder weather or for people who tend to move around a lot in their sleep.
  2. Better for Cold Weather: Sleeping bags are generally better suited for colder temperatures than quilts. They are designed to trap heat and provide insulation from the cold ground, making them a good choice for winter camping or high-altitude treks.
  3. Variety of Designs: Sleeping bags come in various designs, including mummy, rectangular, and semi-rectangular shapes – even double. This allows you to choose a design that best fits your sleeping style and comfort preferences.
  4. Integrated Hood: Most sleeping bags come with an integrated hood, which can provide additional warmth for your head and neck. This can be especially beneficial in colder weather.
  5. Ease of Use: Sleeping bags are straightforward to use. You simply get in and zip it up. There’s no need to worry about drafts or securing the bag to a sleeping matt like you might with a quilt.
  6. Insulation Even When Compressed: Unlike quilts, sleeping bags provide insulation even when the underside is compressed. This is because they are designed to encase the sleeper completely.
  7. Less Dependence on Sleeping Pads: While sleeping matts are recommended for comfort and additional warmth, sleeping bags are less dependent on them for warmth compared to quilts.
  8. Availability: Sleeping bags are widely available and come in a range of prices, making it easier to find one that fits your budget and needs.

Remember, the choice between a sleeping bag and a quilt will depend on your personal preferences, the type of camping you plan to do, and the expected weather conditions.

The Cons of Sleeping Bags

While sleeping bags have many advantages, they also come with some potential drawbacks. Here are some of the cons of using sleeping bags:

  1. Weight and Bulk: Sleeping bags can be heavier and bulkier than quilts. This is due to the extra material used to enclose the body fully. This can disadvantage backpackers trying to minimize pack weight and size.
  2. Less Versatile: Sleeping bags are less versatile than quilts. They are primarily designed for sleeping, whereas quilts can be used in a variety of ways, such as a blanket for lounging around camp.
  3. Heat Regulation: In warmer weather or for those who sleep hot, sleeping bags can sometimes be too warm. While most have zippers that can be opened for ventilation, it’s not as easy to regulate your temperature in a sleeping bag as it is in a quilt.
  4. Restricted Movement: Some people find the enclosed nature of sleeping bags to be restrictive, particularly mummy-style bags that are narrower at the feet. If you tend to move around a lot in your sleep, you might find a sleeping bag uncomfortable.
  5. Potential for Zipper Failure: The zippers on sleeping bags can potentially fail, leaving you with a bag that won’t close properly. While this is not a common problem, it is something to consider.
  6. Insulation Compression: The insulation on the underside of a sleeping bag gets compressed when you lie on it, which reduces its effectiveness. This means that despite the extra material, you may not get as much insulation from the underside of the bag as you might expect.
  7. Cleaning Difficulty: Sleeping bags can be more difficult to clean than quilts, especially down-filled bags, which require special care to maintain their insulating properties.

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.

Sleeping Bag Quilt Hybrids

A sleeping bag quilt hybrid, also known as a convertible quilt or hybrid quilt, is a piece of camping gear that combines the features of both a traditional sleeping bag and a camping quilt. This type of sleep system is designed to offer the versatility of a quilt and the full enclosure of a sleeping bag, making it adaptable to a wide range of temperatures and camping conditions. To my mind, it is almost like a rectangle sleeping bag that fully zips open less the padding underneath. I’m not too sure it is worth considering, even though it might be slightly lighter than a sleeping bag.

Performance Considerations

It is almost impossible to compare sleeping bags and quilts like for like. Yes, I kept the bad news until the end. There are six areas to consider:

  • Warmth
  • Packability and Weight
  • Warmth to Weight
  • Temperature Regulation
  • Ease of Use
  • Price

If you need to stay cool or are camping in warm weather, then choose a quilt. For cold weather, it always has to be a sleeping bag. A very general rule is that a quilt will be lighter than a sleeping bag, but again ultralight sleeping bags can still be lighter. Quilts win hands down for temperature regulation, and for ease of use, sleeping bags win. Generally, quilts win for price, but the brand of sleeping bag or quilt makes a huge difference. For example, you can buy a quilt on Amazon for less than $100 or a top quality quilt from Therm-a-Rest for around $300. But, there is a huge difference in temperature rating between these two.

The Verdict Sleeping Bag or a Quilt

With more and more outdoor enthusiasts switching to ultralight gear, quilts are slowly becoming the more popular choice. Their benefits outweigh the drawbacks – it’s a lightweight, space-saving, and less restrictive solution. A quilt is my personal recommendation if you are an occasional camper and only camp in summer. But you will likely be more like me and have different kit for different weather and different times of the year.

Another 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, they are a good choice and a better option for the majority of people.

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