Troy underneath backpacking quilt

What’s a Backpacking Quilt?

When you hear ‘quilt’, you may think of those comfy, sometimes elaborately-sewn blankets produced by your great grandmother or favorite aunt. Those beloved bedspreads are much different than the increasingly popular high-tech quilts made for backpackers.

A backpacking quilt or blanket is a lightweight, packable, insulated layer that can serve as an alternative to a traditional sleeping bag. Quilts offer several advantages over mummy-style sleeping bags.

weight

Quilts quickly caught the attention of the thru-hiking and ultralight communities due to their low weight. A quilt weighs less than a comparably rated sleeping bag.

The difference in weight between a comparably-rated sleeping bag and quilt is due to structure. Quilts are by their nature backless, so they have less material than a sleeping bag. Quilts also save weight by being zipper-free.

cost

Quilts often cost less than comparable sleeping bags, again due to construction. The backless nature of quilts means less insulation, less face fabric, and no zipper. That results in a lower cost for many quilts.

room to move

As you can imagine, quilts are popular with people who feel confined or uncomfortable in traditional mummy-style sleeping bags. Even when a quilt is secured to a pad, you still generally have more room to roll around and spread your arms and legs compared to a mummy-style sleeping bag.

Quilts are open-backed but the bottom edge shows some variation:  some are roomy and rectangular, while others have a more enclosed footbox.

versatility

Some quilt lovers point to the fact that quilts can be deployed in several configurations. These various setups allow you to use a quilt in a greater range of temperatures compared to a more narrow range for sleeping bags.

Spread out flat – In this traditional setup, the quilt covers the sleeper like a blanket. You can also relax on top of the quilt in warmer weather.

Troy lying on top of backpacking quilt

Wrapped around a sleeper – Some quilts feature loops, fasteners and hand pockets to pull the edges together, wrapping the quilt around the sleeper.

Troy wrapped in backpacking quilt

Opened at the bottom to vent – Some quilts have foot boxes while others do not. In either case, you can easily push your feet outside the quilt if you get too warm.

Troy's feet sticking out from under backpacking quilt

Folded down at the top to vent – Because most quilts do not have hoods, the top can be easily rolled down to provide ventilation when the temperatures rise.

Troy with backpacking quilt rolled down

Arms or legs outside – a quilt’s freedom to sprawl is unequalled.

Troy under backpacking quilt with arms and legs out

the importance of a sleeping pad

Because quilts are backless, getting optimal performance from them requires that you also bring along a sleeping pad suitable for the conditions. Sleeping pads are generally considered important for achieving the manufacturer’s temperature rating when it comes to sleeping bags, but an appropriate pad is an absolute necessity with a quilt.

Many quilts feature elastic edges, loops or straps to create a secure connection with a sleeping pad.

Sleeping pad under backpacking quilt

your head

Although some quilts have cinch cords around the top to close the gap around your neck and shoulders, they usually do not have a hood. In cooler conditions, this means that you will need to pull your head down under the quilt or wear an insulated hat to keep your head warm.

the takeAWAY

Quilts can serve as a lightweight alternative to sleeping bags for weight-conscious backpackers. Because they aren’t enclosed, there are fewer quilt options available for extreme temperatures. Proponents stress the versatility of quilts, although some of the options are also available with sleeping bags. Whether or not to switch to a quilt will depend on your pack weight goals, your personal comfort preferences and the severity of the weather you encounter on your treks.

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