If you’re looking to reduce the weight of your kit on your next trek but don’t really know where to start, then you’ve come to the right place! The heaviest pieces of kit are what we like to refer to as the big three: your sleeping bag, backpack and tent.
A quality three-season sleeping bag usually weighs 700-800 grams at the very least – and often even more. The best way to rid yourself of all that extra weight is by using a quilt instead of a “classic” sleeping bag. The great thing about a quilt is that it manages to cover 3-season temperatures at a weight of only 400-500 grams, which is almost half the weight of a sleeping bag. Have I got your attention? I thought so!
What is a quilt?
A quilt is basically a sleeping bag that is lacking a part of its fill. And, instead of a zip, a quilt uses a drawcord as a closing mechanism. The lack of a zip and some of the fill are major contributing factors to making a quilt lighter than a sleeping bag, and it does this all whilst retaining a similar temperature rating. Not bad, eh? Apart from reducing the overall weight, the lower fill weight in a quilt makes for a smaller pack size as well, which will certainly be music to the ears of any weight-conscious trekker.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself whether the lower fill weight also results in a decrease in insulation performance. Well, the answer is no. Since a sleeping bag is almost completely filled with insulating material (either down or synthetic material), you can’t really avoid lying on some of the insulation. As a result, the fill is compressed by your body weight, rendering the insulating properties of the material (especially down) completely useless. This means that the warmth in this area of the sleeping bag is not from the sleeping bag itself but from the sleeping mat, which serves to reduce the amount of heat less through the ground. Thus, the lack of fill in a quilt is not a disadvantage when it comes to insulation within a certain temperature range.
If you’re worried about the lack of a hood, you can use the hood of a down jacket or wear a beanie to compensate for it.
Recommended use for a quilt
Another advantage a quilt has over a conventional sleeping bag is its versatility. The drawcord on a quilt is much easier to adjust than a zip and allows you to convert the quilt into a blanket in warmer conditions in no time at all. This feature also provides better ventilation than a zipped-up sleeping bag.
What are quilts usually used for? A good example is long treks, the ones that take you through changing weather conditions, such as the long American trails like Pacific Crest, Appalachian Trail or El Camino as well other European long-distance trails. On trails like these, you’ll be confronted with different conditions and will hardly be able to adapt your kit to the weather. A quilt gives you more options on those kinds of adventures. Quilts are also great options for shorter, less ambitious undertakings in temperatures just below freezing.
Finding the right quilt
Before choosing a quilt, it is important to note that you’ll need a 3-season sleeping mat with an R-value of at least three to go along with it. The quilt can then be attached to the sleeping mat using the drawcord so that you can take full advantage of the insulation the combo provides.
Now we can go quilt shopping. The American sleeping bag specialist Western Mountaineering makes very good and extremely lightweight quilts. Filled with very high-quality 850-fill down, their quilts are always worth looking into.
A model like Nanolite down quilt from Western Mountaineering was built for temperatures just below freezing and weighs in at only 360 grams. The Australite down quilt, on the other hand, will keep you warm in temperatures down to -5°C. Considering it only weighs 480 grams, it’s pretty hard to beat.
Quilts in winter
Now, let’s talk about the limitations of quilts. Quilts are not intended to be used in perpetually cold conditions. The above mentioned temperature range is the maximum you can get out of a quilt and you will only find 3-season quilts for spring, summer and autumn. You can go beyond this range by using a winter sleeping mat, but a quilt is simply not made for winter.
Since a sleeping bag does really nothing other than insulate and store body heat, it is very important to keep the space within the bag to a minimum and keep it zipped shut to maximise insulation. A quilt cannot do this at the level a sleeping bag can.
Let’s keep this brief: if you’re planning on adventuring in regions with changing temperatures that don’t fall far below zero, one of the best ways to save weight is to use a quilt. Because it lacks some of the useless insulation you’ll find in sleeping bags, a quilt can help you save valuable grams. Plus, this design allows for a very high degree of flexibility. You won’t sweat on warm summer nights and won’t freeze when it’s chillier out – what more could you ask for?