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When it comes to choosing the perfect bedding for your next backpacking trip or outdoor adventure, the decision between a quilt vs sleeping bag can be a tough one.
While both options offer their own unique benefits and drawbacks, understanding the differences between the two can help you make an informed decision. That will ensure you have a comfortable and enjoyable experience on the trail.
Let’s explore the key differences between quilts and sleeping bags, and help you determine which option is best suited for your needs. So whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or a first-time adventurer, read on to discover the pros and cons of a quilt vs sleeping bag.
What is a Backpacking Quilt?
If you are new to backpacking, you may not know about the concept of using a quilt vs sleeping bag. Camping quilts are a type of sleeping gear that works like insulated blankets. Technically, they are similar to a sleeping bag but with a few key differences.
Quilts for camping are not like the quilts your Grandma sews! They are not sewn with a patchwork of different materials and colors. Essentially, they are an insulated blanket designed to be used as a sleeping bag replacement.
One of the main differences is the construction. Unlike ordinary blankets, backpacking quilts are filled with down or synthetic material within the quilt’s shell. This insulation provides warmth much the same as a sleeping bag.
Hikers who want to travel light prefer the ultralight weight and packability of quilts. Quilts are about 30% lighter than sleeping bags because they use fewer materials. They only cover the top of your body, not the underside. This makes them less bulky and easier to carry, thus reducing your pack weight. Most importantly, they are smaller to pack, so they do not take up much space.
You can even pack quilts without a stuff sack or pouch by stashing them inside your backpack. The Geez doesn’t necessarily recommend that because of the chance of it getting wet in inclement weather. However, it is more convenient to use since you can easily pull it out of your pack and use it whenever needed.
Quilts are also a better option when camping in summer. Just like home where you can kick off the covers, they provide just the right amount of warmth without overheating. Most quilts have snap features, like the highly rated and popular Katabatic Gear quilts, that can be attached to other quilts or sleeping pads. This makes it more versatile and customizable than sleeping bags.
- Lightweight and compact: Quilts are often lighter and more compressible than sleeping bags, making them a great choice for backpackers and hikers.
- More comfortable for some people: Quilts don’t have zippers or a hood, which can feel restrictive to some people. With a quilt, you can freely move around and adjust the insulation to your liking. You can even kick it off during the night if you get hot.
- Versatile: Quilts can be used as a blanket or a poncho in addition to a sleeping bag.
- Can be drafty: Without a hood or a full enclosure, quilts can let in cold air and drafts, which can be uncomfortable in colder temperatures.
- Learning curve: Quilts can take some getting used to, especially if you’re used to traditional sleeping bags.
What is a Sleeping Bag?
Think of a sleeping bag as a cocoon for your body. Its basic purpose is to provide you with a warm insulated shell to sleep in. Using the proper temperature rating of the bag for the weather conditions of your adventure keeps you warm and comfortable while sleeping outdoors. Most backpacking sleeping bags include a hood. As 80% of body heat is lost through the head, sleeping bags with a hood are desirable.
But as standard as sleeping bags may seem, there is a wide variety of them to choose from. Some bags are best suited for camping. Others are for backpacking, and still others for mountaineering expeditions. Typically, sleeping bags are made of synthetic fibers or natural materials. They are filled with insulation such as down, synthetic fibers, or a combination of both.
Sleeping bags come in different weights, sizes, shapes, and warmth ratings. If you are a newbie, you may wonder about each product’s specific temperature ratings when buying. Most sleeping bags have both a lower temperature limit and a comfort rating. The lower limit indicates the lowest temperature that will keep you from freezing at night. Whereas the comfort rating indicates the lowest temperature that you will normally remain cozy and warm.
Sleeping bags also come in different shapes. They are mummy, rectangular, and semi-rectangular-shaped bags. Most importantly, sleeping bag shape matters if you want an ultralight backpacking bag. The mummy bag conforms closer to your body. It is lighter in weight for the same degree of warmth as a result. However, your freedom of movement is restricted within a mummy bag compared to the other shapes. Ultimately, it is your comfort level that determines what type of bag you want. In addition, there are also double sleeping bags designed for couples to sleep in.
- Warm and cozy: Sleeping bags are designed to keep you warm and snug, with a hood and a full enclosure to trap heat inside.
- Easy to use: Sleeping bags are straightforward and intuitive, with zippers and a clear “top” and “bottom.”
- Wide variety of options: Sleeping bags come in a wide range of temperature ratings, shapes, and sizes to fit different needs and budget preferences.
- Can be heavy and bulky: Sleeping bags can be quite bulky and heavy, especially if you’re carrying one for an extended hike.
- Can feel restrictive: Some people find the hood and full enclosure of sleeping bags to be uncomfortable and claustrophobic.
- More limited in use: Sleeping bags are primarily designed for sleeping, and can’t be used as a blanket or poncho like a quilt.
Comparing a Sleeping Quilt vs Sleeping Bag
|Semi-V shaped, most with no hood or zipper. Has foot box
|Mummy, semi-rectangular, or rectangular shaped. Typically with a hood and draft collar
|Lightweight and packable
|Heavier and bulkier
|Down or synthetic insulation
|Down or synthetic insulation
|Potential for drafts
|Better for colder temperatures
|Can be used as a blanket or worn as a poncho
|Primarily designed for sleeping in
|Allows freedom of movement
|Constricting shape may limit movement
|Generally more expensive than a sleeping bag
|Generally slightly less expensive than a quilt
|Easy to keep clean
|May require special cleaning or maintenance
|Not as durable as a sleeping bag
|Generally more durable than a quilt
To be concise on which sleeping gear is best, let’s compare and contrast their similarities and differences.
Nights get cold, and sleeping outdoors can become uncomfortable without the right sleeping gear. When it comes to warmth, both sleeping bags and quilts can provide adequate insulation for cold-weather camping.
However, quilts may require a higher-quality insulated sleeping pad to provide additional insulation underneath the sleeper.
On the other hand, sleeping bags are designed to fully enclose the sleeper and retain heat more effectively. Most importantly, they are rated by Fahrenheit degrees and can be found in the product specs. Sleeping bags may have temperature ratings below 0⁰F to more than 35⁰F. Quilts generally have ratings between 10⁰F to 40⁰F.
The ratings are just rough guidelines. Every person is different, and their tolerance toward cold differs. So, the choice depends on how you tolerate the cold when sleeping outdoors.
It used to be that backpacking quilts weighed 20 to 30% less than an equivalent sleeping bag of the same temperature rating. With improvements in materials and workmanship that weight difference has shrunk. Some ultralight sleeping bags are now comparable in weight to backpacking quilts.
However, most quilts still have the weight and bulk advantage since less material is used for the outer shell and less insulating fill is needed. Quilts are therefore highly favored for their weight and size. Most are made without the hoods, zippers, and other features that add weight to a sleeping bag.
Examples by way of comparison are the Feathered Friends Swallow YF 30 25.5 oz regular-size sleeping bag and Katabatic 6′ Palisade 30 – 900FP 18.9 oz. regular quilt, each with a 30⁰F temperature rating.
Both have 900 fill power goose down. The 6.6 ounce weight difference may not seem that much. But but for trekkers, especially senior hikers, the difference means a lot in weight savings. Every extra ounce has to be carried for the duration of your backpacking adventure.
Quilts are about half the size of a sleeping bag and take up less space in your backpack. You may choose to forego using a stuff sack, stashing it inside your backpack where space allows. Regarding packability, quilts rate higher than sleeping bags simply based on weight and size.
Many sleeping bags come with compression sacks where you can squeeze them into half of their original sizes. However, it may take a little while for the sleeping bag to re-loft or acquire volume after unpacking it.
That means you may need to wait a while. Quilts do not have this problem. Since their fill need not compress as much, you can pull them out, give them a good shake and use them immediately.
During frigid weather, sleeping bags regulate temperature more than quilts. Since it surrounds you on all sides and has a hood, it keeps you warm and snuggly. When the night is warm, you can unzip the bag and drape it over you. However, some sleeping bags without zippers or only partial zippers will not allow this.
Quilts are good temperature regulators on any night except for very cold ones. In drafty weather, it may not be sufficient to provide warmth even when paired with an insulated sleeping pad.
But quilts are excellent in offering good ventilation in warm weather. Yet when it comes to draft protection, the good old traditional sleeping bag does it better.
How well you sleep often depends on the comfort level a quilt or sleeping bag offers. Since sleeping bags enclose your body on all sides, they restrict your movement. Sleeping in a cocoon-type sleeping bag may not do well if you move a lot during sleep.
If you are claustrophobic, mummy sleeping bags get really uncomfortable. People who always shift position and side sleepers may find quilts more comfortable and less confining.
Additionally, because there are no zippers, quilts can be easier to climb in and out of.
However, in a camping quilt, you lie directly on the sleeping pad, which can rub and chafe your exposed skin. So, you need to layer up with base clothing or use a sleeping bag liner to make it comfy.
When using sleeping bags, you pull it out of its sack, allow it to re-loft then snuggle in. When using quilts on warm nights, it is also as simple as draping them over you when sleeping. But in colder temperatures, quilts may need several processes to set up. To limit cold air from entering the sides, you will need to fasten it to an insulated sleeping pad.
You will also set up the pad straps and secure them on the side tabs or rear closures. Then, you adjust it accordingly to achieve your desired comfort, temperature, and fit for draft protection. So, ease of setup belongs to a sleeping bag when confronted with cold drafts and temperatures.
Fill power refers to the quality and warmth of a sleeping bag or quilt. You will find the fill power values in the product specs. Higher values indicate greater loft and high insulating efficiency. Sleeping bags and quilts may contain two types of fill or insulation: down or synthetic fill.
Down fills may be sourced from either geese or ducks. Synthetic fill is made from man-made fibers. Down fills are the most common and preferred for the sleep system. They offer the best warmth-to-weight ratio.
Down filling for sleeping bags and quilts are often goose or the more economical duck. However, duck down fills are an ounce or two heavier than goose down and are less warm. Sleeping bags and quilts have almost similar down-fill power, but sleeping bags are usually rated higher which adds weight.
Furthermore, synthetic materials are often used in budget-friendly sleeping bags thus reducing cost. An added benefit of synthetic materials is they are more resistant to moisture. Even if your quilt or bag gets wet it still retains some warmth.
A good quality backpacking sleeping bag can cost you a few hundred hard earned dollars. However, quilts can also have a hefty price tag. There is a direct relationship between quality and price. In addition, the less one weighs the more it usually costs. Generally, quilts are more affordable than sleeping bags, but outliers affect their prices. It is best to do your own research, making sure that quality and temperature ratings are comparable.
Brand names, product features, size, and other details account for the variations in price. It is safe to say that brand name backpacking gear comes with a higher price. However, these manufacturers stand behind their products and you can be assured of their quality. Also, these sleeping bags and quilts are durable and long-lasting, saving you money in the long run. The Geez always recommends quality and value when investing in gear.
REI is one of the frontrunners for best-valued backpacking gear. You can find a variety of quality name brand sleeping bags, budget sleeping bags, and other outdoor merchandise and gear.
Which One to Choose?
When it comes to deciding between a quilt and a sleeping bag, there are a few factors to consider. Ultimately, the choice will depend on your purpose, the environment you’ll be in, and your personal preference.
Consider the purpose of your camping trip. If you are backpacking and need to minimize weight and space, a quilt may be the better option. Quilts are generally lighter and more compressible than sleeping bags, making them ideal for backpacking trips where weight and space are at a premium. However, if you’re car camping or not concerned about weight and space, a sleeping bag may be the better option.
Where you are camping is another factor to consider. If you’re camping in colder winter temperatures, a sleeping bag may be the better option. However, if you’re camping in warmer temperatures, a quilt may be a more comfortable option as it provides more ventilation and breathability.
Also take moisture and weather conditions into consideration. A wet down bag or quilt is almost useless whereas a synthetic insulated product still provides some warmth.
Finally, your personal preference is an important factor to consider. Some people find quilts to be more comfortable as they provide more freedom of movement. They allow you to sleep more naturally, similar to the covers on your bed at home. Others prefer the coziness and warmth of a sleeping bag. It’s important to choose a sleep system that you feel comfortable with and one that meets your specific needs.
Wrapping it Up
When it comes to choosing between a sleeping bag and a quilt, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It ultimately comes down to your personal preferences and needs. However, we hope we have provided you with enough information to make an informed decision.
If you are an ultralight backpacker looking to save weight and space in your pack, a quilt may be the best option for you. Quilts are lighter and more compressible than sleeping bags, making them ideal for long-distance hikes where every ounce counts. They are also great for warmer weather camping trips when you don’t need the extra draft protection provided by a sleeping bag.
On the other hand, if you are a cold sleeper or plan on camping in colder temperatures, a sleeping bag may be the better choice. Sleeping bags closely wrap your body with insulation, providing cozy warmth. Thus, making them ideal for winter camping trips or colder climates.
Another factor to consider is your sleeping style. If you move around a lot in your sleep, a sleeping bag may be a better option since it will keep you contained and prevent drafts. However, if you prefer to spread out and move around freely, a quilt may be more comfortable.
Finally, price may also be a deciding factor. A quality quilt is comparable to a well-made quality sleeping bag. But this can vary depending on the materials used and the brand. Be sure to compare prices and features before making a final decision.
Are there sleeping bags you can use as a quilt?
They are called hybrid bags or quilts like the Feathered Friends Flicker UL. This versatile bag can function as a quilt with a cinchable foot box but without a hood. It features a full-length zipper which sets it apart from other quilts and identifies it as a sleeping bag. Hybrid bags are ideal for all-season use. However, they tend to be heavier than quilts because of the full-length zipper and differences in how they are made.
What is the best shape to choose for a sleeping bag?
Sleeping bags are either rectangular or mummy shaped. A mummy sleeping bag provides better heat retention for cold nights. Rectangular ones are less restrictive with their larger space and are ideal for those who toss and turn in bed.
Which one do you use for hammock camping: a sleeping bag or a quilt?
Sleeping bags may not keep you warm in hammock camping because you compress the insulation underneath you. The option is to keep a sleeping pad or insulated pad at the bottom, which is cumbersome. Quilts may fare better for hammock campers because they do not get compressed, so they maintain warmth.
How can you make the quilt stay in place?
Quilts have a strap or snap system that secures them to the sleeping mat. They have drawstring or cinch cords to hold them in place, keep out drafts, and ensure a warmer sleep.