If you are preparing for your first overnight outdoors, the first concern that you may have is how you can sleep at night. The tent can only do so much. How do you make sure that you have a good night’s sleep even when you are in the wild?
Sleeping bags are popular enough that you are probably most familiar with it. But, quilts can be a good option as well. In this article, we will explore the key similarities and differences between the two.
Additionally, we have chosen our favorite sleeping bags and quilts to help you figure out which one fits your needs. Also, we have a quick buying guide that should provide key information, especially when you are shopping for sleeping gear for the first time.
What is a Quilt?
You can think of a quilt as a combination of a blanket and a sleeping bag. It is usually made from the same synthetic or down insulation that is used in sleeping bags. However, the key difference is the shape as they resemble more of a comforter, duvet, or a blanket.
Furthermore, using a quilt is very different from a sleeping bag. Instead of scooching into a mummy bag, all you have to do is drape the quilt over your body.
The form factor of a backpacking quilt also eliminates the bottom section that is mostly found in a traditional sleeping bag. For ultralight backpacking enthusiasts, removing this part saves space, which can be used for other gears.
But, are quilts better than sleeping bags? Can quilts keep you warm at night? Can you just use an ultralight sleeping bag instead of a quilt?
Let’s take a look at their major differences.
Quilts vs. Sleeping Bags
Bags and quilts are, for the most part, the same as they are created to serve one purpose — to keep you warm while sleeping. However, each one has its strengths and weaknesses, especially in the following aspects:
Warmth is typically the first consideration when you are in the market for a sleeping bag or a quilt. Assuming that all features are equal, sleeping bags are clearly the frontrunners when it comes to providing warmth.
The advantages of a traditional sleeping are especially notable when it is cold outside. The closed structure is more efficient in retaining heat. Furthermore, you are snugly secured inside a mummy bag, which ensures comfort.
Another feature that will help you keep warm is the hood. It traps the heat, which effectively protects your head and neck, especially on chilly nights. Some even come with drawstrings to secure it.
On the other hand, quilts cannot provide the same draft-free experience that sleeping bags can. Also, they do not extend over your head, unlike a hood. As such, you will need to find a way to protect your head from the cold air at night.
Weight and Packability
After warmth, weight and packability are the next factors considered, especially by solo backpackers. They are always looking for opportunities to shave bulk and weight from their packs. Even just a few grams may mean space for extra water, food, or other equipment.
Obviously, a sleeping bag is made of more materials than a quilt. When you factor in the hood, zippers, and the foot area, even the most lightweight sleeping bag will weigh more than a quilt made of similar materials. Consequently, a quilt is more packable and lighter.
It is definitely difficult to compare a quilt vs. sleeping bag if you only consider one of the first two characteristics. Combining them into a warmth-to-weight ratio makes it easy to evaluate the efficiency of the bag. However, do note that this is not a straightforward comparison.
Take a quilt and a sleeping bag with similar temperature ratings at 20°F (-6.67°C). Let’s say that both are made of 13.7 ounces (388 grams) of down insulation. Because a quilt is made of fewer materials, it will clock in at 19 ounces (539 grams). On the other hand, the sleeping bag will weigh more than 20 ounces (567 grams).
However, remember that sleeping bags are much more effective in trapping heat. A quilt has no zipper, which means it might get drafty while you sleep. Furthermore, it cannot achieve the snug fit of a mummy bag.
The bottom line is you will need to check the individual features, especially if you are looking at options with almost similar weight-to-warmth ratio.
Your preference will factor in as well. If you are concerned about the extra ounces, then the quilt is a great option. On the other hand, if you are expecting cold weather, then a sleeping bag will keep you warm better.
It is highly likely that most of your trips will involve mild weather conditions. As such, temperature regulation is important in choosing your sleep system gears. Both quilts and sleeping bags have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to keeping you comfortable.
Sleeping bags perform well at lower temperatures. You can easily zip the entire bag past your next. The hood also ensures that you are warm all throughout, and no heat escapes.
On the other hand, when it is warm, it can be tricky to find the best set-up in a sleeping bag. You can unzip the sleeping bag and use it as if it is a quilt. However, you still run the risk of overheating, especially with partial zip models.
Quilts are great for most weather conditions except at lower temperatures. They are also lightweight and much easier to use.
On warmer evenings, you can easily get comfortable using a quilt as it is similar to a down blanket. When it becomes colder, you can use sleeping pads for more protection. Some may even come with sleeping pad attachments that will keep you snug. However, it cannot compare to the full protection that you have with a sleeping bag.
Ease of Set-up
Once again, your preference will play a role when it comes to setting up your sleep system gear. If you prefer minimal to no set-up, then go for a sleeping bag. All you have to do is unzip, get in, and re-zip to get comfortable.
However, if you want more customization, then a quilt may be a better option. While it takes a bit more time to get ready, you can set it up on different configurations. You can attach sleeping pads, adjust the fit on the attachments, or shut the rear closures. Consequently, you should know how the set-up goes with your specific model of quilt.
Price is often the decider when choosing two types of gears. Both sleeping bags and quilts come in budget-friendly to high-end models. Generally, a quilt is more affordable as it uses fewer materials. The average price is usually around $300, with some outliers coming from premium brands.
On the other hand, sleeping bags are relatively more expensive. They require more materials and often come with multiple accessories. The average cost of a really good sleeping bag is about $350. However, if you are on a budget, you can certainly find sleeping bags under $100.
Our Favorite Quilts
Are you still unsure whether you want a sleeping bag or a quit? Worry not! First, take a look at our favorite quilts and take note of their features.
Western Mountaineering is popularly known for its high-quality sleeping bags. Luckily, they are now offering quilts of the same quality. The Western Mountaineering Astralite Quilt is a great investment if you are looking for a three-season model.
It is considered to be an ultralight sleeping quilt at only 10.5 ounces (298 grams). The Astralite is made of 7-denier outer shell fabric with a 10-denier liner. This type of fabric is one of the lightest in the market.
The acrylic kiss coating adds durability to the quilt. That means it will last through different conditions. Furthermore, its draft collar is designed to hug your neck area, which ensures snug fit even when you roll around while sleeping.
However, we are a bit disappointed with a sewn-closed foot box. Without the option to open it up using a zipper, it may get a bit too warm. However, it comes handy during cold nights.
Therm-a-Rest Vesper Sleeping Bag balances weight, packability, and warmth. It is perfect for your backcountry adventures as it only weighs 15 ounces (440 grams). It packs down to 5 x 6 inches (13 x 15 cm), which will fit in any backpack.
The insulation is made of 900-fill Nikwax Hydrophobic Down™. It stays drier and can maintain its loft 60 times longer compared to an untreated down. That means it is suitable even during wet seasons.
You also do not have to worry about drafts while sleeping. It combines snap neck closures, insulated foot box, and perimeter side baffles. These features not only prevent cold air from coming in, but it keeps your body heat intact.
It also comes with a sleeping pad attachment, which is easy to use. Unfortunately, it cannot be cinched, which would have been convenient for colder nights. You also get a compression stuff sack for easy storage.
The Outdoor Vitals Down TopQuilt is an ultra-tough quilt that you can use if you are going to sleep on the ground or on a hammock. The 10D ripstop fabric is a durable material without getting too heavy. The quilt retains its leather-like toughness, which will last through challenging trips.
Just like the first two quilts in this list, it is considered an ultralight model. At about 18 ounces (510 grams), you will barely feel it in your backpack. It is made of premium 800+ fill power down, which is extremely light without sacrificing its ability to maintain warmth.
It incorporates a clever hybrid baffle design, which allows the quilt to stay warm everywhere. It maximizes the ability of the down fill to keep your body heat in. Without the additional seams, it also does not add any unnecessary weight to your bag.
The outer shell is protected with the unique VitalDry DWR coating. It effectively repels water off, especially during wet conditions. As such, it keeps moisture away from the down fill.
Our Favorite Sleeping Bags
If you are leaning towards sleeping bags, you have thousands of options out there. From budget mummy bags to premium options. Here are some of our favorite sleeping bags:
Nemo takes a slightly different approach, which seems to be a hit among side sleepers and those who want a bit more space inside their sleeping bag. The Nemo Disco Insulated Down Sleeping Bag forgoes the usual mummy bag but utilizes a spoon-shaped construction. It focuses on comfort as it provides more space around the elbows and knees so you can roll around without feeling suffocated.
It uses a PFC-free 650-fill hydrophobic down, which keeps the heat in and stays dry much longer than your typical insulation. There is an additional waterproof panel around the toe box for more protection. It also has a built-in sleeve for your pillow.
The Disco also ensures high-temperature regulation. It comes with two zippered “gills” along the length of the sleeping bag. You can unzip them to release a bit of heat if you are feeling too warm.
Unfortunately, the unique design means there are some tradeoffs. It is bulkier and heavier than your usual mummy bag. At around 2 lbs 11 ounces (1.22 kg), it cannot be considered ultralight. But, for short and casual outdoor trips, you should be able to carry it without straining yourself.
If you have a limited budget, the affordable sleeping bags like Kelty Cosmic 20 are available in the market. It is perfect for novice backpackers who are still exploring their way in the outdoors. Even with an affordable price tag, the manufacturer is able to create a down sleeping bag with quality features.
It has an EN Lower Limit temperature rating of 20°F (-6.67°C), which is enough to keep you warm in three seasons. The insulation is composed of 600-fill power down, which is a pleasant surprise given its price. While it does not offer the same packability as the other option in this list, it will not be a problem for your casual hiking trips.
It also comes with a 20D nylon Taffeta shell, which is soft and durable. The outer shell is further protected by PFC-free DWR coating, which repels water effectively. That means a worry-free sleep even during rainy nights.
The Kelty Cosmic 20 comes with a nifty pocket where you can store your gadgets, wallet, or other valuables. Additionally, it comes with a stuff sack, which makes packing a breeze.
If you are looking for a premium sleeping bag that provides ultimate comfort without the weight, then Western Mountaineering MegaLite Sleeping Bag is a great option for you. At only 1.63 lbs. (0.7 kg), it is extremely lightweight. That means you can take the sleeping bag on practically any camping trips.
It has an 850+ fill power, which ensures a lofty bag. This effectively traps more warm air close to your body. That means you can compress it to fit your backpack and set it up at night without sacrificing the sleeping bag’s performance.
The Megalite also records a temperature rating of 30°F (-1.11°C), which makes it perfectly suitable for three seasons. The shoulder girth is 64 inches (163 cm) in width, which provides a roomy interior. Similarly, the foot box measures 39 inches (99 cm) to ensure that you do not feel too warm.
When it gets a bit too warm, you can always open the full-length zipper for venting. It is constructed using #5 YKK zipper, which means it can withstand multiple uses without snagging. Furthermore, the top collar is also a good addition that adds extra comfort, whether cold or warm.
Buying Guide for Sleeping Bags
The comparison between backpacking quilt and sleeping bags above can serve as a useful guide to purchasing your next sleeping gear. Aside from the already mentioned features, you should also take note of the following:
Types of Insulation
You have already read about down fills above, but did you know that quilts and sleeping bags come in three types of insulations? Here they are:
- Down fill – As mentioned above, down fill provides the most warmth and comfort of all types of insulation. Its warmth-to-ratio is practically unmatched as even the most lightweight sleeping bag can be compressed into a small size without losing its loft. Down is typically sourced from the undercoat of ducks or geese. Less material is needed to achieve a high level of warmth. However, it loses its insulation when it gets wet. That is why some sleeping bags or quilts are treated with waterproof agents in order to stay dry longer. Another downside of this installation is its price. Because it is much more difficult to produce, down fill bags are usually on the pricey side.
- Synthetic fill – As the name suggests, its fibers are artificially made to mimic the characteristics of down fill. However, you will need more material to achieve the same warmth. As such, quilts and sleeping bags with synthetic insulations tend to be bulkier and heavier. But they are much more affordable. Also, they maintain their loft and insulation capabilities, even when wet.
- Hybrid fill – It achieves a balance between down and synthetic. By combining these two types of insulation, manufacturers can bring down the weight and still retain some of the premium qualities of down fills.
While packing size is important, you should also consider the size of the quilt of the sleeping bag when it is set-up. Ultimately, your preferences in sleeping will help you decide how big of a bag you should get. After all, you will be using it all night.
Most bags come in two or more variants, with many of them labeled as regular and long. However, there are no standard measurements that identify which is considered regular or long. As such, you should consult the specifications before you make your purchase.
If you are about 6 feet (183 cm) or shorter, a bag that is around 70 inches (177 cm) in length should be comfortable. This will give you enough allowance to move around while making sure that you are still comfortable and snug. If you are taller, then choose a bag that is at least 85 inches (220 cm) or longer.
Remember that longer or wider sleeping bags will also be heavier or bulkier. While the difference may be small enough to ignore, if you are a solo backpacker, this could mean losing a bit more space in your backpack or carrying a heavier one.
You probably noticed that the temperature rating had been mentioned a couple of times above. It refers to the coldest temperature in Fahrenheit or Celcius that the sleeping bag or quilt can handle and still keep you warm. Note that this is not an absolute indicator, and customer experience varies depending on their preference.
A good rule of thumb to follow is for a three-season backpacking quilt or sleeping bag. Its temperature rating should be between 10°F (-12.22°C) and 32°F (0°C). It should be enough to keep you comfortable during autumn or mild winter. However, if you are buying a sleeping bag specifically for winter, choose a bag under 10°F (-12.22°C).
Additionally, a European Norm (EN) rated quilt or sleeping bag will indicate two ratings. The Comfort Rating is the higher temperature, which is meant for cold sleepers. On the other hand, the Lower-Limit Rating is the coldest temperature that the bag can handle.
So, which one do you prefer? Quilt or sleeping bag? At the end of the day, it will heavily depend on your needs and preferences. Also, you need to consider where you are going, the expected temperature, and your overall sleeping set-up (indoor, outdoor, etc.). Of course, the budget will play a significant role in your choice.
Similarly, take a look at the shoulder girth (for sleeping bags) or shoulder width (for quilts). A standard bag would be between 60 inches (152 cm) to 64 inches (162 cm). If you think this is too snug for you, opt for a wide type.
If you prioritize price, weight, packability, and ability to customize your sleeping system, then a quilt will fit that need perfectly. Because it uses fewer materials, it is definitely lighter and easier to fit in your backpack. Furthermore, it is a great option if you want to have different configurations when you sleep, such as using it with a sleeping pad or treating it more like a comforter.
We like the features in Western Mountaineering Astralite Quilt as it is a great sleeping gear if you are planning a solo trip. You can use it in temperatures as low as 26℉ (-3℃). Additionally, the outer shell is water-resistant to protect you during wet conditions.
On the other hand, sleeping bags are great if you consider warmth, temperature rating, and ease of set-up as important factors. Sleeping bags are more efficient in keeping your body heat within the bag, which is great if you are expecting lower temperatures. Furthermore, there are no complicated set-ups needed. You just have to unzip the bag and slide right in.
We love the unique form factor of Nemo Disco Insulated Down Sleeping Bag. It is constructed with a spoon-like shape that allows more room around the shoulders and feet. Furthermore, it includes two ThermoGills, which comes in handy when you want to regulate the temperature inside the bag. It has a great temperature rating as well at 30°F (-1.11°C).
Whether you are a novice or a seasoned enthusiast, you want a gear that you can maximize. The key is to balance the advantages and trade-offs. There is no such thing as a perfect sleeping gear. You can also ensure that the quilt or sleeping bag you will purchase has all the features that will help you sleep comfortably at night.