Sleeping Bags Vs Quilts

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know.”

– Ernest Hemingway

CCT pre dawn

Second thoughts regarding a pre-dawn start | Yours truly and the Katabatic Palisade 30 | Copper Canyon Traverse, Mexico, 2013.

Perhaps the most beloved item in a backpacker’s kit. After a long day on the trail, there aren’t too many things I enjoy more than slipping into my sleeping bag/quilt and drifting off to the land of Nod.

I made the full-time switch from bags to quilts in 2011. I had tried various models over the previous decade, but was never entirely satisfied with the accompanying attachment systems, until I started using quilts from Katabatic Gear. More than 700 nights in the wilderness later, I suspect there is no going back.

Seven Reasons Why I Prefer Quilts

1.  Lighter

Quilts are generally between 20 and 30% lighter than their sleeping bag equivalents. Why? Quilts provide insulation on top of the sleeper where it matters, but not underneath where the user’s weight will negate the benefits of loft.


Bunking down in a cave just north of Young’s Canyon, UT | Katabatic Sawatch combined with MLD Superlight Bivy | Southwestern Horseshoe, March, 2012.

2.  Less Volume

A quilt takes up less space. This equates to less compression (see Tip below), which in turn means that when I remove the quilt at day’s end it doesn’t take as long to re-loft. No small matter if it is freezing cold, I’m exhausted and the only things I really require are warmth and seven to eight hours sleep.

As a bonus, it is worth noting that by minimizing compression over an extended period, you are potentially improving the longevity of your quilt/bag.

*Tip: When loading my backpack, I use my quilt as a “filler” for the outer section of the pack’s interior, as opposed to putting it in a stuff sack at the bottom (see How to load a backpack).

3.  Just as Warm (well……almost)

This wasn’t necessarily true in days past. However, in recent years lightweight gear companies have upped the ante in regards to design and workmanship. Top quality quilts now come with neck collars, width options and improved attachment systems, meaning that those bracing drafts that were once the bane of quilt users around the backpacking universe, are now largely a thing of the past.

How will I keep my noggin warm?” Wear a beanie; chances are you are carrying one anyway.

Still not warm enough?” Layer up. Utilize the hoods you likely have on your jackets (i.e. windshirt, down and/or rain) and even throw on a bandana “pirate-style” if you’re really desperate.

Katabatic Quilt : Peru

Sleeping in a shepherd’s hut at 15,000 ft | Katabatic Sawatch 15 | Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru, 2014

4.  No Zipper Issues  

Nothing to snag or break.

5.  Less Restrictive

Quilts provide greater freedom of movement; particularly if you are a side sleeper.

Can’t an open sleeping bag do the same thing?” Yes, however your sleeping bag won’t have an attachment system underneath to keep out the drafts if you happen to turn over.

6.  Less Moisture

With your head outside rather than inside, there is less chance your bag will be compromised by moisture buildup from respiration.

Say again?”

If you are using a sleeping bag and have a tendency to toss and turn in your sleep, you may flip over during the evening and end up face down in the hood; this is not an issue if you are using a quilt.

7.  Cheaper

No zip and less materials generally equate to a more affordable night’s sleep.

Quilt Recommendations:


Sleeping Bags Vs Quilts — 5 Comments

  1. Nice article! I’ve been using quilts for a few years now, and don’t think I’ll ever go back. Lighter and more versatile than a bag. If you get hot, just stick an arm or foot outside to help regulate your temperature. I use a packing method similar to yours, allowing my quilt and down jacket to fill up the empty pack volume, rather than compressing them to death. “Less Restrictive” is a big one for me. I have very broad shoulder and a wide chest, so mummy bags never fit me. Even “wide” models are typically too narrow, but it’s pretty easy to find quilts that fit.

    I personally don’t like the Katabatic design. Their attachment system is definitely top-tier, but I have no use for it in my hammock (which I use almost year round). My main issue is that I don’t like the sewn footbox. My Enlightened Equipment quilts have a zipper & drawstring footbox, which is much more versatile. I can loosen the drawstring to stick a foot outside if i’m hot, I can unzip it altogether and use it more like a blanket if conditions are mild. It’s true that the drawstring doesn’t create a perfect seal, but, in my experience, I don’t lose much heat through there.

    • Thanks for the comment, Dan.
      Enlightened Equipment make some top quality quilts. I have a few buddies who swear by their products.
      Great value for money as well.

  2. Good advice! I switched to a RayWay quilt a couple years ago and can’t stand using a bag now.
    I bought my son an MLD quilt and he loves the weight and space saving although I keep waiting for the foot box plug to get lost.

  3. Hi, I discovered Quilts just now (yes) and had this “finally I do not have to feel this Claustrophobia in a mummy bag”.
    I go to Katabatic and I see they only use Dawn.
    I have Ethical issues with the use of Dawn.
    What are the higher quality, more lightweight, synthetic quilts out there?

    • At the moment, the best synthetic quilts on the market are arguably made by Mountain Laurel Designs (the Spirit quilt series) and Enlightened Equipment. Best of luck!



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