‘What the hell is a sleeping quilt?’, I hear you cry. ‘And how does it differ from a normal sleeping bag?’ A sleeping quilt is effectively a traditional sleeping bag, minus the hood, full-length zip and back (the bit underneath your body).
It doesn’t entirely surround your body, like a mummy bag does. Instead it only provides insulation on top of you rather than underneath, leaving your torso in direct contact with your sleeping mat. A quilt, therefore, is more akin to a duvet, with an open, versatile shape, rather than an enclosed, cocoon style.
So, what are the benefits of quilts?
Quilts are not just a flat blanket. Modern-day quilts are sophisticated, efficient and versatile pieces of equipment. They often come with enclosed foot boxes up to knee level, while the upper two thirds of the quilt has a strap or clipping system enabling the user to tighten and seal the bag around their body and sleeping mat for increased warmth. Pretty neat, right?
Quilts have a number of advantages over traditional sleeping bags. First and foremost, they are lighter and smaller – thus they appeal to gram-counting, space-saving backpackers and hikers. Plus there is a clear logic to the omission of heavy and inefficient zips, hoods and backs.
Using a mummy-style sleeping bag, the insulation under your body is compressed by your weight, ruining its loft and rendering it almost pointless – so why not do away with the full-length zip and back altogether? And do you really need a hood when you’ve got a hat in your rucksack?
“Using a mummy-style sleeping bag, the insulation under your body is compressed by your weight, ruining its loft and rendering it almost pointless”
It’s not all about weight, however. quilts are also popular for their flexibility. For many, especially side-sleepers and those who toss, twist and turn at night, traditional sleeping bags are restricting and uncomfortable. Ever found yourself squirming and shuffling in your bag, hindered from settling by the tight cocoon you’re entrapped within? Then mummy-style bags are not doing you any favours. Quilts eliminate this problem perfectly.
Quilts are versatile too. If you feel hot, drape them loosely over yourself like a blanket; if you feel cold, tuck them tightly around your body; or if you feel in-between go for a half-way house. The opportunities are endless. Oh, and quilts are often cheaper than traditional down sleeping bags, which can mean only one thing – more money to spend on your adventures. Result.
What to look for when buying a outdoor quilt
There are a several factors to consider when buying a quilt, depending on whether warmth, weight or price are your priority. Generally, important features to look out for are the temperate rating, which will affect how warm you feel inside the quilt; as well as the presence of a footwell, either sewn or zipped, to help keep your toes toasty, and a strap system – utilising elastic straps, clips or snap buttons – to enable the quilt to be sealed tighter around your body, thus preventing cold drafts.
There’s also the down or synthetic conundrum. That’s a whole other debate but, put ridiculously simply, the former is warmer while the latter is better in wet conditions. Also remember that quilts are designed to work in tandem with a sleeping mat, which provides insulation below the body, and therefore a high quality mat is crucial for warmth. A top-end quilt will be rendered ineffective if combined with a thin, poorly-insulated mat, for example. And, finally, consider carefully whether you want an off-the-shelf quilt or a tailor-made one. Some brands provide a bespoke service, enabling you to build a customisable quilt that’s perfect just for you.
‘But are there any downsides to quilts?’, I hear the cynics question. Well, yes, of course, as with anything. Top of the range quilts have excellent temperature ratings – but, for winter camping in freezing conditions, mummy-style sleeping bags with hoods are far more likely to keep you warm. Furthermore, some thru-hikers, especially those who sleep on their back, may also prefer the cosiness of the cocoon; while side drafts and being fiddly to set-up are criticisms sometimes thrown at quilts. But, all in all, quilts are an excellent alternative to traditional sleeping bags for many outdoor enthusiasts – so why not give them a go?