Sleeping Bags VS. sleeping Quilts
Sleeping Bag or Sleeping Quilt?
Which should you choose to use? What heck is a sleeping quilt and why would you ever consider using one? Well, you’re in luck, be cause that’s exactly what we’re talking about here.
We all know what a sleeping bag is, right? They come in a number of variations and depending on who you ask, you either love them or hate them. You can get a boxy one that has some additional leg room in them, or you can get one of those mummy bags that some people tend to freak out in because of how claustrophobic they can feel. Personally, I don’t have a problem sleeping in a bag and often times prefer it over anything else, but that’s me. For some reason, I just like the feeling of getting cozy and warm inside a bag when it’s time to call it a night. That said, there are some downsides to the traditional bag that we should cover before moving on.
The Traditional Sleeping Bag: Benefits and drawbacks
Like I said, I don’t mind sleeping bags. If you get yourself a nice one, they can be really efficient with your body heat and there are a few tricks I have up my sleeve that only a bag can be a part of.
For example; if I have damp clothing from the day, I’ll take it into the bag with me and sleep with it all night long. By the time the morning comes, it’s pretty well dried out from my body heat cooking it all night long. In another example, I’ll take my other layers and stuff them around myself in the bag to add an additional layer of warmth if I know it’s going to be a little colder than normal. No matter how I move in the bag, the additional insulation is there all night long. Lastly, in one final example; if you’re super cold and can’t seem to warm up then you can boil water, toss it in a water bottle and bring it into the bag with you to warm up. The nature of the bag will make it so that the heat won’t escape and in return, you warm up. I’m not saying quilts can’t do these functions listed above as well, but I think it would be a lot harder to accomplish so just take it for what it is.
I think it’s clear that the mummy bag is a pretty common place item among backpackers and outdoor adventurers. For whatever reason, this is where the industry landed on what it wants to provide its customers. If I had to guess, mummy bags are a leftover from mountaineers, but don’t take my word for it. I’ve found a lot of what we currently do in backpacking comes from mountaineering (ie vestibules on tents and big boots). While there are some up side to mummy bags, there are also some downsides.
The traditional mummy bag or sleeping bag just isn’t comfortable for a lot of people. I’ve actually met people who hate them so much they won’t even GO backpacking or camping. That’s crazy! Bags can feel cramped and depending on how you like to sleep, they’re really restrictive. You have to keep you hands and arms folded inside the bag and it makes getting in and out kind of difficult. I have a bag that has a center zip function and some side baffles where you can punch your arms out if you’d like, but that’s kind of an anomaly. I personally love it, but again that’s me.
For the most part, people just don’t like the restricted nature of a sleeping bag. They like to sprawl out, kick, move their arms, and roll around and a mummy bag just isn’t built for that kind of action. A lot of people try to toss around INSIDE the bag when in reality (from what I’ve researched), mummy bags are meant to move WITH you, not around you. You roll and it rolls. It’s supposed to be tighter so you don’t have to get all twisted up. Long story short, if you’re a crazy sleeper who loves being free at night, the mummy bag is your enemy.
Lastly, sleeping bags can also be a little tough to regulate your temperature. If it happens to be warm out, you’re going to sweat and you’ll want to vent yourself by unzipping something. Then you’re caught between wanting a little air and battling an open zipper. Sometimes you just want to kick a leg out, you know? So yeah, mummy bags can be a little frustrating in that way if you’re overheating. No one likes waking up in a full sweat. From a technical point of view, there’s some inefficiencies to note and this part will make a great segway into the sleeping quilt mafia.
Enter the sleeping quilt
So check this out, you have a bag that is full of insulation, right? Insulation that wraps the entire way around the bag. The way insulation works is that the loft of the down is creating a physical barrier between you and the outside world. The more more loft you have the better you’ll be insulated.
But what about the down that you’re laying on? When you’re on your back sleeping that down between you and your pad is being crushed and therefore not doing anything beneficial to your cause. This is why we have sleeping pads, right? To insulate us from the ground! Sooooooo, one could argue that there’s an entire section of the bag that is useless. Any and all material that you’re laying on is not doing you any good and in fact, it could be just a waste of weight.
If you fall into the category of hating sleeping bags, you might be in luck. In fact, you ARE in luck. Sleeping quilts are a great alternative to the sleeping bag not only for comfort reasons, but they weigh less because there is simply less material involved. A quilt is basically a sleeping bag that you don’t get INTO, but rather you lay it on top of you. There’s no zipper, no hood, and depending on the type you get, there’s not even a foot box. It’s literally a big down blanket you bring with you so you can roll around, toss and turn, and vent as needed throughout the night. Imagine taking your sleeping bag, unzipping it all the way and laying it over yourself. That my friend is a quilt.
Quilts have become quite the craze in the past few years. Once people began to catch on that you can not only sleep more freely but that you can do so while saving some extra ounces, it was game on. From backcountry hunters to thru-hikers, quilts are finding their way into a lot of backpacks. It appears there were a lot of folks out there struggling with their sleep in the backcountry and by simply swapping out a bag for a big blanket, they’re much happier.
Sleeping quilts clearly aren’t for everyone and to make them work the right way, you need to do a few things first. If you’re a bigger individual or a side sleeper, you’ll want to make sure the quilt you purchase is wide enough to ensure no drafts get in on the sides when you roll around. If it’s going to drop in temperature overnight, you might want to make sure your quilt is able to be attached to your sleeping pad. This is where quilts start to lose me as an application.
Because you don’t have a bag surrounding you keeping the heat in, you’re at risk of the warm air getting out anytime you move around at night. Clearly this is only an issue during colder nights when you’re wanting to steer clear of that cold air. During the summer, the air outside isn’t so bad so if you happen to dump some heat out when adjusting. BUT…if you are trying to keep the heat in throughout the night, there are these straps that attach the quilt to your sleeping pad to keep everything snug. They come in various forms, some complicated, some not, but regardless, I just don’t know if I can sign off on the idea of a quilt turning into a pseudo restrictive sleeping bag. If the benefit of a quilt is to stay free at night, why would you lock yourself down again? If it’s to stay warmer, then wouldn’t that say something about the efficiency of a quilt?
I think what it comes down to is that quilts are an amazing option for warm summer nights because of how ventilating and freeing they are. You don’t need a super warm bag during the summer if the temps don’t drop very much so you really don’t need a sleeping bag. By going with a quilt you can reduce weight, in both material and required insulation, and also sleep better. But, once the outside temperatures drop, and you’re trying to retain as much heat as possible, I personally think the quilt needs to go away and be replaced with a bag (if you’re quilter, don’t get mad please…this is just my humble opinion).
I camped one night in a quilt during the early summer and was uncomfortable all night long. I kept getting cold drafts and slept pretty poorly all night. I took the quilt out later in the summer and slept great because I didn’t need it to be as warm. I just tossed it on top of me and went to sleep not worrying about a cool draft at night because there wasn’t any.
One last downfall of quilts is that if you’re the type to sleep in shorts and only shorts (meaning your skin is exposed at night), then your skin will be directly in contact with whatever you’re sleeping on. If you have a sleeping pad that has a strange texture, which most are, then it’ll be uncomfortable. You’ll want to wear something to bed like a set of leggings and a shirt so you don’t feel that pad under you chaffing all night. This is where bags are nice. You can strip down, jump in and be protected from the pad you’re sleeping on. It’s not a big deal by any means, but it’s certainly something to think about if you choose the quilt life.
Be it a sleeping bag or a quilt, you just need to know what you’re getting yourself into (no pun intended). Each have their pros and cons. Which one is better is a personal preference. I know people who won’t use anything BUT a quilt ever again, but then there are people like me who see the benefit of having both. I sleep great in a bag so for me a quilt isn’t really that big of a deal. If it’s summer, I’ll take the quilt, but the moment the temps drop, I’m back in the bag.
Quilts come in a variety of designs. Some with a foot box, some without. The ones without usually come with some sort of draw string so the user can make a foot box of their own if they’d like. Both have their reasons and you’d just have to decide what you think you’ll want. I have a quilt that has a built in foot box because I know I’ll always want one.
Sleeping bags come in a variety of shapes and sizes as well. You can go full mummy if you want or you can get a more boxy type bag that offers more room. The more restricted the bag, the less it will weigh. Sierra Designs makes some interesting offerings that are a quilt/bag hybrid and from what I’ve see they’re the only ones doing this. Imagine a bag that doesn’t have zippers, but instead has a big baffle you can lay over you as needed. On the underside of you, there’s no insulation, but there is material that helps keep warm air in without wasting that crushed insulation.
So where do I land on bag VS quilt? For the time being, I’m in favor of a bag simply because they can be used in so many different ways. If you want to unzip it and use it as a quilt, then you can do that. If you want to zip it up and have a hood over your head, then you have that as well. A 20 degree bag can work during the summer as a big blanket and it works great during those fall trips when you need to keep warm.
In my humble opinion, bags offer the most flexibility, but only you can decide what works for you. If you’re a crazy sleeper and need the freedom a quilt offers, then you know what to do.
As always, I’m just an email away if you need anything or want additional help sorting this out. We’re all learning and who knows, maybe one day I’ll ditch my bag for a quilt, but for now, I’ll use both when the situation calls for it.
For those looking for quilts or quality bags, here are a few suggested companies that I know of who make quality goods.