Tempted to replace your sleeping bag with a quilt? We cover everything you need to know to make an informed decision
Alan is our resident expert on all things wild camping. He loves nothing better than to get out of the house with just his ex-Army sleeping gear and a stove, and head off to the remotest spot he can find near his home on the south coast of the UK.
I joined the ultralight backpacking world about ten years ago. Over the years, I have accumulated a vast collection of outdoor gear. For this reason, I can confidently say I have used many great sleeping bags and quilts. I have been involved in the quilt vs. sleeping bag debate, where I was torn between the two.
From 2010 to 2015, I exclusively used sleeping bags. From 2016 to 2021, I tried a variety of backpacking quilts. If you prefer lightweight and down-packing bags, you can try a backpacking quilt. If warmth to weight ratio is your spec, a backpacking sleeping bag will work well for you.
This article will give you complete information based on my experience using quilts and sleeping bags for my backpacking gear. Let's get to it.
What is a Sleeping Bag?
A sleeping bag is a large deep bag with a warm lining. It is used for sleeping when you are camping, hiking or mountaineering. Sleeping bags give you a warm night even during cold temperature ratings.
They trap the warm air around you such that when your body produces heat, it is trapped in the filling, just like a normal blanket on your bed. Except sleeping bags completely enclose your body.
Most people are looking to save on space in their pack. Hoodless sleeping bags are available on the market to shed weight for backpackers. Sleeping bag manufacturers have also shortened the zippers on sleeping bags to help with weight savings.
What is a Quilt?
A quilt is a hybrid between a sleeping bag and a blanket. Quilts are made from the same down or synthetic insulation that sleeping bags are made from but are designed in the shape of a normal blanket or duvet. You pull the quilt over yourself at night, unlike the mummy bag design where you have to get inside to sleep.
Camping quilts often have foot boxes covering your feet at night, so the feet are the only part of the body surrounded by the blanket.
Backpacking quilts are manufactured with the notion that the bottom of your sleeping bag is unnecessary as they only add to the weight. An ultralight backpacker would opt for quilts.
On most of my hiking trips, I combined an insulated sleeping pad with my quilt and got the same level of warmth as the traditional sleeping bag. My insulated sleeping pad protected me from the cold ground!
How are Sleeping Bags and Quilts Different?
Camping quilts have gone in and out of fashion over the years. Recently they've started gaining popularity again.
A camping quilt is a bag with unnecessary parts removed to make it lightweight and compact. If you want to have one sleeping system, you need to choose between a quilt and a traditional sleeping bag.
If you have been on a backpacking trip, you probably know what a traditional mummy bag is and how it performs outdoor. Ultralight sleeping bags take the design of a mummy bag. They are narrow at the feet and have broader shoulders and a warm hood around the head.
Sleeping bags also include zippers and a tube-style design with excellent warmth to weight ratio. They provide more warmth than quilts because of the heat-trapping properties of the insulation stuffed inside.
Backpacking quilts are great for ultralight backpackers, hammocks, and ground sleepers. They do not offer much insulation like sleeping bags. They have insulation at the front and sides of the body but not at the back. Many quilt designs come with pad attachments to create a closed sleep system with your sleeping pad. Some quilts have a foot box style that closes to keep you warm.
The significant difference between a sleeping bag and a quilt is that quilts are ultra-light and highly compressible. This is because they have less material and reduced fabric. Quilts give you more freedom of movement, especially for side sleepers, and are more affordable.
Sleeping bags are manufactured in different sizes, weights, and designs, to be versatile for various adventures.
Sleeping Bag or Quilt: Which Should You Choose for Your Next Camping Trip?
Sleeping bags are easy to manage in extremely cold conditions because when zipped up, warm air cannot escape, and cold air can not get in. They have a wide variety of temperature grades to pick from. If you are looking at warmth, choose a sleeping bag, but if you want to cut down on your pack weight, choose quilts.
To choose between sleeping bags vs quilts, you need to understand the pros and cons of each.
10 Pros of Using a Sleeping Bag While Camping
- No attachment systems to worry about
Easy to set up
They have great warmth to weight ratio
During cold seasons warm air cant escape out of the bag
Wider variety of temperature grades
They are easy to use
They are water-resistant
They are budget-friendly
They come in different shapes and sizes
They use standardized temp rating systems
Cons of Using a Sleeping Bag While Camping
- They are heavy
10 Pros of Using a Quilt While Camping
- Provide more room for your legs
They have more ventilation properties. Therefore, there is less moisture build-up
Very lightweight and compact
No zipper issues
They are versatile
They use less material and insulation
Wide variety of shapes and sizes
Quilts allow you to spread out your legs as if you were in bed
You can adjust the insulation to match the temperature
You can custom quilt to fit your size fabric and features
Cons of Using Backpacking Quilt While Camping
- Attaching a quilt to a sleeping pad is a hassle
You may wake up with cold feet if you're a wriggly sleeper
They don't have hoods to keep your head warm
Quick Comparison Between Quilts and Sleeping Bags
For backpackers and hikers focusing on weight savings, ultralight sleeping bags and backpacking quilts can shave off a ton of weight, leaving you with ultralight gear. However, choosing between the two is not a walk in the park.
Quilts and sleeping bags have unique characteristics and distinctions, including weight, volume, warmth, temperature regulation, etc.
Let's look at each of their performance levels for different features.
Minimalist backpackers and hikers always go for the lightest equipment. Backpacking quilts normally weigh less than sleeping bags. Quilts eliminate unnecessary insulation and extra material, which reduces weight big time.
Down or synthetic insulation doesn't provide warmth when compressed under your body weight.
Quilts leave the bottom open by using fewer materials. Quilts also reduce weight by eliminating additional features like hoods. Sleeping bags and quilts with the same temperature rating don't weigh the same because sleeping bags need more filling and fabric.
The weight of a sleeping bag or quilt depends on the type and amount of filling used. A down sleeping bag is lighter than a synthetic sleeping bag. With more filling comes more weight and better warmth.
For most backpackers, saving 5 ounces is a plus. Go for a backpacking quilt to achieve less weight.
Volume/Bulk and Compressibility
Camping quilts contain fewer materials and less insulation, making them compress and pack down smaller than most sleeping bags. Using backpacking quilts will ensure a lighter load and save extra space in your pack. When you pack your quilt in a compressed state, it lofts faster when you sleep at night.
Because sleeping bags are more oversized and have more material, they need tighter compression. A tightly compressed sleeping bag needs more time to loft fully. Down and synthetic insulation breaks down over time and loses insulation and quality.
Camping quilts last longer because they are not compressed as tightly as sleeping bags.
When looking at levels of warmth, I find sleeping bags to provide more substantial warmth than quilts. Sleeping bags tend to close up using the zipper, and once you put on the hood around my head, cold air doesn't get in. Body heat is retained inside the bag, keeping you warm during a cold night.
Most backpacking quilts don't have a hood and full-length zipper. However, they have a drawstring or neck collar to retain warm air. My ears and head would get so cold while using backpacking quilts. So, to keep my head warm, I carried a hat to my adventures, covering my head and keeping me warm.
In the recent past, ultralight gear manufacturers have improved the quilt's design to enhance warmth. The quilt attaches better to sleeping pads to increase insulation. They are shaped to reduce dead air space, which enhances warmth.
Ease of Use
I found a backpacking sleeping bag much easier to use and set up on my hiking trips. On the nights that I was exhausted and couldn't wait to sleep, I would unstuff my sleeping bag roll it on my sleeping pad, and curl in. I didn't have to bother with any straps or clips to attach to the sleeping pad. With the zipper closed, I got significant warmth and had a sound sleep.
My experience with quilts was different. A backpacking quilt requires more effort and time to set up. You must attach it to the sleeping pad so that it stays intact.
Quilts have different attachment systems. Some use snaps, clips, or hooks to hold the quilt. The downside is some attachment systems are loose while some are complicated to set up.
Some nights my attachment got loose; I felt cold air getting into my quilt because of the gap. Going back to sleep was a hassle. I lost a lot of body heat and had to get up and attach the quilt again.
The learning curve is crucial when setting up. Quilts require more practice to know the exact tightness to use so that you don't experience drafts and have substantial space to move around. Don't worry though, you will get the hang of it with time.
One thing I appreciate about quilts is their easy in and out movement. I had to ease myself at night and did not have a problem. The quilt stayed in place attached to my sleeping pad (I had already mastered the art). I didn't have to unzip it; I just got you through the wide opening and got back in quickly.
With all the constant factors, quilts are low budget than sleeping bags. Backpacking quilt uses less material and fabric to make. They have simple designs than sleeping bags because they don't have hoods. Manufacturers produce quilts faster because they are easy to sew.
The price of sleeping bags and quilts depends on many factors. Sleeping bags can be cheaper than quilts due to mass production. When choosing between a sleeping bag or quilt using price, pick one that will last you longer no matter the budget.
A quilt can easily accommodate you if you have a preferred sleeping position. I am a side sleeper who moves around my sleep. For this reason, I found quilts more comfortable and accommodating. I was less restricted in movement.
You need to open the zipper to get the freedom of movement with sleeping bags. This can work during warm nights. Sleeping bags don't give me th comfort of tossing and turning.
Quilts are more long-lasting than sleeping bags. I have had to replace more sleeping bags than quilts. A backpacking quilt uses straps, clips, and cords to keep them closed. Most sleeping bags use zippers that snap and break more often.
Zippers are more complicated to repair than straps or clips. Ive had to let go of some of the sleeping bags I loved the most because the zippers broke, and I couldn't replace them.
A camping quilt is good at preventing moisture build-up than an ultralight sleeping bag. Quilts cinch you around your neck with a drawstring or neck collar. This allows your head to stay outside the quilt. Once your breath remains outside, moisture doesnt settle inside the quilt. Quilts have excellent ventilation properties that keep them dry.
On the other hand, a sleeping bag hood allows your breath to direct into the bag. Sometimes I could roll over in sleep and lay with my face in the hood, especially when the temperature was cold. I could hide my face inside the sleeping bag hood. Keeping your breath inside produces and stores moisture.
Moisture build-up affects the insulation properties of a down bag. Moisture causes down to lose its loft, so it can't trap as much heat because of the fewer air pockets inside. You could end up losing warm air and become cold in the bag.
You can use a backpacking quilt for different weather conditions. When it's extremely cold you can attach it to a warm sleeping pad and seal the foot box and neck collar to hold the quilts close to your body to trap significant heat.
You can open up the quilts like a blanket to get ventilation during warm nights while maintaining warmth.
Sleeping bag temperature ratings of 0 degrees with a partial zip get extra hot when camping on a 70-degree night. Unzipping doesn't help reduce the heat significantly. For this reason, I own a variety of sleeping bags that I use in different seasons.
I have a winter bag for cold weather and a summer bag for warm weather. However sleeping bag outdoes a quilt during cold weather near the limit of the warmth of your bag. A sleeping bag allows you to cover yourself in the warm hood and retain heat.
A backpacking quilt is more versatile than a sleeping bag. You can make use of your quilt when you are not sleeping. Once you open the foot box, you have a flat blanket. You can use it around your body while sitting around a campfire or on a cold morning.
You can use it as a down jacket to get extra warmth n a cold morning. Diversify and use it at home as a normal blanket!
On the other hand, a sleeping bag is only essential for sleeping. Most of them don't open up completely to enhance their use as a blanket.
Customization and Purchasing Process
Cottage manufacturers make most quilts. They are often custom made to be sold online. You can make your own quilt using unique specifications like the amount of down insulation, Length and width, foot box style, fabric colour and type and pad attachments. Your order may take longer to complete, but you get exactly what you want and how you want it.
On the other hand, sleeping bags are rarely customized! Most sleeping bags are sold off the shelf. They are manufactured in bulk with standard sizes. Sometimes, it is hard to get your size right. I was once disappointed when I got a longer sleeping bag. The downside was that longer sleeping bags leave some space at the feet, making heat retention almost impossible.
Efficiency: Warmth-to-Weight Ratio
Warmth to weight ratio is a significant feature when comparing bags with the same temperature rating but contrasting designs or insulation materials. Quits have better warmth to weight ratio compared to sleeping bags.
At the same warmth rating, quilts weigh less than sleeping bags meaning they are more efficient. Down insulation provides better warmth to weight ratio than synthetic insulation.
DIY/ MYOG Quilts and Sleeping Bag
As long as you have basic sewing skills you can DIY or MYOG a quilt or sleeping bag. All you need is actual fabric, sew machine and sew kit.
Quilts are more straightforward and less complicated so that you will complete them in no time. Sleeping bags require more time and extra materials to make. Im planning on making one soon.
Technology and Trends
The trend in this current age is to have enlightened equipment. Everyone is crazy about ultralight bags. Modern high tech materials and ultralight quilt designs allow you to get less weight. Quilts are the new norm because they are very light and give you significant warmth.
Sleeping bags are getting out of style because they are heavier. That said, use the outdoor gear that works best for you. It doesn't have to b trendy but has to get the job done.
Quilt and Sleeping Bag Temperature Rating
Both quilts and sleeping bags have a temperature rating. Sometimes temp ratings are inaccurate and won't give you all the necessary information. Sleeping bag temperature ratings have been standardized with two rating systems:
European Norm (EN)
International Standards Organization(ISO)
Both systems are pretty similar and come with two temperatures:
Comfort rating- Temperature where a cold sleeper can get a comfortable night of sleep.
Lower Limit rating- This is the temperature where a warm sleeper can get a comfortable night's sleep.
Most quilts dont undergo standardized rating systems. Manufactures make their own warmth rating. Unless you are looking at EN or ISO ratings, dont rely on temp ratings.
Which Temperature Rating Do I Need for My Sleeping Bag or Quilt?
There are various factors to consider when selecting a temp rating for your sleeping bags and quilts. The climate of where you plan to hike and your personal needs. Are you a cold or warm sleeper? The most multifaceted option is a 20 degree F bag. These work well fo all three seasons.
When hiking in warm weather, choose a cooler sleeping bag and a warmer bag for cold weather. Make sure your sleeping pad is warm enough for the climate you're hiking in to help you keep warm during cold weather.
Down Vs Synthetic
Insulation material is a vital fact to consider when choosing a quilt and sleeping bag. Quilts and sleeping bags are both made using down and synthetic insulation.
Pros of Down Insulated Sleeping Bags and Quilts
- Excellent warmth to weight ratio
Cons of Down Insulated Sleeping Bags and Quilts
- Loses insulation properties when wet
Slow to dry
Pros of Synthetic Insulated Sleeping Bags and Quilts
- Provide insulation even when wet
More budget-friendly than down
Cons of Synthetic Insulated Sleeping Bags and Quilts
- Heavier and bulkier
Final Thoughts on Quilts Vs Sleeping Bags
Since I started using quilts, I've been able to lighten my weight significantly. After trying the ultralight type of quilt, I enjoyed my camping trips more. Lighter packs make hiking easy, fast and fun.
Occasionally ive found myself going back to mummy sleeping bags. They come in handy, especially during cold weather. Quilts, not so much. You can weigh your options and go with what works best for you. Is ut quits or sleeping bags?
Differences Between Camping Blanket and A Quilt
A camping blanket is simply a flat piece of squared or rectangular fabric made of the same material as a traditional sleeping bag. However, it does not feature a hood or zipper. It is different from a quilt because many quilts have foot boxes to cover your feet from cold air.
Camping blankets are not significantly superior but can be very high budget but are generally sold at a lower price than high-end backpacking quilts.
Key Differences Between Quilts and Sleeping Bags
The significant difference between quilts and sleeping bags is quilts don't have an underside. Backpacking quilts are shaped more like a normal blanket. These are different from backpacking sleeping bags with a mummy shape and wrap around your body to keep all the warm air inside.
Quilts Are Lighter Than Sleeping Bags
Quilts save more weight than sleeping bags because of the few materials used in manufacturing. The less fabric used to make quilts make them lighter than sleeping bags.
Quilts Are More Expensive Than Sleeping Bags
Because quilts are made with less fabric, they might look cheap, but they are not. Backpacking quilts have a simpler design but are sometimes more expensive. This is because there are only high-end quilts on the market.
Will a Quilt Keep You as Warm as a Sleeping Bag
A quilt will keep you as warm as a sleeping bag if you use it correctly. I am a cold sleeper so for the backpacking tripos where I used quilt bags, I had to find a way around to keep myself warm. First, you need to include sleeping pads in your outdoor gear. However this does not mean that sleeping bags dont need a warm sleeping pad, they do!
For quilts, you need to learn and practice to get comfortable sleeping in them and maximize the warmth they provide. I found quilts more comfortable to use when the temperatures are not so cool like in summer or late spring. During winter, I couldn't get enough warmth at night.
Tips for Staying Warm With a Top Quilt
- Sleeping pads are a MUST HAVE
Fasten your quilt around your feet to keep you warm.
Apart from carrying a warm sleeping pad to your camping trip, bring a hat or a jacket with a warm hood.
Your Sleep Preferences and Habits
If you toss and turn in your sleep, a sleeping bag will keep you covered through the night. A quilt will leave you open, and you might end up cold.
If you get cramping from staying confined in one sleep position, quilts will help you spread out and get comfortable.
If you are camping during cold weather, sleeping bags will work well. During warm weather, quilts will be fabulous.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Use a Sleeping Bag Like a Quilt?
YES, sleeping bags with full-length zippers can turn into a pseudo quilt by opening the zipper. However, you won't get the same results. Your sleeping bag doesn't have straps to tie on the sleeping pad, which means cold air will get in somehow.
How Do You Put a Quilt On?
A quilt is just like a sleeping bag only without a zipper. Use the hooks on the quilt to attach to the sleeping pad. If you want to get more warmth, make the hooks tighter. If you need more breathing room loosen the hooks.
Is a Quilt or Sleeping Bag Warmer?
Sleeping bags are warmer than quilts because they surround you to keep out drafts. They also come with an adjustable hood which is not the case for quilts. Your entire body is covered in warm air with a sleeping bag.
Do You Need an Underquilt with a Sleeping Bag?
Underquilts will only insulate you from below. You need something to keep you warm from the top. A sleeping bag will work well in this case. When your body compresses the bottom of the sleeping bag, the underquilt will help keep the chill off.