what degree sleeping bag do i need

What Degree Sleeping Bag Do I Need?

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It’s finally time to get a new sleeping bag. Yours looks like it was probably outdated 20 years ago, but it did the job.

As you begin looking for a new bag, you’re hit with a mountain of different options out there. Where to even begin…

The best place to start is by determining what temperature rating you need the sleeping bag to be. Again, even that feels a bit overwhelming. What degree sleeping bag do I need? Should I keep it safe and get something that is rated to 10 degrees? Or will a 40 degree one do the trick?

Put simply, there are a couple of different factors that will narrow down your search for the best sleeping bag for you. Are you a hot or cold sleeper? Is your sleeping pad warm enough for the conditions you will be sleeping in?

Factors to consider to find the right sleeping bag

What type of sleeping bag are you using

Are you using a traditional sleeping bag or a backpacking quilt? Is it a mummy bag or a rectangular sleeping bag? There isn’t a “better” type to use, per se, but it will have a bit of an impact on how you sleep and how warm you stay. Generally, sleeping bags sleep warmer than quilts, and mummy bags are the warmest of the sleeping bag types. I have slept comfortably in near-freezing conditions in a backpacking quilt, so the type of bag plays a part but is not the end-all-be-all.

mummy bag v quilt v rectangular bag

A backpacking quilt essentially operates like a large, wrap-around blanket. They do not have a “hood”; rather, they stop around the neck region. Many models have a cinch-cord closure at the top to prevent them from allowing too much air inside, but you would need a beanie or something similar to keep your head warm on cold nights. Quilts are not fully enclosed, instead the underside is open. Most will have attachment straps to secure your quilt to the sleeping pad, though.

Mummy bags are on the other end of the spectrum. They are designed to be “form-fitting” and to prevent any cold air from finding its way inside. There is little wasted space or material on mummy bags, making them a top option for campers who need to prioritize weight and warmth. A rectangular bag, on the other hand, allows for more movement while sleeping. This makes them excellent for those who move more while they sleep. The drawback of the extra room is that it allows cold air inside easier.

Are you a hot or cold sleeper

There are a number of reasons why someone may be a “warm sleeper“. Ranging from hormones to what you do in the hours leading up to bed to stress. Some of these reasons can be impacted by hiking all day, so chances are if you’re a warm sleeper at home, you will be on the trail as well. Luckily, for warm sleepers, often times nighttime temperatures in the wilderness are cooler than your cozy bedroom at home. You will likely not have to be as concerned with maximizing warmth at night as your cold sleeper compatriots.

warm fire

If you often find yourself putting an extra comforter on your bed at night or you wake up feeling like the heat in your place has gone out, paying more attention to your sleeping bag is going to be more important. A mummy bag that is rated to a temperature a bit below the lowest temperature you expect is going to be a strong consideration. Since sleeping bags work by trapping body heat inside the bag, retaining as much body as possible will be key.

Is your sleeping pad adequate for the temperatures you’ll be sleeping in

Understandably, sleeping bags get all the attention when campers need to stay warm in cold conditions. But sleeping pads play a huge role in staying warm and getting the most out of your sleeping bag’s insulating ability.

Sleeping pads work by slowing down the transfer of heat from your body to the cold ground. The higher the R-Value rating of a sleeping bag, the better it is at slowing down this heat transfer. This works in tandem with a sleeping bag to keep you warm throughout the night. A sleeping pad creates a barrier between you and the cold ground that is wanting to absorb your body heat. And the sleeping bag allows you to better retain that body heat.

Neither is sufficient enough to keep you warm on its own, but together, you will sleep peacefully all night. For your sleeping bag to fully meet its temperature rating, it needs an adequate sleeping pad. A 20-degree sleeping bag can be comfortable in 20-degree conditions, but if you’re sleeping straight on the ground, good luck. I don’t think of these as two different pieces of gear but rather as a holistic sleep system.

ISO and EN temperature ratings

If you have ever gone out for a camping trip with a sleeping bag rated to 30 degrees and felt cold even though the outside temperature is above 30 degrees, you are not alone. You probably felt a bit frustrated and confused, on top of being cold. Manufacturers of sleeping bags do not have to follow any strict protocol before claiming a certain sleeping bag is rated for a specific temperature. Enter the EN and ISO testing protocol.

EN (and subsequently ISO) rating procedures aim to standardize how sleeping bags are temperature-rated. This allows campers to accurately compare products across different brands. Testing is completed by placing a manikin with a long-sleeved thermal shirt and pants inside of the sleeping bag and placed on top of a sleeping pad. The room is then cooled, and the manikin is monitored with thermal sensors to determine how much heat is lost.

sleeping bag in winter

The results of this testing protocol determine 3 main sleeping bag temperature ratings:

  • Comfort

  • Lower limit

  • Extreme

An easy way to think of these temperature ratings is that the comfort rating is the temperature at which most people will be able to stay warm and sleep comfortably throughout the night. The lower limit rating is the temperature at which a warm sleeper would be able to stay adequately warm throughout the night. And the extreme rating is the temperature at which you would be able to survive the night. By survive, I truly mean survive; the ISO protocol puts it as “the risk of health damage by hypothermia is possible.”

When evaluating a sleeping bag temperature rating determined using ISO tests, I generally use the comfort rating. This allows me to sleep comfortably in the expected conditions without having to bundle up excessively every night. Plus, if temperatures drop a bit more than expected, I can still stay out of harm’s way.

Brands are not required to utilize the ISO testing protocol. Most will advertise on their website or on the product page of a specific bag if it is rated using ISO testing.

Summer vs. three-season vs. winter sleeping bags

A lot of backpackers and campers will often refer to sleeping bags in categories. For example, you may hear someone describe a bag as a three-season sleeping bag. So where do these categories fit in? These are far more subjective terms, so take them with a grain of salt.

Generally, a summer (warm-weather) sleeping bag is one rated at or higher than 40 degrees. These are ideal for trips during the warmer months at lower-to-mid elevations. Additionally, trips in low desert areas during the cool months may fall into this category depending on the specific location.

Three-season sleeping bags have temperatures between 20 and 40 degrees. Many sleeping bags fall into this category and are ideal for a wide range of trips. Three-season bags work for summer trips into the high mountains and almost year-round at lower elevations, excluding summer months in low, hot deserts.

The least common are winter sleeping bags, or anything rated below 20 degrees. Suitable for shoulder seasons in high elevations or winter camping elsewhere.

FAQ

If it is a mummy bag coupled with a high R-Value sleeping pad, and you’re a warm sleeper, it may be too warm. But a 20-degree quilt paired with a lower R-Value sleeping bag can be versatile enough to work in summer conditions.

Some brands utilize ISO-standardized testing, while others utilize their own testing procedures.

The temperature rating on the sleeping bag will remain the same, but a more insulated sleeping pad can increase how warm a particular bag can feel. There are many other ways to stay warm throughout the night; the easiest is wearing an insulated jacket and/or beanie.

Conclusion

Determining the right temperature rating for your next sleeping bag can be tough. Should you choose a higher-rated bag to save a little bit of weight? Should you expect the worst and get a lower-rated bag? The truth is somewhere in between. You shouldn’t risk waking up every few hours to your body shivering to stay warm. On the flip side, you don’t need to get the coldest-rated bag you can find “just in case.”

Determine the conditions that you anticipate sleeping in the most: cold nights in the mountains, mild spring nights in a grassy meadow, or warm nights in the desert. This will narrow your search down significantly. As outdoor explorers, we rarely stick to just one type of experience, but consider where you will be the majority of the time. (you may need multiple sleeping bags if you plan to do a full range of trips)

This should narrow your range down to about a 10-degree window. Maybe you’re between a 20-degree and a 30-degree sleeping bag. At this point, consider things like how warm of a sleeper you are and the R-value of your sleeping pad. If you still aren’t sure at this point, you can lean toward whether you value a small weight savings or a little bit of extra insurance on a cold night.

Whether you determine a 40-degree bag is right for you or a 0-degree bag is your best option, put it to good use and explore what is out there!

how to pack a sleeping bag in a backpack

How To Pack A Sleeping Bag In A Backpack

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You just got your sweet new sleeping bag and can’t wait for your spring backpacking trip to break it properly.

You spend hours finding the perfect route and all fo the logistics for before, during, and after the trip. Every potential campsite has been identified, you know every possible water source along the route, and you even know exactly what your first meal back in civilization will be.

Everything is planned perfectly, all you have to do is pack your backpack and head to the trailhead. Your backpack is packed properly, right?

If you’re sleeping bag is tied to the outside of your backpack, your logistics may not be fully complete yet… Unless you have a plan for what to do when your sleeping bag gets damp or ripped.

backpacks in high desert landscape

Where should the sleeping bag be packed, inside or outside?

When all your gear is vying for space inside your backpack, it isn’t always easy to know what should go inside your backpack and what could be okay being attached to the outside.

Inside

The simplest way to think about how gear should be organized inside your backpack is in reverse order of when you will need it. You (should) only need your sleeping bag (or quilt) at the end of the day. Therefore, it goes at the bottom of your pack. You wouldn’t want to always be pulling it out to get to other things by packing it on the top.

Additionally, you want your heaviest gear closer to the top (and the center of your upper back) for optimal weight distribution. You can use more lightweight items (like sleeping bags) to act as a buffer layer at the bottom.

pack sleeping bag in lower third of pack

Some backpacks have specific zippers that allow you to access the bottom of your pack without opening the top and digging through everything. This feature will usually be called a sleeping bag compartment. Most of these packs will also have an internal divider that allows you to pack most of your other gear above it, and then open the zipper and place your sleeping bag at the bottom of it all.

Generally, larger backpacks (65L+) are the ones that have a designated sleeping bag compartment, but there are some smaller ones if you do not need a pack that large.

Outside

The short answer is that your sleeping bag should not be attached to the outside of your backpack. If there is one item you cannot afford to get wet, it is a sleeping bag. There is no reason to risk it getting wet or dirty while being strapped to the outside. This is one instance where it is a non-negotiable for me and anyone I give recommendations to about backpacking.

In the event that you throw this advice into the proverbial garbage, make sure you have a waterproof bag to keep your sleeping bag in; a regular trash bag would even be better than nothing.

There is one exception to this rule, and it’s only technically an exception. I will store my sleeping bag in the large mesh pocket on my backpack if I camped in a spot that is prone to condensation and some got onto my bag. Even then it is in an exterior pocket, not attached via straps.

Storing it in that mesh pocket will allow it to dry out while I hike, assuming that the sun is shining. In some cases, I will take an extra hour or so in the morning to lay my bag out on a rock or on the ground in the sun to let it dry out.

Should you use a compression sack?

This is mostly about your personal preference. I do not use compression sacks for my sleeping bag or really any gear for that matter. I prefer to just stuff my sleeping bag into the bottom of my bag. Maily because I can utilize the space inside my pack better and more efficiently.

Placing a sleeping bag inside a stuff sack creates a distinct cylindrical shape, which doesn’t always fit perfectly into the bottom of the pack. However, having everything packed into modular stuff sacks can make staying organized easier for some folks. So if you are one of those, there is nothing inherently “wrong” or “worse” by doing so.

One exception to this is if the weather forecast is calling for significant rain. This is an instance where I will utilize waterproof stuff sacks, even for my sleeping bag. There is nothing worse than crawling into a damp sleeping bag at the end of the day.

Why it matters where you pack your sleeping bag

Your sleeping bag is arguably the most important piece of gear when backpacking. Without one you’d have no way to insulate yourself during the night. (obviously) So it shouldn’t be too groundbreaking that keeping your sleeping bag dry and taking care of it is important.

You can attach your sleeping bag to the outside of your pack using sleeping bag straps or bungee cords, but it will be exposed to any tree branches, rocks, etc. Any of which can rip through your stuff sack. (and if you’re unlucky your sleeping bag too)

Additionally, this can throw off your center of balance and make you more prone to tripping and falling when on uneven terrain.

If you are going to utilize gear loops on the outside of your pack, I would use them to attach lightweight items that you may want to access during the day. Using them for trekking poles (if your pack does not have designated trekking pole loops or attachments) makes more sense than tying your sleeping bag to them.

Remember, utilize easy to access points of your pack for items you will want throughout the day. Put the items you will not need til the end of the day toward the bottom of the inside of your backpack.

FAQ

Placing your sleeping bag inside your pack without a stuff sack is best done by stuffing it in at the bottom of the backpack.

I prefer to stuff my sleeping bag versus rolling it because I find it packs down smaller. Neither is “wrong”, but I do see manufactures recommend stuffing their sleeping bags and none recommend rolling them.

Just because you can does not mean that you should. Attaching gear to the outside of a pack can through off your balance when hiking and becomes subjected to getting wet or ripped. Neither of which you want to happen to your sleeping bag.

I recommend storing your sleeping pad in the stuff sack that comes with it and keeping it toward the bottom of your bag, usually on top of your sleeping bag.

Conclusion

It can be tempting to just tie your sleeping bag to the outside of your pack before you head of on your next day of hiking. I mean who wants to think about gear organization first thing in the morning.

But when you have to take it out to get to your rain jacket or bag of snacks during the day, you will be wishing those items were quicker to get to.

Plus, if you make a habit of stuffing your sleeping bag into your bag before you even breakdown your tent, you won’t have to worry about remembering to do it. You also won’t have to be unloading your whole back when an afternoon rain storm pops up.

Prioritize your future convenience by taking the extra second in the morning to make your next outdoor adventure your best yet!

campsite near river
how to store a down sleeping bag

How To Store a Down Sleeping Bag

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Everyone loves buying and using gear, that’s the fun part!

Researching for hours to find the perfect sleeping bag (one that is light, packs down super small, and will keep us warm on even the coldest nights) and then taking it out for the first time. It’s the equivalent of a kid on Christmas morning.

Once that camping or backpacking trip is done, though, we all want to get home and toss our gear into storage until the next trip. Who has time for something like cleaning gear? As it turns out, that part of the trip is very important in making sure our gear actually lasts til that next trip.

When it comes to down sleeping bags (or quilts), properly storing them can be the difference between lasting a couple of years and a couple of decades!

camping with sleeping bag

How to properly store sleeping bags between uses

Once you have found your new favorite sleeping bag, the next thing to focus on is making sure it lasts as long as possible. There is nothing worse than finding the perfect piece of gear, only for it to last only a short period of time. Sleeping bags should last you plenty of years, especially if they are taken care of properly.

When it comes to getting longevity out of your sleeping bag, the most important things are:

  • Make sure it is dry before storing it away

  • Clean it before packing it away

  • Store it properly and in the right location

Letting it dry out

drying a sleeping bag

As with any piece of gear, bringing it home from a trip where you got rained on and immediately throwing it into storage is a recipe for failure. This is more obvious with a tent because it is subjected to the rain more than other pieces of gear.

But sleeping bags can also become damp from rain (or less obvious from sweat) and the effects are worse than for a tent.

Two main problems occur when down sleeping bags become wet and are not allowed to fully air out.

The first is that down-fill loses its insulating capability when wet. This happens in the moment, so if you are backpacking and your down bag gets wet, always take time (when it’s not raining) to let it dry out. Taking an extra hour or two in the morning to enjoy an extra cup of coffee isn’t a bad way to make sure your sleeping bag dries out. Otherwise, you will end up crawling into a cold, damp sleeping bag the next night.

drying a down sleeping bag

The second big issue is mold and mildew. Bacteria, mold, and mildew thrive in damp conditions, and you do not want them to thrive within your sleeping bag. (for hopefully obvious reasons) This can happen when you do not let your sleeping bag air out before storing it away between trips. It is very deflating to grab your gear out to start loading up for your next trip only to find that your sleeping bag is now a breeding ground for mold.

Keeping your sleeping bag clean

It is no surprise that sleeping outdoors (even in a tent) can get rather dirty. Whether it be mud, dirt, twigs, rocks, or anything else you find outside really, it will find its way into every nook and cranny of your gear. Sleeping bag included.

No matter the type of debris, the end result is the same. A reduced lifespan of your sleeping bag.

As dirt, mud, and sweat build up on your sleeping bag, they degrade the outer material of your sleeping bag. This can develop holes and make the sleeping bag useless as the fill doesn’t stay inside. Also, if the bag is moving a little bit in your backpack during the day, the increased friction from just a bit of dirt can do big damage over the course of a few days.

muddy shoes at tent

You wouldn’t come home from a hiking trip and immediately toss your dirty, sweaty clothes into the drawer for next time. You run them through the washer (maybe twice) before folding or hanging them before you need them again.     

A sleeping bag should be treated with the same care.

Best storage sack and storage location

Once you have ensured that your sleeping bag is dry and clean, how and where do you store it?

A lot of sleeping bags these days come with a large cotton or mesh sack, and that is your number one choice of what to store your bag in. This storage bag will be airy enough to allow in some air circulation, and it will prevent you from having a large sleeping bag just hanging around in your closet.

If your sleeping bag did not come with a large cotton storage sack, using a large pillowcase or something similar would work too. The key is to prevent the sleeping bag (specifically the insulation inside) from being compressed.

storage sack for sleeping bag

Once you have the bag in a breathable storage sack, now you need to find a good place to keep it. In the garage? In the attic? Does it even matter?

You want to make sure wherever you store it long-term has AC and heat and is dry. Places like garages, attics, basements, etc. are often times not heated or cooled. This makes them poor storage locations for sleeping bags because of the extreme temperatures. Additionally, a place like a bathroom closet is subjected to too much moisture and humidity to make it a viable storage place.

Why you should avoid storing your sleeping bag in a stuff sack

Down insulation works by having small air pockets within the insulation that trap warm air. This insulation needs loft (think fluffiness) to maximize its ability to trap warm air. When the insulation is compressed, it becomes much less effective at creating those air pockets.

how not to store a down sleeping bag

The insulation will “bounce back” when it is decompressed, but over time it loses its ability to do this. This is why your sleeping bag will be just as warm on night 4 of a backpacking trip as it was on night 1. However, if you were to store your sleeping bag in a compression sack for months between uses, it will have lost some insulating ability.

FAQ

Sleeping bags should be stored in a large mesh or cotton sack in a cool, dry location. You want to avoid compressing the sleeping bag, and you also do not want it stored in extreme temperatures or high-humidity areas.

Do not store a sleeping bag in a compression sack or stuff sack. This will degrade the insulation inside, shortening the lifespan significantly.

If possible, you still want to store it in accordance with the recommendations above. (loosely stored in a cool, dry location) A night or two being stored in non-ideal conditions will not harm the bag noticeably.

Conclusion

Storing your sleeping bag properly is often an afterthought when you return home from your latest camping or backpacking trip. But, taking the extra couple of minutes to store your sleeping bag correctly goes a long way in preserving it for future use.

You want to follow the three steps to ensure your sleeping bag lasts for camping trips for years to come.

  • Make sure it has time to fully dry out

  • Spot clean to make sure dirt and debris don’t become permanently part of your sleeping bag

  • Store it in a proper way in a location that is not subjected to extreme temperatures or high humidity

Taking care of your gear is not the “sexy” part of backpacking or camping trips. But buying new gear every year or two because you don’t bother to take care of it isn’t cool either. Get the longest lifespan possible with your sleeping bag with proper sleeping bag storage.

Take pride in getting the most out of your sleeping bag and getting the most out of your next outdoor adventure!

rainy road
sleeping bag vs quilt

Sleeping Bag vs Quilt: How To Know Which Is Best For You

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When you hear the word camping, what comes to mind?

A staked-out tent with a fire ring outside that is surrounded by chairs? Cozying up inside your sleeping bag after a night of roasting marshmallows around the fire? Or maybe waking up in the morning feeling like your sleeping bag is stuck to your skin because of the hot, humid overnight weather.

We all have our favorite camping memories, and most involve curling up in a sleeping bag at the end of the day.

For an increasingly larger number of people, it is a quilt that they are nestling up in for the night. Most popular among backpackers, quilts are becoming more popular each year.

And we are not talking about the kind of quilt that is hanging up on your grandmother’s wall. Backpacking quilts present a lightweight, versatile replacement to the traditional mummy bag. But is it truly better than the old tried and true?

sleeping bags in tent

Sleeping Bags and Backpacking Quilts: What’s the Difference?

Sleeping bags

When most people think about camping or backpacking, a sleeping bag is one of the first pieces of gear that comes to mind. The traditional bag needs no introduction.

As more and more gear becomes available, the options for sleeping bags continue to grow. The mummy bag first appeared about 100 years ago, and it continues to be the go-to sleeping bag design for most backpackers. Its tapered design (narrow in the foot box, wider in the shoulder area, and “hood” to keep your head warm) allows for maximum warmth while cutting down any excess weight and material.

sleeping bags in a tent

A lot of sleeping bags have full-length zippers, allowing for flexibility in how much airflow you get. This is a huge plus on warmer nights because you leave more of the bag unzipped to prevent becoming too warm in the bag. Full-length zippers also allow you to fully unzip the bag and use it more like a blanket. This is great for day use or when sitting around a fire before heading into your tent for the night.

The current market offers a huge range of fill materials and fabric materials. So whether you are looking to save as much weight as possible or gearing up for a winter camping trip, you will be able to find a sleeping bag that fits your exact needs.

Backpacking quilts

When I first heard about backpacking quilts, the first thing that came to my mind was a decorative quilt that goes on a bed. Alas, nobody is suggesting hauling one of those around through the wilderness. Even if you would have the best-looking sleep system.

One of the biggest differences between quilts and sleeping bags is that a backpacking quilt is not fully enclosed. The back of one of these quilts is open. This means that you will be sleeping directly on your sleeping pad. (imagine removing the underside of a sleeping bag) This gives two major advantages: weight savings and versatility.

EE quilt

With less material, quilts offer a lightweight option to a traditional sleeping bag. Also, you can use a quilt as a blanket without having to worry if your sleeping bag has a full-length zipper. For these reasons, quilts have become the go-to option for ultralight and lightweight backpackers.

Like sleeping bags, quilts come in a wide range of models. For example, some quilts have sewn-closed footboxes. While others have drawstring closures that allow you to control the amount of airflow to your feet and legs. Enlightened Equipment is one of the most popular makers of backpacking quilts and two of their models easily illustrate this difference. The Revelation has a drawcord closure and zipper in the foot box, while the Enigma is fully sewn closed.

One other big difference between quilts and sleeping bags (particularly mummy bags) is that quilts lack a “hood”. You have to make sure you have a warm beanie if you are anticipating cold weather while using a quilt.

How do sleeping bags and quilts compare?

Warmth

ADVANTAGE: Sleeping bags

Assuming that the fill is identical, the sleeping bag will offer a little bit more warmth. This is because sleeping bags are fully enclosed. The fill on the underside of the sleeping bag will get compressed down, making it less effective and insulating heat. However, some insulation is better than none.

Additionally, a mummy bag has a hood that wraps around and helps keep in heat around the head. This is huge in cold weather conditions because usually when my head and face get cold, the rest of my body is soon to follow suit.

Lastly, the fully enclosed foot box of a sleeping bag provides draft protection on those breezy nights. Quilts that have a drawcord closure on the foot box always seem to let at least a tiny amount of cold air in, no matter how tightly you cinch down the cord.

If you are using a sleeping bag without a hood, the difference between a sleeping bag and a quilt becomes less. But the sleeping bag still gets the nod assuming all else is equal. Does it get better than curling up in a warm, cozy sleeping bag on a cool fall evening?

Weight

ADVANTAGE: Quilt

A quilt has less total fill, material, and fewer (or no) zippers. It is not hard to see why quilts easily win the weight category. Think about turning your car into a race car. You would remove all of the non-essential parts and pieces in an effort to make it lighter.

Keeping with the car analogy. Backpacking quilts are designed with efficiency in mind. They thrive in lightweight backpacking kits, serving their specific purpose and nothing more. Some sleeping bags are designed this way, but most are made with comfort and features in mind. The extra row of seats in your SUV makes for a more comfortable trip when hauling around a large group. But when not, they are just extra weight.

Ease of use

ADVANTAGE: Sleeping bag

The sleeping bag was the clear winner here because there really is no way to improperly use one. You unroll it, unzip it, slide inside, and then zip it back up. Plus, it takes mere seconds to take it out of your pack and have it ready to hop into for the night.

sleeping bag on grass

A backpacking quilt is not much more difficult to use or longer to set up. That said, most campers are not used to using a quilt, so it will take a little bit longer the first few times. The only differences between setting up a quilt versus a sleeping bag can be the foot box, the zipper, and the sleeping mat attachment straps.

You may have to cinch tight a drawcord at the bottom of the quilt, close a short zipper on the bottom half of the quilt, and loop a few straps around your sleeping pad to ensure you do not slide off during the night. There is some variance between quilt models, so you may have to do all or none of these extra steps.

Temperature regulation

ADVANTAGE: Quilt

A quilt offers a more versatile usage than a sleeping bag. Whether you need to encourage airflow on a warm night or bundle up on a cold evening, you can do it easily with a quilt.

Most sleeping bags have a full-length zipper, which works great on nights when you need to curl up to stay warm. However, warm weather presents a different challenge. You need to stay cool enough to be able to sleep without waking up drenched in sweat. Since many sleeping bags do not fully unzip (to serve like a blanket), it is difficult to stay cool enough.

The advantage a quilt has is that it lacks an underside and can (usually) be used like a simple blanket. Models that do not have a sewn closed foot box work wonders. You can leave that area open while draping the main part of the quilt over your torso. This promotes maximum airflow to allow the breezes to pass through your quilt to keep your body cool throughout the night. (allowing you to sleep peacefully)

Price

ADVANTAGE: Tie

The range of prices for sleeping bags is much wider than that of a quilt. For example, you can find sleeping bags for as cheap as around $30 and as expensive as $1000+! You can also purchase these at a range of stores; from Walmart to online outdoor gear specialty stores.

Quilts have grown in popularity in recent years, particularly among those interested in going lighter weight. But they are not nearly as widespread as sleeping bags. Because of this, the range of price starts higher; you cannot walk into your nearest Walmart or Target and walk away with a backpacking quilt.

When you compare similar products, you find that both are in the same price range. For example, comparing the Therm-a-Rest Parsec 20 Sleeping Bag ($469) and the Therm-a-Rest Vesper Down Quilt 20 ($459) shows that price is a toss-up between quilts and sleeping bags.

mountain lake

Both products are made by Therm-a-Rest, are rated to 20 degrees, have near identical dimensions, and are considered ultralight products. All that said, there is a $10 price difference between the two. Showing you that neither a backpacking quilt nor a sleeping bag is necessarily the “economical” choice.

FAQ

The biggest advantages of a backpacking quilt are that they are lightweight, provide better temperature regulation, and they can double as a blanket during the day or around the campfire before heading to bed.

Using a backpacking quilt is not much different than a traditional sleeping bag. Depending on the model, you may need to cinch the foot box closed, zip up part of the quilt, and attach straps around your sleeping mat.

You should be using a sleeping pad regardless of whether you use a sleeping bag or camping quilt. On warm nights, you can get away with almost any sleeping pad, but on cold nights you need one that has a high enough R-Value.

The biggest difference between the two is that a sleeping bag is fully enclosed, while a quilt is open on the underside. Sleeping bags offer the cozy experience that most associate with camping, while a quilt offers a lightweight, more versatile option.

Conclusion

Quilts have become the preferred choice of lightweight backpackers and thru-hikers because of their low weight, versatile use, and competitive pricing. Additionally, quilts pack down as small (if not smaller) than a comparable sleeping bag.

Many new backpackers gravitate toward sleeping bags because they can be found at many non-outdoor specialty stores, have “budget” options, and have been synonymous with camping for decades.

Regardless of which you decide is best for you, take it and get out there to explore!

beach camping