I’ve been swept up in the marketing of quilts as a lighter alternative for sleeping bags. After the BPL sale a couple weeks ago, I found myself the owner of a BPL UL 180 Quilt. I quickly unpacked it, put down a Gossamer Gear Nightlight 3/4 length pad, threw the quilt over my body, and eagerly awaited the abundance of warmth, comfort, and roominess which I anticipated following.
It never happened.
The reason for my post is to determine if I’m in the minority in my belief that quilts simply aren’t a better alternative to a sleeping bag.
As best as I can justify, the reasons for using a quilt are:
1) Because they are lighter.
2) They offer the user more room since it is much like sleeping in their own bed at home and a quilt allows greater freedom of movement without the restriction of a sleeping bag.
3) Quilts don’t provide insulation under the user because it is deemed as unnecessary as the insulation is nearly useless because it is compressed and the majority of the loft is lost.
Quilts are indeed lighter simply because there is generally less fabric and insulation since no “bottom” is necessary. Quilts also offer the user more movement because they have no “sides” or “bottom” restricting the user. The “bottom” of a sleeping bag is also indeed compressed when a user lays on it and thereby it is less effective then the “top” and “sides” of the bag which aren’t otherwise compressed.
I can’t argue with any of this, but I simply can’t embrace a quilt being “more comfortable” then a sleeping bag. Here are my reasons:
1) Comparing sleeping under a quilt to sleeping on my bed at home is really not a fair comparison. In my bedroom, I don’t have a vast range of temperatures, rain or other climate issues, and usually the surface I’m laying on doesn’t offer many problems. In short, the methods which I use to sleep indoors will not necessarily be effective if I apply them to the outdoors.
2) Second, in my bedroom I have a mattress underneath me which provides both insulation and comfort. A pad of any kind will never equal the insulation or comfort of a bonafide mattress. The “ground” (i.e. earth) is also a far greater challenge to persons seeking both physical and temperature comfort. I acknowledge this isn’t a fair comparison either because the intent is to “go light” while still achieving a tolerable (and hopefully “enjoyable’) level of comfort and functionality which mimics that of normal sleeping behaviors and creature comforts. Even with a good mattress, at least with my backpacking sleeping habits, I'm often off the pad as much as I'm on it. With that said, using a sleeping bag versus a quilt is often the difference of having some insulation against the ground versus none.
3) “Some” insulation provided by the bottom of a sleeping bag, especially when used in conjunction with an adequate pad, by default, provides more insulation and a cushier surface then being without it. Yes, the sleeping bag is compressed making the insulation and materials “less” useful then that on top, but it still provides “some” benefits which are otherwise non-existent when using a quilt.
4) Due to the changing environment of the outdoors, greater warmth can be achieved by lessening the dead airspace of whatever the user is attempting to keep them warm. A sleeping bag is intended to offer a cocoon-like sleeping system to mitigate colder temperatures whereas a quilt is meant to be tucked under the user…as best the user can tuck a quilt….when the temperature drops. By using the quilt tucking method, the user is then restricted to lying nearly motionless unless the user doesn’t mind constant readjustments and bites of cold air from gaps following each subtitle movement. In reality, in anything other than perfect weather in which a quilt doesn’t need to be tucked in, quilt users are at least equally restricted in their freedom of movement as they too need to “wrap-up” for greater warmth. I also find it a little odd that ULers are willing to embrace a lighter quilt, but don't seem to bat an eye that often they bring additional clothing to allow them comfort in lower temperatures which often raises their overall weight to the same as a sleeping bag anyway.
Basically, I just can’t see how using a quilt is very affective in outdoor conditions other than perhaps in the summer months when the user simply wants a little top coverage, but otherwise it isn’t terribly necessary. Even if a quilt is used during the summer months, an amount of ground comfort, no matter how slight, is still sacrificed by the lack of “extra” ground padding which would have been otherwise provided by a sleeping bag. (This assumes that surface conditions are the same as obviously a surface with more duff and natural insulation can make all the difference when trying to stay warm and comfortable on the ground.)
In short, am I the only guy who thinks standard quilts are not nearly as comfortable as a sleeping bag nearly at every angle? I’m using the term “standard” because obviously you could bring a king-size quilt which would mitigate most of these concerns, but this size quilt would be neither practical nor lightweight for backpacking.
Please note, this isn’t a criticism of the BPL UL 180 Quilt, which as per usual from BPL, was made very well, was very lightweight, and was impressive for other reasons. I think I would feel the same way regardless of what quilt I used or if I even just spread out a sleeping bag.
So what is your vote? Are sleeping bags more comfortable then a quilt in most situations and environments in which a typical backpacker would encounter and more effective in every temperature other than the warm/mild summer months? Much like with hammocks, I have a feeling quilts are an acquired taste and I'm willing to accept that if ultimately I'm simply in the minority and personally just don't feel the claimed "quilt comfort".