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Debunking the Myth: Quilts AREN’T as Comfortable as a Sleeping Bag
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Jolly Green Giant
(regultr) - MLife

Debunking the Myth: Quilts AREN’T as Comfortable as a Sleeping Bag on 07/05/2008 07:42:40 MDT Print View

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".

Edited by regultr on 07/05/2008 08:39:42 MDT.

Christopher Holden
(back2basics) - F - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
Re: Debunking the Myth: Quilts AREN’T as Comfortable as a Sleeping Bag on 07/05/2008 08:08:09 MDT Print View

Everyone has their own sleeping requirements, habits and positions. While I agree with your 3 reasons to use a quilt, I disagree with your requirement for bottom insulation of a bag. I have a sleeping pad for that (RidgeRest). Depending on the time of year, I may use two of them for added insulation (RidgeRest and GuideLite).
While I do own both sleeping bags and quilts (even a UL180), I prefer the quilt but will move to a bag for the coldest part of winter. For the other 3 seasons, the quilt provides flexibility in my sleeping habits. It allows greater movement, better ventilation control and still keeps me warm.
Is it your impression that all quilts fall short of your needs or just the one you got? I like the MLD XP quilt more than the BPL design. MLD's footbox is not sewn and the quilt can be opened up like a blanket. There are also other designs by other manufacturers, but these two are the only ones I've used. For instance, the JRB specs seem small and they don't do custom work to fit the larger folks, but I look forward to testing a Nunatak one day. Living in the SE US means living with humidity. For this reason alone, I have decided to stick with synthetic insulation. The Arc design would surely work for me too, but the thought of collapsing down doesn't do much for morale when I'm miles away from the truck or home.
Quilts work for some people, but not all. YMMV.

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: Debunking the Myth: Quilts AREN’T as Comfortable as a Sleeping Bag on 07/05/2008 08:11:34 MDT Print View

I'm glad you brought up this topic. I'm both a quilt and a bag user. In essence, I distinquish the two by temperature.

In summer, my wife and I use a double quilt which I made. As you point out, in mild conditions, drafts and such aren't as critical. I'll go a step further and say that quilts offer an advantage in summer as I find them easier to push aside if I'm overheating. I also like the comfort factor of feeling less restricted.

However, in winter you will have to pry my sleeping bag from my cold, dead fingers! I personally, could never dupicated the bag's cocoon cozy comfort with a quilt. This may be in part, due to the fact that both my wife and I sleep like acrobatic monkeys instead of imitating King Tut.

As to bottom comfort, we use P.O.E. 3/4 length Max Thermo air pads insulated with synthetics. Therefore, bottom comfort is not a factor.

So, here in one post, I'll agree and disagree. That's probably a sign of what's to come!

Great topic!

Edited by mad777 on 07/05/2008 08:15:12 MDT.

Christopher Holden
(back2basics) - F - MLife

Locale: Southeast USA
Re: Debunking the Myth: Quilts AREN’T as Comfortable as a Sleeping Bag on 07/05/2008 08:14:43 MDT Print View

The bit about the acrobatic monkeys had me laughing out loud. Did you modify your tarp to include clips for hanging a trapeze?

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: Re: Debunking the Myth: Quilts AREN’T as Comfortable as a Sleeping Bag on 07/05/2008 08:17:42 MDT Print View

Actually Chris, we are tent folks. So, if an observer were outside our tent at night, it would look like a Tom & Jerry cartoon!

Art Sandt
(artsandt) - F
quilt v bag on 07/05/2008 08:29:26 MDT Print View

Yep, the many shortcomings of quilts are often glossed over by quilt-fanatics.

Weight- yes they are lighter by themselves, but when you add in the things that actually make them equivalent to sleeping bags, such as an insulated hat, a bivy sack to stop drafts, a longer sleeping pad to deal with no insulation at all under legs, the decreased weight isn't really that significant.

Comfort- yes you can open them up flat, and unlike *some* sleeping bags, it doesn't have a bulky hood at the end you put up against your face. But the fact of the matter is, your comforter at home doesn't weigh 11 ounces, nor does it have a slippery shell fabric. An ultralight quilt draped over ones body will slide off easier than you think.

Warmth- yes they have a potential to be almost as warm as a sleeping bag of equal loft, but due to lack of zipper, hood, and bottom insulation, they can never be quite as warm, simply due to their design. Thus, the weight loss seen in quilts is not proportional to sleeping bags because they are less efficient as insulation.

That said- it's hard to argue with an 11 ounce 40 degree down quilt that packs down to the size of a grapefruit when pack weight is all you know or care about. For warmer weather, there's no reason (besides their astronomical cost) not to shave a few ounces in favor of an ultralight quilt.

Edited by artsandt on 07/05/2008 08:33:19 MDT.

Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Debunking the Myth: Quilts AREN’T as Comfortable as a Sleeping Bag on 07/05/2008 08:50:22 MDT Print View

Well, I remember when quilts were a summer thing. One of the biggest advantages was being able to loosly cover or half cover yourself on nights that were on the hot side. Just read Jardines "Beyond Backpacking" even he states that it was for summer use. Then people wanted to push the envelope and see how far they could take it. But for me, I have a down quilt that I think of as summer insulation but I have been in 30-32 degree weather with it -wearing a montbell down jacket and hat ect. But I would like to get one of those Montbell super strech bags for cooler weather for all the reasons stated here.

Edited by MAYNARD76 on 07/05/2008 08:58:26 MDT.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: quilt v bag on 07/05/2008 08:57:57 MDT Print View

I have both quilts and sleeping bags, and will say
that the quilt took some practice to get it right. One thing that I love about quilts is that I can curl up in a ball and not worry about ripping my sleeping bag open. I found the ultralight sleeping bags (typically narrow) didn't let me bring my knees up to my chest without really stressing the I ended up opening the sleeping bag up to allow more movement. Naturally, I went with a quilt next. I love them now..and if you really want to save weight - try out the half bags - I'm moving to one for the winter aswell.

John Myers
(dallas) - F - MLife

Locale: North Texas
qilt/bag on 07/05/2008 09:25:13 MDT Print View

Since you asked for votes, here's mine. I have come to prefer a quilt to a bag in most conditions. I think it's because I move my legs around a lot when I sleep so I feel somewhat claustrophobic in a bag compared to a quilt. I just generally sleep better using a quilt.

Most of my nights are now in a hammock and quilts are far easier and more comfortable to use in that situation.

But comparing apples to apples, on the ground I sometimes use a bag when it is well below freezing, since it does provide better draft elimination and better coverage for the head.

The weight differential doesn't matter that much to me (blasphemy here I know). I am willing to add whatever ounces I need to to get a good night's sleep. It is nice that the quilt is lighter but it is not my primary consideration.

I'd say whatever gear works for you, use that.


Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Bag v Quilt on 07/05/2008 10:22:11 MDT Print View

I was a 'bag man' for over 30 years. I say was, because i'm now a 'quilt man'. I used my new Nunatak Arc Specialist for the first time recently and i'm now a convert. I too am a restless sleeper, and the ability to move around as much as i like was great. I had the straps fastened loosely under my mat and never felt any draughfts. It was the closest to sleeping at home as i've been outdoors. The temp was probably 6-8C and i was wearing a merino l/s top and briefs. I started off with a micro-fleece top and merino beanie as well, but took them off as i was too warm.
I wish i had tried a quilt years ago.:)

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Debunking the Myth: Quilts AREN’T as Comfortable as a Sleeping Bag on 07/05/2008 10:32:22 MDT Print View

Thanks for bringing up the subject! I've been somewhat bemused by the quilt approach for some time.

Here's the thing: Compared to a high-quality sleeping bag, there isn't always a weight difference. If I can get more warmth and more versatility for the same weight, why on earth would I get a quilt? (Before I expound upon this further, I should point out that in summer I, like Michael above, use a double quilt with my girlfriend--covers the entire floor of the tent. Weight is 26 ounces "split" 2 ways, 13 oz bags... But actually, it's a sleeping bag, Western Mountaineering's MityLite...)

Direct comparison: Nunatak's Arc Ghost w/ Western's HighLite. The Ghost has 46" of shoulder girth, 8 ounces of fill, weighs 14 ounces, and costs $328. The Highlite has 59 inches of girth, 8 ounces of fill, weighs 16 ounces, and costs $270. Or for a roomier cut, the Arc Specialist and WM's Caribou: The Specialist has a girth of 55", fill of 8 ounces, weight of 16 ounces, and costs $362. The Caribou is 64" girth, 10 ounces of fill, 20 ounce weight, and costs $270. (Like anything, you could compare other things. I've seen "UL" quilts significantly heavier than, say, WM bags. But the Nunatak:WM seems to be the fairest.)

Ok. So there's a 2 ounce difference in the first example, a 4 ounce difference in the second. The bags, though, add hoods, zippers, and the option of full enclosure. With the Caribou, if you unzip the bag all the way you've got a quilt. Yes, I know people argue about the hood being in the way. For the added versatility, I deal with it--just as you've gotta deal with inopportune air flow with a quilt. If I'm in "quilt" mode with a bag, it's normally warm enough that I just slide the bag further down and angled a bit; full coverage, no hood issues.

When I'm side sleeping in a mummy, I roll over with the bag. My whole body stays insulated. I don't have to finagle (sp?) anything. I can use it as a quilt if it's warm out, or zip it up and cinch the hood down when it's cold. Adaptable to a very wide range of conditions.

I do like some of the ideas of quilts. I like the idea of being able to do away with things like draft tubes. But if I can get something within a few ounces that realistically adds much more warmth (up to a third of heat loss from the head? Just bring a balaclava? Or just use a bag?) and versatility--and costs less--that's what I'll do.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Bag v Quilt on 07/05/2008 10:47:08 MDT Print View

You are not playing fair Brad.;)
The difference in weight between the WM MityLite(26 ounce) and Arc Ghost(14 ounce) is 12 ounces. Not 1 ounce.
The Arc Specialist(16 ounce) is 10 ounces lighter.
Do you leave half your WM MityLite behind if you're on your own?:)

Edited by MikefaeDundee on 07/05/2008 11:04:51 MDT.

Ron Moak
(rmoak) - F
Debunking the Myth: Wrong analogy on 07/05/2008 11:26:40 MDT Print View

Debunking Myths are about bring relativity to falsehoods. The myth of "The World is Flat" is either right or wrong. Fortunately today it's relatively easy to prove it one way or the other.

What's true or false about how well our personal gear will perform under any specific conditions depends upon our own personal realities. What works perfectly fine for me may in fact be absolutely miserable for you.

Also gear that appears to function poorly may in fact prove quite useful depending upon our level of knowledge at the time.

Many years ago, the first few nights using my new down sleeping bags were absolutely miserable. In spite of the fact that it was rated to 20 degrees and the temperature never dipped below 30. It wasn't until I realized that I was sleeping on an old fashion thick air mattress did I understand why I was so uncomfortable.

For more than thirty years I've slept with a sleeping bag draped as a quilt. I also discovered that many times I would sleep warmer when using it as a quilt that fully zipped up.

Knowing that quilts work fine for me, I felt the transition to a dedicated quilt would be a no brain-er. In fact that wasn't true. The first few times I used my new quilt, I had miserable nights sleep.

Unlike the nice wide sleeping bag, quilts are cut much narrower. Lacking the additional drape of fabric and down around me, I needed to rethink my sleeping arrangement.

It took a few experiments, but I was able to cobble together a collection of gear that does the trick.

While still not as warm as my 20 degree bag. I'm able to sleep in reasonable comfort down into the 20's. My quilt is over a pound lighter than the sleeping bag.


Edited by rmoak on 07/05/2008 11:28:09 MDT.

Nia Schmald
(nschmald) - MLife
Re: Bag v Quilt on 07/05/2008 11:31:54 MDT Print View

It's actually the higher fill bags that have the greatest weight difference. For 20F rated bags the Nunatak Alpinist is 20 oz compared to the WM ultralite at 29 oz. A 9 oz difference is significant in my book. Subtract on 1-2 oz for a hood and I still have about 1/2 lb difference.

I've just switched to a quilt (golite ultra) and it does take a little practice. The first night out I continually got drafts as a role. I switch between back and side sleeping throughout the night. But after a couple of nights I got better at the technique of holding the quilt in place as I rolled to eliminate the drafts. And, with a little more practice, I think I can eliminate the drafts so I'm happy with an extra 1/2 lb off my back.

I agree that when pushing the temperature rating of a quilt it is just as confining and more fiddly than a mummy bag as it takes a technique to move without cold drafts. But with a successful technique they are equivalent in terms of warmth with the quilt being much lighter. And trading technique for weight is what this site is all about.

James, I got to say that using the mummy bag for minimal bottom insulation because you can't reliably stay on your sleeping pad seems a bit silly. Wouldn't it be better to use a few oz to get a wider/better pad that you can stay on through the night?

Edited by nschmald on 07/05/2008 11:33:58 MDT.

Richard Scruggs
(JRScruggs) - MLife

Locale: Oregon
Bag vs Quilt: No Myth on 07/05/2008 13:05:24 MDT Print View

Quilting does not rest on irrationality. Whether to quilt or not to quilt depends on individual preference, skill, technique, metabolism, and circumstance. For example, to adequately protect from elements, tarping usually mean incorporation of a bivy sack. With a bivy, one of the quilt's "drawbacks" -- occasional drafts that creep under a shifting quilt -- is greatly ameliorated, if not eliminated entirely. And weight saved by a quilt vs a bag remains intact under a tarp since a bag-using tarper would likely also use a bivy to protect the bag from elements.

Aside from eliminating drafts, it would appear that a quilt's warmth is enhanced by use of a bivy that helps to confine, conserve body warmth. Also rational to carry but a single item (balaclava) that's useful both as a "hood" with a quilt and for warmth at other times.

After all, a sleeping bag's hood is pretty cumbersome to wear while on the trail or around camp.

What works for some doesn't make it best for all. Nor for the same person for every circumstance. Otherwise, there wouldn't be vast varieties of every type of gear available on the market. And no need to figure what to use, when to use it, where to use it, and how to use it. No more fun.


Pamela Wyant
(RiverRunner) - F - M
Comparing Highlite to Ghost on 07/05/2008 13:07:17 MDT Print View

The Highlite is not exactly a good comparison to the Ghost. Based on the way each company rates their product there is only a 3 degree difference, but there is basically a 1/2 inch loft difference (2" on ghost, 3.5" on Highlite which is split between the top and bottom).

The Highlite also has only a half zip which really limits venting options in warmer weather.

I love my custom Ghost, which Tom made for me with an ounce less down and slightly shorter baffles as a summer quilt.

The advantage of using a quilt with extra clothing to extend the temperature range is that you can still be wearing some of your warmth when you get up in the morning. Generally folks will take a jacket and hat at least and maybe some base layer pants to wear around camp in the evenings and mornings. So you can use what you are packing anyway to carry less sleeping insulation than you normally would. It works great for me. I love not dreading that moment of opening the sleeping bag to face losing all the warmth I built up during the night.

I think the secret for me at least on a quilt is not cutting the girth too close, which is why I went with the wider Ghost than the lighter but narrower Edge. I seldom have issues with losing heat to drafts. It's no more of an issue than having compressed my sleeping bag underneath and then rolling over and having a cold spot on my hip where the insulation was compressed, and having to wait to warm up until it lofts again.

I liked my WM Ultralite, but have always felt confined in it if I fastened it all the way up, so I was usually using it in 'quilt' mode anyway.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Bag v Quilt on 07/05/2008 13:29:58 MDT Print View

Hah! No, I wasn't comparing MityLite:Ghost. Was HighLite:Ghost. Highlite 16oz: Ghost 14oz.

If only I could add a SUL zipper on the other side of the MityLite and make it 1/2...:)

If I've ruffled any feathers ;), didn't mean to. Just enjoy playing devil's advocate/stimulating conversation. I'm brand new to this community, and absolutely love seeing what everyone has to say.

For the record, (1) I don't work for WM :) (2) Ultralite 6' is 26 oz. Ghost is 21; w/down balaclava 25 (suspecting that few would use down balaclava??). Realize most would wear fleece hat @ an ounce, though... I do like the "walk around in warmth idea..."

Edited by 4quietwoods on 07/05/2008 13:41:03 MDT.

Pamela Wyant
(RiverRunner) - F - M
No ruffled feathers here on 07/05/2008 18:01:41 MDT Print View


It's through discussions like these that we learn, so you've done a great service I think.

Some will never be comfortable sleeping with a quilt. Others will find them the best thing since sliced bread. It's good to get both perspectives for those considering making the move.

I think Ron had a very good point - even those who have primarily used a sleeping bag as a quilt may have a bit of an adjustment period getting used to sleeping under a narrower girth quilt. And I think not going too narrow, at least at first, is a real help. For those thinking about making a move, the Ray Jardine quilt kits are relatively inexpensive. That's what I first went to before investing in my Ghost. Now I use it as a loaner or for my grandkids, both of which it's perfect for being synthetic and easily washed. If you have beginner sewing skills (or a good friend/spouse that sews) it's a good way to test the water without spending a lot of cash.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Best of BOTH worlds on 07/05/2008 18:31:11 MDT Print View

I agree that a quilt's place is summer sleeping.

I have a WM Megalite BAG. On hot nights I unzip it full length, tuck the foot of my full length UL Thermarest in my bag's foot & have a great night's sleep using it as a quilt.

That said, I'd ALWAYS want a bag on any night colder than 70 F.

With lightweight long polyester underwear & stocking hat I've slept comfortably in that Megalite bag at 22 F.
Try THAT in a summer quilt!

P.S. I must add that THE most comfortable night's sleep I've had in the outdoors is the 1st time (& succeeding times)I used my summer mummy bag as a quilt. So I can thoroughly relate to why people like quilts and use 'em when they can.

Edited by Danepacker on 07/07/2008 21:45:07 MDT.

Stephen Morse
(scmorse1) - MLife

Locale: Bay area
Highlite vs. Ghost on 07/05/2008 18:40:32 MDT Print View

Just curious, is 1/2 the Highlite's down on the bottom? If so, seems like the Ghost would be warmer.

I have a custom Ghost (1.5" baffles) I use for hammock camping. It is much easier to get into than my sleeping bag. It's also easier to regulate the temperature.

Edited by scmorse1 on 07/05/2008 18:41:24 MDT.