Katabatic Sawatch 15 Quilt and Crestone Hood Review

Very warm, quality gear from a cottage manufacturer dedicated to innovative lightweight sleeping solutions.

Hightly Recommended

Overall Rating: Highly Recommended

The updated Sawatch 15 quilt gets the Highly Recommended rating; without the improved snaps at the neck it would only get Recommended. The Crestone Hood gets a Recommended rating; with an openable neck it would get a Highly Recommended rating. However, you need to be sure you actually need the Crestone Hood as it is very warm and really only suitable for extreme conditions.
The Sawatch may be usefully compared to the less expensive GoLite UltraLite 3-Season quilt of the same weight or the more expensive Nunatak Arc Alpinist of slightly less weight. Neither of the latter feature a neck muff or a means of holding the quilt down to the top of the mat, and the Sawatch is rated for slightly colder temperatures.

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by Roger Caffin |

Introduction

Katabatic Sawatch 15 Quilt and Crestone Hood Review  - 1
Sawatch 15 Quilt.

Katabatic Gear is a small cottage industry set up 'to build the finest ultralight sleeping bags available,' and the Sawatch 15 is their middle offering (they are working on a quilt for even colder conditions). While rated to 15 F (-9 C), they only call it their 'three season workhorse.' This has got to be different from some other bag manufacturers who notoriously hype their offerings to temperature extremes. The Crestone hood is described as 'our warmest lightweight hood, ideal when extra head insulation is needed.'

Neither of these items feature any of the usual mass-market gimmicks, but the quilt does have an interesting method of stopping drafts from getting in at the sides: it has (patent pending) clips to hold the sides down onto strings tied around your air mat. Yes, they assume you will be using an air mat at the temperatures this quilt is designed for.

I field tested the Sawatch 15 and the Crestone Hood on a couple of trips in the Australian Alps during the winter and early spring. Unfortunately both trips had to be aborted part-way through, before I had done any serious photography, so many of the photos used in this review are derived from the Katabatic Gear website. Those photos have 'KG' in the corner. (The first ski trip was aborted as I needed stitches in my knee. The second trip was aborted as we could not cross the flooded rivers.)

We do not award the Highly Recommended rating lightly: gear needs to be very good to get this rating. However, you should remember that 'highly recommended' does not mean 'perfect' - no gear is ever perfect. I have commented on some fringe features, but commentary is not the same as criticism.

Technical Details - Sawatch Quilt

The fabric used in the quilt and hood is Pertex Quantum: none of your cheap Asian taffeta here. Trust me, it feels very nice. The goose down is rated at 850 loft on the enhanced IDFL USA scale, or 750 - 800 on the more realistic European scale. (The enhanced IDFL scale relies on an unrealistic conditioning process to get a higher score, principally for marketing purposes. Neither the birds nor the down has really changed, however.)

Katabatic Sawatch 15 Quilt and Crestone Hood Review  - 3
Details underneath.

The quilt is made with proper internal baffles and a differential cut. The foot end is closed into a footbox, which is really the only way to keep the bottom end of a quilt under control. They claim to have 'overstuffed' the tubes around the footbox so your feet are toasty, but I don't think this is the best way to keep your feet warm. However, the weight of the extra down used is probably barely measurable, and perhaps it will help people with poor circulation.

Beyond the foot box (going towards the neck) the quilt opens up in the usual quilt manner, and a short way up there's an adjustable webbing across the gap (yellow line at left). Personally, I think the buckle could be dispensed with, as I cannot see anyone doing much adjustment. The design simply does not allow for much sensible adjustment, but this does not affect the quilt.

Further up the sides again there are two sets of small plastic clips (red lines): these form the patent pending attachment which is meant to hold the edges of the quilt down to the mat. The picture helps tell the story. The idea is that these clips will hold the edges of the quilt down against the mat to prevent drafts. Since mats don't provide anything to attach to, the quilt comes with two sets of string (one set is a spare) which you tie around the mat to make the anchorages. It is an innovative idea.

In addition, there are extra clips on the outside (top side) of the quilt in just a bit from the edge (green lines). The idea here is that if you are still getting drafts when using the clips on the edge of the quilt, you should switch to using the outer clips, leaving a sort of 'baffle' along the edge to block the drafts. Doing so reduces the width of the quilt a fair bit.

You might ask why not use tapes under the mat to hold the edges of the quilt down? Katabatic claim that using tapes under the mat leaves an air gap down the sides of the quilt which can let drafts in: 'Your precious body heat is spent trying to warm this draft tunnel, which leaves less body heat for you.' Instead, the clips allow the quilt to be tucked in much closer to your body. I'll disagree with part of this: the energy required to heat the small volume of air is utterly trivial. However, if you toss and turn a bit, any air space could definitely be conducive to drafts. At -10 C (14 F), drafts are definitely to be avoided. On the second trip to the mountains, I did not always bother with the strings around the mat, relying instead on my experience with a quilt to avoid getting drafts at the sides. That made it easier to get under the quilt, as seen in the first photo below. More on this in a moment.

Katabatic also claim that tapes under the mat 'can also cause compressed insulation at your shoulder and hip. All this conspires to leave you cold.' That is because the tapes tend to stretch a narrow quilt across your body. I will only partly go along with this idea: the use of a differential cut should prevent any squashing of the down over the high point of your body. However, quite often 'should' does not work too well in the middle of the night when the quilt is only just wide enough. What may be more important here is that this quilt is wide enough to avoid drafts.

I have to mention here that my normal three-season quilt is much wider than this one, so the problems described don't happen with it. Frankly, I think that you might get more joy from adding 6 inches of extra width to your quilt than any fancy methods of holding the edges down. Having a wide quilt means I can drape it partly over my wife when the nights are very cold and share warmth with her. Of course, such extra width does mean extra weight, so things are not that simple, and the Katabatic solution does work. Please note that I am not implying that this quilt is too narrow: that is not part of my field observations.

Katabatic Sawatch 15 Quilt and Crestone Hood Review  - 4
About to go to sleep.

Katabatic Sawatch 15 Quilt and Crestone Hood Review  - 5
The neck muff.

The top end of the quilt has two interesting features. The first is that the corners of the quilt can be connected under your neck to bring the quilt around your neck and shoulders. That gives it a 'bag' type of neck. You can see the single snap used in the above photo. There is also a draw cord around the neck which can be tightened once the snap has been done up. The second feature is based on the first: there is a down baffle or 'neck muff' around the neck to block drafts. This would be relatively useless if the top was just open like a quilt on a bed, but we all know that neck muffs are quite popular on warmer sleeping bags. It works fine here.

The Sawatch 15 does not have an attached hood. Personally, I like an attached or integral hood on my quilt: my head goes under it and I can manipulate it however I want. Instead, Katabatic offer the Crestone hood or the Windom hood. How well this works is discussed later.

Katabatic Sawatch 15 Quilt and Crestone Hood Review  - 2
Crestone Hood.

Finally, in a very nice touch, the quilt comes with its own large cotton storage sack, to keep it clean at home.

Technical Details - Crestone Hood

The Crestone hood is the top of the Katabatic line of hoods, with almost double the amount of down compared to the Windom. It looks just like a conventional balaclava with a longish neck region, but with a rather small opening for the face. It has a draw-cord around the face and two detachable loops of light cord going from the front to the back. These hook under your arms to keep the hood on your head.

Katabatic do make a 'lighter' hood with a larger opening for the face. I mention this here for reasons which will soon become apparent.

Field Assessment - Sawatch

Frankly, hauling the Sawatch out of the stuff sack I was using for it each evening was a pleasure. It feels nice, and I knew I would be warm under it.

The overstuffed footbox worked fine, although I have a bit of a bias against believing the usual footbox marketing spin. My experience has always been that having a good dinner, a good mat under me, a warm head and no restrictions around my legs is usually quite enough. Yes, I have tried breaking each of those rules, and I regretted it every time. But anyhow, under the Sawatch, my feet were always warm with or without socks. The photo here was taken early in the morning in a mountain hut: nice morning sun, but those metal huts do get cold overnight!

Katabatic Sawatch 15 Quilt and Crestone Hood Review  - 6
Early morning in a mountain hut.

The tape across the gap worked fine. As mentioned above, it does not seem to warrant the buckle for adjustment. But of course, it works with no attention.

I am in two minds about the clips which fasten onto the string around the mat. Yes, I found that they do work to keep the edge of the quilt down, but... First of all, with both sets (call them top and middle) done up, it is a bit hard to sit up. The top clips drag the mat up as well. Also, once or twice I did notice the clips under me. I am not sure why, because with a bit of a shove and a wiggle the clips ceased to be noticeable.

Second, doing up the clips was always a bit of a hassle at the last minute. There I am, lying down in the dark, and I have to hook the clips onto the string - if I can find the clips and the string. First find a clip, then find the opening in the clip, then find the string. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I just didn't bother, as shown in the previous photo. My wife reckons I fall asleep very quickly in the evening.

I am sure the top clips came undone from the string a couple of times. I thought I had done them up before going to sleep, but at least one of them was undone in the morning. Eventually I reached a compromise with the clips when I used them: I did up the bottom clips before I lay down but not the top clips. This seemed to work fine.

It is worth emphasising a point here: even without the clips the quilt was wide enough to keep me nicely warm. That means that the 'system' is not critically dependent on the clips. I doubt very much that the clips would break under normal field use: the plastic is of a high quality. But even if one did break, it would not be a disaster. In addition, as mentioned below, the latest model of the Sawatch has a backup for the clips.

I mentioned the width of the quilt above. With the clips all done up I didn't experience any draft, so I didn't need to resort to the outer set of clips (the ones with the green pointers). Personally, I doubt they are needed - at least for someone as slim as me (62 kg). And yes, I did find the quilt wide enough that I didn't have any problems with drafts when I turned over - even without the clips. Mind you, I am not a 'clutcher' - when I turn over, I do so under the quilt, leaving it in place. It's practice: you wake up about 10% and turn over, then relax back to sleep.

The neck opening on the unit I had for testing proved less successful. It was very nice when done up around my neck, with the baffle stopping drafts, but the snap came undone rather easily. Doing the snap up in the middle of the night was never easy. I found this a bit frustrating, but see below for what Katabatic have done to fix this.

Katabatic Sawatch 15 Quilt and Crestone Hood Review  - 7
New snaps on neck.

So a preliminary assessment is that the quilt is very nice and warm, but the technical features didn't seem entirely successful on the unit I tested. However, Katabatic were aware of these problems and the company sent me an update, which I will quote in full. The new features should be current by the time you read this.

  • Elastic binding around the bottom opening prevents possible gaps and drafts and stabilizes the cord clips, keeping them more securely attached to the cord.
  • Webbing straps and attachment loops in addition to the cord clip attachment system allows bag to be used like a traditional quilt-style bag and allows the option of being used without a sleeping pad.
  • Two snaps at neck closure with reinforced material [see photo to right] provides more overlap for a better sealing collar and improves long term durability in this high strain area.

Total increase in weight for all this was estimated by Katabatic at about 0.5 ounce. I am not sure about the need for the first two modifications, but the double snaps will definitely give an improvement in holding power. (Double snaps seem to give more than just twice the holding power - something to do with how the pull is aligned with the snaps.) I think the double snaps solve the only significant criticism I had, and they are responsible for changing my initial rating from 'Recommended' to 'Highly Recommended'.

Field Assessment - Crestone

Katabatic Sawatch 15 Quilt and Crestone Hood Review  - 8
Small opening on Crestone hood.

There is no question that the Crestone hood is suitable for very cold weather. But therein lies a problem: it is sometimes too hot and sometimes the wrong shape.

Above about -10 C (14 F), I found it rather too warm. This created two problems in the field. The first was that face opening is fixed and not large. There is no way to vent this hood. The second is that this warmth means I need to carry a lighter hood or head covering as well, for those nights or times when the Crestone is too hot, but going bare-headed is too cold.

A subsidiary problem is that the face opening is small. I tried to eat dinner with this hood on, but the risks were just too high. I did not want stew all over the hood (from dripping off the under-side of the spoon!). This is another reason why this hood alone is not enough kit even in fairly cold weather: it may be good for sleeping, but not for dinner time.

Unfortunately the seam is at the back, or I might have unpicked it and added some Velcro to make a closure. It would still be possible to do this if you are willing to cut the fabric and handle the down. There's lots of it in there!

I had no problems with the loops under the arms. They seemed a bit strange at first, but I think I forgot all about them five minutes later. I also tried sleeping without putting the loops under my arms, and that worked as well. The shape of the hood meant it did stay aligned with my head when I turned over. I didn't need to adjust the lengths of the under-arm draw-cords: I left them at full length. I didn't find any need to tighten the face draw-cord either, although I did not get down to extremely cold conditions.

The above might sound like criticisms of the hood, but really they are more comments about the philosophy of 'flexibility.' The reality is that you cannot expect to use the same gear over the full range from -30 C to 10 C (-22 F to 50 F). The Crestone is a lovely hood for really cold weather, but most people just won't need it. Frankly, I would suggest that most people would be better served by the lighter Windom hood with its larger face opening. It would be warm enough. In mild conditions a fleece hat might do well enough, but that is outside the scope of this review.

I do suggest that Katabatic should consider making the front of their hoods openable under the chin, or perhaps offer a similar model which does open under the chin. That would solve a lot of problems.

Summary

This is all high-class gear. The version of the Sawatch 15F which I field tested had one minor nit (the snap) which needed fixing, but the nit seems to be largely fixed in later models. The Crestone hood is hot, and you should seriously consider whether you need something that warm. If you do, then no question! A model with an opening under the chin would be nice, and yes, I will be using these items on snow trips in the future.

The Sawatch may be compared to the GoLite UltraLite 3-Season quilt or the Nunatak Arc Alpinist. The figures quoted here for the latter two are from their websites and are for the Regular/Medium sizes, to match the Sawatch tested. Exact matches between brands are never possible, of course.

  Sawatch UltraLite 3-Season Arc Alpinist
Weight 24 oz (690 g) 24 oz (690 g) 20 oz (570 g)
Height to 6 ft to 6 ft to 5 ft 10 in
Girth 52 in 56 in 55 in
Rating 15 F (-9 C) 20 F (-7 C) 20 F (-7 C)
Neck Muff Yes No No
Down 850 FP 800+ 800+ FP
Fill Weight 15 oz (425 g) 11.8 oz (335 g) 11 oz (312 g)
Loft 3.25 in (82.5 mm) 2.5 in (63.5 mm) 2.5 in (63.5 mm)
Outer Shell Quantum 0.85 oz 15 denier nylon Quantum
Inner Shell Quantum Taffeta 22 denier polyester 20 denier nylon taffeta
Hold-down Clip system 2 straps 2 straps
Price US$370 US$275 US$426

None of the companies state on their websites how the temperature rating for their quilts have been tested: to the reliable EN13537 standard or to some other standard.

The Sawatch is narrower than the other two, but the patent pending clip system used on it seems to be very capable of stopping any side drafts. The difference in width is not great, in any case.

Technical Details

Sawatch 15F Manufacturer claims BPL measurements
Size Regular (to 6 ft or 1.83 m)  
Shell Fabric Pertex Quantum Ripstop .85oz/sqyd  
Liner Fabric Pertex Quantum Taffeta 1.0oz/sqyd  
Weight 24 oz (680 g) 24.2 oz (686 g)
Down 850 loft goose down (USA scale)  
Fill weight 15 oz (425 g)  
Loft 3.25 in (82.5 mm)  
Length 72 in (1.83 m) OK
Shoulder Width (max) 52 in (1.32 m) (>50 in)
Packed size 8 x 14 in (200 x 355 mm)  
Stuff sack 0.64 oz (18 g)  
Price US$370  
Notes: Manufacturer weights are accurate. Length, width and loft depend on how tightly you stretch the fabric.

Crestone Manufacturer claims BPL measurements
Size Just one  
Shell Fabric Pertex Quantum Ripstop .85oz/sqyd  
Liner Fabric Pertex Quantum Taffeta 1.0oz/sqyd  
Weight 2 oz (57 g) 2.08 oz (59 g)
Down 850 loft goose down (USA scale)  
Fill weight 0.9 oz (25 g)  
Price US$79  
Notes: Manufacturer weights are accurate. Length, width and loft depend on how tightly you stretch the fabric.
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.

Citation

"Katabatic Sawatch 15 Quilt and Crestone Hood Review ," by Roger Caffin. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/katabatic_sawatch_quilt_crestone_hood_review.html, 2011-02-22 00:05:00-07.

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Katabatic Sawatch 15 Quilt and Crestone Hood Review
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john Tier
(Peter_pan) - M

Locale: Co-Owner Jacks 'R' Better, LLC, VA
Relative savings on 03/04/2011 16:25:53 MST Print View

John,

I used the term "relative" to relate the savings of a quilt nominally 52 inches wide over a bag nominally 62 inches wide and having a zipper when all other things, ie type material, same fill, same loft are equal...The quilt will weigh less by proportion.

Pan

Rakesh Malik
(Tamerlin)

Locale: Cascadia
Re: Relative savings on 03/08/2011 11:11:27 MST Print View

"I used the term "relative" to relate the savings of a quilt nominally 52 inches wide over a bag nominally 62 inches wide and having a zipper when all other things, ie type material, same fill, same loft are equal...The quilt will weigh less by proportion."

That's very true. A lot of the folks on the Kilimanjaro trip two weeks ago were surprised at how light my Blackwelder was -- most of the zero-degree bags on the trip weighed close to 4 pounds.

It was plenty warm. I'd recommend it if you're looking for a zero-degree bag. I used it with a Crestone hood.

Anthony Weston
(anthonyweston) - MLife

Locale: Southern CA
Sawatch on 02/11/2012 18:27:34 MST Print View

I don't own a Sawatch quilt but I slept in one. The clips are well worth getting used to; I'm a cold sleeper and they stop the drafts and make it very close to sleeping in a bag. I compared the Sawatch to 15 degree Marmot Helium. The Sawatch was quite a bit warmer, it had more loft and was cut narrower. I'm 44" at the chest; it was regular Sawatch. The Helium had more comfort, the roomy cut meant it didn't heat up as fast in warmer weather but it also 32 oz instead of 24 oz and you can always let the quilt drap over you without the clips/snaps. The quality of Sawatch is top of the line, bar none. Quilts are great just because you can seal the warmth in at your neck and no condensation from your breath gets in the bag.

Edited by anthonyweston on 02/11/2012 18:53:04 MST.

Kenneth Lotts
(aa7jc) - MLife

Locale: SE AZ
Good Gear on 06/23/2012 19:16:52 MDT Print View

I bought this quilt a month ago for a trip into the Absoroka-Beartooth Wilderness. The trip got cut short but I did use the quilt for about 8 nights just car camping. I am 5'9" and weigh about 160.

I was a bit worried based on the comments in the review that the quilt would be annoyingly narrow but when it arrived I was relieved that it was more than adequate for me. On the trip I never even bothered to use the supplied clips.

The only thing I can say negative is that it is very pricey but on the flip side, it is very well made and well designed.. I did not feel cheated.

Again this is good gear.