Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sleeping Bag vs. Quilt

I asked my mother-in-law if I could borrow her sewing machine for a couple days because I don't have one of my own.  She asked me what I needed it for, so I told her, "I'm making a quilt."  Some other family members happened to hear the conversation and said, "Is Kelsey making it or are you?"  "No, I'm making it.  She's working," I answered, a little uneasy about where this conversation was headed.  So now I'm the joke in the family because I stay home and sew quilts while Kelsey is working hard to support our family.  They've mostly forgotten about it now, but I'm sure this blog post will remind them.

Anyway, I was sewing a quilt for backpacking and climbing.  I made this quilt about 8 months ago after my 45 degree down sleeping bag blew away along with my tent in the Cirque of the Towers, Wind Rivers.  That was an expensive trip.

The Philosophy

The philosophy behind a sleeping quilt instead of a sleeping bag is pretty simple.  A sleeping bag provides warmth to your body by trapping air that is then heated by your body.  The loft in the sleeping bag insulation is what traps the 'dead' air.  The more loft, the warmer the bag, generally.

So, when you are laying in a sleeping bag, your body compresses the insulation and it is not able to trap air that your body can warm.  That's why it's so important to sleep on a pad.  Well, if the pad is giving the insulation but the compressed insulation from the bag is not doing much, that is just extra weight for nothing.  So, somebody decided to cut the bottom out of a sleeping bag, forget the zipper, and voila, the sleeping quilt was born.

Other companies have used this philosophy to make quilts and lightweight sleeping bags.  Some of these companies include Nunatak (, Jacks 'R' Better (, and Golite (  Using this same philosophy, Big Agnes makes their sleeping bags with a pad sleeve on the bottom of the bag instead of insulation.  Their bags are still fully enclosed with a zipper.

Our Homemade Quilts

Phil made a quilt quite a few years ago to replace an old sleeping bag.  I made my quilt about 8 months ago to replace my lost sleeping bag.  Phil's quilt is down and baffled, my quilt is primaloft and quilted.
My Quilt.  It's made with two layers of 60g primaloft over the torso, and a single layer over the legs.  I stay comfortable to about 40 degrees, but I'm a pretty warm sleeper.  With insulated pants (MHW Compressors), booties (Homemade Primaloft), and a belay jacket (Rab Neutrino), I can stay comfortable to about 15 degrees.  0 degrees is pushing it with this and my other layers, but it'll do it.  This also adds about 20 degrees while added to another sleeping bag.  This quilt weighs 16oz without the strings.  I added the strings to help it stay on top of the pad and keep out drafts.  It cost about $120 for materials.

Phil's Quilt.  He has been using this for all four seasons for quite a few years now (5+).  He used a 30 denier (approx) water-resistant rip-stop nylon for the shell and about 850 fill-power down.  The down he bought was 900 fp down, but that is a best-possible-condition measurement.  In the real world it is closer to about 850 fp.  This quilt will keep him warm to about 30 degrees without his other layers, and to about 0 degrees with compressor pants and Rab Neutrino.  This quilt weighs 21oz, according to my scale.

There are sleeping bags on the market that have similar temperature ratings for similar weights, but they are usually much more expensive than what we were able to make our quilts for.  Or, there are sleeping bags for similar prices and similar temp ratings, but heavier.

For example, the warmth and weight of Phil's quilt would be comparable to the Western Mountaineering Megalite.  Phil made his quilt for about $180, the Megalite retails for $390 in a regular.

The warmth and price of my quilt would be fairly comparable to Golite's RS1+ quilt.  I guess my quilt cost about $40 more.  My quilt weighs about 9oz less than the Golite however.  I'd pay $40 for a better insulation and 9oz less total weight.


Quilts are a good way to lose weight without losing warmth.  The companies that make high-end quilts are quite pricy, but then again so are high-end sleeping bags.  Quilts are relatively easy to make, especially because no zippers are involved.

Here are a couple good links for instructions on how to make a quilt:

And also:

It is important to note that quilts can be quite drafty in cold weather if you don't design a way to keep the quilt tight against the pad.  This isn't as noticeable at 45 degrees, but is very noticeable at 10 degrees. 

I usually like sleeping in quilts better than sleeping bags because I tend to get a little claustrophobic when my sleeping bag is zipped all the way up. 

With all that said, I still love Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends bags and hope to own one or two of each some day.  I own a couple Marmot bags that I really like and wouldn't get rid of, even though I use my quilt more and more.

1 comment:

  1. Where would you suggest I look to buy pre-filled, high-loft weather resistant fabric I can use to sew my own coat?

    Thanks for the help :-)