Budget
Backpacking Quilts:
A Little Guide For 2020

Updated May 2020. A backpacking quilt is an excellent lightweight and versatile alternative to the traditional sleeping bag. And it’s possible to find a quality one for little more than 100$.

Combine it with a budget pad and tarp tent, and you can have a sub 2 kg / 4.5 lbs sleeping system without breaking the bank.

How Do
Backpacking Quilts Work?

For those unfamiliar with backpacking quilts, they are essentially sleeping bags without a hood that remain partially open underneath. Insulation keeps you warm by trapping air around your body. With a regular sleeping bag, your weight compresses much of the bag underneath you. Therefore, that part doesn’t contribute much towards keeping you warm. Instead, quilts wrap around the sides your body but leave the job of insulating you from the ground fully to your camping mattress.
backpacking quilts open closed
Like a big sliced-open sausage

Quilts also forego hoods. Yes, you do loose a lot of heat from your head. Instead, backpacking quilts can be cinched tightly around your neck. But if it gets cold you’ll have to wear a hat, or put on a jacket with a hood. Or buy a separate down hood.

The foot area can generally be completely enclosed like on regular sleeping bags. After all feet get cold easily. But you also often have the option to fully open the foot box, thus transforming the quilt into a big rectangular blanket.

backpacking Quilts
Vs Mummy Sleeping Bags:
Advantages

Both quilts and regular mummy sleeping bags have their fans. However, if you are after an ultralight sleeping system, you’ll learn to appreciate quilts. Here’s why.

quilt camping sinai egypt
Lots of warmth for little weight and bulk. SInai desert in winter, Egypt.

Lightweight. With a stripped-down design, backpacking quilts have an excellent warmth to weight ratio. For just over half a kilo or 20 oz, you can already get a rating of 0°C / 30°F. If you go for premium loft, it’s even lighter. Only the fanciest mummy sleeping bags come close to that.

Compact. Fewer materials also mean less bulk. For the same temperature rating, quilts take a lot less space than regular bags.

Versatile. Open it up fully to make a big blanket. Perfect for snuggling under. Or to supplement thin hotel blankets. Keep it partially open for maximum comfort during warmer nights. Wrap it tightly around your body when it gets cold. Use it with a down jacket you’ll carry anyway in winter to push it beyond its temperature rating.

Backpacking Quilts
Vs Mummy Sleeping Bags:
Limitations

Complex. To trap warm air efficiently, quilts need to be attached correctly to the pad. Especially if you toss around a lot. Different brands use different attachment systems. Some are better than others, but none beat the simplicity of zipping up a mummy bag.

IMG_0354_4
Old-school fun with mummy sleeping bags in Tasmania, Australia

No hood. Hoods add a lot of warmth. If it gets surprisingly cold and you don’t have a decent hat or jacket with a warm hood to wear, you’re in for an uncomfortable night. You can purchase separate down hoods, but that somewhat defies the point of quilts.

Expensive. Quilts are a niche market. Many products cater to the premium ultralight segment, with high quality loft. And the price tag that comes with it. Fortunately, there are always a few exception. Currently, the Hammock Gear Economy Quilt offers the most bang for the buck.

Tips for buying
a Backpacking quilt

Insulation. Down or synthetic? Most down suppliers now apply a durable hydrophobic treatment. That means that down quilts cope better with damp conditions, loosing little loft and drying quickly. But if it gets really wet, only synthetic insulation will keep you warm. And new materials are slowly catching up on down’s warmth-to-weight ratio too. However, unless you expect to get drenched regularly, treated down is still the best option.

Boxed Vs Sewn-Through Baffles. The design of the chambers containing the down or synthetic insulation is crucial. Stitched-through is cheaper and lighter to produce than a boxed construction, but leads to cold spots, especially in older quilts.

snow hole winter camping himalayas india
Will you face damp conditions regularly? Snow cave in the Himalayas, India.

Temperature Rating. A 5°C / 40°F rating is enough for 3-season use for most. For high altitude trekking and light winter use -12°C / 10°F  is generally adequate. Wearing thermal underwear and a hat will add a few degrees. And a good down jacket with a big hood can extend the temperature range it even further. Also don’t neglect ground insulation. A cold bag on a warm pad is better than the other way around. Finally keep in mind that unlike European norms, American temperature ratings aren’t standardized. They can feel optimistic, especially for women and cold sleepers.

Durability. Down is still the winner, with easily a decade of use if you take good care of your gear. But even down gradually loses loft. It’s better to get a slightly warmer bag. It will keep you toasty and comfortable for longer. Only compress your bag when necessary, and beware of humid storage conditions in tropical countries!

Top Budget Down
Backpacking Quilt:
Hammock Gear
Economy Burrow

By far the best value currently available among the growing number of custom quilt manufacturers. The Economy Burrow is custom made, and starts at 140$ for a 5°C / 40°F quilt. It features horizontal boxed baffles, a zippered foot box, can be opened fully, and checks in at 480g / 17oz. You can go all the way down to -17°C / 0°F for 850g / 30oz and 220$. The drawcords used to attach it to the pad are a bit fiddly, but the overall quality and design is good.

A shiny new Economy Burrow

Hammock Gear uses cheaper 800-fill power duck down. It’s ethically sourced and has a hydrophobic treatment. The biggest downside is that it’s 10-20% heavier for the same temperature rating than quilts that use premium goose down. But the competition is also at least twice as expensive.

Bottom line, the Economy Burrow is an easy choice for a budget quality ultralight sleeping system. The one big drawback is that if you don’t live in the US, you might end up paying a lot in shipping and import duties.

Top Budget Synthetic
Backpacking Quilt:
Enlightened Equipment
Revelation APEX

Another great custom made quilt, the Revelation APEX has vertical boxed baffles, opens fully and comes with a zippered foot box. The pad attachment system is simple and works well. A 5°C / 40°F rating will set you back 180$ and weighs 510 g / 18 oz.

enlightened equipment revelation backpacking quilt
The trusty Enlightened Equipment Revelation

The synthetic insulation will keep you warm when wet. It’s also relatively cheap compared to down, so more insulation doesn’t affect much the price tag. The warmest model of the range has a -6°C / 10°F rating for 220$, but weighs 850 g / 30 oz.

Enlightened Equipment also deserves a mention for the highly popular standard Revelation quilt with high quality treated 850-fill goose down. We’ve used one almost continuously for over 4 years and it’s still in good shape. It’s more expensive than the Economy Burrow, setting you back 255$ for a 5°C / 40°F model, and weighs 450 g / 16 oz. But it’s still excellent value for a quality product in a world where the competition sells comparable quilts for 300-400$.

Top Ultra-Budget Down
Backpacking Quilt:
Asta Gear

Sometimes Chinese manufacturers make good value products, if you overlook that most have been heavily “inspired” by established models. That’s definitely the case for some tarp tents. Here, Aliexpress also has a few potential candidates, namely the Ice Flame 7D, the Asta Gear, and the Aegismax quilt with the somewhat unfortunate name Wind Hard.

The Windhard, at around 120$ (incl. shipping) for 450 g / 16 oz and a 7°C / 45°F rating disqualify itself with the sewn-through baffle design. Same for the Ice Flame 20D sells at 110$ for a claimed comfort temperature of 5°C / 40°F and 620 g/ 22 oz.

asta gear quilt
Looks familiar? The Asta Gear. Photo: Aliexpress

The Asta Gear quilt, another Enlightened Equipment Revelation clone, does however come with boxed baffles. Plus a highly debatable “innovation”: a hole around the crotch area to convert it into a poncho. The 5°C / 40°F model weighs 660 g / 23.3 oz. However, at 85$ including shipping (but without any import duties), this is a more serious contender. The –5°C / 23°F version costs 115$, but also weighs 900 g / 32 oz. That’s starting to get very heavy for a quilt.

Asta Gear uses cheap 700-fill duck down. More importantly, like the other Aliexpress quilts, it doesn’t feature the crucial hydrophobic treatment. 

The final verdict? The Asta Gear is a decent effort for a sub-100$ quilt, which would be much better (and a little  lighter) without the potential cold spot around the crotch area. Nevertheless, the lower quality insulation will be an issue in damp climates, and might affect durability. If you can afford it, stick with the Econ Burrow.