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Sleeping bags vs. quilts — What is the best option?

Inflating a sleeping pad

All photo credits: Josh Kirchner

Whether you are a backcountry hunter or not, having a solid sleep system should be on your radar. Getting a good night’s sleep out there is crucial for recovery and being able to hit it hard day after day. I feel more motivated, alert, and just happier overall when I sleep decently. The last thing that I want to worry about on a hunt is how exhausted or tired I am. An intricate part of that sleep system is going to be what you use to keep you warm at night, meaning whatever insulation that you either throw on top of you or wrap yourself in. You've got two options here. Sleeping bags or quilts? Which one is best for you? Let's take a closer look and, hopefully, by the end of this article, you'll have a better idea.

Sleeping bags

Packing a sleeping bag

I think it's safe to say that most of us have had experience with the classic rectangular and mummy style sleeping bags. I grew up using an old rectangular Coleman bag and beat that thing into the ground. Since those days of old, gear has come quite a ways and sleeping bags are no exception. My first high-end sleeping bag was a mummy style bag and I loved it. Having the ability to put that hood on and completely wrap myself up was comforting to me. Because of the close quarters within the bag, staying warm was never really an issue. This comes in handy during the late fall/winter months. If you plan on spending a lot of nights out at those times, a mummy bag is a great option for you. These bags will warm up pretty quick because there isn't a whole lot of space to warm up in there. Ever notice how there is a "cold" part in your roomy bed at home? That's because you only take up a certain amount of space. Most of the offerings these days are super lightweight as well. So you can get a whole lot of warmth for not a lot of pounds. Price though? That's another thing.

While mummy bags are warm and cozy, they are also confining. Quite a few times, I would wake up with a sore arm because it was scrunched up against the side of my bag all night. Instead of moving within the bag, mummy bags are designed for you to move with them. This is something to keep in mind if you are a side sleeper or toss and turn throughout the night. Then there is the task of working the zipper in the middle of the night. More than a few times I have found myself getting a snag out of the zipper when I could be sleeping. Another downer with high-end sleeping bags is going to be the price. The more lightweight and higher fill ratio (assuming you are using down), the more expensive. I have seen some mummy bags upwards of $800. While the specs are awesome, the price is not.

Pros

  • Tried and true choice
  • Awesome having a hood
  • Tight quarters make it easy to warm up (available in sub-zero temperature ratings)

Cons

  • Confining
  • Higher price

Quilts

Quilt sleeping system in tent

I started hearing about quilts a few years back and was intrigued right off of the bat. This was an ultralight and simple option for the backcountry enthusiast. Getting more lightweight is something that is always on my radar so this had my attention. Because the quilt lacks a bottom, this meant less material. Less material equals less weight and less room they will take up in my backpack. I was also skeptical of the whole thing. How could this beat my tried and true mummy bag that I could wrap myself up in like a burrito? Immediately, I started having doubts about not staying warm because of the lack of a bottom to this system. My concerns were merely because of my lack of education on the matter. So, let's start there.

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How does a quilt work?

Attaching quilt to sleeping pad

The thinking on a quilt goes like this: when we lay down on our sleeping pads (insulation between us and the ground) and compress the bottom of our sleeping bags, we are essentially voiding the insulation on the bottom of our bags. If we are doing away with that, why have it? And here lies the quilt. The quilt takes care of insulation on the top while the pad takes care of insulation on the bottom. A great combo. The quilt has a foot box—just like a mummy bag—and is thrown over you like a blanket. It can oftentimes attach to your sleeping pad so that you can "tuck yourself in" when it's colder out. I do this often in the late fall/winter. Another great thing is the price. Remember that $800 sleeping bag I mentioned with the awesome specs? For those same specs in a quilt, I paid $240. Big difference. You've also got ample room to sprawl out with one of these. A great route for side sleepers.

Quilt versus sleeping bag for hunting

Top view of a quilt and a sleeping bag.

Quilt versus sleeping bag for hunting bottom view

Bottom view of a quilt and a sleeping bag.

The one thing that I miss the most about my mummy bag has got to be the hood. I loved that for not only keeping my head warm, but I would also use that to hold my pillow. This ensured that the pillow didn't fall off of the pad in the middle of the night. The hood is something that the quilt lacks so if you are concerned about a cold head, you will have to wear a beanie or something. Something else to keep in mind is going to be the possibility of taking a draft. This is not your enclosed burrito like a mummy bag. Because of that, if you should toss around at night, you could open up one of the sides and take a draft. However, you do have the option to cinch the quilt around you more with the clips attached to the pad. Doing this should rectify any draft issues, but it is still something to think about.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Better price
  • More room to sprawl out and great for side sleepers

Cons

  • No hood
  • Could take a draft through the sides if not tucked in

Conclusion

Tent at night in mountains

While I have used both sleeping bags and quilts, I have landed on the fact that I prefer the quilts. My quilt weighs 19 oz. and takes up little room in my pack. I also have never had an issue staying warm with it. I do miss my hood on my mummy bag sometimes, but that is a luxury I am willing to part with. Whichever route you go, I think it is equally important to have a quality sleeping pad to pair with your bag or quilt. These really do make a big difference, especially when the temperatures drop. Make sure that you get a pad with a good R-Value. I prefer the inflatable style ones. The old school roll up foam pads is a game that I never looked back on once I switched to an inflatable one. Those foam pads are definitely not made for comfort so keep that in mind. We are trying to get the best rest that we can out there. All this talk about sleeping bags and quilts have me foaming at the mouth for fall! What are you going to rock this year? Sleeping bag or quilt?

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10 Comments

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Mark S. - posted 2 months ago on 09-16-2018 08:58:46 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

I used the EE -Revelation quilt for the first time this year and just finished a week in the ID backcountry. I did have a lightweight bivy sack that eliminated the draft issue spoken about in the article. Lot's of flexibility with the quilt. Love it.

Kenneth H. - posted 2 months ago on 09-16-2018 03:54:06 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Great article and wonderful timing! I just stopped myself from pulling the trigger on a new 0 degree mummy bag. Switching to the quilt....

travis h. - posted 2 months ago on 09-16-2018 12:23:33 pm

Enlightened quilt on a Therm-A-Rest xterm for me. Never slept better and cut 2lbs off my bag alone. I wrap them both in a mountain laurel design Bivey it all fits in a 12L stuffsac.

Sam Swenson_10211892316723610
Sam S. - posted 2 months ago on 09-16-2018 08:07:39 am
Kuna, ID

Enlightened Equipment (quilt maker) also makes a hood called the Hoodlum that you can buy separately to keep your head warm. Perfect for the quilt user.

neville
Chris N. - posted 2 months ago on 09-14-2018 03:34:23 pm
goHUNT Team

@ Jack k. For the Sea to Summit Ember you probably want to go with a Large. The max recommended length for the Regular is 6'0"

Ryan R. - posted 2 months ago on 09-14-2018 11:33:12 am
goHUNT INSIDER

I'm 6'2 and the Sierra Design Backcountry quilt is plent long, even when tucking my head into the hood. Great design feature!

Gary H. - posted 2 months ago on 09-14-2018 03:59:55 am
goHUNT INSIDER

Sooooooo let me get this straight. All this "New" talk about quilts and its a sleeping bag without a zipper? lol

Neil S. - posted 2 months ago on 09-13-2018 10:34:02 pm
Mesa,AZ
goHUNT INSIDER

It was your write up and video that convinced me to go with the EE-Revelation Quilt. Thanks Josh. Can’t wait to try it out!

james k. - posted 2 months ago on 09-13-2018 06:25:56 pm

Are you running the Sea to Summit Ember? Im 6'1 180# and wanted to know if its necessary to get the large version compared to the regular size?

james k. - posted 2 months ago on 09-13-2018 06:25:57 pm

Are you running the Sea to Summit Ember? Im 6'1 180# and wanted to know if its necessary to get the large version compared to the regular size?