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The best backpacking quilts are a combination of great design and comforting warmth, just like the cozy quilts you may already use at home.
But not all backpacking quilts have equal measures of these highly desirable things.
In case you're new to the concept of carrying a backpacking quilt in place of a sleeping bag, read this first.
Here, let's take a look at the way backpacking quilts are designed to be used, so you can understand how they can (or cannot) keep you toasty warm as you snore the night away after a long day of backpacking.
Not here for that reason?
So what could go wrong?
After all, the best backpacking quilts are just layers of fabric, stitched together around fill material, creating a lightweight warm blanket as you snuggle into the safety of your tent, hammock, or tarp.
The choice of fabric and filling matters a lot, as does the pattern and amount of stitching.
Note: Weather conditions and season also play into your decision to use a quilt, or not. We'll leave that out of the equation for now.
A backpacking sleep system has one basic goal:
to capture your body heat and allow it to circulate, with no "dead" spots of cold air.
In order to build a high quality backpacking quilt that you will want to own, we need to throw some lingo around.
And the best backpacking quilt companies will be up front with this lingo, letting you know their products are built right and thus worthy of your consideration.
Fill 'er up with something that traps body heat!
You choices are:
How lofty are your goals for a down backpacking quilt?
The bigger the number, the higher the pile of downy feathers created with a known volume of down ('loft").
Expect numbers ranging from 700 to 900+.
A high number indicates a high pile and also equals a higher price point. You are going to pay for more warmth, so look at the numbers which make sense for your type of hiking and your budget.
Loft is lost when bad things happen to the quilt:
No loft = no insulating value. Translation: You're going to have one very cold night if you lose your loft.
Don't be baffled by baffles!
A baffle indicates which way the pieces of fabric were sewn together.
Baffles create smaller compartments for the fill, to prevent it from shifting around or disappearing in certain parts of the quilt when you move around.
Baffles can be:
You get the idea!
Some quilts vary the direction of the baffles, switching from horizontal at the head and foot end to longitudinal within the body of the quilt.
The holes created in the fabric when baffles are sewn in the fabric can be entry points for moisture.
Examples: Your quilt is touching the side of your tent, and condensation flows onto the holes.
Or the moisture in your breath saturates the head end of the quilt.
One more issue with the holes: down feathers can work their way out of the quilt using these exit points. No worries, the quilt is stuffed full of them!
The outer fabric which contacts your sleeping pad, the dirt inside and outside of your tent, your stuff sack, and whatever else in the immediate sleeping environment needs to stand up for itself.
However, the inner fabric, right next to your body, should be soft and smooth.
Because it will contact your body oils, insect repellent, and perspiration night after night, it may have a shorter lifespan than the outer fabric.
This leads us to an important question about quilt fabrics:
How will you clean the quilt once you're back home?
A quilt by definition is lacking some of the components of a sleeping bag. So don't expect to find:
Many backpackers carry additional clothing to guarantee a warm night, including a down hood, fleece hats, and long sleeved clothing to sleep in.
Tip: If your quilt is long and wide enough, you can wrap yourself up burrito style and have enough fabric to cover your head.
Does the weight of this additional clothing, or needing a longer quilt, add up to the weight savings from leaving the sleeping bag behind?
Be sure to factor in the additional fuss of carrying additional clothing to enhance the usability of your quilt.
A tired hiker just wants to drift off beneath a layer of warmth and not worry about drafts.
So if you're a side sleeper, or one who ends up on your stomach, you can move around frequently under your backpacking quilt without getting all snarled up in fabric and zippers.
If you get up at least once per night to pee, you'll appreciate the lack of zippers and the freedom to toss off the quilt quickly.
Anyone who has warm/cold cycles throughout the night can easily vent the quilt by flipping back one edge, or by sticking out arms or legs.
Backpacking couples can share one large quilt, or stitch together two for a snug sleeping experience.
Tent campers, heads up: Your chances of catching a draft are greatly reduced when you use a rain fly, so a backpacking quilt inside a double walled tent has almost zero chance of flapping up on you during the night.
To further enhance the warmth of the best backpacking quilts, savvy campers can choose the warmest spot to pitch the tent: behind natural wind breaks and well away from bodies of water or low spots.
Cold sleepers who are truly concerned about creating a warm haven to sleep within might have a big learning curve with a quilt.
If you're not a restless sleeper, and never get up in the middle of the night, a quilt has no advantages for you other than some potential weight and cost savings.
Don't use a tent? Your chances of having exposure to cold drafts is high, so think long and hard about substituting a quilt for a bag in your sleep system.
Ready made quilts:
If you want a fully adjustable quilt which can be used as a flat blanket or can hug and envelop your body, this is the one for you.
Want luxurious warmth and comfort for three season backpacking? Take a look at this Sea To Summit quilt.
If you're a hammock sleeper, you'll need a quilt designed to keep your body heat trapped up against you, like this top quilt by Vesta.
Quilts you order to your own specifications:
Make your own quilt:
Now you know how these little beauties are put together, and why the best backpacking quilts with great design features could spell convenience, comfort and a smaller footprint in your hiking life.
If you have questions, please send them here.
Decided that a backpacking sleeping bag is more your style?
Read about the best ones here.
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