by Diane Spicer
Sleeping bags versus backpacking quilts
Which to use?
It's a valid concern.
Putting together a sleep system that works well for you on a backpacking trip is important for your comfort and safety.
When you think about your sleep system at home, you will realize that it has several "moving parts":
Now imagine yourself carrying all of that in your backpack.
You want a comfortable, warm, durable place to sleep each night on a backpacking or camping trip, but you don't want to lug around a lot of weight or bulkiness.
And you have to clean it once you're safely back home.
Seems like a tall order, doesn't it?
So let's make this comparison of sleeping bags versus backpacking quilts super simple: just three key considerations.
To help you wrestle with finding your personal answer to this question, let's look at the strong points and drawbacks of each of these important pieces of hiking gear.
We'll use three lenses:
All of this information is geared to help you make a good decision about this integral component of your camping and backpacking sleep system.
Skip to the punch line!
When I began backpacking in the 1970s, I had a synthetic sleeping bag that was not only way too big and heavy for me, but woefully inadequate for the rain, wind and cold temperatures I faced.
Sleeping bag designs have come a very long way since then. And I've kept my eye on them over the decades, cheering for the smart moves and shaking my head at some of the hype.
And quilts? Not even invented yet for the trail!
Let's zoom in on who you are as a hiker, and then focus on what you need in your sleep system.
Never carry an ounce (or gram) more than you need.
That rule applies to your sleeping bag or backpacking quilt every bit as much as to your camp kitchen and backpack.
If you're petite in stature but need more width to be comfortable at night, your choices will differ from someone who is tall and lean.
Obviously, this is common sense. But it gets overlooked way too often when considering sleeping bags versus backpacking quilts.
Tip: While a quilt can give you lots more width, you also need to be sure it is long enough to accommodate any "roll and tuck" maneuvers you enjoy in your sleep.
Ever watch people climb into bed and get settled?
What's your style?
How much coziness can you stand? Or demand?
Quilts allow lots more freedom of movement and will feel less confining, while sleeping bags provide a sense of security and full coverage.
A restless sleeper runs the risk of kicking off her protective layer of warmth, waking up from a sound sleep because of cold feet.
This is important for zipper placement on a sleeping bag.
Why feel continuously frustrated by having to use your non dominant hand to zip up the bag?
Just a few things to think about here.
Side sleepers curled into the fetal position may feel restricted and squeezed inside a tapered mummy sleeping bag, and greatly enjoy the luxury of rolling from side to side beneath a quilt.
Stomach sleepers can burrow to their heart's content into the soft warmth of a sleeping bag, but may find a quilt less confining for their arms.
Women tend to sleep "colder" than males, so ask yourself:
A quilt is faster to get out of in the middle of the night, or to regulate the temperature of various areas of your body.
A sleeping bag keeps you warm all night once you capture your body heat, especially if you cinch the hood around your ears.
If you use a double walled tent, you will need less protective clothing compared with a backpacker curled up beneath a tarp.
Tip: If the weather is warm and dry, you can get away with just a sleeping bag liner like this one!
So don't zero in on just the sleeping bags versus backpacking quilts question.
Step back and look at your shelter + destination + sleep system combination.
In the outdoor gear world, you get what you pay for.
And sometimes more than you bargained for.
A cheap piece of gear can become a very expensive acquisition if the gear fails to perform well for you during a backpacking trip.
And it can endanger your life if it fails to keep you warm, as with the gear we're discussing here.
This is especially true for newbie backpackers, who don't have a deep skill set to fall back on if the weather turns awful AND there's a gear malfunction or failure.
Bottom line for cost:
To save money, a backpacking quilt is the first thing you should look at.
But realize that if you jettison the hood and zipper for what is essentially a blanket, you will need to add more clothing to your sleep system.
If you invest in a high quality quilt or bag, also invest time and effort into taking good care of it.
Or you can go the up front cheap route, knowing that you will need to replace this vital piece of camping equipment often if you continue to backpack.
After you've thought through all of the features, cost and quality trade offs, don't forget that your comfort at night is critical to a great backpacking trip.
If you don't sleep well, or at least get adequate amounts of rest, the trip will be a blur of fatigue and discomfort.
Here are those links again, for lots of details on your options:
Never bargain away your sleep comfort, that's what Hiking For Her believes!
Sleeping Bags Versus Backpacking Quilts
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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