by Diane Spicer
Why use backpacking quilts?
Of all of the questions you might be asking yourself when planning your next backpacking trip, this one may or may not be on your radar.
If you're reading this, I'm guessing it is.
If you're on the fence, read about the best backpacking sleeping bags here first.
And how to put together your best backpacking sleep system.
Still with me?
Let's find an answer for you by answering an even more basic question first.
A backpacking quilt is one component in a backpacker's sleep system, carrying the heavy responsibility for delivering warmth and comfort throughout the night.
The first thing you need to know is that quilts appeal to minimalist backpackers who call themselves ultralight hikers.
So it's no surprise that a quilt may be lighter and less costly than a backpacking sleeping bag.
There are topquilts and underquilts, and you can tell by the name that a ground sleeper and a hammock sleeper will need different choices.
But do you sacrifice warmth and comfort when using a quilt?
Ah, you're a smart one!
That's exactly the right question, especially for women hikers who are cold sleepers.
If you love, love, love to crawl into your sleeping bag at the end of a long day on the trail, breathe a big sigh of contentment, and drift off to sleep listening to the drone of mosquitoes or the howling coyotes, you might think it's insane to use a backpacking quilt.
A backpacking quilt aficionado (UL hiker) would answer this way:
Your body weight is compressing the fill inside your sleeping bag, effectively reducing its ability to insulate you and trap your body heat.
Instead, approach the "why use backpacking quilts" warmth question with a customizable strategy.
Try any or all of these trail tips:
One of the best backpacking quilt makers, Jacks R Better, has a good guide to use.
If you're still questioning the wisdom of a backpacking quilt's ability to trap and distribute your body heat, rest assured that you can find one with some additional warm trapping features.
These good backpacking quilt designs may include:
When you're concerned about getting a good night's sleep without having to face cold drafts, make a note to look for these features.
To get up to speed on the components of a high quality backpacking quilt, read this.
Quilt users love the fact that you can move around a lot beneath a quilt and stay warm but not strangled.
If you sleep on you back, a topquilt makes sense.
And falling asleep fully dressed makes those middle of the night excursions to the bushes a lot easier.
Ditto for fumbling around for your watch to check the time, or for your water bottle - just stick out your hand from beneath the quilt.
You can already visualize the magic of being warm and dressed in the morning! No freezing body parts for you, thank you very much.
If you're serious about switching from a sleeping bag to a backpacking quilt, do a dry run in your backyard or local park to be sure you've mastered the learning curve.
Now that you know how and why to stay warm and comfortable in a quilt, let's flesh out the "why use backpacking quilts" question a bit more.
If you carry a quilt on your hiking trip, you enjoy these benefits:
If you love to sew, have a machine capable of handling bulky or slippery materials, and enjoy saving money, making a backpacking quilt is right up your alley.
Then when other hikers ask you the why use backpacking quilts question, you can take them on a tour of how to put one together!
There are some sobering drawbacks to quilts which are only fair to address here.
Sleeping in long sleeves and long pants may not spell comfort for you. There is something luxurious and relaxing about crawling into a sleeping bag wearing only minimal clothing.
For us women hikers, sleeping without a sweaty sports bra or stinky socks digging into us is heavenly.
Carrying an extra set of clean, odor free (in bear country) long sleeves and long pants plus hiking socks for sleeping adds weight and bulk to your gear list.
Also, a quilt does nothing to provide head covering, unless it's long enough (and thus heavier) to allow you to curl up beneath it.
Every backpacker has a unique set of circumstances.
So what works for one person may be experienced as a totally under-performing quilt for another hiker, sometimes on the same hiking trip!
My advice to answer the why use backpacking quilts question for yourself:
Then, and only then, start to look at backpacking quilts.
My recommendations for ready made, made to order, and do it yourself quilt kits, along with more selection tips, can be found here.
to be thorough about your choices, there is a hybrid solution to the
weight-comfort-price-ease of use equation: not quite a quilt, not really
a sleeping bag.
The only way to get the perfect night's sleep on the trail is to experiment with your options.
Now you can answer the question "Why use backpacking quilts?"
Here's to finding your perfect sleeping system, which may or may not include a quilt :)
Why Use 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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