Section Hiker Gear of the Year Award: Therm-a-Rest Alpine 35 Blanket

Therm-a-Rest Alpine 35 Blanket

Therm-a-Rest Alpine 35 Blanket

Every year, I like to recognize the piece of new gear that has had the greatest influence on my enjoyment of backpacking. This year’s winner is the Therm-a-Rest Alpine 35 Blanket (click for my review), a down quilt which I started using this May and have used on almost every overnight trip since.

Last year I was on the fence about switching from a sleeping bag to a quilt (see the Tentative Quilter.) I was worried that I’d miss the added security of bottom and top insulation and warmth provided by a mummy style hood. But, I decided I’d ask Therm-a-Rest to send me an Alpine 35 Blanket to try, just the same. I had no idea how profoundly it would alter my sleeping insulation preferences then.

As a side sleeper, I’ve had my share of troubles over the years getting comfortable in mummy style sleeping bags which let’s face it, are designed for back sleepers. While the introduction of lightweight insulated inflatable mattresses like the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir vastly improved the comfort of side-sleeping backpackers and campers, there hasn’t really been a major corresponding design change in sleeping bags. Talk about a huge market opportunity: 61 percent of American are side sleepers.

I can still remember the first night I slept with the Alpine 35 Blanket, on a cold rainy night in the Ethan Pond shelter on the New Hampshire Appalachian Trail. I combined it together with my Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight Bivy Sack (another Gear of the Year winner) and a NeoAir Xlite sleeping pad. I got to sleep immediately in my natural side sleeping position and slept blissfully all night through. I also didn’t snore, something my shelter-mates appreciated, because I never rolled onto my back. It rained heavily that night and there would have been no place for them or me to go to escape the roar.

When I sleep with the Alpine 35 Blanket,  I put my sleeping pad into the bivy sack and stuff the Alpine Blanket blanket between the two. Not only does the bivy sack keep me on the pad all night, but it eliminates any side drafts and probably adds a few degrees of warmth, as well. If I’m too warm, I simply pull the blanket to the side and use the top of my bivy like a sheet.

Quilting in a Tent

Quilting in a Tent

As a side sleeper, sleeping with the Therm-a-Rest Alpine Blanket is very similar to sleeping with a down comforter, except for the fact that it has an elasticized foot box and down filled baffles running down the sides to eliminate drafts. With 700 fill power down and a 20D nylon shell, the Blanket compresses down to a small package only weighing 1 pound 5 ounces. While not as lightweight as the quilts made by some cottage manufacturers who use 850 or even 950 fill power down, the Alpine Blanket is only a few ounces heavier and significantly less expensive. It’s also 8 ounces lighter than my high-end ultralight sleeping bag and compresses down much smaller giving me the flexibility to use an even lighter and lower volume backpack.

In addition to traditional tarp and bivy style camping, Therm-a-Rest has also developed other ways to use the Alpine 35 Blanket that are more appealing to mainstream base camp and car campers, such as the ability to secure the Blanket to a sleeping pad or a fitted sheet that covers a sleeping pad.  I think these options are a clever way to make quilts “safe and comfortable” for the mainstream and to speed their adoption over the “mummy bag status quo.” For more details on how these modular snap systems work, watch this Therm-a-Rest sleep system video.

People are often surprised when I tell them that my favorite thing about backpacking is sleeping well. Especially, since so many people don’t sleep well outdoors. I can honestly say that the Therm-a-Rest Alpine 35 Blanket redefined my perception of 3 season sleep system comfort this year and recommend that you give it a try if you’re a side sleeper or have never quite felt comfortable sleeping in a mummy bag.

Disclosure: Philip Werner received a Therm-a-Rest Alpine 35 Blanket from Cascade Designs for review. 

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11 Responses to Section Hiker Gear of the Year Award: Therm-a-Rest Alpine 35 Blanket

  1. Michael Blair December 20, 2012 at 4:10 am #

    Amen. I was using the neoair xlite pad with my sleep bag (unzipped) like a blanket. I was thinking it would be easier just to buy some cheap blanket and use it instead if lugging my sleeping bag with me. I went on the thermarest site and found both the blanket and the fitted sheet. Bought both of them immediately and have been loving them ever since.

  2. Justin Walsh December 20, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    I wholeheartedly agree.
    I’ve been using the down blanket this year, and it has become my most used sleep system as well. I am also a side sleeper, and find that it is certainly easier to roll from side to side under this blanket. I have been using the snap attachments to keep things secure and they work well. I’ve found that the bottom four are the only ones you really need, but the others may be useful in colder weather. The materials feel very nice, the 700-fill isn’t a drawback and it gets the job done.
    It’s also been a conversation piece in a few shelters I’ve been in, and the reception has been all positive. I expect to see more blankets/quilts in use in the coming years.

  3. Rob December 20, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    I’m glad to see that you’ve found quilts good. I’m still using mine (35 degree synthetic from MLD), staying dry under a tarp system, and surprising scout leaders by showing up with so little gear.

    I do need to replace my underneath pads, though. I had the valves go so they leaked slowly and I’d wake up on cold (well for Georgia) hard ground.

    How have the thermorest neoair pads lasted?

    • Jim C December 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

      How have the thermorest neoair pads lasted?

      I’ve owned and regularly used a short neoair since the second year they’ve been available. No problems yet.

      Have since added a large neoair to the stable. Nice for outings where weight is less important.

      • Earlylite December 21, 2012 at 12:23 am #

        I’ve never had a problem with any of the NeoAirs I’ve bought and I expect I use them more than most people, as in >30 nights per year. I use a bivy sack and pick my camp sites carefully to avoid punctures.

        • Rob December 21, 2012 at 9:37 am #

          That’s good to hear. It isn’t punctures, but there is an inexpensive valve design that both REI and pacific outdoors use that basically doesn’t shut. (It’s some sort of stock design because they are different companies). It’s as if some sort of grit gets into the valve body or there is a polymer washer that is too stiff and doesn’t seat properly. I wasn’t too upset about the REI pad as that has had a lot of use, but the other one was practically new.

  4. Jim C December 20, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Welcome to the world of quilts Phillip!

    Quilts are one of many backpacking things I was once wrongly convinces could not work for me. SO glad took toe time to prove myself wrong.

    • Earlylite December 21, 2012 at 12:24 am #

      I was a little surprised! Just took that first night.

  5. DaniLou22 December 22, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    I was more than a reluctant quilter to say the least. I thought it was just another gimmick to shave off a few more ounces in the extreme. What changed my mind was the GoLite quilt I won on this site (!) in a gear raffle back in 2010. I took it out one night to give it a shot and was in love. So much more freedom to move around, didn’t get any of the cold drafts I expected (thanks to the under-pad straps), and finally able to stick my foot out like I do at home. It ended up being a little long for me, so I gave it to my boyfriend who bought me the short version of the same quilt in return. We both used them on our JMT hike that summer, with temps down to below freezing, and we’ve never looked back.

    • Earlylite December 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

      Many thanks to Golite for sponsoring that giveaway. Glad you were enlightened!

  6. mazzachusetts January 7, 2013 at 10:19 am #

    I don’t have any beef with side sleeping in a mummy aside from the DAMN PILLOW SITUATION… This seems like it would solve that. Also seems very liner compatible.

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