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Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt 800F Review

My assistant (Captain Mouse) demonstrates the new hood on the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt
My assistant demonstrates the hood on the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt

There are three things you should take away from this review of the new 24 ounce Sierra Design’s Backcountry Quilt:

  • Sierra Designs has improved on the original quilt concept with a built-in hood that will appeal to backpackers and campers who’ve used mummy bags in the past but want to lighten up their gear. It’s a brilliant design innovation on many levels. More on this below.
  • The Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt is significantly less expensive than the custom-made quilts you can buy from cottage manufacturers, even though it’s made with 800 fill power DriDown.
  • The Backcountry Quilt comes in a single size so you don’t have to sweat the length, width, and fabric details like you do when ordering a custom quilt from a small manufacturer. Plus, since it’s available from outdoor retailers, you can return it if you decide you don’t like camping with a quilt, instead of being stuck with a custom-made item which you may or may not be able to sell.
Upside down quilt with a footbox and open back
Upside down quilt with a foot box and open back

A Quick Intro to Camping and Backpacking Quilts

Quilts provide a good alternative to sleeping bags, especially in warmer weather when you want the freedom to vent your sleep insulation like a blanket instead of a mummy bag, They’re also far lighter weight, more compressible so they pack down smaller, and great for side sleepers (or in a hammock) because they give you a lot more freedom to move around.

Most camping quilts have an open back and a mummy-style foot box to protect your feet from drafts. The argument is that you don’t need any back insulation like you find in a sleeping bag, because you’d just lie on it, forcing all the hot air out which is what provides insulation in the first place. Quilts are lighter weight because they rely on your sleeping pad, which you’re using anyway, to insulate you from the ground. They also don’t have zippers which further reduced weight and improves durability because zippers snag and fail.

Most of the backpacking and camping quilts sold today are made to order by ultralight backpacking companies and can be custom tailored in term of width, length, insulation, and outer materials. When purchasing a quilt, they recommend that you size up to the next larger size, so you can pull the top of the quilt up around your ears on cold nights. You can also augment the warmth of a quilt by wearing the extra insulation layers you already carry in your backpack, such as an insulated puffy vest or coat, a fleece hat, socks,long underwear, rain gear, and insulated pants.

Back of the Hood (which covers the back of your head) or fold flats when not in use blocking drafts.
Back of the Hood (which covers the back of your head) or fold flats when not in use blocking drafts.

Adding a Hood to a Quilt

The thing that gets me jazzed about the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt is that a hood has been added to it so you can cover your head and the top of your shoulders when it’s cold. Unlike the hood on a mummy bag, the hood folds flat over your chest, and has a back panel to prevent drafts when it’s not being used as a hood. It’s not adjustable and just drapes over your forehead when you stick your head into it. The hood also turns with you if you’re a side sleeper and doesn’t cover your face when you roll over.

While I was skeptical about the hood design when I first saw it, I became a convert once I’d used the Backcountry Quilt on several backpacking and camping trips. When it’s cool out and you want extra warmth, being able to pull the Backcountry Quilt over your shoulders and head makes a world of difference.While you could easily just wear a hat or goose down balaclava to keep your head warm, the extra length built into the Backcountry Quilt to implement the hood ensures that your shoulders and upper back are covered, providing far more warmth than a hat alone.

Another reason I like the added hood is that it makes quilts much more palatable to first time quilt buyers who’ve been weaned on the mummy bags, but want to chop the weight of their backpacking and camping gear. If you’re used to sleeping in a mummy bag, switching to Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt will be a far more natural and intuitive transition than switching to a hoodless quilt that doesn’t insulate the tops of your shoulders and the back of your head and neck.

Sleeping without the Hood
Sleeping without the Hood

Hand Pockets

In addition to the hood, Sierra Designs added two hand pockets to the top corners of the Backcountry Quilt, making it easier for sleepers to grab onto the corners and fold underneath their heads when sleeping face down on their tummies. It’s an intriguing addition, but I didn’t see much application for it since I’m not a tummy sleeper. Check out this video to see the corner pockets in use.

Temperature Rating

Weighing 1 pound 8 ounces (24 ounces), the Backcountry Quilt is rated for 38 degrees (F) Comfort/ 28 degrees (F) Limit using the EN13537 sleeping bag temperature rating standard. This means that the backcountry quilt will keep the average female warm in 38 degree weather and the average man warm in 28 degree weather (assuming they’re on a sleeping pad, wearing long johns and a hat).

Most of the other quilts you can buy today haven’t been tested using the EN standard so you’re stuck with the manufacturer’s best guess, which may be quite different from what you experience. While the EN13537 standard cannot account for all individual differences (whether you’re a cold sleeper or a warm sleeper), it does provide a baseline measurement that is reliable enough to account for male/female warmth differences using the same product, lets you compare the quilt against similarly rated sleeping bags, and protects consumers from the exagerrated temperature rating claims that have been made by manufacturers in the past.

The insulation in the Backcountry Quilt is 800 Fill Power DriDown, which incidentally, Sierra Designs was the first manufacturer to introduce two years ago . The quilt contains 11 ounces of down sewn in continuous baffles. This allows you to shift the location of the down from the edges of the quilt on hot summer nights, to the center over your chest on cold nights when you want more insulation for your core.  This is a common technique used in many high-end ultralight sleeping bags like those from Western Mountaineering.

Measurements and Specifications

  • Size: Fits to 6′ 4″ / 193 cm
  • Length: 78″ / 198 cm
  • Shoulder Width: 56″ / 142 cm
  • Hip: 45″ / 114 cm
  • Foot: 40″ / 102 cm
  • Fill Weight 11 ounces / 0.31 kg
  • Trail Weight: 1 pound 8 ounces / 0.68kg
  • Insulation: 800 Fill Duck DriDown
  • Shell Material: 20D Nylon Ripstop
  • Liner Material: 20 D Nylon Tafetta
  • Packed Size: 7″ x 14″ / 18 cm x 36 cm
  • MSRP: $260

At 78″ in length, the Backcountry Quilt will fit sleepers who are up to 6′ 4″ in height. While that might sound a bit on the long side, it’s actually a fairly normal length for quilts, where manufacturers recommend you size up a full size if you want to pull the quilt up to your ears in cool weather. Still, 78″ is too long for smaller women and youth who could benefit from the Backcountry Quilt’s lighter weight and comfort.

When I asked Sierra Designs about the lack of smaller sizes, they told me that they decided to manufacture the current sizing because it’s the most popular size in the sleeping bags that they sell today. If demand for the Backcountry Quilt grows, they will add smaller sizes for shorter women and youth in the future. Fair enough.

The other dimensions of the Backcountry Quilt: width, hips, and foot box are a few inches generous, but not out of line with what other quilt manufacturers offer. Personally, I like a wider quilt, even at the cost of a few more ounces of weight, because it means that I’ll have more insulation along my sides to block drafts.

Recommendation

I’ve tested the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt on backpacking and camping trips in nighttime temperatures ranging from the 75 degrees fahrenheit down to the mid- 30’s degrees fahrenheit and found it to be true to its temperature rating. While the sizing is ample for me, a 5′ 10″ man with 46″ shoulders, it’s not awkwardly large when used with a bivy sack and sleeping pad, or by itself draped over my sleeping pad inside a car camping tent.

While somewhat heavier than custom-made ultralight backpacking quilts, I think the Backcountry Quilt is an excellent value for backpackers who want the benefit of a lighter weight quilt, especially for men who want a quilt that they can use in cooler shoulder season weather (since the EN men’s temperature rating is 28 degrees) but can’t afford to pay a king’s ransom for one.

In terms of functionality, I think the addition of a hood to the Backcountry Quilt is a design coup and may narrow the gap between mummy sleeping bag users and quilt users enough to help make quilts a more popular lightweight backpacking gear alternative. I for one, plan on using the Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt instead of my mummy bag for autumn weather this year, when I need more warmth but still want to carry the lightest amount of gear possible.

Likes

  • Built-in hood adds significant warmth and comfort on cold nights
  • EN tested temperature rating: 38 degrees for women and 28 degrees for men.
  • Priced significantly less than you’d pay for a comparable custom-made quilt

Dislikes

  • Smaller female and youth sizes are currently unavailable
  • Wish the weight were a few ounces lighter

Disclosure: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) received a sample Sierra Designs Backcountry Quilt for this review.

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23 comments

  1. Hmmm, what to think about this …. what?

    As background, I’m a confirmed quilter, even in northern midwestern winters … down to about 0F anyway

    On the plus side:
    1) great to see quilts coming from a manufacturer capable of supplying a large retail market
    2) huge kudos to SD for using the EN rating system
    3) the hood design IS innovative and interesting and should keep the head well insulated (very important to the temperature rating) and also allows the sleeper to fore-go using the hood (very important for comfort when it’s too warm).

    However:
    1) 24oz is only moderately light for that temperature rating
    2) 56 inch shoulder width is excessive … barely less than that of a slim mummy bag. I’m not a small guy (larger than Phillip based on photos), have used a quilt that wide and found it excessive. So there’s potential for weight savings there.
    3) from photos, the “foot box” appears to be more of a “leg and thigh box” … more “draft proof” at the expense of less of quilt’s freedom of movement advantage and also a bit more weight. More potential weight savings.
    4) I switch between side and back sleeping during the night and fail to see how the hood facilitates side sleeping without breathing into the quilt … except that the excessive (IMO) width might allow that.
    5) The one size fit’s all thing doesn’t fly … too long introduces problems (decreased warmth) with both quilts and bags and more tendency for drafts with quilts

    I like an insulated balaclava for my head when quilting. It keeps my head very warm and it can turn independent of the rest of the quilt as I toss and turn. If it uses synthetic insulation then I don’t worry so much about moisture from breathing. I can also wear it as a headgear around camp.

    Having said all that, I’m glad to see this product and glad to see it reviewed here.

  2. I’m glad you appreciate how interesting this product is.

    I’m sure anyone who’s an existing Ultralight quilter will probably thumb their nose at this product because it’s a few ounces heavier than it has to be. That was certainly the reaction on BPL.

    I am likely in the minority amongst (UL-ers) because I would be happy to pay half the price of what a custom UL quilt costs even if it means carrying a few extra ounces of gear weight. There’s nothing stopping people who like custom made gear from continuiing to buy it. But those economics obviously don’t work through a retail channel.

    As for width – check out the standard widths of Enlightened Equipment’s custom quilts. In their “recommended” sizing specs for side sleepers who toss and turn at night, I’d need a 55″ width quilt from them, since my body is longer and wider than yours, In that light, I’d say that the SD Quilt is perhaps a bit wide, but not excessively so.

    All in all, an interesting first generation quilt from a company that can supply a large retail market. More adoption will mean more choice and more sizes, so it wil be interesting to see how well this product does in shops.

    • Phillip,

      regarding width: I’m somewhat familiar with Enlightened Equipment’s (EE) owner/designer and know that he cautiously avoids having unhappy customers. It is his livelihood after all so I don’t criticize him for that. I’m size XXL, switch sleeping positions hourly and get by (just barely) with an MYOG quilt that is 51″ wide from hip to shoulder. Granted, an extra 2 inches would make rolling from side to back to other side a little easier. I DO opt for an EE wide quilt when planning on 0F low temps but am not yet convinced I need the width … just unwilling to spend long nights learning that I do indeed need the width. I can (and plan to) test that in lower risk backyard testing.

      Regarding cost: I’m 100% with you about not paying insane prices for a tiny weight savings. But since you mention EnlightenedEquipment, Tim’s closest’s matching quilt IS 40% higher price for a 25% weight savings … but definitely not double (as with Nunatak’s offerings). That price_penalty/weight_savings comes in under my $$ pain threshold … but that is a YMMV thing.

      Regarding “custom made products” vs off the shelf: There is a wide gulf between SD’s one size fits all quilt offering and EE’s couple dozen options. Most large market sleeping bag makers have for years offered long and short versions (not to mention men’s/women’s versions) of numerous sleeping bag models of different girths. Not too soon to start encouraging SD to offer 4 quilt options (long/short and regular/wide).

  3. Phillip, It looks like they did not use the lightest fabric around. 10D has been available for many years and has fair-good durability. It is a bit wider and longer than I would expect. They admit that it designed that way. It is only 4 ounces lighter than mu sleeping bag, though. For the same temp rating and the same basic functionality, I think I would prefer the sleeping bag…it just avoids draughts better. That said, I often use my bag as a quilt. The hood looks interesting though.

    • I wasn’t that excited about the fabric either. I think the best way to think about this product is as transitional from a sleeping bag, that’s probably heavier than the down bag you own or a synthetic bag (because it’s “waterproof” DriDown) People like you and me are not the people who this will appeal to, the most.

      That said, I’ll be using mine for the rest of the season, because it *is* 5 ounces lighter than my 20 degree down bag and warmer than the quilt I currently use.

  4. Philip, I hope that you compensate your “assistant” with a nice dinner. My wife would simply take the quilt as payment! Excellent review of an intriguing new innovation in mass market quilts.

  5. My guess is the heavier fabric is for durability issues. As for the size I am glad to see a quilt I could use off the shelf and at half the cost of my EE quilt. The fact that you can get it through a retail store will be good for those not used to dealing with cottage manufactures and their often times bewildering list of specs and options. I love my EE quilt but I could see this being a great options for others.

  6. I really do not see much difference between this Quilt and a Sleeping bag. And as expected I dislike the top and inside Material covers Color..And being as it appears “one size fits all” I wonder if I can just save ounces by using my regular 20 degree, 750 GOOSE down bag at 1 lb 4 oz. I also note that none of my regular outdoor stores with more than 30 years in operation carry the bag which tells me something right there. I believe if they do not carry it, then there is a good reason why. But I did find Inter-net sites starting at $259.99 plus $19 in taxes and $8.00 to ship. Interesting all the old Slumberjack Bags came in that color combo back in the 80’s. for childrens bags which I believe used duck down as well, which I bought for my children when they were under 12.. I can tell you that the Tan inside color dirties really quickly just from Pine and Oak Forest Floor Duff…And I am paying $250 plus for DUCK DOWN..no thank you…Hey Phil are these companies sending you stuff nobody else will sell in hopes some of us will be suckers and buy it?? Nothing against you of course, thank you for putting in all that time and thought and work to produce the review and being an honest guy at that…But No thank you on this one…This might work well in a Pop Up Tent trailer, or for a family group camping but I do not see it on a backpacking trip. For those with ambition and who like to try new things, it is pretty easy to make your own quilt with just the basic materials and a Sewing machine. Cut two layers of material the width of your body, add 4 inches to each side and maybe six inches at the head and then hem it leaving one side open, put in the insulating material evenly or if using manmade material, slide in the batting and keep it flat. Next sew up the Seam and then run the machine over the bag creating any pattern to you like to keep the fill from shifting. I prefer the big six inch size Diamond pattern verseus squares. Just takes a bit of time and planning. Instead of Zippers to make a sandwich bag Quilt, use a loop and a big button system (meaning Big Coat buttons not shirt buttons) on three sides but pre-plan this so you sew in the loops onto the inside of the Quilt before closing it up. My old friend in San Diego made one this way some 20 years ago for Desert Hiking and Camping, for the loops and buttons he used Para cord and Military issue green buttons. The last I heard the quilt sitll works as good as day one, though he has passed on…His Grandson uses it now. I do not remember the total weight but I know it was less than two pounds. Frost Line used to make a kit but sadly, they closed in 1978…

    • Eddie, You’ve been reading sectionhiker long enough that you know that my opinion can not be “bought” and that there is always a disclosure statement at the bottom of my reviews about the source of the product being reviewed.

      As for duck vs goose down. 800 fill duck down is absolutely equivalent to 800 fill power goose down, although less enxpensive for manufacturers and consumers because it is easier to get, since people eat ducks and not geese.

    • I fully agree with your sentiment about stuff being bad on the market now days. I was at REI looking at boots and they were all garbage. Modern synthetics that aren’t carbon fiber on my boots? please no thank you! Me and my friends went down to the local tannery and got our own leather and what do you know, we now have quality boots made cheaper than these “Factory Made” boots would have cost.

      Phillip you should really stop reviewing store bought stuff that is suitable for anything less an extreme adventurer like myself. As such I am requesting a review on the merits of sourcing your own textiles so I can make my stuff even lighter, the stuff from six moon designs and golight just don’t cut it for me anymore.

  7. While some are scoffing at this quilt, I think the innovative hood design of good things to come. Some might not like the current specs, but like they said, if the design takes off, more sizes will follow.

    For now, I’ll stick with my Walmart Ozark Trails Down bag, but only because my bank account to would riot. Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction for quilt designs (in the off chance I win the lottery one day!)

  8. Thank you for another quality review. I was wondering if you had a pic or could share some details on the packed size of the quilt. How small does it pack, does it compress and loft well?

  9. Hi there, Glad to see a more thorough review posted online. What’s the packed size of this quilt like? Do you think it would reasonably fit in an 8L Sea to Summit event dry sack? The stated packed size is just over 8.8L, but i’m wondering if I could get away with an 8L because manufactures are often conservative with their packed size measurements.

    Thanks!

    • I have an 8L Sea-to-Summit Ultra Sil Nano stuff sack right here. The quilt fits inside it with room to spare and a full seven turns of the dry sack closure (so it takes up about 60% of the volume of the 8L sack. It fluffs up fine afterwards since it’s down.

  10. Based on this review, I gave this quilt a try. Like many, I struggle to sleep well in a mummy bag as I toss and turn. I find them constricting and uncomfortable to get in and out of. I have typically used them like a quilt but hated waking up on the zipper or with the hood in my face.

    As my very old summer bag was close to giving up the ghost, I took the plunge. I now wonder why I waited so long. I used it recently on a warm weather trip to Catalina Island and loved it. I slept well and was able to move easily without waking up with it twisted around me. I know some on this forum have been a little harsh on SD for the design of the Backcountry Quilt but I love it. Yes, it could be lighter and it may be too big for some but I found it very comfortable. It does provide a way of introducing quilts to the mainstream market.

    I am know thinking about replacing some of my other sleeping bags with quilts. I am hooked!

    • I’ve used this bag multiple times in a hammock and think it’s fantastic for that purpose. The hood works great in cold weather and I’ve taken it down to 30 without any problems. Been meaning to write a review of it for that very purpose. Glad you like yours!

      • I’m glad to hear that it worked well in a hammock as that was my first through when I saw the hood. Out of curiosity due to the large size and the inevitable bunching in a hammock setting do you think you could push the temperature rating down to say 20 degree F?

      • It’s borderline. I ended up wearing a down parka underneath at that temp when I got cold.

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