Last summer I was on the fence about switching from a sleeping bag to a quilt (see The Tentative Quilter), but I’ve been camping with a Therm-a-Rest Alpine Down Blanket (35F) this spring and I’m now a convert. As a side sleeper, I’ve spent years trying to get used to sleeping on my back, the sleeping position that most mummy bags force you to assume at night. While I’ve learned to force myself to sleep that way, I’m much more comfortable if I can go to sleep on my side and not have to fight my sleeping bag all night.
Blanket or Quilt?
Although it’s labelled as a ‘down blanket’ and not a quilt, make no mistake, this product is a full fledged down sleeping quilt like the ones used by hardcore ultralight backpackers. While it’s got fewer bells and whistles and only has 700 fill power down, instead of the 850-950 fill power down used by high-end specialty manufacturers, it’s a perfectly viable and effective way to eliminate an entire pound or more from your gear list and significantly reduce the volume capacity requirements of your backpack.
Weighing just 1 pound 6 ounces, the Therm-a-Rest Alpine Down Blanket is lighter weight than most mummy or rectangular sleeping bags because it’s open at the back and there isn’t a zipper or a hood. Instead, you lie directly with your side or back on your sleeping pad and drape the blanket/quilt over you to stay warm. There’s a elastic enclosed foot box to keep your feet covered on all sides – useful if they stick out beyond your sleeping pad – as well as lightly insulated tubes that hang over the sides of your sleeping pad to prevent side drafts.
The lack of underside insulation in a quilt doesn’t effect your comfort as long as you use a properly rated sleeping pad. Camping quilts save weight by taking advantage of the fact that the back of a sleeping bag provides minimal insulation value: when you lie on insulation, be it down or synthetic, you force all the warm air out of it, effectively preventing it from retaining any heat.
There are still some weight trade-offs that you need to be cognizant of, particularly in early spring or late fall when it is cooler at night. If you sleep with a quilt, you might want to wear a winter hat or balaclava to bed to keep your head warm since it won’t be covered by the quit. Additionally, if you prefer an open or floorless shelter like a tarp, you might want to put your sleeping pad and quilt inside a bivy bag to keep it from getting wet or to further protect against side drafts. (I use a Therm-Rest Xlite Sleeping Pad and Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight Bivy Sack, for this purpose as a standard part of my gear list)
Therm-a-Rest rates the Alpine Down Blanket at 35 degrees. That’s a bit generous and I’d peg it closer to 45 degrees based on my experience using it. I’ve taken it into the high 30′s and low 40′s in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and been cold until I donned a hooded insulated jacket to augment a fleece hat.
Materials and Construction
There’s nothing terribly exciting about the fabrics, 700 down fill, or construction of the Alpine Down Blanket. The external fabric is a relatively thin 20D nylon shell with a light DWR coating requiring somewhat delicate handling. The top baffles have a box construction with lightly insulated side tubes running along the length of the blanket/quilt and a elastic foot box. Side snaps attached to the outer edges let you attached the blanket\quilt to an optional fitted sheet system that covers your sleeping pad or adhesive patches (fast and light mattress snap kit) that attach directly to your sleeping pad. Neither of these are necessary, but it is actually clever system that gives you a lot of comfort options depending on whether you’re a car camper, camping as a couple, doing a hut overnight or you’re an ultralight backpacking force of nature. For more info on these options, check out this youtube video from Therm-a-Rest.
If you’re a side sleeper, a hammock hanger, or simply want to reduce the weight of your gear list, switching from a sleeping bag to a quilt can definitely increase your comfort and lighten your load. It’s not a transition to be taken lightly however, and may require that you augment your current sleep system with a better sleeping pad, a bivy sack, or additional clothing layers that you don’t own or are not used to using in a complete sleep system.
Given the nature of that transition, I like the Therm-a-Rest Alpine 35 Down Blanket because it provides a cost-friendly way for people to experience all of the benefits of an ultralight quilt at an affordable price from mainstream outdoor retailers who have flexible or unlimited return policies, in case you decide that you’re not quite ready to made the switch on a permanent basis. With the exception of Golite, there really aren’t many (if any) direct-to-consumer manufacturers that offer a comparable quilt with a long term return policy. If you have made the sleeping bag to quilt transition already, then the Therm-a-Rest Alpine 35 Down Blanket remains an attractive option if you want the option to share a lighter weight quilt system with several different family members or extend its use with some of the more luxurious car camping or couples-appropriate add-ons provided by Therm-a-Rest.
- More comfortable for side sleepers or hammock users
- 700 fill down helps reduce cost with a negligible weight penalty
- Snap system and add-on components provide a lot of flexibility for a wide range of camping ‘styles’
- Temperature rating is a bit optimistic
- Exterior fabric may be too delicate for younger & less experienced hikers and campers
Disclosure: Therm-a-Rest provided Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) with a complementary Alpine Down Blanket 35 for this review.
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