Have you ever considered switching from a sleeping bag to a backpacking quilt? Backpacking quilts are lighter weight than sleeping bags, they pack up smaller, and they’re much more comfortable for side sleepers since they don’t have a hood.
We recently surveyed 598 backpackers to see what kind of sleeping insulation they use for 3 season backpacking in order to measure how many use quilts compared to mummy or rectangular sleeping bags.
Backpacking Quilt vs Sleeping Bag Use
Nearly 21% of the backpackers we surveyed sleep with a down or synthetic backpacking quilt. That’s quite an amazing adoption rate when you consider that most backpacking quilts are handmade by a small number of cottage quilt manufacturers. These companies don’t have the marketing reach or retail presence of big gear companies, relying instead on word-of-mouth enthusiast recommendations to advertise their products.
Down vs. Synthetic Insulation Preference
Preference for down insulation over synthetic insulation is also higher among backpacking quilt users than for mummy or rectangular sleeping bag users: 84% of backpacking quilt users have down insulated quilts vs. 16% who have quilts with synthetic insulation. This not surprising since many backpackers switch to quilts to reduce their gear weight and down insulation tends to be lighter weight than synthetic insulation.
While preference for down insulation over synthetic insulation is also higher for sleeping bag users, the difference is much less pronounced, with 54% using down insulation with 46% using synthetic insulation.
About the Survey
This survey was run on the SectionHiker.com website which has over 270,000 unique readers per month, so a large pool of potential respondents. Readers were incented to participate in the survey in exchange for a chance to win a raffle for a piece of backpacking gear. There were 694 people who responded to the survey, but 96 responses were removed as being incomplete or irrelevant, reducing the number of recorded responses to 598.
While we’re confident that the results are fairly representative of the general backpacking population based on the size of the survey results where n=598 people, we can’t claim that the results are statistically significant.
There are also a number of ways in which the results could be biased including: backpackers who read SectionHiker.com might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who read Internet content might not be representative of all backpackers, backpackers who respond to raffle incentives might not be representative of all backpackers, our methods for recording responses might have been unconsciously biased, and so on.
The author is an expert in statistical analysis, survey, and experimental design and is sensitive to these issues. However, given the size of the respondent pool and the strong consensus among user responses, we believe that the survey results published here will be useful to backpackers and hikers who are interested in learning about backpacking quilts and the sleep insulation gear used by their peers.
Written 2016.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.
Philip, uhh, the last line is a bit weird. Good article otherwise.
Duh – cut and paste from the the last big survey.
Thanks for catching it.
Down jacket, down pants and down booties with heavy socks are my sleepware – depending on temp I may not use the booties, hood to the jacket, or the pants. The jacket has a detachable hood. The pants are side zipped so they can be vented. hummm I guess this means I’m statistically insignificant.
No blanket or anything?
correct – no blanket, quilt, or sleeping bag. I do have sort of an underquilt for the sort of hammock I use however.
Neat idea. How cold does it have to get before you get cold?
I’ve done high 20’s deg F comfortably with addition of a knit hat, glove liners and fleece mittens for the hands, hands usually in jacket pockets while sleeping. I probably would add a hot water bottle if going lower than that.
Wow, that’s a much higher percentage than I expected. It would be fun to run this survey again in a year or two and see if the percentage is growing.
I was surprised too, but it does explain why every cottage quilt manufacturer has an order backlog of 16 weeks. There is simply not enough supply for current demand.
Well….I’m in the minority….like some presidential candidates …..12 percent rectangle Sans down…I just like them….unfold like a quilt..Extra leg room to store stuff at the bottom..easy to wash.
I got at least 6 of them…..I guess I can sleep aways from the rest of you mummy downers
I got a quilt last year, but haven’t used it all by itself (overlayer on bag when the temps < 25f). I've been wanting to try it out, but my biggest question is what people wear on their heads when they go from inside-the-mummy to out-above-the-quilt. The EE Hoodlum has got my interest right now…
I went quilt 5 years ago and don’t even own a sleeping bag anymore – and don’t plan to ever again.
As I restless side sleeper, I suffered for years with bags designed for stiff-as-a-board, shrunken mummy corpses.
I have an EE and a Katabatic quilt and they are both excellent pieces of gear from quality companies.
They solve every issue I had with bags: weight, roominess, flexibility, packability, temperature range (especially up), fabric and insulation choices, zipper self-immolation, etc.
I’m not surprised to see this adoption rate. I expect it to continue to grow.
I use down mummy bags that have full (or close to it) zippers so that I can turn them into a quasi-quilt. I’m of average size but usually purchase a “long”, which adds a couple ounces to the weight but they also have a bit more length and girth, i.e. “wiggle room”. With my back and neck problems, I’m often a fairly restless sleeper and end up in quilt mode most nights, but on really cold ones, I zip up and barely move all night.
That’s how I got started. A poor quality zipper on a MH bag broke on a trip, so I just rolled it over and used it like a quilt. I liked it so much better, I just cut the zipper out when I got home. I used it a couple of years like that before buying my first proper quilt from EE.
When it got too cold, I got a Montbell sleeping bag cover to tighten it up. I liked that better than the zipper, no moving parts. It lead me eventually to try out a real bivy and go that way.
I use a synthetic 40* quilt but a down bag rated at 20*. bad back and shoulders make me move around at night and I fight drafts. not too much bother at 40* but a bigger issue at 20* and a bag means having the edges always tucked in…
I’d use a quilt if I could have a Zipper three quarters of the way around….
EE makes one like that.
I sewed a couple of Ray-Way quilts in summer and shoulder season weights several years ago, and I have used them happily for the majority of my 3-season trips. I’m a rotisserie sleeper, and it’s easy to twirl under a quilt like that; they also form well around my head, and a fleece beanie is adequate for keeping my noggin warm. There’s something very satisfying in sleeping out under something you’ve made yourself.
Rotisserie sleeper – you just made my day AND added to my vocabulary. Thanks for that!
Ha, I thought I came up with that term, as I am also a rotisserie sleeper.
The data indicated that greater than 50% of the quilt users reported the use of EE quilts. Who manufactured the quilts for the remainder of the quilt users?
The usual suspects: Hammock Gear, Warbonnet, Loco Libre, JackR’Better, Cumulus, Zpacks, Katabatic Gear, etc.
I’m not a hammocker or a quilt user, but would love to give them a try, I just don’t want to layout the money only to find out that either or neither don’t work for me. I keep reading about both and almost dropped the bucks on an EE that was on sale on Massdrop, but I missed the boat on that opportunity because I just couldn’t part with the cash. Who says that we consumers aren’t price sensitive!? Oh well, maybe next time I’ll be able to go for it and find out if there as good as every says.
Roger, my story may be helpful for you. For 15 years I have used a NF cats meow (3lb) and really been happy with the overall performance. In fact, the 30 degree temp rating is still very accurate and the bag is still in great shape. However, I have not really enjoyed the confining nature of the “mummy” style and just kind of put up with it..
I recently have been more interested in lightening my load and became very interested in quilts, specifically down given weight to warmth ratio, but I really have not had much experience with material. I did some research and also talked with some folks who have a lot of experience with quilts and down. Down was highly recommended for my needs. I was also told that quilts can take some time to get dialed in to personal needs, therefore, some indicated that I may want to purchase a less expensive quilt with synthetic insulation. However, the recommendation remained for down.
Several users also indicated that if I purchased a quilt with down, and did not like the quilt style for my sleep system, that the down quilt can be sold really easily. I have in fact found this to be true on gear forums wherein people swap/sell gear. Down quilts have typically sold within hours. For me this reduced the risk of trying a new high priced piece of gear.
I ended up ordering a 20 degree down quilt (20.5oz) that is significantly lighter than my current sleeping bag. I eagerly anticipate the arrival (7/15) and trying it out.
I switched to a Zpacks down quilt about 3 years ago and have never looked back. The biggest plus for me was not being claustrophobic in a traditional bag.