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How to Make a $40 Backpacking Quilt

How to make your own $40 backpacking quilt

The Double Black Diamond Down Throw is a 60″ x 70″ down comforter with a nylon cover that weighs 15 oz. It’s insulated with 700 fill power down and you can usually buy them on Amazon for under $40. I bought two when I saw them on sale at Bed and Bath for $20 each. While I wasn’t sure what I’d use them for, it was too good of a deal to pass up.  I suspect I’m like a lot of other backpackers who collect sewing materials for MYOG projects, even if they’re not planned, because they intuitively know they’ll be useful in the future.

When I got home I decided to make one of them into a backpacking quilt for summer use, modeled after the Marcy 20 degree quilt that I’d purchased from Mid-Atlantic Mountain Works (MAMW). Comparable summer weight quilts cost $200 and up, so I knew I could save a lot of money.

This shows the throw out flat with all the clips and ties detached
This shows the throw out flat with all the clips and ties detached

My goal was to do minimal sewing so I could maintain the integrity of the throw.

I decided to create a simple system where I could cinch up the bottom and clip together the sides to make a foot box. I’d also use a clip and ribbon near the top of the quilt to narrow the top opening.

I rummaged around in my scraps of ribbon and found enough ¼” wide grosgrain ribbon to make loops, which I sewed on at the edge of alternate squares.  I did this with my sewing machine, but you could hand sew it as well.

This shows one of the ribbon tabs at the bottom of the quilt and the cord lock I used.
This shows one of the ribbon tabs at the bottom of the quilt and the cord lock I used.

I took a short length of cord and ran it through the loops then through a cord lock.  By pulling it tight, I was able to create a foot box.  More loops would make a tighter foot box, but for a quilt this thin, it probably doesn’t affect the performance that much.  This cord lock has 2 holes, so it works well in this application since I take one end of the cord out of the cord lock when I want to flatten out the quilt, and put it back in to make the foot box. To open the throw like a blanket, I remove the cord from all the ribbon loops, so there isn’t any extraneous cord hanging around.

This shows what the foot end looks like when it is closed up.
This shows what the foot end looks like when it is closed up.

The next step was to close up the quilt more near the bottom to create a more closed foot box.  My MAMW Marcy 20 backpacking quilt uses a low-profile center push buckle that was I able to find on Ripstopbytheroll.com.

This is the low profile center push buckle.
This is the low profile center push buckle.

The low profile means you are less likely to end up sleeping on a lump.  I simply attached each side of the buckle to the quilt with a short piece of ribbon.  I added another one of these buckles with a 1-2 foot long piece of ribbon on one side and a short piece on the other side of the quilt near the top.

Done!  Based on current prices, you can put one of these together for under $40 using of one these Double Black Diamond the 60”x70” down throws.

Once it was finished, I made one for my son as well.  He calls it “Sketchy Quilt” which is a good name for it since it’s not a “real” piece of gear and has no rating or guarantee.  Based on our usage, we think it’s usable down to maybe 50 degrees.  This makes it a great, inexpensive option for hot summer nights.  It’s also a handy addition to bring along as an add on for trips where you think your sleeping bag or other backpacking quilt may not be warm enough for the temperatures you expect.  It’s a great summer sleeping bag option for kids, as well.

About the Author

Wanda Rice has been backpacking since the late 1980’s. She has climbed the New Hampshire 48, the New Hampshire 48 in winter, the New England 67 and is working on the New England Hundred Highest and the Four-Season 48. Wanda also teaches for the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Mountain Leadership School, the AMC New Hampshire Chapter Spring and Winter Schools as well as the AMC NH Winter Hiking Series. She leads day and overnight trips for AMC NH year round and loves mentoring new leaders. She is a gear junkie, a self-proclaimed Queen of Gear Hacks and loves sharing her tips and tricks with others. Wanda lives in southern NH and is looking forward to moving closer to the mountains in the next few years.

Disclosure: The author purchased all the items mentioned.

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8 comments

  1. Great idea. I’ve been thinking about doing something similar as an underquilt for a bridge hammock.

  2. I went to the Mid-Atlantic Mountain Works website and learned that they are no longer taking orders and essentially not doing any sort of regular business at this time. See blog post on their site.

  3. One of these years, i’ve got to learn how to sew.

  4. Another idea to close up the foot box (less permanent and no-sew): Elastic bed sheet clips. The clips are like the ones on old-fashioned garter belts.

  5. Nice liner for your existing bag if you need to occasionally camp in colder conditions

  6. Any ideas on adding a draft collar?

    • Maybe a fleece tube sewn along the top or along the second line of squares with a thin bungee inside to pull it tight.

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